“Ten Leaves Dilated” examines the lack of candid discussion around trauma of birth through popular myths and the bizarre Babyland General Hospital where tourists can watch Cabbage Patch Dolls go through a simulated birth.
“Ten Leaves Dilated” Film Review
“Little girls are born in roses and little boys in cabbages.” So goes the French myth that chronicles where babies come from. Fairy tales, folklore and nursery rhymes surrounding childbirth date back centuries and provide narratives simple enough for children to digest.
Kate E. Hinshaw’s short documentary film “Ten Leaves Dilated” explores how the uncomplicated tales surrounding childbirth and motherhood shroud real experiences, specifically the marketing strategy of Cabbage Patch Kids that suggested the dolls were born, rather than made, from a cabbage patch.
The film implores its audience to interrogate their own understandings of birth, its intense medicalization and the lack of candid discussion around the trauma and pain many mothers silently undergo.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Cabbage Patch Kids became a household name for their plush baby dolls. But consumers were offered an entire mythology to accompany the dolls. Said to be born out of a head of a cabbage, Babyland General Hospital, the company’s headquarters in Georgia, offers a simulated birth experience where children can watch Cabbage Patch Kids be birthed.
Employees dressed as nurses use euphemistic terms and procedures, namely an “Easy-otomy” (the equivalent of an episiotomy) and Imagicilin (the equivalent of the medication or epidural administered to ease pain), to deliver dolls from Mother Cabbage.
“Ten Leaves Dilated” premiered at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival which was held virtually this year. The short documentary has a 14-minute runtime and is slated to compete in the Documentary Shorts category of the festival.
The film was shot, edited, written and produced by experimental and tactile filmmaker Kate E. Hinshaw and co-directed by Ebony Blanding.
Hinshaw uses archival film, found footage, stop-motion animation, text and overlaid audio to create a montage of collective memory of childbirth mythology. The textural elements of the film are just as important as the themes it explores.
Hinshaw hand-processed, painted and distorted 16mm film, giving the film a homemade quality and evoking nostalgia.
The idea for the film came from Hinshaw’s own experience in which her mother bought her Cabbage Patch Kids clothing after she was born prematurely.
The story she was told as a child, however, was farther from the candid truth of her mother’s birthing experience. This disconnect, which is not uncommon, prompted Hinshaw to make the documentary short framed around the stories children are told and the experiential truths of birth.
Lack of Candid Discussions About Childbirth
Mothers, doulas and birth professionals speak over archival footage of newborn babies being plucked out of cabbage patches by a whimsical fairy, a remnant of the French fairytale. The women chronicle their own experiences with motherhood and the immense trauma endured with little mobility to voice their pain.
As one of the women suggests,“There ought to be a better way to sell a doll to a young girl than watching it come out of a cabbage.”
Babyland’s roadside birth show commodifies the trauma and pain that many mothers endure and exemplifies the way that mothers are rarely given the space to chronicle their pain, particularly in the American South where poor birth outcomes persist.
The film summons familiar feelings of rose-tinted childhood and introduces a counter-narrative, exposing a cultural taboo that prevents mothers from having the space to discuss their experiences with pregnancy and childbirth for all their gritty truths.
The film suggests that the medicalized nature of birth, which was popularized in the mid-1950s, has caused some mothers to be detached from the experience as a whole and have less agency over their own body and to discuss their experience.
Staggering maternal health outcomes in the United States reflect both the unspoken and mistreated conditions brought on by pregnancy and birth. Ranking last among similarly industrialized and wealthy nations, approximately 700 of the four million people that give birth annually in the United States die, according to the World Health Organization.
In the South, these numbers are worse, especially among Black women whose maternal mortality rate reached 40.8 per 100,000 live births in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The juxtaposing images and audio between the lore peddled about childbirth and the experiential realities represent a staggering disconnect in the American psyche. Dolls whimsically plucked from a cabbage head or a stork delivering a child to a doorstep are far cries from the true accounts of birth discussed in the film like weeks of postpartum bedrest, time spent in the ICU, severe bleeding and placenta previa.
The short film uses clips of the experience to interrogate the myths and lore surrounding childbirth and the now inextricable relationship between medicalization and birth.
“Ten Leaves Dilated” deftly compares the simplicity of childbirth and motherhood discourses with the pervading challenges mothers still experience in modern society. Its well-crafted visuals and integration of stop-motion and film distortion are sure to captivate and enrapture any viewer.