Libby & Len’s 1969 & 1971 Birth Stories (And Birth Movie!)

Len & Libby

I met Libby and Len last year at The Feminine Light in The Middle East conference. Len told me that he filmed the birth of their 2nd child, Adam, back in 1971. A few days ago they sent me a link to that video. It was amazing to see a delivery filmed 41 years ago.
The first birth I captured was 12 years ago. I was curious to hear Adam’s perspective on having his delivery experience preserved. I know meanings will differ between a 12-year-old and Adam, an adult and a father himself. I contacted Libby and Len to hear more about their childbirth story. Then they put me in touch with Adam, and now I’m excited to share their story with you.

Adam’s Birth Story:

Libby ~ Adam was born in July 1971, on the 15th floor of the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. Len filmed it all, using his Yashica Super-800 Electro Camera with a light attachment. My OBGYN, Dr. Alan Margolis, was a forward-thinking, contemporary guy. He allowed women to reach for their baby and complete the delivery once the head and shoulders emerged, so I got to do that for both of my children. When asked why he encouraged that, he’d respond: “You have to do something to keep it exciting.” He loved his work and was very relaxed and super-supportive. The medical team was the same — casual, confident young nurses, residents, students — really enjoying what they were doing. In that nurturing atmosphere, I remember feeling very confident.

Len ~ In our community there was a lot of conversation about Lamaze, and most of our friends’ husbands did attend their children’s births.

Libby ~ In earlier days the norm was to go in, get heavily sedated, and wake up when it was all over. Maybe living in the Bay Area and most of our contemporaries taking Lamaze classes allowed for different experiences and choices. For both of our births, we took our Lamaze and were doing great, but one day late in my first pregnancy I came across a book that completely scared me. I had a meltdown after seeing some photos. Suddenly, I didn’t think I could do it, but Len reassured me that everything would be fine and that women had been giving birth around the world for tens of thousands of years.

When my water broke we went to the hospital and were told that we’d save a lot of money if we stayed home as long as we could. Since I was barely dilated, there was plenty of time. So we returned home, shared a peach daiquiri, and played Tiddly(wink) Tennis until sunup and delivery time.

During labor, Len helped a lot by coaching and applying backpressure. He, my Lamaze breathing, and Dr. Margolis all helped me succeed. In the end, the amazing physician put partly-emerged Adam into my hands and instructed me to lift him from my birth canal. Adam was born!

About Filming The Birth:

Libby ~ Len took still photos at my first birth. I knew how meaningful those snapshots of Eleanor were, so I thought it would be okay to film my second birth. Yet I felt some discomfort — I was very modest and didn’t want to be exposed on film — until Len assured me he would frame it over my shoulder. Indeed he captured the moment perfectly.

Libby delivering Eleanor (1969)

Len ~ I’ve always had an interest in ‘story.’ My immigrant Jewish great-grandparents from Europe and Russia all saved lots of old family photographs. In childhood, I enjoyed taking family pictures with my Brownie box camera. Even what we two do today helping adversaries reconcile is all about ‘story,’ realizing that ‘an enemy is one whose story we have not heard.’ Following peace-building successes, other ‘people become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.’ It was always in me; take a photo, tell a story, and let our kids know their story. Stories are what keep us alive and help us remember what has meaning; it’s just a human thing to do.

When I see our children’s births, I see Libby and think ‘she’s awesome!’ Birthing Eleanor and Adam was joyful for her. Even though my eye was against the camera lens, hearing “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy!” started my tears flowing. I was weeping and filming simultaneously. Choosing no ultrasound, we wanted to be surprised. We knew we’d love whoever came into our lives.

At one point the camera got too close to an IV drip stand from which hung a stethoscope. The hot floodlight set it on fire. For a moment, the delivery room was full of smoke. Dr. Margolis never seemed to notice! The team was cool.

Libby ~ It’s one of those sweet moments we can relive. Oh, how our appearance has changed. But this beautiful memory returns us to youth and keeps alive the beginning of our family and the unspeakable awe.

Many times expectant friends have viewed the movie and stills to get inspired, prepare, and gain confidence in this great and beautiful experience. I loved being pregnant, feeling the movement inside, and not knowing if it was a boy or a girl. I loved giving birth. What a miracle!

A word from Adam ~

Having my birth movie gave me the opportunity to see my parents in motion at such a young age. 1971 was a time of cameras and film; often in black and white, and still shots were the norm, nothing digital. Motion picture was considered either obscure or a luxury, and rarely would someone from the public actually film events, let alone a birth. My birth film spans from start to finish and is recorded, forever, on celluloid!
My mom was such a trooper. She performed natural childbirths with both my sister and me. Amazing.

Funny as it may seem with the stork story and all, I think America shields itself from the honesty and beauty of birth out of fear and shame of the human body. Regardless of what God you believe in, if any, the human body is a miracle. I think the film of my birth is proof that it’s possible to show the amazing act through motion picture, and do so with tact and more importantly, with love.

To view Adam’s birth movie click HERE.

Len’s photos of Eleanor’s 1969 birth gave him the confidence to film Adam in 1971:

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