Storytelling is a powerful vehicle for social change. Krista Gervon and Ann Zamudio, two of the creative forces behind the new film Don’t Talk About the Baby, set out to inspire change while exploring the cultural stigmas surrounding pregnancy loss and infertility. We are living in a time where there is a major shift in how we talk about pregnancy loss. With campaigns and social media driven movements including: #IHadAMiscarrage, creating a space for women to convene openly about loss, this film is a rallying cry and an answer to the silencing women have felt for so long.
Gervon, who co-produced the film, has worked on a number of films and documentaries, including the Emmy-nominated The Devil’s Breath, which examined the 2007 San Diego wildfires and how they affected groups of migrants heading north from Mexico. As the founder of Kilogram Productions, Gervon teamed up with Ann Zamudio, who co-produced and directed Don’t Talk About the Baby, to share its important message. While Zamudio received her degree in cinematic arts from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and has worked for Discovery Communications while serving on the board of Directors for Women in Film, this marks her first feature-length film.
Recently, Mama Glow sat down with these awe-inspiring women to talk about Don’t Talk About the Baby, what led them to make the film, and what’s next.
Mama Glow: “Don’t Talk About the Baby” is a documentary that explores the cultural stigmas surrounding pregnancy loss and infertility. Why is this film important right now?
Krista Gervon: People are beginning to feel comfortable and safe sharing their stories with their friends and family members because we’re seeing these stories more and more in mainstream media. Our film reinforces and validates the feelings associated with these experiences through expert and personal testimonies. By combining raw emotion with scientific research findings, our film conveys in a very powerful way just how heartbreaking these losses can be, while debunking myths and breaking the stigmas around loss and infertility alike.
Ann Zamudio: I agree with Krista completely. I think the rise of social media in the last decade has given our culture an enormous opportunity to share our stories both with our intimate circles of friends and family, and the world at large at the same time. That’s played a big role in starting these conversations around topics that previously were only whispered about.
MG: What was it like talking to women and experts about miscarriage, stillbirth and infertility?
KG: Life-changing. I mean simply put, but absolutely life-changing. When you listen to and connect with others who have been down the same dark road (or a similar dark road) as the one you’ve been down, there are these indescribable senses of relief, sisterhood, gratitude, compassion, validation, and humanity that flow throughout our shared space. Without knowing anything else about them, the walls immediately come down and we’re no longer strangers. Each individual was so brave and vulnerable to bare their soul and entrust us with their sacred stories, and I’m forever grateful to each of them. When speaking with the experts, it was fascinating to learn from them as they all had so much knowledge on the respective topics in which they specialize. Each of them carried themselves with such professionalism and they took their work seriously, not just on a scientific level, but on a human level. They had compassion and empathy for their patients or clients that you would hope to expect from anyone working with families who are navigating such complicated waters, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
AZ: When interviewing the families who were telling very personal and often difficult stories, it was always our first priority to create a safe space for them. We made sure we worked with local crews who were sensitive to the topic and aware of the environment we wanted to create on set. We tried to put people at ease and, as much as possible, leave a wide open space for people to share their stories. What you might notice about the format of many of the interviews in the film is they were filmed in a direct address fashion, with the person staring directly into the camera. This was a deliberate choice on our part because we wanted it to feel like you were hearing the story directly from the person telling it. When we filmed those interviews, it might be interesting to learn that we didn’t ask any questions. With the framework being that we all knew the topic of the interview, we simple hit record and gave people the opportunity to tell their stories from start to finish. It was initially surprising to us, and always surprising to the people in front of the camera, just how little prompting they required. They didn’t need questions, they didn’t need points to cover, they instinctively knew how to tell theirs and their baby’s stories, and it was incredibly humbling to hear them. When interviewing the specialists, it was always a very rewarding experience to witness the wealth of knowledge and also the generous spirit of these experts. These are people who have a passion for helping those in the pregnancy loss and infertility communities, and they were so willing to share their expertise with the world. It was really a fascinating experience to learn so much about these topics firsthand, and to have such extensive access to these experts.
MG: What was your goal in creating this documentary film?
KG: Our goal was multi-tiered. One of the main purposes of the film is to break the stigmas surrounding pregnancy loss and infertility. We do this by featuring experts who dismantle many myths as to why miscarriage, stillbirth and infertility occur by offering in-depth explanations of their research and findings. Many people are unaware of how common these experiences are, (one in four pregnancies ends in a loss and one in eight couples experience infertility) and are quick to attribute the causes to the actions of the mother, such as diet, exercise, age, physical traits, etc… and the truth is that most of the time it’s the result of genetic abnormalities, which I think is very eye-opening to many people. We also want this film to be a catalyst to starting conversations. Conversations not only help to accomplish the larger goal of breaking stigmas, but they’re also a key component in the healing process. As I mentioned above, when we begin to share our stories, we immediately begin to see that we’re not alone in our grief and that helps immensely in relieving some of the weight of what we’re feeling. In my own experience, I felt isolated and ashamed almost to a point where I felt sick to my stomach at even the thought of sharing something so personal, confusing, and painful. But once I did, I found that so many people I knew had also lost a pregnancy and knew exactly how I was feeling. It was in that moment when I decided I wanted to encourage others to share their stories and make pregnancy loss a less taboo topic. Finally, we hope that through starting more conversations, both privately and in mainstream public discourse, stigmas will begin to crumble and we can focus more attention and research toward both the physical and emotional consequences left behind from these experiences as well as develop new ways to improve the statistics.
AZ: I think my ultimate and original goal was that women don’t feel alone when they’re going through this. This culture of shame and silence creates a social void that you find you yourself in when you’re going through it, and if you don’t know that it’s happening to quite a few other people, it can feel like you’re the anomaly. We wanted to create a project that gave a face to the many different voices and stories of loss. In my mind, I pictured a chorus of men and women shining a light on the darkness they’d been thrust into, and come out of. Now that we’ve finished the film, it’s important to me not only that people feel like they’re not alone, but to know that there is hope and light on the other side of it.
MG: How can we culturally work to improve the experience of shame, self-doubt and isolation that occurs around loss?
KG: In our film we cover many of the platitudes people will use in conversations with those who have experienced loss and/or infertility. Phrases like, “Well, at least you know you can get pregnant” or “Everything happens for a reason”. We’ve found that these remarks are extremely NOT helpful for the person on the receiving end and ultimately creates an environment where rather than share their stories, people will internalize their feelings of shame and guilt so as to avoid awkward confrontations, which of course is not healthy. Our experts and families alike key in on what is more appropriate to say and what can actually help individuals and society as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, our culture is shifting in the way we talk about loss in general and when we become vulnerable and open up, while there is risk for adverse reactions, it also gives the listener the opportunity to react in a more supportive way allowing us work together to diminish shame, self-doubt, and isolation. At the end of the day, no matter who we are we’re all going to feel this way at some point in our lives. It may not be related to pregnancy loss or infertility, but if we acknowledge our shared experiences and feelings, we can move forward together in a more productive and healing way, and that is what we hope this film will encourage others to do.
MG: What surprised you most in making this film? What were some of the evidence-based findings that surprised you?
KG: I’m not sure if surprised is the correct term, but I think what was put into stark perspective during the course of production, was how far we still have to go in prioritizing women’s reproductive health in regards to both care and research. Our film includes women from various generations and backgrounds and to hear some of the stories from past decades and even up until now, there is a general pattern of minimizing concerns expressed by women who are or are trying to become pregnant. Statistics also show that there’s even a deeper disparity among women of color when it comes to miscarriage, stillbirth, and maternal mortality. This is not to say that the medical community is a monolith of providers who don’t care about women, but as an institution that claims to value women, much more work has to be done in regards to funding research into infertility and pregnancy loss. This should also include diversifying leadership roles and increasing training and education in all fields related to reproductive health from the doctor’s office to the hospital boardroom to pharmaceutical companies, scientific research facilities, mental health practices, and all the way up the chain in government. An expert in our film explains that when she is working with women who have unexplained recurrent miscarriage, around 70% of the time all available testing comes back normal and a “treatment” she recommends is to just keep trying. With more funding and research, we can learn more about why pregnancy loss continues to happen and hopefully lead to discovery and implementation of new therapies and treatments. Until we begin to take women’s health concerns more seriously as a whole, the statistics of pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and infertility will remain stagnant.
AZ: I was surprised to learn just how common stillbirth is. When I originally started pre-production for this documentary, the focus was initially going to be solely miscarriage. It was only through our research of the topic and our connecting with some advocates in the pregnancy loss community that we learned how critical it was to include stillbirth in the focus of this film. 71 babies are stillborn in our country every single day. That statistic is mind boggling, especially when you consider that no one is talking about it. From the beginning and to this day, it was that statistic that surprised me the most.
The film is available for purchase on the Don’t Talk About The Baby Website (DVD and BluRay), and is streaming through Vimeo On Demand. It’s also available to be gifted to a friend or loved one who you think might benefit from hearing the stories in this project.