Ann Zamudio is the Producer and Director of Don’t Talk About the Baby, a documentary that explores the taboos, pain, and trauma of miscarriage. Finanical support for this project comes, in part, from WIFV, but there’s also a Kickstarter campaign underway. The crew consists of several award-winning filmmakers, including a Sundance award-winning director who is serving as an adviser.
Ann graciously answered questions about her film, the sensitive subject matter it covers, and the personal reasons that make this project a labor of love.
Tegan: What makes you so passionate about breaking the taboo surrounding miscarriage?
Ann: There is a specific moment that I remember with remarkable clarity when I lost my first pregnancy. It had been about a week since my D&C and I was having lunch with an old co-worker. She asked how I was dealing with the morning sickness, and I told her quietly that I’d actually had a miscarriage.
She gave me a big hug and said, “Oh Ann, I’m sorry honey. I lost my first one, too, but I had my three kids later.” We continued with our lunch, but in that moment I was stunned.
Just two weeks earlier, she’d beamed and congratulated me when I announced my pregnancy so early. We’d talked about baby names and laughed about how much I would eat. Why was I just hearing about this now?
Why did I feel like I’d just been initiated into a secret club? It took us a year of trying very hard to get pregnant with our second baby, and during that time you could say I was obsessed with trying to conceive. Each month I got angrier and more depressed over my complete lack of control over the whole situation. I became very active in online support groups and vocal in my real life.
I decided that my loss wouldn’t be a secret.
What happened surprised me. When I would share my story with people, they’d break down into whispers and share theirs with me. I saw there was a very real and powerful need for people to tell their stories, even if their loss had happened years ago, and even if it hadn’t happened to them directly.
Brothers and husbands and sisters and friends would share the losses of their loved ones with me, and try to understand what that person was going through. There was such a strong desire to understand the idea of pregnancy loss, and learn to relate to their loved ones in a more honest and compassionate way.
I realized that education and telling stories is the only way that we’re going to eradicate this terrible taboo that surrounds pregnancy loss. Too many women are ashamed when they lose a baby. Too many men don’t feel permitted to grieve openly.
As a filmmaker, I decided that I had to do something about this. I had to try to give a voice to all these stories that need to be told.
This project is how I’ve turned my experience into something good. My dedication to raising pregnancy loss awareness is how I choose to honor my first child.
Tegan: I applaud you for turning your pain into something that will surely help so many people, and for honoring your first child in this way. As far as the topic itself, why do you think it’s taboo?
Ann: There are so many reasons, and we want to explore all of them with this film!
The most prominent reason is a level of discomfort when talking about grief and unpleasant things. A lot of people simply don’t know what to say when someone says that they’ve lost a pregnancy.
Some people say truly awful things while intending to be helpful, and then some people say nothing at all. Sometimes it seems like you can’t win, so I think a lot of people choose to just ignore the situation altogether. That’s one place that I think education will really shed some needed light.
Our project is going to help people learn what to say and when to say it, and how they can support the people in their lives when they’re going through a loss.
Another reason that I think can’t be ignored is our culture’s discomfort with sex. It wasn’t too long ago that it wasn’t seemly to even announce a pregnancy, which was the physical manifestation of the big dirty “S” word. I think it would be unreasonable to assume those attitudes haven’t spilled over into pregnancy loss.
Could it also be that this has just been the way it’s been done for generations and generations? Maybe. Our mothers and grandmothers didn’t view pregnancy loss the same way that we do now that infant mortality rates have so steeply declined.
Could it be a lack of support in our communities that discourages women to talk about it? Probably. Why would a woman feel empowered to tell her story and talk about her loss if the people around her are telling her to be quiet?
There are so many reasons that this issue has become a taboo, so many years of silence that contribute to this problem. I believe that it’s only by exploring them all that we’ll be able to move forward.
Tegan: You’ve already spoken to a lot of women who have had miscarriages. When I experienced my pregnancy loss, one of the toughest parts was having no “official” way to recognize the loss. There are no funerals, no religious ceremonies. I’m curious how the women you’ve interviewed marked or recognized the loss?
Ann: That’s a really interesting and important part of a pregnancy loss—the way you choose to recognize the loss. One of the therapists that I’ve spoken with, and whom we plan to interview for the film, spoke to me about the importance of ritual in our lives and how that extends to loss.
So many parts of our lives are dictated by ritual, and yet there isn’t usually a ceremony or ritual available to a family when they lose a pregnancy. This is often a critical part of emotionally healing after a loss, and it’s something I think more people should be aware of and feel entitled to do.
One woman told us about her depression after two consecutive miscarriages, and what a cathartic experience it was to hold a funeral service for them at her church. She felt that it gave her a large measure of closure.
Another woman wrote into our website to share a peach tree that she and her husband planted after their loss. They make it a point to visit that tree with their children and keep their baby’s memory alive.
Many women choose to wear a charm or piece of jewelry to remember their baby. Some choose to plant a tree or a flower bed. Some choose to write and express themselves artistically.
I think the really important takeaway here is that rituals are very important and shouldn’t be skipped or ignored. Each family should take the time to consider how they’d like to memorialize their baby and observe whatever rituals they think are appropriate for them to find a measure of closure.
Tegan: In what ways do medical professionals who interact with a woman during and immediately after a miscarriage impact the woman’s experience?
Ann: I’ve found that the attitude of medical professionals can have a profound and lasting impact on a woman who loses a pregnancy.
My memories are still quite clear of the doctors and specialists who helped me during my loss. The looks of warmth and compassion from my OB, the nurse who held my hand during my ultrasound, the technician who made me feel guilty for bleeding on the floor, and the anesthesiologist who kept saying the word “miscarriage” to me, even when she saw it was upsetting me.
All of these things are forever linked to my memories of that pregnancy. What’s the quote, people won’t remember what you say to them, but they’ll remember how you made them feel? Women remember when you make them feel ashamed or small or silly or unimportant. They remember when you treat their loss like an inconvenience before a coffee break.
I hope that this documentary will serve as an educational tool for the medical professionals in this field, and help to encourage compassion. There are many, many good and kind doctors who help families going through loss every day. But there are also many who need to improve their bedside manner, and start treating pregnancy loss like a traditional loss in the family.
Tegan: Does your film explore the pain men experience when their partner has a miscarriage?
Ann: Absolutely! I am passionate about encouraging men to add their voices to the project, and hope to feature many male voices in the film. I think the male perspective is drastically underrepresented in talks about pregnancy loss, and that needs to change.
Our culture has a big problem with how we raise our boys, and pressuring them to subdue their emotions. This absolutely affects how we view men in the pregnancy loss realm. The man typically feels like he needs to be strong for his partner, and deal with anything he might be feeling on his own.
Men typically aren’t asked how they’re doing after a loss, and it’s assumed that they haven’t been affected. It’s also a very common complaint from women who say they don’t think their husband cares about the baby they lost. They feel disconnected, and like they’re grieving alone.
It’s a very real problem, and it’s one that’s only going to be addressed by including men in the conversation and giving them permission to grieve.
Ann: We’ve set our goal at $30,000 because that’s what we need to start shooting. We have several interviews with doctors, scholars and authors confirmed and this is the amount we need to travel to film those interviews. We’ve also got several of the family interviews arranged and we’re anxious to get started recording and sharing those stories.
The funds will go towards rental and purchase of equipment, travel, hiring crew and outreach efforts.
Missy: After the documentary is released, what do you hope it accomplishes?
Ann: I hope that this film will serve as a comfort to men and women suffering a loss and let them know that they’re not alone. It should let them know that what happened to them isn’t their fault, and what they’re feeling is felt by many others. A respite from isolation in the midst of grief can be a very powerful thing.
I also hope that this film is something a woman can send to her friends or family and say, “Watch this, and learn what it’s like to go through this.” I want it to be a tool for fostering empathy and building supportive networks in communities.
Most importantly, I want people to walk away from this project feeling empowered to tell their stories freely and openly The only way we’re going to normalize loss and take the taboo away is by talking about it, and letting people know that it’s not rare. It happens to more people than we think, and it affects people we love.
My hope for this documentary is that it starts conversations, and changes how we talk about loss.
I want to thank Ann for sharing her passion for this topic and telling us about this film. In the spirit of encouraging people to share their stories of pregnancy loss, feel free to leave your story in the comment section. Sharing is a part of the journey toward healing.