Filmmaker Maxine Trump chronicles her decision on whether to reproduce in the documentary ‘To Kid Or … [+]
Maxine Trump’s new documentary To Kid Or Not To Kid opens on a close up of her abdomen where she points to a number of scars. She explains she got them at age 15 when she underwent surgery to remove a gangrenous fallopian tube and to correct a problem with her womb.
“I was told I’d have a number of miscarriages … but I don’t think that’s the reason why I’m considering not having kids, but the clock is ticking,” the forty-something filmmaker informs the viewer.
A U.K. native, Trump (no relation to the U.S. President) has made short and long form documentaries for numerous networks, including Discovery USA, Sundance Channel, TLC, the BBC and PBS. She also has won BDA Promax awards for her commercial work and worked in comedy script development for the BBC for six years before emigrating to the U.S. With To Kid Or Not To Kid, she turns the camera on herself, her family and others as she embarks on a journey of deciding whether to have children. The film is available on VOD.
Trump began filming in 2013 when she was in her early forties. She realized she finally had to make a choice whether to have children and decided to chronicle her experience as she spoke with various people about it.
“Up until then, I’d been incredibly ambivalent,” she says by phone. “[Becoming a mother] was something I hadn’t dreamt about as a young woman. I’d never idolized walking down the aisle, let alone having children. I was actually a little angry I had to make that decision.”
Trump, who is married to filmmaker Josh Granger, says she felt compelled to share her story—and explore the experiences of other women facing the same question—because there was nothing available, cinematically, that delved into the subject. Over the course of the film, Trump wrestles with the idea of motherhood and whether she would be satisfied to remain childless forever. She speaks with women who have decided not to have children, a mother of five who relishes being a mom, a woman regretful of her choice to have a baby and another woman in her mid-twenties who is adamant about being sterilized but is meeting with stiff resistance from her doctors about authorizing a permanent procedure because of her age. Trump also talks to those closest to her—her husband, her mother and her sister. She laments the loss of a longtime friend who with whom she has had a falling out over the matter. She also includes comedienne’s anecdotes about being child-free.
She delves into the pressures women around the world face to have babies, revealing that countries such as Hungary provide incentives to families who have at least three children.
“It’s not like a tax break anymore; they’re paying you, like a grant,” she observes.
Trump, who has traveled the world documenting subjects, says in her film that she loves her peripatetic lifestyle and is hesitant to give up that freedom to raise a child or children. Throughout the film, it is clear she leaning against having children, even when her husband admits in an interview that he may want to have more kids. (He has two children from a previous relationship.) But he also is supportive of his wife’s decision and even comes around to deciding to get a vasectomy so she no longer has to rely on birth control or morning after pills. Trump films her husband going in for the procedure and as he’s coming out of it, which to his surprise, is quite simple and fast.
Her mother, whom she visits in the U.K., isn’t onboard with her daughter’s decision to not have children. Her sister, a minister, with children of her own, is a bit more understanding, though she does offer to be a surrogate, if asked. Yet they both gamely sit down for an interview.
“I don’t know if it’s because they understood after me being a filmmaker for so long that it’s kind of natural for me to want to pick up my camera but my mother and sister didn’t put up much resistance at all,” she says. “I was surprised, not with my sister so much because she’s been very supportive and is very open-minded. My mum took a little more time.”
One of the setbacks she faced as a filmmaker was her mother suffered a stroke at the start of filming so Trump waited until her mother had sufficiently recovered to discuss the topic with her. Her husband, though understanding, also was a big reluctantly initially, mostly because the couple had avoided discussing parenthood until recently.
“It took a while for my husband to be persuaded but as time went on, he recognized it’s our conversation,” she says.
It also took me a while for Trump herself to put herself on film.
Filmmakers Josh Granger and Maxine Trump and their “baby.”
“I did start out making an essay film exploring this topic and then I realized it really was my decision,” she says. “I was unraveling. Then, I knew I had to have these people in the film and, thankfully, no one yet has walked away from me, apart from the one friend.”
Trump pondered making a straightforward documentary filled with statistics and scientific data about procreation, but she decided to include herself because she believed it would get viewers talking.
“I really wanted to explore all this pressure, where it’s coming from and why,” she says.
She was somewhat wary of showing her scars at first but later realized that the shot of her belly at the outset was a necessity.
“For a long time, I would never show my scars to anybody,” she recalls. “It was only when I was in my thirties that I felt comfortable enough to wear a bikini. Usually, as a documentary filmmaker, you work out your open, and I knew that’s how I wanted to start the film because, tonally, it says, ‘This film is going deep.’ It’s going to be warts and all, and you’re going to see things you haven’t seen before. It was kind of a crazy decision because I never I’d show my scars in a film. But I think it was the right thing to do.”
Trump has been getting a lot of support since she made her film. The first interview she gave about it was at last year’s youth media platform MIC, which garnered three million views, and 11,000 comments, all before the film premiered. There’s a huge potential audience for the subject, including 560,000 members on the Childfree sub reddit group. After a sold-out world premiere at 2018’s DOC NYC film festival, Helpman Productions is now releasing the film after a critically successful film festival tour with an avid social media audience.
One of the things that has surprised Trump is the positive reaction she’s received from male viewers, particularly with regard to the vasectomy sequence.
“I’ve had so many men come up to me and say, ‘Really? Is that all there is to it?’ (Birth control) really is so much easier for men,” she says. “Unfortunately, vasectomies are the least used form of contraception of all the methods of contraception.”
She is hopeful men will become more aware of new forms of male contraception such as an injectable coming to market.
What she really hopes to shine the light on with To Kid Or Not To Kid is how women aren’t taken seriously about what they want to do with their bodies and how that that attitude must change.
“We treat women who are pumping their bodies with these hormones [in the form of birth control pills and other contraceptives] that don’t agree with them from the time they’re teenagers, and 10 years down the line they’re not taken seriously when they say they don’t want children,” she says. “That’s such a huge shame.”
She says that while she was ambivalent about having children, there are many women—and men —who are absolutely certain they’ve never wanted children but are pressured by society and those close to them to change their minds.
Another factor she raises in the film is the pressure from marketers to have children, noting that there is a multi-billion-dollar baby products industry that wants to sell merchandise and services to parents. It doesn’t stop with corporate marketing either. Like Hungary, other countries are practically bribing their citizens with incentives to have babies, and to what end? With more than seven billion people on Earth, there are questions of how many more humans the planet can sustain.
“We are living in a world of finite resources,” Trump explains. “I don’t think we can keep going at the growth rate we’re going. However, I don’t want to be just as bad as somebody saying, ‘You must have kids. You must have kids.’ So, I don’t try and point fingers. My mission is that people are wanted who are brought into the world because that’s where a lot of society’s ills can be stemming from. As long as people desperately want their children and know that’s going to make them happy, then good for them. In the same way, if you feel you don’t want children, you should also be able to make that choice without any pressure or stigma.”
Trump suggests that it’s time for people to be celebrated for deciding not to reproduce.
“I don’t think there are enough celebrations for our decisions not having kids,” she insists. “The Baby Industry is strong and powerful. We’ve been offering on the website screening parties so people can screen the film and feel like they’re celebrating their choice (to be child free) too. I congratulate people quite a lot about their decision not to have children so they can feel just as included.”
The filmmaker plans to take her documentary to conferences around the world to further spread her message about making one’s own choice about reproduction.
“We’re talking to physicians and OB/GYNs because we really want those who are on the front lines treating people to be aware of this decision, and to be aware that there are choices to be made,” she says. “We’ve only been in North America. We broadcast on CBC last weekend and now we’ll be available in the U.S. But we have the rest of the world, including some parts where women face tougher pressure, so that’s going to take a lot of my time.”