Posts tagged ‘documentaries’

Mama at the Movies: Sperm Donor X

I’m working on a trilogy of related columns right now, covering three documentaries about different paths to motherhood and changing attitudes toward how we become mothers. The first, Adopted, looked closely at two families who adopted daughters from China. The third column, on the documentary Sunshine, will explore one family’s history of single motherhood. And the second column, on Deirdre Fishel’s film, Sperm Donor X, is up now at Literary Mama. Here’s an excerpt:

I must have been in second grade when I first thought about how old I would be in the year 2000 — 32 — and what my life would be like by then. Basing my vision entirely on my mom’s life, I assumed I’d be married with four kids.

I didn’t spend the intervening years fretting about the gap between that vision and my reality — milestone birthdays came and went without a husband, and at some point I realized I didn’t really want four kids — but by the time the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, 1999, I was engaged and on the way to a more realistic vision for myself. These days, when I’m helping Eli find dress-up clothes for his stuffed dog’s wedding or discussing the rate for a night in Ben’s space hotel, I sometimes pause to marvel that this has become my life, a life I could never have imagined when I was the age my oldest is now.

I’m lucky that my childhood dream adjusted easily to my adult reality. I’m lucky that I didn’t have to give up one dream for another, or struggle to get the family I wanted. That struggle, and that difficult adjustment to an unanticipated reality, is the undercurrent of Deirdre Fishel’s documentary, Sperm Donor X (2002), which follows four women, including the filmmaker herself, who want to become mothers and find themselves unexpectedly doing it on their own, with anonymous sperm donors.

You can read the rest over at Literary Mama. The film hasn’t been released yet, as the filmmaker still needs to raise funds to license archival footage. If you’d like to help, consider making a donation at Kickstarter.

Mama at the Movies: Adopted


“Nearly 60% of Americans are personally connected to someone who is either adopted, has adopted, or has relinquished a child to be adopted.”
– Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

I read this statistic, which runs at the end of Barb Lee’s documentary, Adopted (2008), and started counting in my head: ten cousins, two college roommates, one graduate school friend and two colleagues who are adopted, plus four other friends who have adopted children themselves. Two of my sons’ four cousins are adopted. Yes, indeed, I am one of that 60%, and my life is certainly richer for it, but watching Adopted made me think that perhaps I take these riches too lightly.

Adopted tells the story of two families. First we meet Jennifer Fero, a thirty-two year old Korean woman adopted as an infant by an Oregon couple who experienced secondary infertility after having a son; the second storyline follows John and Jacqui Trainer, a New Hampshire couple who decide to adopt from China after their own long struggle with infertility. The two families are at opposite ends of their adoption journeys.

Please click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

Support Independent Filmmaking!

Come to a preview screening/potluck dinner/discussion/fundraiser for independent mom filmmaker Deirdre Fishel, who is raising funds to complete her documentary, Sperm Donor X. Donations gratefully accepted, but not required; come for the movie, stay for the discussion!

Here is Deirdre’s story:

I began filming Sperm Donor X at 40, when I found myself at a precipice. I wanted to at least try to have a biological child yet doing it alone with donor sperm felt bizarre and terrifying.

I had no idea how my story would end and I was interested in finding other diverse women facing the same turning point. I filmed myself and three other women for two years, then stopped because I wasn’t sure I wanted to put out such a personal film. But I started again because not a day goes by that I don’t look at my kids and feel grateful that I made this choice. It’s almost painful to think what I would have missed if I hadn’t.

Every month I meet smart, talented, beautiful women in their thirties and early forties who want children and yet are so afraid of doing it alone. Some see it as a personal failure. But the truth is we’re well into a huge cultural shift, with the numbers of singles skyrocketing and more and more people getting into their primary relationships later in life.

My fervent wish with this documentary is to normalize a process that felt bizarre and foreign to me and to show that there are so many ways to be a family. Women having kids alone with donor sperm is just one of them and it’s okay.

Sperm Donor X is a fully edited 54 minute film. But without the finishing funds to do a sound mix, color correct, and license the archival footage it won’t get out into the world. Please help us by giving what you can. Many thanks.

You can see a trailer of the film here.

Saturday February 6, 6:30 – 9:30 PM, Oakland, CA

Contact me or Literary Mama’s CNF editor, Susan Ito, for address; write to LMnonfiction (at) literarymama (dot) com and please put “Sperm Donor X” in the subject line.

Mama at the Movies: Must Read After My Death


My latest column is up now at Literary Mama:

When I first learned I was pregnant, I started a journal on my computer; seven months into the project, my hard drive crashed and the most detailed journal I had ever kept was lost. Since then, I fill Italian paper notebooks that I buy in bulk at a local art store; I keep one next to my bed with a pen marking my place and the journals from earlier years are piled on a low shelf of my bedside table. If I ever had to flee the house, I would scoop the journals up on my way to get the kids.

I do this for myself, to keep hold of my sons’ fleeting childhoods and to make sense of my life. I reread the journals frequently. I am a researcher searching for patterns, seeking context or comfort in the midst of challenging periods, and I am a writer looking for anecdotes for my public writing. But I wonder sometimes, what will become of this private record when I’m gone? Will my children preserve it? Do I want them to read it? Will their children be interested in their grandmother’s life?

The documentary film Must Read After My Death (Morgan Dews, 2009) has me thinking about these questions of legacy and privacy more pointedly than usual. Filmmaker Morgan Dews composed the film entirely of the 300 pages of transcripts, fifty hours of audio diaries and Dictaphone letters, and 201 silent home movies he discovered after his grandmother Allis’s death; the boxes were all carefully labeled in thick black marker with her initials and a message: “Must Read After My Death.” The film makes a searing portrait of a typical American family, one that slips gradually, mysteriously, from happy to tragic while they all unwittingly document the change.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest…