Bringing Up Baby
Written by Randy Steinberg | Posted by: Anonymous
Filmmakers Wendy Ettinger and Donna Wick have hit the mark with their new feature-length documentary "Baby I’m Yours" portraying three first-time mothers as they journey — along with their husbands and children — from pregnancy to early motherhood.
Ettinger and Wick met in college where they were roommates. They both married and eventually moved to New York where they each had three children. One day, on a trip to the bowling alley (kids in tow), the idea for "Baby I’m Yours" sprang to life. Wick, in the throes of her doctoral research, recounted to Ettinger some of her experiences interviewing new mothers for her dissertation. Wick explained, "I was conducting research on infant psychology and noted the lack of the mothers’ perspective with regard to child-rearing. I began to interview new mothers to document their experiences." Ettinger suggested a film to record a swath of mothers’ stories. A strike was bowled and a filmmaker’s baby was born.
Of course, these two women came to the table with plenty of experience to back them up. Wendy Ettinger has produced documentaries for 10 years. Her first documentary "The War Room" received an Academy Award nomination. Her second production, "Moon Over Broadway," earned the Best Documentary of 1998 and aired on Bravo. Ettinger has worked with high-profile film directors such as Ang Lee, Hal Hartley, and Ken Loach and has acted as a casting director for independent films and a diverse array of theatrical productions. Ettinger made her directorial debut with "Baby I’m Yours."
Donna Wick, Ed.M., is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University Graduate School of Education; has worked in the Boston Public School System; and serves on the Board of Inwood House, a residential home for unwed, teenage mothers.
Once they had the idea, Ettinger and Wick put out the call for subjects: they were looking for volunteers who would be candid about their feelings and wouldn’t mind the intrusion of a camera as it recorded their day-to-day life. From twelve candidates, Ettinger and Wick pared their subjects down to three. The filmmakers made a conscious choice only to chronicle the experiences of ‘low risk’ mothers. Ettinger remarked on this decision by saying, "We found that most studies of mothers focus on unwed teenage moms or other problematic parents. We felt there was a glaring absence of documentation concerning stable mothers, mothers in secure economic and personal surroundings. We wanted to construct a composite that would reflect the great bulk of mothers’ experiences as they progress from pregnancy to the weaning years."
The first mother is named Robin. She is a 38-year old acting teacher raised in LA, now living in New York with her husband Gus. Another, Suzanna is a native Scottish woman who lives in Manhattan with her English husband Charles. Finally, Keelin is a 33-year old corporate litigation lawyer married to Alan.
The film is an in-the-trenches (most times a hand held camera) style documentary that punctuates interviews with the mothers in their day-to-day environments. There are extremely touching moments as when Robin, weeping, relates her fears of death and a future permanent separation from her daughter. Suzanna, a highly successful investment banker, waxes about a difficult point that occurred in her marriage when, due to her pregnancy, she was forced to transition out of a hectic career while coaxing her husband to pick up some of the slack. In contrast, Keelin expresses some bitterness that her work keeps her too much away from son — and consequently he bonds too much with his father, at times appearing to spurn the woman who brought him into the world.
The film is full of bright moments and the joy of raising children, but it sugarcoats nothing. The problems of each couple are highlighted and the children’s wailing is a constant reminder that, for new parents, there are few chances for solitude.
Wick and Ettinger’s viewpoint is objective. Robin and Gus visit doctor after doctor as they search for what they perceive is the right pediatrician: the camera and editing never judge this couple’s highly questionable decision to postpone — perhaps even forswear — vaccination for their daughter. Most doctors reject this choice, and the new parents find themselves visiting as many as eight physicians in the first two years of their child’s life.
The fathers are also given equal time. Their fears and aspirations are treated in a balanced fashion. Particularly amusing is Keelin’s husband’s (Alan) acerbic wit. Walking on the beach with Keelin, Alan glibly deflects his wife’s pronouncement that she will have a second child in two years. "Who’s the father going to be?" he asks.
Filming of "Baby I’m Yours" began in March of 2000 and completed in September of 2002. After a lengthy editing process, the documentary was ready for exhibition. The project aroused the interest of the Oxygen Cable Network, a property of Oprah Winfrey’s, and plans were made to debut the film on Mother’s Day of 2003. Ironically, an interview of Wick and Ettinger in the "New York Times" caught the eye of the producers of the Oprah Winfrey Show (who were not aware that plans were in the works to show the film on Oprah’s cable station), and the two women were asked to come on the show itself.
Wick and Ettinger appeared on The Oprah Winfrey on September 17, 2002 for a segment titled "What your Mother Never Told You About Motherhood." Their visit generated the greatest viewer response in the history of the show and prompted three follow-up segments.
"Oprah is God," Ettinger says. "She has her finger on the pulse of each project, and she really cares. We were gratified beyond words. The reach and the power of the show was overwhelming, and to this day we’re still getting emails from viewers."
The filmmakers have already shown the documentary at New York’s second annual Tribecca Film Festival and plan to take it next to the Nantucket Film Festival in June.
"The best part of these festivals is the symposiums and talks after the showing of the film," Wick says. "The dialogues and discussions the film generates are some of the most pleasing moments for us as filmmakers."
Both Ettinger and Wick express a strong desire to work together again. They are eager to address another underappreicated and underdocumented aspect of motherhood: the filmmakers wish to capture the experience of mother-daughter separation, a phenomena that occurs when the daughter begins to reach biological maturity (around twelve to fourteen) and the child-parent relationship undergoes a distancing.
It would appear that another trip to the bowling alley is in order for Wick and Ettinger who hope to continue to chronicle the fascinating but all-too-often forgotten experience of today’s mothers.
A rebroadcast of 'Baby I’m Yours' on the Oxygen Cable Network is scheduled for Sunday, June 15. More information can be found at www.oprah.com. Information about Donna Wick and Wendy Ettinger and the film can be accessed at www.babyimyoursfilm.com. To contact the filmmakers please write or call Teri Kane Public Relations: 212-570-5144 (office) or 917-692-1076 (cell). Terikane@nyc.rr.com. The running time of Baby I’m Yours is 88 minutes.