By Janine Gericke.
“When are you having kids?” on my wedding day people half joking (but not really) asked me. Most women ask themselves this very question, but the answer isn’t always clear. When my editor asked if I wanted to review Maxine Trump’s (absolutely no relation) documentary To Kid or Not to Kid, I said yes! The filmmaker asks all the same questions that I have asked myself: Will I lose my identity if I have kids? Will I regret not having kids? The only question we should ask ourselves is, “What decision will make me happy?” I hope people watch this film and feel comfortable enough to answer this question for themselves.
Like many women, Maxine Trump was told she would have difficulties conceiving. But, all her life she hadn’t really wanted kids. Now in her early 40s, she felt that she needed to make a decision: Does she want kids or not? It’s a difficult question that creates a lot of pressure. The filmmaker decides to turn the camera on herself and her family/friends to help her work through this question. She also reaches out to other women to hear their stories.
In Cardiff, we meet Megan who is seeking sterilization. She knows exactly what she wants but has an extremely difficult time finding a doctor who will perform the procedure. It is frustrating to hear her talk about all of the appointments she has gone to only to have people tell her to wait because “you might change your mind.” This isn’t a decision she takes lightly, but she isn’t taken seriously. One of the reasons the filmmaker wants to speak with Megan is because she is so sure of her decision. Trump wonders, what is it like to be so sure? She also examines the other side of the discussion, “What if you regret your decision to have a child?”
“There’s a standard that you can never meet,” says Victoria from New Orleans. She publicly admitted she regretted having a baby. She says, “You have a baby, then you’re asked when you’re having another. It just doesn’t end.” This is something that all women deal with and all women have made certain decisions about. We see clips of Chelsea Handler, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman, Michelle Wolf, and Jen Kirkman, who have all talked publicly about their desire to not have children. Maxine talks to her younger nieces and nephew and asks them if they think there is still an expectation for people to have children. They admit that things are different now, but they don’t think it’s easy for people to come out and say they don’t want children. It’s just not something that people can comfortably admit.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the film is when the filmmaker googles anything related to women not wanting to have kids. There are so many articles and comments out there that basically say women are selfish if they choose not to have kids. But there are also comments that say women are selfish if they do. There’s no winning. Marcia Drut-Davis, author of Confessions of a Childfree Woman: A Life Spent Swimming Against the Mainstream, chose to never have children and she talked about this publicly. In 1974, she and her husband did an interview with 60 Minutes. They included his parents in the interview and explained why they didn’t want to have children. The next day she was fired from her teaching job. She even received death threats. Sadly, not much has changed in the way of how society views you if you do or don’t have children. This is slowly changing, though. Women continue to fight for their reproductive rights, but less women are having children by choice. Times are different, and girls are growing up learning that starting a family isn’t everything.
There are many practical reasons why women choose not to have children: climate change, diminishing resources, high costs of childcare are all major considerations. Maxine Trump makes a good point by mentioning that the childcare industry makes an insane amount of money by selling us things we don’t actually need. All to push the idea that you will be happier if you have a baby.
The filmmaker does a great job of keeping an open dialogue and is able to gain real meaningful answers from all of the women she interviews. It’s like you’re a part of a private conversation with someone who has each subject’s perfect trust. This film made me laugh, cry, feel very angry, and most importantly, feel kind of hopeful. I want to thank Maxine Trump for making this film. Hopefully this gets people talking, or at least continues the discussion and makes the topic less taboo.
Janine Gericke is an Audiovisual Archivist at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley and a regular contributor to Film International.