Sara Lamm shares her thoughts on creativity
After I watched the documentary Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, I felt inspired and grateful. I also felt curious about just how Ina May and the other farm midwives who were mothers did their work while mothering and how the two directors made the film with toddlers in tow and a baby on the way.
Available now at birthstorymovie.com, the film was released to the public in April 2013 after premiering at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.
It was a real treat to have the chance to talk with director Sara Lamm about that elusive concept of work/family life balance. In a video profile on Makers.com, Lamm asks the questions, “How can we find ways to create visual representations of women in television and film that include women but that honors that they have these responsibilities? Why can’t I look out on the landscape and see what needs doing and do it?”
In my interview with Lamm, I tried to find out how she had managed to do just that while also mothering two children.
The story behind Birth Story
On the question of how creative working moms balance what feels like necessary soul work and the needs of their family, she admitted, “I have no idea.” But I persisted to ask the nitty gritty of what it really looks like to be a movie director and a mom.
Lamm was not yet a mother when she made her first film, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox, about the story behind the soap with the wisdom-laden label. However, the time that passes between the making and the release of the film is long enough to include a full gestation, and then some.
Lamm missed the New York City premiere because she was too far along in her first pregnancy. “The day I went into labor, I was doing radio interviews for the film,” Lamm said. The film’s Los Angeles opening came a week after her daughter was born. There were ongoing demands with the promotion of the film, and Lamm admits that looking back now, she wishes she didn’t have those demands with a nursing baby.
About a year and a half later, pregnant again, Lamm was feeling like she wanted to do something creative but didn’t know what it would be. “I certainly didn’t think ‘Oh, I should go do a documentary.’” A few months later, she had a “tiny baby in a sling and a two-year-old at home” when her friend Mary Wigmore told her over the phone of the opportunity to meet Farm midwife and Spiritual Midwifery author Ina May Gaskin.Lamm and Wigmore asked Gaskin why there was no film telling her story. Wigmore also had a two-year-old at the time, and she and Lamm realized, “Who better to tell the story about pregnancy and birth” than women who were in the thick of it. Gaskin liked the fact that Lamm and Wigmore were both mothers and experienced filmmakers. Wigmore told Lamm of their new project to make the film, “We have to do this. Whatever it takes, I’m going to help you and we’re going to do this.”Lamm took her infant son with her on trips to Tennessee until he was around two. The team usually traveled with a doula, someone who wanted to see the Farm and didn’t need to be paid a lot because she was getting an experience that was meaningful to her. The project was full of goodwill and people the directors really liked who wanted to be part of the project, to meet Ina May, to be on the Farm. The directors’ husbands and children joined on one of their longest shooting trips.
After Birth: Reflections from the other side of production
“We got it done, but the stress levels were high,” Lamm admitted. “It wasn’t easy. And then Mary got pregnant.” Wigmore had her second child a week after the film premiered in Los Angeles in 2012.
The film has now screened all over the world, and what has struck Lamm has been how grateful people are to the Farm midwives and how hungry people were to hear their story. “That is such a gift,” she said. This feedback makes her glad about all the energy she and Wigmore put into the film. “All the nervous breakdowns that we were at the edge of were in service of something else…It’s what Mary said early on: this project was bigger than us and we had to trust in that.”
Lamm’s schedule has loosened up some of late. “The challenge of home life has ebbed and flowed,” she said, with sometimes more and sometimes less busy-ness.
Managing work and family
Lamm’s children were both in school daily last year, with her son staying the longer day offered by his preschool until 3 p.m. Lamm said she does whatever is child-related until about 10 a.m. and picks up the children three days a week. She tries to be fully with them those days, doing the grocery shopping and taking care of other home responsibilities.
Two days a week, Lamm said she works what she considers a full working day until 5 or 6 p.m. and has a babysitter pick up the children. “Those days are the most productive because I’m able to get into the work flow the most,” she said. But she’s still in caretaker mode, thinking ahead to make sure the babysitter is fed along with her children.
Lamm’s husband, also a filmmaker, has a flexible but demanding schedule that has him either definitely home or definitely not. He picks up the children when he can, but that’s not integrated into the family schedule.
When I spoke with Lamm toward the end of the school year, she was looking forward to a summer of swimming with the kids and dealing with a house renovation. She admitted that the sprint to finish and promote the film did cause a strain. “The frayed out nerves are real,” she said.
However, she also shared what she doesn’t like to hear from women who have gone out and done something amazing: that they look back and say it was a mistake or that they wish they hadn’t done it. That really undermines their achievement, Lamm said. We should ask the question of how we can support women in their creative pursuits, she added. The answer “can’t be ‘work harder,’ or ‘just return emails at 2 a.m.,’” Lamm said.
A quandary not unique to filmmakers
As I prodded about the push-pull of creative work that fills one’s soul in the face of raising children and ensuring their souls learn to sing, too, Lamm said she didn’t have any clear answers, and she knew she wasn’t alone.
“How many women are blogging, being voices of their community, creating glue among people and never making money? How many are community organizing, making beautiful things in our schools? And there’s no economic payback for that work. From the birth world, there are so many women who offer their services for free because we love what we do, and in some ways that is a payment in its own way.”
Doing important work contributes to a positive sense of self, which benefits the whole family. But still, without formal recognition from the mainstream world of work, “the internal strain of stepping away” to do creative or volunteer work is greater, Lamm noted.
She added, “Then there’s some other element of maternal guilt, those internal voices that say you should be around more, you should exercise more, you should be achieving more.” Lamm worried that her answers were less positive than she intended and suggested that I was catching her at a less than optimal time. I countered that I appreciated the assurance that my challenges are shared by highly successful artistic moms. Little did she know that it would take another four months to get this post up, going back and forth about photos and drafts! I know of what she speaks!
Lamm said she thinks often about whether we are “going to shift our culture in one way or another to be more supportive of mothers – or parenting – not just mothers. We as mothers have to be able to make art. We have to be able to know what it feels like. When you express something it starts to become more real.” Lamm values making art that puts the experiences of women in the museum and at the movie theater, “not just whispered in the kitchen.”
Although she said she heard some of the Farm midwives say they looked back and regretted that they were too busy in their earlier days of working and parenting, one of their daughters said, “Mom, I don’t see it that way at all. I look at everything you do and am inspired by it.”
Lamm had a smile in her voice when she spoke of “the inspiring image of an incredible mom doing incredible things that can inspire girls and boys.” Lamm’s own daughter said at the age of four, “Daddy makes pretend movies about pretend things. Mommy, you make real movies about real things. I want to be a mommy and I want to make movies about babies.”
If a preschooler sees those two things going together, who’s to tell her otherwise?
Author’s note: Spanish subtitles for the documentary Birth Story are available at http://watch.birthstorymovie.com/, and an educational version of the film is now out at http://birthstorymovie.com/educational/ A discussion guide for birth educators and other classroom educators is almost complete. Stay tuned to http://comingsoon.birthstoryclassroom.com/
Photo: Sara Lamm filming Birth Story. Credit: Mary Wigmore
About Jessica Claire Haney
Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer and HBAC mother of two living in Northern Virginia. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Hip Mama, Mothering magazine, the Journal of Attachment Parenting International, and most recently in the new breastfeeding anthology: Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding from Demeter Press. Jessica is the founder and co-leader of the Arlington/Alexandria chapter of Holistic Moms Network and is starting a new local resource site: DC Healthy Green Families. She is also working on her first novel. Her website is JessicaClaireHaney.com, and her blog is Crunchy-Chewy Mama: Living naturally, most of the time.