by Flo Dwek
“Step right up, ladies and gents! Step this way to happiness, to your one and only chance to get your very own, healthy baby! To love and to hold! To take home and cherish for the rest of your lives!”
Does the smarmy salesmanship of a carnival barker offering a prize baby to some lucky wannabe parents sound totally surreal? Well, the truth behind those enticing words to the childless might be just as shocking.
Welcome to the incredible world of infertility in America, as seen through the sensitive lens of Amanda Micheli’s new documentary, HAVEABABY. To enter this world is to be sucked into an unforgiving universe, where the raw emotions of love, loss, anger, pain, longing, frustration and devotion orbit the twin suns of hope and despair. Micheli has made a very watchable, eye-grabbing film about desperate, childless couples and single women with infertility issues, hell bent on conceiving a baby through the super costly miracles of IVF treatment. The rueful wrinkle in this story – they are all finalists in an online contest to win a free course of IVF treatment. Cleverly marketed as “I Believe,” the competition for needy, aspiring parents is sponsored by The Sher Institute, an IVF clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada. Contestants develop and post moving video testimonials of their needs and desires to the website, haveababy.com. Open voting on the Web and subsequent judging by a panel of IVF experts and patients at the clinic determines who will win.
Micheli trains her camera on three diverse subjects and follows them through their ups and downs in this have-a- baby gamble. They are among the many thousands of infertile women in the US who undergo and bravely repeat a truly arduous process that is relatively unknown and misunderstood by those fortunate not to have reproductive problems. For many, it is a last hope, last chance prospect that drains them emotionally, physically and financially. “I was amazed,” says Micheli, in an off screen interview, “by the extreme lengths to which some couples will go to seek this treatment. I knew the contest would be a provocative way into this subject matter, which is so often kept quiet in our culture.” The film is especially moving as it contrasts the personal struggles of the subjects’ lives with the day-to-day high tech workings of the in vitro practice. Although the clinic offers hope, the treatment is still a “numbers game” gamble. Micheli is keenly aware of this fact and emphasizes the crossover between medicine as a calling and a business.
When asked on interview what she wanted the “takeaway” of this film to be, Micheli replies, “I want people walking out of the theater not to take their fertility for granted, to realize that one in six couples worldwide are faced with an infertility diagnosis, and to rethink any pre-conceived notions they may have about these people and the challenges they face.”
HAVEABABY is an important, valiant film that seeks to raise our awareness not only about infertility, but the primal urge to procreate, the meaning of love, marriage and family, and the importance of reproductive choice.
AFI DOCS is the nation’s documentary film festival known for showcasing the best in documentary filmmaking from the US and around the world. The AFI Docs 2016 film festival runs from June 22-June 26, 2016. Screenings are at the AFI Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring, MD; and at several other local venues.
Visit AFI.com/afidocs for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets.
Below are details for HAVEABABY screenings:
June 24th, 6:30pm, Landmark E Street Cinema
June 25th, 11:30am, AFI Silver Theatre