The question of whether or not to have children is faced by the majority of people at a certain point in their lives. Depending on factors such as each individual’s cultural background or socio-economic standing, there may be varying responses to this inquiry. To some people, the concept of procreation is not even a debate; it is deeply rooted in their psychology as a common practice that is almost essential to their worth as a human being. However, there are many more sides to this equation as well. What about women who are physically unable to have children? What about those whom are not in a financially or logistically stable situation? Even still, there are plenty of women with the sensible belief that childbearing is not the ultimate “make-or-break” responsibility in their lives. From writer, director, and producer Maxine Trump, the documentary To Kid or Not to Kid aims to gain a diverse array of perspectives and viewpoints on this potentially controversial matter.
With a complicated medical history herself, Maxine Trump has always been conflicted by the thought of having or even raising children. Biologically, it would be incredibly difficult, and even dangerous, for her to bear children. While the possibility of adoption is still on the table, she is not even confident that committing to such a demanding task is what she wants in life. Coming from a religious background, Trump also struggles with the perceptions of her family and friends, who view having children as a pillar of their faith. A memorable quote of Trump’s from the film was something to the effect of, “When something affects me, I turn on my camera.” Basically, this documentary is an outlet for her confusion, questions, and mixed bag of emotions during this period of her life. Understanding how remarkably personal and intimate this film is to Trump, and the pure passion she is dedicating to it, is very significant when examining its impact. Over the course of the documentary, Trump seeks out true, honest advice from groups of people on all positions of the subject. She has an open conversation with her own mother, voicing her concerns that perhaps devoting her time to a child would “hold her back.” She worries that she would not be able to properly respect the abundant needs of a child. What about the potential danger of postpartum depression? Furthermore, would she be contributing to the ever-growing hazard of overpopulation and its adverse ripple effects? No stone is left unturned as these issues are picked apart.
As Trump sets out to expand her horizons and to gather as many angles on the matter as possible, she comes across two women whose stories, in particular, are eye-opening, however uncomfortable and sensitive they may be. A young woman named Megan is caught up in a battle with doctors to get medical permission to receive a sterilization procedure, which would take away her ability to have children at any point in the future. Her line of thinking is derived from a personal feeling that she held back her own mother from living her fullest life. This notion is quite disheartening to even contemplate as the viewer, but it is a very real-world matter nonetheless. These are the tumultuous reflections that women all over the world experience. In addition to the trials faced by Megan, another woman, Victoria, faces regret. Victoria’s daughter, Morgane, is a grown woman herself now, but Victoria cannot let go of the feeling that she made a mistake in ever having a child. She remembers believing that she would never be a “real woman” until she gave birth and raised a child, which is exactly what she did, and she did this lovingly and compassionately, with full commitment. Even though she has always wondered what might have been, she has never let this interfere with the upbringing of Morgane. Morgane possesses an open-minded outlook on her mother’s point-of-view. She is indeed thankful for the sacrifices made by her mother and loves the life she has been given, but, she also understands the inner turmoil endured by her mother. Some viewers will likely experience a sense of unease at this point in the film. This is extremely touchy subject matter indeed. Yet, to its credit, the documentary does not fully take one side over the other. While Maxine Trump, as the filmmaker, leans in a certain direction, the overall nature of the film remains objective and open to interpretation. It does not place blame on those who hold specific opinions, nor does it shame those on the opposite end of the spectrum. Rather, it asks the tough questions and relies on each singular audience member to make his or her own decision.
In terms of the physical filmmaking components of To Kid or Not to Kid, Maxine Trump was also tasked with the cinematography and editing (along with co-editor Josh Granger). Both of these aspects are handled with extraordinary care and deftness. The assorted B-roll shot-selection includes overhead drone footage, wide angle scene-setting shots of city streets and rural country sides, and concentrated close-ups in the style of “home video” photography. Trump’s narration also provides a supplemental layer of emotion, in which her catharsis is palpable. The intensity with which she approaches this filmmaking project can be felt by the audience members. It does not comes across superficial or scripted, rather, it has a raw and natural quality. A substantial piece of her heart and soul went into making this film, which can be felt with each passing moment.
To Kid or Not to Kid is undoubtedly a film with more questions than answers, but this was precisely the intention of Maxine Trump. She desired to spark a conversation concerning the social pressures of having children and the pros and cons for all parties involved. What results is a challenging, convicting, and often uncomfortable viewing experience. Audience members who prepare themselves for a film of this disposition will be in for an impactful and thought-provoking 75 minutes well spent.
In select theaters November 15th, 2019.
Available for streaming December 2019.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.