Few things are as precious as birth. It is how we got here. It is how the next generation will get here. So when South African documentary maker Molatelo Mainetje learns she can’t be part of the birthing process biologically, she finds it hard to take.
At the start of the documentary capturing her journey to seek a solution over years begins, her grandmother recommends a traditional healer. After some activity, the man says he sees a child in her future and diagnoses the root of her problem as the incomplete rituals carried out by her family.
Not long after, she is told by a medical doctor that the problem is she has no fallopian tubes. In other words, the egg and sperm can’t quite meet.
There are options but these are expensive procedures and there is no medical aid for infertility. As a professional in the field tells her, “Infertility is just possibly on the wrong side of the balance between necessary and discretionary”. That is not the side that favours insurance companies, so they don’t cover treatments related to infertility.
This lemon of a situation leads to Molatelo making lemonade in the form of the documentary When Babies Don’t Come. Through her own story, viewers get an account of the process of seeking a child when the popular method fails to work.
A strong part of why this documentary works is with the Molatelo’s relatability as a character. Although she is an accomplished filmmaker, she comes across as a regular woman with the glamour of achievements; she is a human being faced with one of life’s curveballs.
“All I want is to fall pregnant,” she says at one point, lying in a hospital bed. “Life has become meaningless to me.” It is a plausible line for anyone faced with the situation.
Molatelo gets some relief when she is told that 10 of her harvested 13 eggs have been fertilised.
Unfortunately, her partner isn’t around and so there isn’t enough emotional support during the waiting period. When the procedure produces less than satisfactory results, the viewer knows the relationship is doomed. When it is announced that the couple breaks up, it doesn’t evoke surprise.
The rub is that while many societies are rough on the female population and life is harder for many women generally, it is even harder for infertile ones seeking love, romance and the elusive fruit of the womb. Perhaps for worse, Molatelo’s story is relatable for women, regardless of the culture they belong to.
When Babies don’t Come will be screening at the 2019 AFRIFF and is scheduled to screen on Monday 11th November 2019.
Time: 4PM Screen: Filmhouse Landmark, Screen 4.