Friday 5 October 2018

"Child of Mine" (Guardian 05/10/18)

Child of Mine ***
Dir: Katie Rice. Documentary with the voice of Amanda Holden. 71 mins. Cert: 12A

The UK’s high rate of stillbirth – one in 200 pregnancies, among the most elevated in the developed world – is generating a growing number of documentaries aiming to initiate a wider dialogue. Debbie Howard’s 2015 film Still Loved spoke to Midlands parents in the process of grieving or moving on; now director Katie Rice provides three case studies with varying outcomes, released – as was Howard’s film – to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week. The films share certain tropes: sobering first-person testimony, a poignant emphasis on artefacts that make such loss palpable (photos, condolence notes, those unworn booties), and understandably brief running times, both recognition this is a tough subject to talk about, and a small, precious offering of hope, intended to go partway towards replacing what has been lost.

There are differences in approach. Howard’s personal, reflective tapestry found its subjects alone months or years after the event, and watched them organising themselves into a community of the bereaved. Rice’s is briskly structural and immediate, taking a sample group of couples either undergoing stillborn pregnancies or trying again in their wake, and showing us the safety nets placed around them by institutions such as UCLH and Rosie’s in Cambridge. Nothing swaddles the pain of an ultrasound discovering that one of expected twins no longer has a heartbeat – the most wrenching sequence here – but Rice also hears out midwives and obstetricians you’d want at your bedside, and who extend the field of inquiry into the political by pointing out serious shortfalls in funding and staff levels.

Bearing the C4 logo and an Amanda Holden voiceover, its essence is televisual, although there’s clearly no honest way to dress these tragedies up. Rice instead gathers fly-on-the-delivery-room-wall footage, and close-ups of her subjects summoning immense inner strength, because she knows what these images communicate: simply that this is what happens, and this is how people get through it – because they do get through it. We’re at the start of a long-overdue conversation, but Rice enters it with the same tact and compassion she witnesses in those medical professionals her film elevates to the status of everyday heroes, wise enough to know they can’t make that pain vanish entirely, yet able to reassure us, and provide us with the facts we need to try and move ahead. 

Child of Mine opens in selected cinemas from today.

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