Documentary explores 'safe motherhood'

Part 2: A documentary filmmaker’s exploration of ‘safe motherhood’

In the United States, 1 in 4,800 women die in childbirth. In Nigeria, it’s 1 in 18. Dawn Sinclair Shapiro, a Chicago documentary filmmaker and mother of two, brings viewers into the lives of a team of doctors, nurses, and midwives delivering babies in Nigeria through her latest film, The Edge of Joy.

With The Edge of Joy, Sinclair Shapiro has created a social impact film meant to provide a deeper understanding of the complex and nuanced issue of maternal health. Right away, viewers can see it is not a documentary meant to take sides on the issues of reproductive rights. Sinclair Shapiro maintains a keen focus on what it’s like to be on the ground in these clinics, where 36,000 Nigerian women die in childbirth each year.

“Many stakeholders in the world of global reproductive health have embraced the film and used it as a tool to deepen the understanding of the issue to lobby for safe motherhood around the world,” Sinclair Shapiro says.

The film is a character-driven look at Nigeria’s varied population and landscape, chronicling a handful of women’s birthing experiences in both the Islamic north and the Christian south. The Edge of Joy examines what it’s like to be inside a maternity ward in Nigeria, a nation that has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

“In the film we illustrate the barriers to healthcare for women in two Nigerian communities. Through a very organic reportage, viewers travel with our characters as they face transportation, logistic, cultural, religious and political obstructions.”

Sinclair Shapiro says audiences have drawn comparisons between family planning access in the United States and abroad.

“We began a soft launch of the film in November 2010,” she says, “and in every live group screening across the country, the question of women’s access to healthcare in the global south and in the United States is of major interest and concern.”

Nigeria has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world

The debate about family planning takes on different meaning depending upon the context. For Americans in a land of comfort, it’s one thing. In rural Africa, it’s another issue entirely. Sinclair Shapiro says her interest in issues surrounding maternal mortality emerged with the birth of her first son, during a conversation with her doula, Mary Sommers.

“Still flush with new mom hormones and sleep deprivation, I don’t know how but my journalistic tendencies began surfacing,” she explains. “Mary confirmed my gnawing suspicion that the tragic tales my great aunts told about childbirth were still being played out.”

“When she told us hundreds of thousands of women die in pregnancy and childbirth in the developing world, I hugged my son tighter and knew someday I would address this in my work, but how, when, and where, I hadn’t a clue.”

In the United States, 1 in 4,800 women die in childbirth. In Nigeria, it’s 1 in 18.

Some of Sinclair Shapiro’s partners include Pathfinder International, the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation, Population Connection, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Bill and Melinda Gates Center for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins, the World Bank, the Global Health Initiative University of Chicago Medical Center, and the United Nations Population Fund. She plans to announce broadcast partnerships in the coming months.

“I’ve never ‘forced a marriage’ with the film,” she says of the partner organizations. “The outreach partnerships often formed when someone from the organization saw the film and was motivated to reach out to me directly. My outreach manager, Diedre Paterno Pai, and I work very closely with each partner to create a platform tailored to its organization and audience.

“Some use it as a tool to garner a deeper understanding of the issue internally, some use it for fundraising, and many are using it as a tool to lobby for maternal health initiatives – not only abroad but here in the U.S. too.”

Part 1: Women physicians key to perinatal care in Tanzania

Part 3: Dr. Joey Banks on education’s impact on Tanzanian women’s health issues

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