One of the most fundamental questions every woman must face is whether or not to have children. Growing closer and closer to her mid-forties, director Maxine Trump finds herself at this crossroads in her intimate, diary-like documentary. Trump wrestles with her private convictions to not have children versus the overall societal expectation to have them. In a world where the pope says that not having children is selfish, Trump enjoys the solitude of her simple life as a travelling filmmaker and fears losing this identity with motherhood.
To Kid or Not to Kid explores a wide variety of perspectives—from one woman seeking sterilisation, a housewife with five children, a teacher who got fired after making her childless lifestyle public, and another woman who wrote a blog post about her child being a huge mistake. The over-reliance on talking heads is a bit frustrating, but Trump attempts to provide some visual variety with lovely shots of New York City or playgrounds. The documentary flourishes during the tough and candid conversations Trump has with her husband, mother, and sister about her life-changing decision. Trump feels in light of environmental issues and overpopulation, having a child would be selfish. She relayed this idea to her ex-best friend who was a new mother at the time, and was subsequently cut off from her life. Trump carries this guilt throughout the film.
The documentary presents a lot of inquiries in Trump’s stilted voice over—the kind of universal questions all women grapple with when they reach child-bearing age—but offers little answers. To Kid or Not to Kid lacks structure and is too scattershot to make such a significant, ubiquitous conversation effective; nevertheless, it presents discussions worth having, particularly for ambitious women with career aspirations. Can one truly have it all? For Trump, it seems that caring for a child while balancing a career is impossible and sacrifices on either end must be made.
The most moving portions of the documentary are the ones with Trump’s loved ones. Trump’s mother speaks of the “golden dream” of seeing her children surrounding her at the Thanksgiving table. She worries that her daughter will have no one to care for her when she is elderly. Scenes with Trump’s husband are refreshingly frank. One question looms over the pair: Are they a real couple without children? Trump explores the double standards between genders as she is made to feel like less of a woman because she is childless whereas her husband is not less of a man. Midway through the documentary, her husband discovers he has children from a previous relationship. This news brings forth a host of uncertainties and complications, including debates about birth control and getting a vasectomy.
By the end of the documentary, Trump learns to embrace her choice not to have children, and know that this decision is completely normal. She finds a home with other women at The NotMom: Childless Childfree Women conference. The only conclusion reached in this desultory but worthy documentary is that every individual has the right to choose and should not be condemned for their decision. To Kid or Not to Kid may have a tattered presentation, but it gives a sympathetic voice to the kind of thorny questions every woman faces.
To Kid or Not to Kid is out on Digital now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here.