Creating Jacob

posted in Behind the scenes

Creating Jacob

In March of 2016 I set out to create a short and straightforward personal film sharing the story of my mother’s experience with infertility, pregnancy loss, and stillbirth.

I planned to spend a few afternoons and weekends shooting and editing, but what I first envisioned as a 3-minute piece focused on my mother’s tale led me to places and people I never imagined. Nine months and countless interviews and stories later, I present to you my first short documentary, ‘Jacob’. Anchored to one woman’s story, it explores the cultural implications surrounding infertility and pregnancy and infant loss.

Where it all began

After giving birth to me, my mother had an awful experience in her attempt to have more children and grow her family. Some of my earliest memories are of accompanying her to the infertility clinic, fighting day after day, week after week to have another child. Over the course of this gruelling struggle, she lost a total of six pregnancies, the last of which ended in the stillbirth of my brother Jacob.

On February 2nd, 1999, I sat in the hallway of Credit Valley Hospital listening to my parents wail in pain as they held the body of their dead child. Their pain was felt then and continues to be a part of their story. But while this experienced shaped my family significantly, it was barely acknowledged publicly.

I watched my parents suffer in silence as their pain was often overlooked, treated insensitively, or downright disregarded. And unfortunately, this experience is not unique. It’s an issue that often gets swept under the rug; an issue to which many say, “just get over it.”

Growing and growing

Six months ago, I set out on a journey to explore the topic. After gathering some footage, I cut a short trailer and released it on social media. I expected to release the full piece within a few weeks, but within hours of releasing the trailer I received an incredible amount of emails and messages: I had family and friends open up about their personal losses I had never known about; I had strangers share their painful experiences, opening up about things they had never shared with anyone before. Additionally, the trailer helped me gain access to some incredible organizations and professionals who had been researching the topic for years. Almost by accident, this piece expanded into something larger, and over time, it became obvious that it could become a tool for women and families going through this hard experience.

Over the last several months, I travelled to universities and colleges, Sunnybook, Queen’s Park, and countless locations across the GTA. Through it all, it hit me just how common this issue is, and yet how in 2016 there still seems to be a fog surrounding the discourse of this topic. In creating this piece, I found a community of incredible people working hard to transform the dialogue surrounding pregnancy and infant loss, and as such, my piece slowly began to change shape and bend to include more about the hopeful changes that are starting to happen in our society.

Meaningful work

From a filmmaking perspective, I wanted to create a piece that properly expressed, dignified, and gave justice to not just their experience, but to anyone who’s been touched by pregnancy and infant loss. As someone who started my career as a social worker, story-telling and exploring emotions is important to me, and communicating tough and powerful issues through the art of film is the best way I know how to see that through.

With every project I undertake, my goal is always to create work that means something and that challenges people — myself included. In creating ‘Jacob’, I had to dig deep within to hone my voice, and in doing so, I can only hope that I created a piece that can offer catharsis and resonate with some.

This has been a tough process both professionally and personally. Between having zero funding and working through such a personal topic, this project was truly powered only by the emotional stories of strangers and family, my desire to chase them, and thanks to the help of a few friends who donated their time and effort. And while I hope this piece does justice to the topic, I can’t help but think about how much more I could have done.

Things I missed

I wanted to shed light on the emotional experience of women who have experienced loss, in an effort to offer a conversation tool for those who perhaps can’t express themselves. However, focusing on this one sphere forced me to omit several points that I think are important to express:

  • Everyone’s experience is different and we cannot measure one families experience against another. Some are affected for life, while others are able to easily move one. We have to respect the individual voices of those affected and meet them where they are most comfortable.
  • I had to leave out significant parts of my interviews that explored the experiences of fathers and partners. We need to remember that these individuals have their own hopes and dreams and also require their own level of support during loss. As a man, I call on other men to be there for their friends who have experienced loss. Don’t be afraid to “go there.”
  • I did not include much of my mom’s actual experience at the hospital or fertility clinics, but it was generally a bad experience to say the least. While there were compassionate workers and nurses occasionally, the systemic framework was just not equipped at that time. Subsequently, the researchers also described the harrowing experience that many women have had in the hospital setting. It ranges from sad to horrific. I have heard awful stories that take place in the last five years, and we need to remember that there are families that have seen unspeakable things, and encountered poor treatment in what is supposed to be a safe place. This is not an indictment against doctors or nurses, as there are many of them who handle the situation wonderfully. It is however a statement that while we have come far, there is still much to be done.
  • There are so many positive changes politically and medically, and I could only share a small snapshot. In particular, the two researchers from Brock University are currently working with emergency room nurses to study how they triage women experiencing loss in their hospitals. Together, they are looking at building a new framework that will better serve those who are in need. This process is ongoing, and I’m excited to see where there work takes them.

There is so much more to be said, and so much more that I missed. Some stories are too personal to share, and other might take some time to package. Eventually, I want to find a way to share the additional interview segments that were cut from this piece. I’ll share more about this down the line.

Moving Forward

It’s important to finish on a positive note.

There has been an incredible shift in society and this is just the beginning. There are political changes being made, research taking place, and lives being changed. In just a couple decades, I have seen incredible improvements in how hospitals, workplaces, and politicians support those going through loss. In particular, social media has created an incredible platform for people to organize around this topic, and witness real change. Further, I believe we are in a time where people are (usually) able to share more, talk more, and own their pains. We have a chance to create a more open and healthy society, through healthy communication. If you or someone you know has experienced this type of loss, I hope that you find the courage to speak. For the rest of us, it’s time to take a step back and just listen.

Thank you

I have so many people to thank for this, and I couldn’t have done it without you.

In the piece: Ann Lovering, Joyce Engel, Wendy Moulsdale, Mike Colle, Cori DuHasky, Lynne Rempel.

Behind the scenes: Sabrina Smelko, Zachary Scholtz, John Challinor, Dee, Chris, Theo, Glenn, Anne, and Will. And of course my father David Lovering.

I also want to thank Knox Church in Milton for allowing me to film in their facility, the great people at Sunnybrook who allowed me to film throughout their hospital, and Mr. Colle and his team who helped me gain access to Queen’s park. And to many more — you know who you are!

I hope you enjoyed my piece and I’d love to hear more about what you think: Shawn@wildandlight.com

7 comments

  1. I am a friend of your mom’s and when she told me about Jacob and you will be doing a documentary, I waited in anticipation.
    You have been blessed with such wonderful caring parents and I thank you and your parents for sharing this story. I have not experienced such loss but have many friends & family that have! Thank you for you dedication and passion for sharing this story. It was truly emotional for me to watch it, however such a powerful piece of work.
    I look forward to your next documentary. You did a fabulous job!

  2. Absolutely and painfully beautiful Shawn .. you have honoured your family and this tragic subject with this touching piece of work ❤ thank you so much.

  3. Hi Jacob,
    We are an organisation in Australia called Still Aware, which aims to raise awareness of stillbirth in hopes of prevention. We focus on empowering pregnant families to monitor their baby’s movements to know when something doesn’t feel right, and encourage them to seek help. We also create support communities for bereaved parents to help them acknowledge and grieve their baby in a safe environment.
    One of our volunteers shared your video with us, and we just wanted to tell you that you have created one of the most powerful and honest videos we have seen regarding a family’s experience with pregnancy and infant loss. You have given a voice to so many who are still struggling with their loss.
    We will be proud to share the video on our Facebook Page this Sunday (12/18), facebook/com/stillbirthaware
    Thank you again!
    Jessica and Still Aware

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thank so much for the kind comment. I’m glad that you think it will be a great tool for families. I’m very excited that you will be sharing the video. Thanks so much Still Aware team!

      All the best,

  4. Pingback:Watch 'Jacob', A Documentary on Pregnancy and Infant Loss – Sabrina Smelko Loves You

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