Miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, pregnancy loss--Four terms that held little meaning to me until a few months ago. I'm a 24-year-old male who's definitely not thinking about having kids for some time. I know what all of these terms mean; there've been multiple miscarriages in my family.
I knew that these were tragic things. I knew that the people experiencing them were in pain. However, what I knew was a purely academic knowledge, at best. So when I was brought on to help film and produce a documentary about those four terms, I was equal parts intrigued and apprehensive.
I looked into the research and was astounded by just how common miscarriage, stillbirth and infertility are and how little we as a culture talk about it amongst ourselves. My personal history with miscarriage specifically, mirrored the data. I knew that these types of losses happened.
I also knew that, as far as my family was concerned, I wasn't supposed to talk about it. Still, even if I felt it was acceptable to talk about it, what would I say? I had no understanding of that kind of pain. What help could my ignorance provide to someone going through that experience? These were the same thoughts that fueled my apprehension.
I knew then that this issue was more prevalent than the world was willing to recognize. I knew then that lack of consideration only makes the suffering of those who experience these types of losses more severe. Even with all of that knowledge, the questions remained: how could I help bring light to something I didn't really have experience with? How could I help make an audience care and feel a pain that I didn't quite understand?
At the start of filming, I took solace in the fact that answering all of these questions didn't rest on me. I told myself I'd focus on doing the best I could with filming and organizing the project and things would turn out the best they possibly could; and as we prepped for our first filming event, I kept that singular thought in my head.
Our first shoot, a heartwarming walk/run event for stillbirths, was long, but eventful. I felt good, energized; the weather reflected the disposition of those at the event: warm and bright. I didn't have much of a chance to process everything going on, with the rigor and chaos that comes with filming a live event, but I did forget about the voices of doubt in my head for awhile.
Then the interview sessions started: one at a time, people who'd I never met before sat down in front of me to share the story of their loss. Just me, them, and the camera between us. I was concerned about not knowing what to say and not knowing if or how I should react to the stories they shared. I didn't want to make a strenuous experience worse due to my ignorance, so I focused on my work and hoped that would be enough.
After an hour into the sessions, I still hadn't achieved any greater understanding.
I honestly feel part of that was due to the fact that I am male. The other part is that when you go into a subject like this, you expect to see women crying. I knew their pain was real, I knew that it was substantial, I knew how to be sympathetic, but I had no understanding of how that feels, as a man. I began to wonder if it was some defect in me.
That was until Carrie and Dale walked in.
The change happened very subtly. Every time Dale spoke I found my eyes drifting up from the camera monitor towards them. In front of me was a man who, when he spoke about his child, expressed the desires that I've verbalized when thinking about having children of my own. The way he showed his concern and love for his wife was the way I want to feel for someone one day.
I understood this man, right down to his balance of emotional fortitude and vulnerability. I saw myself in this man. I watched him struggle to express himself, to fight back tears, to be a source of support for his wife as she dispelled her pain. I sat transfixed as he lost a struggle with himself.
For a moment, I witnessed this man break, and in that moment something in me broke as well. I found myself losing the same struggle. That was the moment I finally understood: a few years from now, that could easily be me on the other side of the camera. Those could be my hopes and dreams. That could be my love, anticipation and excitement. That could also be my heartache, confusion, frustration and struggle. That could easily be my pain.
I learned more from that moment than any amount of research could provide. I understood why these people were in so much pain. I understood why and how they could sit in front of a camera and tell a perfect stranger what could possibly be the most sensitive aspect of their life. From that point on I didn't just know we were helping these people, I understood how we were helping them.
At the end of the day, this could be any one of us. This isn't something that "only happens to other people." That misunderstanding is what we're going to debunk, but it will take a collective effort to truly make a difference. We need to speak to people from all over the globe and different walks of life, who have different perspectives, hopes, dreams and fears.
We need to show those who can't empathize with this struggle people they can connect with to also help them understand the gravity of this failure in our global culture. We need to introduce every audience member their "Dale."
So I make this request as someone who, by most respects, seems unqualified to make it: help us find the Dales of the world. Help us reach them and capture their stories. Tell anyone you think will listen, even just a little. Help us help them and, ultimately, everyone.
And Dale, if you're reading this, thank you for sharing your story.
Alec is the Creative Director and Co-Owner of Stereoscope Studios, and the Associate Producer for Don't Talk About the Baby. Follow him on Twitter for the latest news on Stereoscope Projects.