Mom & Dad Turn 'Sacrifice' of Pregnancy Into a Movie (VIDEO)

40 Weeks director and producer

When Dominique Debroux got pregnant at the age of 42, her husband Christopher Henze, a documentary filmmaker, shot reams of footage throughout her pregnancy and of their baby girl Gaia once she was born. Soon after Gaia's first birthday, Christopher cobbled together a half-hour home video of his wife's journey to motherhood. That got him thinking: wouldn't it be nice to film a bunch of moms talking, worrying, even venting about their pregnancies?

That's how 40 Weeks, was born.

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"All my friends had already had babies years earlier, so I did not have any friends to live through the experience with," Dominique recalls. "Then I was also morning sick 24/7 --up to at least week 14 -- and reading was a real chore, yet I really wanted to know as much information as possible about the changes I was going through. I complained a lot to Christopher, who found me some scientific programs to watch, but nothing filled my need for community." 

When Christopher came home from a bike ride saying, "Oh my God, we have to make this movie," the Cliffside, New Jersey mom saw it as a way to fill that void for other mothers.

Meanwhile Christopher, who'd worked on documentaries such as Michael Moore's Capitalism: a Love Story, saw the film as a way to pay homage to his wife. "It was an opportunity to give something back to my wife and all women for what they go through so that we can all have families," he says.

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The husband-wife team agreed that Christopher would direct, while Dominique, with her business background, would serve as producer on the film. To find women, the couple began posting flyers at OB/GYN offices. Christopher even approached pregnant strangers he stumbled across at Whole Foods.

"I'm 6'4 and have long hair and a full beard," Christopher says. "I look like a Viking, or a pro wrestler. Only once women heard about the film, it didn't matter how I looked. They were all 'how can I help?'"

Ten months and 350 interviews of  later, the couple had countless reels of footage following 18 women through their pregnancies up until birth. In addition to weekly video interviews, Christopher gave the couples cameras to use at home to document their more private moments. One woman named Phoebe, experienced morning sickness so intense it gave Dominique an entirely new perspective on her own pregnancy troubles.

"I was able to keep most of my food down, but Phoebe couldn't," Dominique recalls. "She'd throw up until she dry heaved, then pass out because she couldn't breathe. I can't count how many times she had to go to the hospital to get IV fluid."

In addition to these physical tolls, pregnancy exacted emotional ones as well.

"The classic one was that around 16 weeks, they'd start to feel their baby move," Christopher says. "Then they wouldn't, and they'd completely freak out, and wish they could get a sonogram to make sure everything was okay. I'd ask these moms whether they thought they were the only woman worrying so much. Every one of them said 'yes.' They thought they were unique, when this was a universal problem!"

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For Christopher, seeing the intense changes pregnant women went through up close only deepened his respect for what moms endure. "From my male point of view, women don't understand how much nature puts women through to have babies," says Christopher. "To me, it's only because of the innate grace that women possess that allows them to actually take on the task." 

Christopher started referring to pregnancy as a "noble sacrifice" -- a term which rankled many women, his wife included. 

"I was one of those people who said, 'sacrifice, are you kidding me? It's not a sacrifice,'" Dominique admits. But over time she came to understand. "My body is never going to be the same," she points out. "A friend of mine put it best when she said motherhood is like having your heart walk around outside of your body. Emotionally you feel so vulnerable all the time. If anything happened to Gaia, my life would be over." 

Once the film was done, the couple approached production studios to distribute the film. "We got a lot of 'I dunno, did you film any teenage moms in jail? It needs more drama,'" Christopher says. "I told them there was plenty of drama as is!"

The couple decided to try a different means of distribution: Gathr, a site where anyone can request to see the movie at a theater near them and invite friends. So far, 56 screenings have been set up nationwide, with the film premiering on December 1.

For Dominique, 40 Weeks serves an important and as-yet-unmet purpose: to drive home that whatever pregnant women are going through, they have plenty of company.

"This film was made as a way to support pregnant women with information and a sense of community to help then feel that they will get through their pregnancies, that they will be fine," she says. Their daughter, now 7, has also seen the film, and highly approves.

"She gave it two thumbs up," Christopher says. "No, actually, she hoisted her feet in the air too and gave it four thumbs up!"

Here's an exclusive clip from the film of one woman named Vicki getting a sonogram where her baby, er, reveals a bit more than she was expecting:

The Stir Exclusive Clip #1 from Big Belli on Vimeo.

What aspect of pregnancy do you wish you heard more women talking about?

 

Image via Christopher Henze

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