Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mom in the Spotlight: Filmmaker, Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a writer, performer, and one of the directors of the new documentary film, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives, which won the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival Audience Award and is currently in community previews across the country. Her first film, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox, was released theatrically in 2007 and premiered on The Sundance Channel's The Green.  Her work has also appeared on NPR, and in performance venues throughout NYC.  For five years she produced and performed in Dog & Pony, a live NYC variety show featuring sketch comedy and multi-media performance.  She lives in Los Angeles. 
The feature-length documentary BIRTH STORY: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives tells the story of counterculture heroine Ina May Gaskin and her spirited friends, who began delivering each other’s babies in 1970, on a caravan of hippie school buses, headed to a patch of rural Tennessee land. With Ina May as their leader, the women taught themselves midwifery from the ground up, and, with their families, founded an entirely communal, agricultural society called The Farm. They grew their own food, built their own houses, published their own books, and, as word of their social experiment spread, created a model of care for women and babies that changed a generation’s approach to childbirth.
Forty years ago Ina May led the charge away from isolated hospital birthing rooms, where husbands were not allowed and mandatory forceps deliveries were the norm. Today, as nearly one third of all US babies are born via C-section, she fights to preserve her community’s hard-won knowledge. With incredible access to the midwives’ archival video collection, the film not only captures the unique sisterhood at The Farm Clinic–from its heyday into the present–but shows childbirth the way most people have never seen it–unadorned, unabashed, and awe-inspiring.

How old are your children?
I have a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son.

Where were you in your career when your children were born?
I had just finished my first documentary film, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox, when my daughter was born. When she was a week old, I took her to the LA premiere.(

I am a mere mortal mom who struggles to keep writing and to plan her dance classes. How did you navigate the demands of making an award-winning film, including the travel you had to do, with motherhood?
The lucky thing is that we were two moms working together--my directing partner Mary Wigmore and I shared the weight--which I highly recommend to anyone who is struggling to get things done (which is all of us!)--the support of another woman is key to the process I think. We had each other's back and we were able to pick up the slack when one of our children got sick, a babysitter cancelled, a husband had to leave town for work, etc. Not to mention the fact that we had each other for emotional support. When things got crazy, I could count on Mary to make me laugh. There were a few times where we laughed until we cried and a few other times where we cried until we laughed.

The shared experience is so meaningful and has been a big part of making me feel not just connected to the film, but also to Planet Earth…As for the travel, we did the best we could--we planned things around school schedules, slipped out for short bursts of filming and tried to keep the lunches made at home. But it must be said: the house is a mess! (Pick the top three priorities and let the rest go!)

You are a part of the continuum of women bringing awareness to the issue of women reclaiming their birth experience.  You mention outreach in your Fit Pregnancy interview.  What kind out outreach programs are you planning?  
For now we are working with a number of community organizations who are hosting preview screenings in their regions. Hopefully, these activist groups are able to use our film to raise money and awareness for their own work, and at the same time we are able to continue to fund our own distribution plans. We have been working with a terrific writer who is developing educational discussion guides, specifically designed to help people understand that the stories we tell about birth in our families and culture have a great deal to do with the way we experience birth in our own lives. The Farm Midwives told themselves something very different about birth than what you hear in the mainstream culture: they exchanged positive stories, loved their bodies, and developed a birth culture where fear was not the dominant energy.

Ina May at a prenatal visit

With the high incidence of c-sections in the U.S., many women hold natural, unmedicated birth as an ideal.  Even with a healthy baby, they feel a profound sense of disappointment and failure when this perfect birth experience isn't realized.  Can you speak to this a little?   
I agree with you, in some circles women are set up to feel like they have failed if they do not get a perfectly ecstatic birth experience. I would hate to think that our film contributes to that feeling--a great doula I know always says that each baby comes into the world in the way she is meant to, and we can learn from each one of those experiences.

My first birth was unmedicated, for example, but I still had funny feelings about it that I had to deal with--it was a four-hours-of-pushing challenge, and I had to understand that part of it was about digging deep while also surrendering to the help of my doula, and part of it was about being kind to myself.

Each birth is a narrative and we can look to these narratives to learn about ourselves--they are like dreams: What details stand out? What did our intuition say to us? What feelings do we remember having in each moment? How can we be gentle with ourselves, and honor our births, NO MATTER WHAT? And then, on top of that, we have to recognize that as women giving birth, we aren't isolated in our individual experiences--we are part of a system, and that system has a history, and a culture, and a particular belief system. So a birth that doesn't go "as planned," can become great terrain for meaty investigation of all sorts.

Meanwhile, I try to say a few other things to people when they ask about this issue. First, if you are deemed "low-risk," please make sure that you are setting yourself up with an experienced, well-trained caregiver who has a true, deep, and wise understanding of the physiology of uninterrupted birth--often times, but not always, this caregiver will be a midwife, a.k.a an Expert in Normal Birth. You must feel comfortable with this person, and you must feel that she is capable, and also kind. And you must give yourself permission to CHANGE PROVIDERS if its not working (if, of course you are lucky enough to have the health insurance which allows you to do so, which in our country not everyone has...)

Second, you do all the work you need to do emotionally and physically to greet your birth head on, with a clear intention, and then third, you hold the outcome lightly. This last part is important--you must hold the outcome in your hands and heart but you must hold it lightly--with the knowledge that you have done everything that you can to prepare and now the baby will show you what is next. C-sections are marvelous things when they are necessary. 

Many moms constantly feel torn between staying true to themselves and devoting themselves to their children and families.  As artists we have no choice but to stay connected to our passion, but we cannot always avoid the guilt.  Have you experienced this?

Oh boy have I ever. This is the NUMBER ONE topic among every creative mother I know. In the last 24 hours I have heard of three separate job opportunities that three separate friends have turned down because they simply couldn't bear the amount of time they would have to spend away from their children.

The days are spent recalibrating--today not enough time at home, next week not enough time at work--the best relief is hearing other women talk about the dilemma. And focusing on The Middle Path--some mothering, some art, never all or nothing—a Mother Artist is its own, vital part of the world--not only a mother and not only an artist--how to stand tall in that identity and find others like us--that's the challenge!

One solace I take is that both of my kids will grow up in a house with a mother who models being engaged creatively in the outside world. My daughter said to me the other day, "When I grow up I want to be a mommy…and I want to make a movie!" I hope I am around then to babysit for her!

Sara shooting at the Farm

How does being an artist play into your parenting?
I hope that the emotional literacy I have learned from creative work is a major characteristic of my parenting. On my best days I am present, and playful, and I give my kids courage to face a million possibilities.

As your kids are concerned, TV or not TV? 
Some TV! No guilt! (Wild Kratts!)

Must-have mommy quality you wish you could get in an IV drip?
I wish that I had the ability to tolerate two children screaming for bubble gum and bonking each other on the head while the phone rings and the tea kettle boils.

Advice for mom artists with big dreams?
Stick together.

Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore
photo: CJ Hicks

For information on how to organize a community screening or to join tmailing list for DVDs and downloads, please visit   and .


  1. This IS a must-read! It is affirming and challenging at the same time.

  2. Great interview... I am looking forward to seeing this film. Thanks for sharing!


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