I never intended to make a film about AIDS.
But years ago, when a friend told me that his HIV+ girlfriend did not believe that HIV was the cause of AIDS, my ears perked up a bit. Later I heard that she was pregnant and didn't intend to get any HIV medical treatment for herself or her child– she didn’t even plan to have her child tested once he was born.
I was astonished. I was incensed. Who was this woman, I thought? Didn't she read the newspapers? Didn't she know the risk to her child if she didn't begin treatment immediately? Whatever her "opinions" were about HIV/AIDS, did she really have the right to impose them on her unborn child? Really?
Out of sheer curiousity I met her. I discovered that she was not the conspiracy-theory nutcase I was expecting. She was articulate, funny, and frankly, pretty healthy. Yeah, she fully intended to have her baby without any HIV interventions, and guess what? She was planning on breastfeeding. A number of thoughts passed through my head. Denial was at the top of the list. But I kept listening.
After spending a few hours with her, I suggested that this might make a good documentary. She thought about that for a moment and then she pulled out a newspaper article about an HIV+ mother in Oregon that had recently lost custody of her 4 day-old son for choosing to breastfeed him. These were folks from everyday America, she explained. In fact their story reached beyond the whole AIDS thing and got right down into the issue of parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their children. “This is the story you should tell”, she said.
So I did. Over the next few months I assembled a small crew, raised some cash and flew up to Oregon to begin filming what I liked to call “medical tyranny in action”. (I don’t anymore. I realize now that that was a really, really dorky phrase). I filled 4-inch binders with weighty research as a I stormed around the country interviewing other families with similar stories to tell. I tracked down doctors, prosecutors and social service workers trying to find an objective balance or at least some common ground. More than one doctor told me that my film was “irresponsible”. A well known champion of the documentary community told me that if it were up to him, my little film would be “censored”. Censored. Suddenly I was controversial. I documented with something close to complacency the experiences of these families I had come to know, as the children continued to grow and defy their prognoses of inevitable death.
Until they didn’t. At least not all of them.
And it dawned on me that this was more than just a story of legal battles mired in scientific controversy. These were people’s actual lives. I continued to document their experiences, listening with great and genuine empathy, but I grappled frequently with my own uncertainty. Frankly, I was ashamed to at how often I began to wonder , what if they were all wrong?
In the end I did not make a film about AIDS after all. At its heart This Child of Mine is the story of parents faced with profoundly difficult decisions for their children. Parents who are not infallible but who all want what is best for their children. Who have the courage to stand alone against doctors, social services, state prosecutors, and often public outrage. Despite my reservations about the decisions some of these parents made, I admired their conviction. Their tenacity. The will that they had to fight for their kids no matter what. And I wondered what I would do if faced with those same decisions.
Watch the film and ask yourself, if it were your child, what would you do? You might be surprised that the answer is not as simple as you think.
This Child of Mine
Director: Jennifer Finocchio Wolfe
Producers: Jennifer Finocchio Wolfe, Alyson Mead, Eric Potter
Editor: Eric Potter
Camera: Tom Clancey
Music: Jason Kleinberg