Last weekend was Postpartum Support International-New Jersey‘s Lunafest fundraiser. The seven short films were diverse and interesting, but the one that happened to have some relevance to maternal mental health was “How to Swim” by Noa Gusakov. It spoke to me the most, which is why I decided to write about it. It made me think about the importance of social support. Having adequate social support from other maternal figures (and doulas when there are no family members or friends as options) is very beneficial, to say the least. Having inadequate social support can increase the risk of postpartum mood disorders, especially if there are other biopsychosocial factors in the mix.
If you haven’t yet watched the short, please do so before reading on, as my review below has tons of spoilers.
“How to Swim” is a 14-1/2 minute short film about Avigail, a young woman pregnant with her first child who is so anxious about being a new mom that she “kidnaps” a maternal stranger one afternoon. There are moments throughout the film that touched me and made me laugh. This is a short that is definitely worth watching. I can see how it has won awards and recognition at numerous movie festivals.
The film starts in the waiting area of the hospital where Avigail and her husband are waiting for their visit with the doctor. She observes the interactions of another pregnant woman and her mother (Tammy) with envy, wishing her own mother could be with her. When the other pregnant woman leaves the waiting room, Avigail goes over to talk to Tammy who, as it turns out, was leaving the hospital. Wanting to spend more time interacting with Tammy, Avigail pretends to be a childhood friend of Tammy’s daughter. Avigail tells Tammy she happens to be going in the same direction and offers her a ride. Tammy needs to go to the mall, and Avigail says she also needs to get something from there…..and they end up shopping & chatting away the afternoon. They seem to bond, but all due to the pretense that their lives intersected with Tammy’s daughter.
Of course, the truth does come out and Tammy reacts with shock/fear that Avigail “kidnapped” her, but she becomes somewhat understanding once Avigail explained why she did what she did. One gathers from watching the way Avigail talks about her mother that she isn’t simply too far away to be with her. My reaction was immediate sympathy for Avigail. I don’t believe Avigail planned to “kidnap” Tammy, but just wanted to have a conversation with her that led to their spending the afternoon together. It really is sort of a creepy thing to do, but at the same time, I could imagine myself in Avigail’s shoes. I could imagine feeling scared of going into motherhood for the first time without my own mother by my side to guide me. I could imagine wanting a maternal mentor so badly that I would try to become friends with one that I have a good feeling about. I don’t know if Avigail has any other maternal figures in her life, like other relatives or friends that are mothers. Assuming she doesn’t, then it makes first-time motherhood all the more frightening. This is why I had all the feels and was drawn into this film.
The film ends with Tammy walking away from Avigail. It made me sad to think that the bond they formed–even though it was under false pretenses–vanished and they may not see each other again….and it was back to Avigail having no one to help her after the baby arrives. Although the film ends on somewhat of a positive note–with Avigail learning that the bra that Tammy had suggested she leave on and not pay for was actually paid for by Tammy when Avigail went back to pay for it– I still couldn’t help thinking it would’ve been nice if they exchanged contact info so Tammy could stay in Avigail’s life.