Women discuss life without children in new documentary: 'Not Kidding' gives voice to dealing with societal pressures

Bettina Hanna of Pacific Beach and Trish Pavlecich of Encinitas co-directed a new documentary called "Not Kidding," which reveals the personal stories of women who do not have children. For some women in the film, it was a conscious choice. For others, it was not.

The 26-minute film, which took 10 months to complete, premiered to a crowd of about 100 viewers July 28, in an office building in Carmel Valley.

The women's stories highlight the benefits and consequences of not having children, and how they're subsequently treated by friends, family and society. The directors believe it's an overlooked subject that deserves more attention.

The women interviewed in the film range from age 11 to age 70. Most are from Pacific Beach and Encinitas, and the directors found them through posts on nextdoor.com

"Our big challenge was really making all the ladies open up about their personal stories," Hanna said. "It's an emotional subject. Although I worked in the TV industry for almost 20 years, it was in the last 5 years that I started doing documentaries on a regular basis. Trish hasn't done any documentaries, only dark comedies and shorts."

The directors said they decided on the title, "Not Kidding," for its literal and metaphorical implications. In the literal sense, it means "no kids." In the metaphorical sense, it speaks to the way people react to women without kids, which is often with a judgmental attitude that reflects the stigma society attaches to childless females.

For Hanna, the subject goes right to the core of her own life. She and her husband want to have children, but so far have been unsuccessful, and she senses a definite stigma against women who don't bear children.

"That's one of the reasons this documentary is so powerful," she shared. "I feel the need to show everyone that women don't need to follow society's standards. No woman without children should feel isolated because one never knows the reason behind that fact. And women should have the freedom not to have kids if they don't feel like it. Actually, that's being way more honest than having kids and not really caring for them."

One of the film's contributors, 29-year-old Annie, tells her story of being born with a rare heart condition. "At 17, I really wanted kids," she says in the film. "I picked out names and everything. Then I went to see my cardiologist and he said 'If you ever were to get pregnant, it means your life or the baby's life, or maybe both.' After I heard that, I was devastated." But her husband, John, turned out to be fine with it. He says: "I thought, 'so what? She can't have kids.' I didn't see it as a big deal."

Former north PB resident Rebecca, 57, emphatically chose not to be a mother, and she considers herself a rare breed.

"I never had a biological clock. I never heard it ticking," she confesses. Her husband was also fine with the decision. However, she says there's one thing she will never experience. "Family members have told me that I don't understand the unconditional love that you get from a child," she admits. "That's a tough one. I don't really understand it because I've never experienced it."

42-year-old Alicia talks about her son in the film, who was stillborn because of pre-eclampsia. She and her husband decided not to try again. She tears up when she says: "I know my mom wants her only daughter to have a child because she wants to experience that ... so it's also the loss of a dream for her."

90-year-old audience member and filmmaker Vivian Blackstone — who has two stepdaughters — said she felt that same pressure when she was young, and acknowledges that decades later, the situation hasn't changed much. "There is a stigma," she declares. "We still live in a very male-dominated world. Women are still boxed into a category and we want them to fit into a pigeonhole."

The premiere doubled as a fundraiser for the entry fees to submit the documentary to film festivals throughout the country. The directors admit the application fees are daunting, and so far they don't have any sponsors. For both, this documentary was a labor of love.

Audience reactions were extremely positive. One female movie-goer said: "the conversations felt very natural and spontaneous, and that's what made the film real." One male viewer said: "I have kids and I'm divorced, that's the route I went. A film like this really opens my eyes to the other side. Some people choose differently or don't have the opportunity to make the choice, or never find the right person. It's a very compelling film."

Directors Hanna and Pavlecich said they plan to show the movie in Pacific Beach in the near future, but haven't yet landed on a venue or a date. Their hope is that one day, the movie will be on the big screen in theaters across the country.

• To watch the film's trailer for "Not Kidding," go to vimeo.com/281074468/672fe4549e

Bettina Hanna can be reached through vimeo.com/bettinahanna or e-mail Behanna13@gmail.com

Trish Pavlecich can be reached through trishpavlecichwrites.com

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