It is difficult to overstate how far a mother would go for her children. This is why we all go into a bit of a trance at this time of year. We will embarrass ourselves gladly for the corniest Mother’s day gift or card. There’s nothing on that shelf quite enough to express a feeling like “thanks for creating and carrying my heart and bones inside you for nine months!”
Mothers do a lot for their children and for this month’s celebration we are proud to feature the full length episode of Maggie Betts’ documentary “The Carrier,” the moving story of one mother who fights some deep obstacles to save her unborn child from her own HIV infection. Obstacles like local Zambian tradition, the daily dramas of managing a polygamous family, and a husband who continues to sleep around – sometimes without protection.
Director Maggie Betts manages to enter Muntinta’s life almost seamlessly. She plants an unobtrusive camera in front of this regretful mother who for a lot of the film talks to us intimately, she even blames herself for her unborn child’s fate. When Muntinta discovers she is pregnant she does not experience the traditional joy of some mothers but quickly goes on the offensive, determined that her life’s mistakes will not overshadow the yet-untold story of her child. What does science have to offer, even here in rural Zambia? What does she have to learn to make this successful? The film follows Muntinta from the dawn of her problem to its conclusion, which I will not give away here.
One of the largest obstacles Muntinta faces in her mission to make sure her child is born HIV free is her husband, a quiet but hardworking local farmer who is the head of a family with three wives and many, many young children. While her husband blames his busy livelihood as a farmer for his absences it is often difficult to watch Muntinta alone in the hospital wards, doctor’s visits, and training workshops – struggling alone both with HIV and the uncertain future of her unborn child. Her husband’s most egregious behavior is his choice to continue sleeping with other women. And ever the strong-willed protector of her family Muntinta does often confront him about this.
Maggie Betts does a wonderful job of painting the story of Muntinta’s life as she watches other wives in the marriage fall victim to the Russian roulette of their husband’s HIV. A younger wife starts the story resentful but soon becomes scared when she sees the trials Muntinta is forced to endure. One scene in particular when the scared young wife finally tries to get advice from a silent Muntinta, who is frustrated and ignoring the young wife, is strangely gripping if uncomfortable.
“The Carrier” is a tough but appropriate emotional journey for Mother’s day and it is worth it. Watch it, and share it with your mom and all your loving Aunties, sisters and life-long caregivers too, because you know they’ll get everything about it.