Martyna Starosta filming in Mataquescuintla, Guatemala. Photo by James Rodríguez.
When you decided to have a baby, how did you imagine it would impact your work as a documentary filmmaker? And what has surprised you?
For a long time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids because I didn’t have any role models of women filmmakers who had careers and kids. So I thought the only way to do it would be to find a guy who has your back. Eventually when I had a partner, he was very sure he wanted kids, so we negotiated.
I said we can have kids if he’s going to be the main caregiver, if we’re going to prioritize my career, and if my kid is going to have my last name – he could pick the first name. But the most important thing to me was that if a big opportunity came up, I could take it. And so he agreed.
Even though we had this agreement, I still didn’t believe it that this would actually work. During pregnancy everybody had a lot of assumptions. Everybody asked me what was my plan, and nobody asked Matt what was his plan. Everybody assumed my life would change completely, and his wouldn’t. People also assumed breastfeeding as the default, and then they used that to assume I would have to have a long pause. As a freelancer, I was afraid people would stop calling me.
The second challenge was that after the Julek was born, he was so cute, and I didn’t want to be without the baby.
What was it like deciding to do this trip?
Last year I wanted to go on this trip, but I didn’t because of the Zika thing. And that was a very existential decision, because I felt like I was deciding between career and baby. So after the baby was there and everything was going really well, I thought well now I can do it, and I was sort of reclaiming the idea that these things could be compatible.
And, by the way, within the first 2 months from when the baby was born, I applied for 12 different opportunities – and that was more than any I have in my life – one is the Howard G. Buffet Fund for Women Journalists, which is still pending (hello Howard). I applied for the Adelante fellowship, and then I got it, and everything started working out. Until the very last day at the airport I could still not imagine being without the baby and at that point there was no way back.
Four month old Julek [pronounced Youlek] accompanied Martyna to the airport before she headed off for the Adelante Fellowship. Photo by Matt Raibert.
The first days were very hard. I felt like phantom pain. I missed the baby, and I missed being the parent. I hate the word mommy; I don’t want anyone calling me mommy, but I use it myself. I told Matt, ‘I miss being his mommy.’ Matt said, ‘But you’re still his mommy and sometimes mommy goes to Guatemala to work.’
But then once things got busy it got easier, and now that it’s at the end it’s harder. Today I talked to Matt and he says he has to cut Julek’s fingernails and he’s afraid of it. And I said, ‘Well, you should try it.’ And he said, ‘No, I’m just going to wait until Saturday.’
What do you think about the whole thing now that it’s coming to a close?
It’s possible to travel, but now that I have a baby, it has to be really worthwhile. So this trip is a big opportunity, and I’m learning a lot, but I wouldn’t just go on any trip. During the hostile environment training, I also was thinking a lot about risk and risk assessment, and how I might assess risks differently than people without kids. It would be nice to talk to other parents about how they make decisions about whether to go on high risk trips.
Here are the three things I told myself
1) Julek is good hands, and everything is fine.
2) I’m doing something important.
3) I’m going to go back.
My motto: Instead of wanting to be a good mother I’m trying to focus on being a happy parent, because I think a happy parent is good for everybody. Readers should feel free to get in touch if they want to talk about this.
Alleen Brown, the interviewer, and Martyna Starosta, the interviewee, were fall 2018 Guatemala reporting fellows.