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Documentary Offers In-Depth Look at Fertility Treatments at Penn Medicine

Achieving pregnancy via in vitro fertilization (IVF) or another assisted reproductive technology (ART) can be a long journey. It’s also not one that is regularly shown in full.

In order to offer transparency into fertility treatments at Penn Medicine, we decided to capture one woman’s journey to motherhood — and the emotions that go along with it — for a documentary film.

“The main idea was to give people an intimate look at the fertility experience that is rarely seen until you experience it yourself,” said Matt Curran, Penn Medicine’s manager of digital video strategy, who directed the film. “There are a lot of little moments all along the way that are often ignored or glossed over when talking about fertility treatment, and we wanted to shine a light on those parts of the journey.

“We wanted to show what it’s like as one person went through all those ups and downs, and see her genuine reactions along the way. Ultimately we are hoping to demystify the process and make the decision easier for anyone considering fertility treatment.

Telling Deirdre’s Story

“Single Mom by Choice: An IVF Journey,” follows Deirdre, a 43-year-old, single Philadelphia woman, who decided she was ready to have a child. Deirdre reached out to us just as she was beginning fertility treatments, looking to explore ways to help others in her situation in the future. That’s when the idea of a documentary film first came up.

After some initial filming and a few more conversations to ensure she knew what to expect, we began documenting her journey in earnest. We went with Deirdre to appointments with her care team, which included Clarisa R. Gracia, MD, MSCE, chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.

“We didn’t know what to expect at each shoot, so we just had to be prepared to capture whatever unfolded in front of us, positive or negative,” Curran said.

We were there for her follicular aspiration, embryo transfer and the day she “graduated” from the fertility program. Deirdre also shared special moments she documented/recorded herself, including the phone call on which she learned of her successful pregnancy.

Building Relationships Behind the Camera

Throughout Deirdre’s entire journey, our documentary crew developed a close relationship with her, which helped with communication around evolving appointment schedules, and allowed her to feel comfortable with our cameras around – even in some more intimate scenarios.

We also kept the cameras away during moments Deirdre chose to keep private, and made sure her experience as a patient remained top priority.

After more than a year of filming, Deirdre welcomed a healthy baby girl, Kelce. Their story aired in February 2019 on CBS3 and was featured in ESPN’s Super Bowl coverage. A follow-up interview was done by ABC News and appeared on Nightline in April. Deirdre also wrote a personal essay for Good Morning America. You can watch “Single Mom by Choice: An IVF Journey,” in the player above.

“We’ve got a long text message chain dating back to the start of 2018, and even though filming is finished, we still stay in touch,” said Curran. “Deirdre sends me updates and photos of Kelce as she grows, and it’s so cool to see this baby become a fun, bubbly little human. It was a true privilege to be allowed to go on this journey with Deirdre and her family, and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.”

By the Numbers

12: Days the Penn Medicine video team filmed Deirdre.

780: Minutes of raw footage captured during filming. That footage was ultimately edited down to 28 minutes.

14: Months of production between Deirdre’s first appointment in January 2018 until the film aired in February 2019 on CBS3.

3: Number of unique perspectives shown in the film. Aside from Deirdre’s patient experience, you also meet Dr. Gracia for the clinical perspective, as well as Deirdre’s mom, who was both an inspiration and a support system for Deirdre along the way.

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