The moment baby Lucie is born and Elise becomes a mother, as captured in “No One Told Me.” Photos by Zulilah Merry

“We live in a world that values us being put together and in control, that we know what we’re doing. This experience takes away all of that.”

That’s Maine filmmaker Zulilah Merry, whose documentary, “No One Told Me,” is screening at Bucksport’s Alamo Theater and Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema in the coming weeks. A strikingly intimate portrait of a Maine woman’s first experience with motherhood, the movie is the director’s attempt to bring the woefully under-recognized postpartum experience to the big screen – and to counter what Merry contends is a major cultural blind spot.

The film, shot over several months by Merry, documents the pre- and post-birth experiences of a young woman named Elise and her husband, Marc, with the filmmaker being granted essentially unlimited access to the couple’s most private moments. Filmed without interviews or narration, “No One Told Me” achieves a powerful intimacy as Merry’s camera captures the highs and the wrenching lows that most women experience in the weeks and months after giving birth. It’s a process that Merry, a mother of two, knows all too well.

“The film was inspired by becoming a mother myself,” explained Merry, a Dutch native who’s lived in Maine for the past seven years. “I realized that the part after the birth is not discussed very much at all. I was 34 and realized this is something I’d never come across. I was astonished, and then sort of angry, since this is something most if not all women encounter in some way.”

Elise, Marc and baby Lucie in Zulilah Merry’s documentary “No One Told Me.”

In the film, we see Elise confronted with the common yet daunting and emotionally fraught things all new mothers encounter. Merry catches the moment when Elise, her tiny daughter unable to breast feed, tearfully looks to Marc, saying softly, “I don’t know what to do.” The core of the film is made up of moments where the new mother feels lost, and afraid, a state of mind Merry says is as difficult as it is universal.

“From one second to the next, your whole world is upside-down,” said Merry. “The stakes are really high – you have to keep this tiny person alive, while at the same time your body is going through all these changes. There are hormonal changes, physiological changes in your brain, all while there’s this pressure from the world to get it together.”


Continuing, Merry explains that her film is intended to illuminate the postpartum period for a culture where a mother’s role is too often simplified and misunderstood.

“It’s an enormous transformation,” said Merry, “and society doesn’t make much time or space to see it for the huge, complex, beautiful, strange, multifaceted thing that it is. It’s like looking at motherhood through a tiny tube and seeing the smallest part of it.”

To gain access to Elise’s postpartum life with such startling intimacy, Merry reached out to her own midwife and friend, who pointed the filmmaker toward an expectant mother she thought might be agreeable. What followed, after an initially awkward meeting for tea, was a uniquely powerful personal and artistic relationship, with Elise allowing Merry to essentially live as a silent observer in the home she shared with Marc, and then with a tiny, needy baby. “It was oddly quick,” said Merry, “I didn’t know her, and I was scared to address the actual issue, but she just said, ‘Yes.’ I think she felt it was a valuable thing to share for some reason personal to her.”

Still, building trust with a pair of already stressed and harried new parents meant forgoing some seemingly essential safeguards for herself as a filmmaker.

“I didn’t make them sign releases,” explained Merry, “and that was pretty scary. I spent the whole shoot afraid they’d think it was all too much, that the husband would not want to continue, or that they’d just say no right at the end.”

Filmmaker Zulilah Merry putting a microphone on Elise the day after she gave birth. Merry had become a mother just five months prior to this moment and was still very much feeling the transition into this new phase of her life.

Thankfully, that never happened, and Merry’s constant presence eventually became just another element in the couple’s daily life. As the filmmaker put it, “They never once asked me to leave, or said, ‘Don’t film this.’ I’d arrive, have tea, set up in a corner, and it became easier and easier for them to just pretend I wasn’t there.”


Shot in a style called observational documentary, “No One Told Me” is completely un-directed in how it captures the couple’s daily routine. “It’s a form I’ve always loved,” said Merry. “Observational cinema has a real power. It’s an art form in itself. For ‘No One Told Me,’ the experience had to be central. I needed to find someone going into the same situation I did, and just be there with her.” That unique bond between filmmaker and subject produced an equally singular relationship, with Merry pointing to one harrowing instance that tested her artistic ambition against her kinship with a struggling new mother in need.

“Elise had a clogged duct,” said Merry of the day she arrived to find the young mother in pain. “I’d had the same thing, and it sucks, so I chose not to film and just be there for her. It messed up the scene and we couldn’t use it ultimately, but I don’t regret it. I’m still a human being who cares for them, and it was about honoring them as people, something that I think emphasized that they could trust me. I guess that’s where my boundary is.”

At the two screenings, Merry herself will be present alongside a panel of local midwives and a doula, who will answer questions from the women and men Merry hopes will come out. (Merry notes that the participating doula is on call, so her presence may depend on whether several local babies decide to be born on the night.)

“It’s about women sharing stories and being seen,” said Merry. “At the first screening we had, a friend cried throughout the whole film. When you give birth, you live in solitude for three, six, nine months, and then go back to work. Making this film helped me realize I wasn’t the only one who felt I wasn’t enough, who was thinking about how messed up my life was. When you’re alone in those feelings you can start to feel guilty and bad, and sink into a hole people call postpartum depression.”

As for Merry, who also runs a roadside motel in Northport with her husband and children, “No One Told Me” was as powerful an experience for her as it’s sure to be for viewers. “Not many people open their lives up, but Elise and Marc had the strength and vulnerability in trusting me. That relationship is a gift I’ll always treasure.”

“No One Told Me” is screening at Bucksport’s Alamo Theater at 2 p.m. on Jan. 7, and at Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema on Jan. 15 (time to be determined). To learn more about Zulilah Merry’s work, check out the film’s website,

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: