“A Healthy Baby Girl” launched Helfand’s filmmaking career, as she went on to make environmental justice documentaries, including a 2002 sequel, “Blue Vinyl.” She also went on to co-found Chicken & Egg Pictures, which supports women filmmakers.
Helfand began investigating adoption, but when her mother became sick with colon cancer, she moved back home to care for her. Florence Helfand died in September 2013 at the age of 84.
“My mother was still apologizing to me on her death bed,” said Helfand. “I was racing against her cancer to adopt before she died. It seemed doable.”
But her mother, who had mourned the death of her own mother while caring for her second child, knew her daughter would not be able to be a single mom to a newborn baby while grieving. So Helfand put the four-year adoption process on hold.
My mother was right,” she said. “I had planned on the film coming out on Mother’s Day and was dreading a motherless day.”
But in April, just 24 hours before Sundance announced the release of “A Healthy Baby” and as Helfand was on her way to her first family Passover Seder, the adoption agency called. She had to decide whether to take a baby girl who would be born the following morning.
Helfand said, "yes," and named her daughter Theodora Feyge Peysah Sabrina, honoring her parents, her Jewish roots and the child’s birth mother. With the child she calls “Theo” sleeping in the next room, Helfand reflected on why her film continues to be relevant.
“The DES story is just a paradigm for a much larger and very timely story about toxic chemical exposure and the impact of synthetic hormones, mimicking chemicals and carcinogens that harm the development of a healthy child and its future,” she said.
Helfand continues the fight, pushing for reform of the federal toxic chemical law and working with other activists for the long-term health of children and pregnant women. Making her up-close and personal film, “A Healthy Baby Girl,” was just the beginning of her public stance, she said.
“If you make the pain private behind closed doors, it’s not part of the public record and it’s easy to internalize it and make relationships implode and cause irreparable damage. As an artist and an activist, I refused to let that happen.”