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Disabled women empowerment documentary coming to VAFF

Two years after defying the odds and delivering twin girls at the University of Virginia Medical Center, a quadriplegic woman from Culpeper is sharing her story on the big screen at the Virginia Film Festival next month.

“Dani’s Twins,” is a documentary about a woman’s one-in-a-million journey as one of few quadriplegic women to give birth to healthy twins. The film was put together by Culpeper resident and native Dani Izzie, alongside Virginia residents director Steve Dorst and producer Angie Gentile as well as veteran filmmaker Brad Allgood.

Izzie battled her initial reservations about sacrificing her privacy to participate in the documentary because she hopes to shatter stigmas and redress the narrative about pregnancy and adaptive motherhood for disabled women.

She found comfort and care that she could trust in the Maternal and Fetal Medicine Clinic at the UVa Medical Center, but Izzie knew that her comfort was not the reality for other disabled women around the world.

“There’s no handbook,” Izzie said. “You don’t find it in popular culture. I would go to popular baby websites like What to Expect, and just know that it wasn’t specific enough to my life. I had to do a lot of work to find information, to make connections with other women to find out what products I should buy because there are very few products that are marketed as adaptive or disability-friendly.”

She shared that her biggest resource through pregnancy and early motherhood has been a Facebook group called “Wheel Mommies.” The group provided resources and community since she first found out she was pregnant.

Internet solidarity is the norm for members of the disabled community, Izzie says.

“When I talked to my friends, there were so many of them—wheelchair mommies as I call them—who said they encountered pushback and doctors that weren’t sure how to handle their pregnancy and other doctors who just advised them not to get pregnant,” Izzie said. “It is very common to encounter either a lack of knowledge or discriminatory options.”

Dr. Robert Fuller, of the UVa Maternal and Fetal Medicine Clinic, helped see Izzie through her pregnancy and deliver her healthy daughters.

“I think the film is going to have a larger impact on people’s understanding that individuals with a disability such as paralysis can have a fulfilling life,” Fuller said. “It dispels the myth that a person with a disability can’t care for a baby and build a family in a way that is meaningful.”

“It gives medical professionals the reassurance that individuals who approach them with disabilities who wish to build a family should be given the support just like any other patient would along with any additional care that is necessary for their particular medical condition,” Fuller said.

People with disabilities make up 1.7% of the American population and most of the people with paralysis are men, Fuller explained. Less than 1% of those people are women with paralysis like Izzie, and even fewer women have quadriplegia. Her position as a disabled minority gave her a one-in-a-million chance of delivering healthy babies

In her early consultations with the professionals at UVa, Izzie and her doctors never considered or discussed the possibility of having twins. The chances were already far-fetched and she had no indicators like a history of multiples in her family or in vitro fertilization. The thought never crossed her mind.

In addition to following Izzie through her high-risk pregnancy, the film captures the additional challenges including those caused by the pandemic as she approached her April 2020 due date.

While pregnant women are already considered immunocompromised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Izzie’s situation was further complicated because she only has 30% lung function due to her paralysis.

“I was terrified, but I ended up doing okay,” Izzie said. “COVID didn’t affect some people, but for people with disabilities, it did.”

The audience can expect an emotional roller coaster at the screening. The story follows Izzie as she maneuvers through chronic pain, COVID complications and even an early delivery.

Dani’s Twins is a story of empowerment that highlight’s Izzie’s journey as a human triumph more than a medical one. The documentary is sure to fill a hole in infotainment that includes disabled narratives.

The film is already making impact with awards from the Toronto Women Film Festival and the DC Shorts International Film Festival.

The award-winning film will screen on Thursday, Nov. 5 at UVa’s Culbreth Theater.


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