After a difficult home birth ended in tragedy, Martha finds herself lost in a sea of grief. And not knowing exactly what happened that night, she is unable to process her loss, fracturing the other relationships in her life with her uncertainty.
Her husband, Sean, is just as lost as she is. He wants to support his wife, but he also wants answers for his daughter’s death, something Martha isn’t quite capable of asking for yet.
Her mother, Elizabeth, recognizes that Martha is in trouble. But after butting heads for so many years about the proper way to do things (such as giving birth in a hospital instead of at home), Martha doesn’t want to listen.
But at some point, Martha will have to start making decisions and trusting people again. And that will start with Eva, the midwife who delivered her girl and is now standing trial for manslaughter.
After struggling for months with the death of Yvette (her baby) Martha finally realizes that what she really wants—her daughter, alive—she can’t have. She doesn’t want compensation (like her family) because that would imply that she could be compensated. She doesn’t want justice either, because she recognizes that it wasn’t the midwife’s fault. Eva did everything she could to deliver a healthy baby that night: It just didn’t happen.
Coming to terms with Yvette’s death and pulling herself out of the sorrow that she’s been stuck in also allows Martha to forgive her mother. While they may not always agree, they do understand that they can’t change what happened or alleviate their own pain by causing someone else’s.
Despite what happens, Sean is supportive of Martha throughout the birthing process. He makes her laugh, tries to keep her calm and makes efforts to make her as comfortable as possible. Eva is also supportive, reassuring Martha that she is capable of giving birth and doing everything she can to ensure a healthy delivery for both mother and child.
Someone says that their pastor said, “time heals all wounds.” Worshippers at a church are compared to band groupies. Someone says, “for God’s sakes.” A court clerk says, “God save the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
We see a couple dressing after having sex (his genitals are partially visible and her bra is shown). Sean and Martha kiss and embrace multiple times. We see a man’s rear and genitals elsewhere, too. A woman sits in her shower (though nothing crucial is seen).
A married woman kisses another man at a nightclub, and she dances with him and other strangers. After having an affair together, two people pretend not to know each other when they are around the man’s wife.
A man undresses his wife so she can give birth (though she keeps her bra on), and we later see a shot of the baby’s head crowning. In the background of a scene, a woman removes her top and pulls her bra down so she can ice her breasts. When Martha uses the restroom post-birth, we see her diaper-like underwear beneath the stall.
Sean attempts to have sex with Martha, forcing her hand down his pants, kissing her, groping her and removing both of their clothes. And even though she doesn’t resist him, she is unresponsive to his actions, which could be construed as nonconsensual sex. But this angers Sean and he stops.
A man throws an exercise ball at his wife’s head. A woman cuts her hand on a broken piece of glass.
We hear the f-word 35 times (once preceded by “mother”) and the s-word 10 times. There are also three uses of “a–” and two uses of “b–ch.” God’s name is misused 30 times as well.
Sean breaks over six years of sobriety after Yvette’s death. He starts smoking again, which leads to drinking (which he tries to hide from Martha) and we eventually see him snort a ground-up prescription drug.
People drink at a club and at a house party. There are empty wine glasses around Martha and Sean’s home. Some people smoke and vape. Martha wonders if her and Sean’s former drinking habits contributed to Yvette’s death.
When Martha gives birth, she has to change positions several times because the midwife is unable to find a heartbeat. When the child is finally born, she quickly turns blue and passes away despite the efforts of the midwife and emergency responders.
Martha and Elizabeth get into several nasty fights about what should have happened with Yvette’s birth and what should be done about her burial. (Elizabeth insinuates that if Martha had listened to her and had a hospital birth, Yvette would still be alive.) Elizabeth also insists that Martha isn’t mourning properly (a sentiment shared by Martha’s sister who states, “You need therapy”). Elizabeth and Sean also both get upset with Martha when she states her desire to donate Yvette’s body to science.
Sean tries desperately to reconnect with Martha so they can grieve together, but she responds with coldness. He gets frustrated with doctors for not giving him answers as to why Yvette died and grows cross with Martha for not being more passionate about seeking restitution. After this repeats for several months with no end in sight, he and Martha decide to separate, hoping they can individually start over and move on.
We learn that Elizabeth never liked Sean because he isn’t an “intellectual.” She challenges his ability to provide for his family by insisting on paying for things like a new vehicle. And when he and Martha split up, she pays him a lot of money to ensure that he never returns.
Elizabeth says that her father abandoned her mother just before she was born. Her mom gave birth to Elizabeth inside a shack, had to steal food to live and nearly lost Elizabeth because she was so weak.
People are cruel to Eva, many of whom believe that midwifery is a scam. We hear about a woman’s rapidly progressing memory loss.
“No money, verdicts or sentences can bring back what I’ve lost,” says Martha. “[Yvette] wouldn’t want that. That’s not why she came into this world for the time that she did.”
No parent should ever have to bury their child. And processing the grief can be a lifelong journey—something you always live with and never forget. But when Martha acknowledges that she’s never going to get back what she’s lost, she realizes that what she needs now is peace. Yvette would want that. And that all begins with forgiveness.
For parents who have ever lost a child, Pieces of a Woman might prove triggering. And viewers should also note frequent foul language, an extramarital affair, gratuitous nudity and a near-rape scene.
Martha notes that “there might be a reason for what happened.” But just as she won’t find that answer in a courtroom, families probably won’t find that answer in this film either.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.