Arts and Culture

Paralysis and prejudice: Minnesota paralympian swimmer, husband document journey to parenthood

two people hold hands
The documentary "Watershed" tells the story of Paralympian Mallory Weggemann and Jay Snyder's journey to parenthood.
Courtesy photo

At the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, more than 200 films from across the globe and here at home are screening.

Minneapolis native and three-time Paralympian swimmer Mallory Weggemann and her husband Jay Snyder are premiering their documentary, “Watershed.” It tells their story of battling paralysis and prejudice to become parents through IVF.

“I’ve had enough happen that’s not on my terms,” Weggemann says in the trailer.

At the age of 18, in 2008, Weggemann went to see a doctor for routine treatment for chronic nerve pain and never walked out of the office. She was a swimmer before becoming paralyzed and got back in the pool a few months later before ultimately competing on the world stage.

Her most recent dream was to become a mother. She and her husband decided early on to openly share their path to parenthood, as Snyder was faced with male infertility.

“Infertility in general is something that has still carried a stigma with it in our society. And there’s a lot of people that are going through it behind closed doors that are yearning to kind of see that path forward and have voices out there that they can relate to,” Weggemann told MPR News Friday. “Through the film Watershed, we opened up the door to our home, quite literally, and brought people into that part of our journey.”

While the National Library of Medicine reports the possibility of more physical challenges and a somewhat higher risk of complications, research into pregnancy for people with spinal cord injuries is limited. Paralyzed people also deal with harmful stereotypes.

“We realized we were kind of up against this narrative on both ends,” Weggemann said. Snyder doesn’t have the ability to produce sperm, which “men value and see as kind of their identity and masculinity … and being an individual with a disability through pregnancy and motherhood.”

In March 2023, the couple welcomed their daughter, Charlotte, into the world. Weggemann hopes the couple sharing their unique infertility story can add a voice to the limited conversation and information for parents-to-be with disabilities.

Last weekend, Weggemann swam in her first international meet since going on maternity leave, earning several world rankings, including No. 1 in the 50 Free.

“It was so special to have my husband and my daughter in the stands … something that we have been dreaming of for so long,” she said.

Next up for the five-time medalist is the Paralympic Swim Team trials at the University of Minnesota in late June.

“We’re looking forward to that moment to hopefully finish out this dream by punching my ticket to the Paris Games for what will be my fourth Paralympic Games for Team USA,” she said.

Watershed, created and directed by Weggemann and Snyder, is on screen at the film festival Sunday at 11 a.m.

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