Documentary Explores Controversial Side of Reproduction By Gena Hymowech
Philanthorpist Gwendolyn Baba and director Nicole Conn (Claire of the Moon) thought they were doing the right thing when they hired a surrogate to give birth to their second child: Nicole could not medically carry the baby, while Gwen was getting too old to have one. Nicole was a little wary of the surrogate process, however, because she didn’t trust people to be honest. Ironically, the surrogate they chose did not present herself accurately, even though they had investigated her thoroughly. She had a medical background that made her a very bad candidate to be pregnant. While the surrogate is pregnant, it is clear the baby is not developing normally, and everyone, including Gwen, is advising Nicole not to go through with this process—that it will just be too heartbreaking.
But Nicole is in love with her baby already, and adamant about giving him the best chance possible. Because she is, the pregnancy continues, since both parents have to be against the surrogate’s pregnancy for it to be terminated. While the surrogate is pregnant with the baby, she develops a blood pressure so high that Nicholas must be delivered, even though he will be premature (100 days early, to be exact). If he is not delivered, the surrogate may die. And so begins Nicholas' own valiant fight for survival. He is extremely tiny and doctors are not optimistic he will survive. But Nicole has a strong faith that he will, and an equally strong desire to see him make it, despite the obstacles. Yet she also doesn’t want him to suffer. Nicholas cannot breathe for himself and is put on a respirator after birth. He also cannot eat and must have a tube in his stomach delivering him nutrients. Nicole cannot touch him for too long a period of time because his nerves cannot handle it. He is surviving, but just barely. In the meantime, Nicole and Gwen are becoming emotionally estranged from one another, while Nicole worries she is neglecting her first child, Gabrielle, because she's spending so much time with Nicholas. Nicholas survives and is taken off the respirator, then discharged from the hospital. But his troubles are not over. He still needs special equipment and gives Gwen and Nicole a major medical scare. And then there is the question of the future. His central nervous system is shattered, and he is already proving to be developmentally behind other children his age. What kind of life will Nicholas have and for how long? Little Man was the winner of 12 film festival awards and it’s easy to see why. This is a very emotional, moving, and fascinating story. And it's not just about a family’s love. Practically the whole hospital is in love with this amazing little boy. The DVD release is enhanced by a number of extras, including deleted scenes and a preview of Conn’s next film, about the amazing nurses Nicholas had. As a director, Conn never flinches from sharing her innermost, and sometimes contradictory feelings about her son, even when it’s painful for her to do so. Everyone else involved in Nicholas’ journey also speaks freely about their emotions, and that, coupled with the amazing video footage, makes us feel like we are on this journey with them. What also makes Little Man a good film is that it tackles a very complicated and controversial question: When is it worth it to save a baby’s life, and when will saving it simply torture the child? It’s a question previous generations didn’t even have to ponder. But we do, because we live in a technologically advanced age where very premature babies can be kept alive much longer than once was thought possible. It’s not an easy question to answer, but once we see Nicholas in his house, giggling and crawling around, it's clear Nicole made the right decision.