Our Story

Our Story

Nicholas is born 100 days too early and weighs only one pound. From his frog like legs dangle blood pressure cuffs the size of band-aids. His heart is the size of a cashew.

little man is the story of how a micro-preemie brought a family to it’s knees. Throughout his struggle for life, so struggle filmmaker Nicole Conn and political activist Gwen Baba to keep their family from disintegrating under the unrelenting stress and chaos of hospitals, emergency medical crisis and a crushing blow to trust.

Life partners strong for seven years, they and their two-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, have it all. They’re on top of the world until their surrogate becomes pregnant with their son.

What do you do when a pregnancy goes bad? When a partnership is torn apart by opposing belief systems, when a small infant lives in the surreal world of the Neonatology Intensive Care Unit for 158 days? Nicholas goes through medical procedure after medical procedure – because science and medicine “can” keep a fetus alive. But at what price do we hold onto a life?

Conn is obsessed by her son’s need to be here. Baba is terrified that long hospital stays and the mini-hospital  in their own home will erode the family to a place of no return.

Through the decisions and challenges that most will never know, we witness the very candid portrayal of a marriage perilously close to disaster. How does one couple cope with the endless medical needs of Nicholas’ life and still maintain a life that resembles normal for their daughter? and will they, like their son, make it against all odds?

little man explores the core of the human spirit as a family realizes that they are capable of enduring what they never though possible.


Director’s Statement

It is difficult to believe that before my introduction to the NICU, I would change the channels as fast as I could if I saw a preemie on TV. I couldn’t  look at the pictures of them in magazines. I’m ashamed to admit it, but they terrified me. After having the smallest surviving male patient at Cedars since 1998, I’ve gotten way past over it. I’ve heard the whispers behind my back. Friends have literally backed away upon seeing him for the first time. And even overheard one person say he looked like a special effect dreamed up by Stan Winston.

But for me, he is beautiful. They say I see him with a mother’s eyes. Perhaps it is a mother’s heart, for I find my “little man” nothing less than exquisite with his silky cashew feet, two centimeter sized heart and plum-sized head. His spirit is old and wise. And he has the most incredible sense of humor.He can make me smile, even in the midst of tears. It is this Nicholas I want to share with the viewer.

I want to share more that Nicholas’ struggles. Our family went through hell and back these past few years. Having two people in a committed loving relationship fall so completely on opposite sides of one of the most difficult decisions  they would ever be faced with , brought up questions I never thought I’d explore. Who were those cray right-to-lifers and why were they suddenly making sense? Even when to continue surely means the real possibility of destroying my existing family.

My partner, Gwen and I went through the kind of embittered battles that ruin the strongest of unions. No one thought we’d make it through this tragedy. Our unraveling also fascinated me. Not so much as a story-teller, but as mother. If a family stays committed and morphs into whatever they must to stay together, can they make it through to the other side? I am happy to report in our case, that the story has a happy ending.

I also became fascinated with the ability of medicine to save fetuses up to the point of termination  and the broader implications of these technological advances. Is man manipulating man? We are becoming a society who saves lives because we “can. But at what cost are presuming to play God? What are the moral, philosophical, societal cost to such a birth? What are the hard costs? While the adage” you can’t put a price on life” holds true, would one family without means perhaps opt out of a NICU experience because the costs are too high? And what of the spiritual costs?

Haunted in the night by guilt I still cannot shake. I wonder daily at what cost does Nicholas maintain his daily life? Is it  okay for my son to be barely sitting and have a G-tube, oxygen line? Lead wires connected to machines that monitor his breathing as well as a central line for support IV feedings, wrapped about his every movement like spaghetti wires? is it okay for us to rush him to the hospital with unexplained illnesses every other month?  Is our daughter suffering because she has a brother with special needs? or is this singular  event in her life going to be a ting that saves her from a pampered perfect existence?

Growing the kind of character I see more evident in her daily as she fiercely protect her brother and shows a compassion way beyond her years? Do our lives makes and kind of sence from the outside? Is it worth it? And will I always say yes, because at the end of the day, no matter what my “little man” warrior has gone through, he coos at me and showers me with delicious smiles and sweetness found only in those who have suffered?

As a filmmaker and novelist I have spent the past twelve years writing and creating stories tht speak about passion and romance. Never before could I dream that life would be so much more thrilling.  And now, as a filmmaker I want to share life at it’s most raw, its most brutal, its most divine.

Nicole Conn, filmmaker

2005