Our diary of new life — and loss

Devorah Baum and Josh Appignanesi on a remarkable, and very personal, new film.


Trying to get pregnant in your late 30s, undergoing multiple IVFs, the pregnancy itself, what it does to a relationship  how does it feel? What does no one tell you? 

When, after years of trying, we got lucky with a pregnancy, we started documenting our own lives as a fun experiment. Josh was already a film-maker best known for The Infidel and Song of Songs. Devorah is an academic and writer, with two books out this year.

We soon realised that the material spoke to a whole demographic. A huge swathe of new parents are going through a revolution compared to their own parents but not really talking about it.

People who, like us, may have left it “late” to try for kids, only to discover that you can’t conceive. The trials of fertility treatments can take a huge emotional and financial toll. We realised we had a portrait of that generation on our hands, and furthermore it was a film that felt as much like a “movie” as a documentary. It didn’t stand outside as “observer” but was in there with the vanities, expectations, disappointments and ironies of married life.

From all the infinite ways there are of representing a life, every film can only tell one story. Working from the footage together, we began to see what this story could be, and started to bring out a comic picture of maleness that we felt would resonate.

A portrait of Josh as the kind of modern guy who is supposed to be sensitive and supportive, especially towards his wife’s pregnancy but turns out to be very neurotic around this big coming change. Realising that his life is about to be radically transformed and feeling hugely unprepared, impotent, resentful, and unclear about his future role. He’s basically terrified and can’t get off the bullet train. It was the truth — or “a truth” — but also one that we felt spoke to what is often called the “crisis of masculinity”. Men nowadays feel more insecure in their jobs; their partners might well earn more than them and may be more socially integrated. And this is a time when new technologies are replacing them not only at work but even in the bedroom…

But then something unforeseen happened. The pregnancy ran into very serious complications. We were supposed to have twins, but we learned that one would not survive; and this death would mean the other child was also at risk.

This news hit us incredibly hard of course, and affected us in very different ways. At some point, though, we picked up the camera again and started documenting at least some of what came to pass. What had been a lighthearted project now became more of a tactic for surviving terrible uncertainties.

To have lost the creative ability for self-expression at the same time as losing the creative act of making a child could have crushed us entirely. But it was also a way of having a frame, a sort of holding device to help us through something we found incomprehensible: to help us bear the unbearable. Ultimately, it became part of our processes of grieving and memorialising, not least because our film memorialises not only the difficult birth of our beloved son, but the burial, according to Jewish law, of his twin brother.

Three years later, we still find these experiences very difficult to talk about. But we hope the film we’ve made together can provide a window on to becoming a parent in our times, on to experiences and feelings more and more common these days, yet still rarely discussed.

And perhaps also, viewers might see in our film, in the jokes and the serious bits, an image of a man or of manhood as something rather more vulnerable, insecure, impotent, and, yes, fallible than the self-certain swagger that has lately been dominating and shaping the political landscape.


‘The New Man’ is showing for one night only at Picturehouses across the UK on Tuesday January 24, and at selected screenings next month. From next week it is also available on iTunes and Amazon. 


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