Pregnant and single at 41 — and on camera

"First Comes Love" director Nina Davenport talks about her HBO documentary, feminist parenting and bad hair days VIDEO

Topics: Video, First Comes Love, HBO, Documentaries, Nina Davenport,

Pregnant and single at 41 -- and on cameraNina and Jasper Davenport (Credit: HBO)

It’s a tough job making a feature film. It’s no easy feat making a brand new human being either. Nina Davenport accomplished both – at the same time.

Facing her forties as a single New York woman with a “rapidly diminishing ovarian reserve” and a desire for motherhood, the documentary filmmaker decided to chronicle her adventures through fertilization, pregnancy and early solo parenting. The result is “First Comes Love,” Davenport’s witty, touching and at times brutally honest look at the world of modern reproduction. She doesn’t flinch from sharing the bliss of her experience – she easily conceives via a handsome gay sperm donor pal, has her enviably supportive best friend Amy for a birth partner, and ultimately winds up in her tasteful apartment with an insanely beautiful son named Jasper. She’s also candid about the ugliness of it, from her dad’s stinging criticisms (his immediate response to her pregnancy is to advise an abortion) to relationship complications to wildly tangled postpartum hair. Or, as she puts it at one point, “Overnight I became a geriatric invalid.”

Salon spoke to Davenport recently about the final result of her efforts — a sweet, frank exploration of one woman’s transformation, and all the bumps along the road. “First Comes Love” airs on HBO Monday night.

What was the impetus for deciding that your experience with becoming a single mother would be your next film project?

I made a film in 2008 [about love and dating] called “Always a Bridesmaid.” Having a history of personal films and freaking out about my biological clock, I felt I was the person to tell this story. I saw what other people were going through, and what I was going through. Every party I went to, it seemed people were talking about these things. I tried to allude to that via other characters in the film, about what it’s like every time you get a wedding invitation or birth announcement, or when you’ve dated guys who ran away because they didn’t want children.

You Might Also Like

You started the movie before you’d even begun the process of trying to get pregnant — were you concerned about the creative risk of what would happen if the story didn’t unfold as you’d imagined?

I never even got to the point where I wondered what would happen if I didn’t get pregnant because I got pregnant on the first try. There was so much emotional momentum building, I wasn’t thinking much beyond that.

But I did feel a need to say that I was very lucky to get pregnant at 41, because I didn’t want to mislead people to think that everyone can do that with their first child. I was thinking about being responsible. I was trying to clarify what the odds really are.

There’s a lot that’s very frank in the film – like that scene of you with the breast pump. How did you decide how much to reveal, so vividly?

I started with the guiding principle of what was going to make the best film. But I tried to minimize the images of my erogenous zones — like in the birth scene. There are so many things that got cut out I don’t even know where to start.

You’ve talked in previous interviews about how you’ve had to detach somewhat in the process of creating your projects, in order to be the storyteller. The scenes with your father, for instance — he emerges as this incredibly complex character. How did you balance creating your narrative with maintaining your real relationships?

It made me feel more compassionate in real life to portray my father as a character. That gave me a certain distance. I think it was a combination of becoming a parent and creating him as that character that made it work.

Anyone who has a camera, especially parents, you are always looking for moments. Even now Amy and I have moments where we feel we’re still in the movie. The process does take you out of your experience but it also makes you focus more intently.

Pregnancy and creating a new family are unpredictable even without making a movie. Were there things that surprised you as you went deeper into the process?

I didn’t even know I was going to get pregnant, let alone have this cute baby! I also didn’t realize how funny it would turn out to be. People laugh a lot, which is great. The reaction that it seems to elicit is very loving.

I definitely didn’t know that my father would be as big a part of the film as he would turn out to be. The scenes with him are so intense; they kind of structured the whole film. Other things had to be built around him and his story. When he tells of his own childhood, it’s so devastating and so powerful, the film had to start winding around that aspect of his life. I had no idea.

What are you working on next?

I do want to make another personal film. I envision “Always a Bridesmaid” and “First Comes Love” as part of a trilogy — or more than a trilogy — and that the films together will make something interesting.

It feels like one of the feminist taboos is this idea of having it all, whenever we want it. I really loved how you were so open about the biological reality of how things change for a woman after 40. That seems a very feminist statement.

One of the things I find most powerful in the film is when I ask a friend’s mother if she think we’re better off now, and she says, “I would choose what you’ve had, being your own person.”

If I can help somebody get closer to their dream and feel empowered by doing it and being happy, it’s a feminist film. In a way, one thing that needs to happen for equality is for women to feel like they can have something they’re wanting, something that they don’t have to feel men are withholding from them. But we have a long way to go.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...