Saturday, May 8, 2010

Weekend Movies: Mother's Day Special, Adoption Edition

If you're the kind of person who reads this blog, I'm sure you already know that the highly anticipated documentary "Babies" is opening this weekend. I posted the trailer a while back, but had to share it again, of course. I'm really happy it's getting so much press and exposure (I mean, if it's actually coming to teeny little Erie, where I currently reside, you know it's major). I've read a couple of critiques that, to me, seem to miss the point of the film, but I'll save that matter for my own review.

So of course I'm excited to see "Babies", but I'm also eager to see another mother-related film opening this weekend: "Mother and Child" (the above poster links to the trailer - they've disabled embedding). It's a fictional portrayal of several different adoption scenarios, a topic that's close to my heart as an adoptee. I must say that in the past, I've been pretty disappointed with most films dealing with adoption. They tend to fall into very limited, morally simplistic narratives where the birth mothers are varying shades of tragic and the adoptive parents are the heroes who save the day. "Secrets and Lies" and "Juno" were both excellent films, probably the best of the ones that deal with adoption, but I still found the treatment of the actual issue lacking. Not "wrong", just . . . missing something. But what?

Well, I just happened to read a blog this week that shook me to my relinquished core. It was written in response not to the above movie, but to the recent scandal wherein an adoptive mother "returned" her behaviorally difficult child to Russia, with the note: "To whom it may concern: After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the sake of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."

The blogger, Fugitivus, talks more specifically about international adoption, but also about the larger issues that accompany any adoptive scenario, and tackles them with insight and anger and empathy and perception and pulls no punches whatsoever, including 'polite' language: Adoption Sometimes Gets All Fucked Up 101 (consider yourself warned on the cussin').

This is NOT an easy read (in content OR length). But it's an amazingly, *brutally* honest one, full of difficult truths. But I am so grateful that someone is willing to lay some of this stuff out there, stuff I've never seen anyone acknowledge before. And simply as a person who has sometimes thought some of the very things that she reveals to be privilege at work, I am humbled and all the more grateful for having had that privilege called to task. I can own up to it. One snip, though I encourage you grab a coffee and read the whole thing with an open mind:
For our modern, legal concept of adoption to exist, families must be broken. Adoption is not, and can never be, a best-case scenario. It relies upon the worst-case scenario having already come to fruition. From there, you’re working with what is instead of what should be. That should be will never go away. For the entire lifetime of everybody involved in adoption, that should be exists, and it hurts. What is can still turn out to be wonderful, beautiful, incredible, but what is will never be what should be. It is that should be that necessitates education, sensitivity, and trigger warnings, because it never goes away.

When a story like this arrives, the impulse is to compare it to the opposite and compare it to more of the same. The news drags up stories of other Families Gone Wrong, and Families Gone Inspiring As Hell. A false dichotomy is implied: there are adoptions that go right and adoptions that go wrong. But the truth is, behind every adoption is a family that went wrong. . . . My main point here is to warn everybody against coming up with – and expressing out loud and in public – black and white assumptions about how good or bad adoption can be. Adoption is not easily judged as good or bad, because adoption itself is a symptom of something else. If the origin of adoption is the destruction of a family, then nothing that comes from that can be explicitly good. At the point where adoption is a viable option, we have already failed to do our best, and all alternatives are an equal failure of the village that should have been raising this child.

To be more concrete, avoid sentiments such as, “You would rather zie should have…” As in, “You would rather he stayed in the orphanage?” or “You would rather his adoptive mom be arrested?” or “You would rather he be in American foster care?” There is no perfect option; they are all painful, and they are all wrong, because none of them should have to be options.
This really resonated with me. There's an incredible pressure that many adoptees feel to only express gratitude for their situation, with the implied belief that their birth parent was an undesirable person from whom you have been rescued (open adoption is changing that somewhat, in many cases). Expressing any feelings of grief or loss marks you as an ingrate, an "angry adoptee", as Fugitivus mentions, and is seen as questioning the benevolence of one's birth parents. Sometimes even curiosity is unacceptable. Identity is the very definition of multi-faceted: biology is certainly not the only thing, but it is a very real piece of it, and absence of its knowledge can be felt as a loss. Yet wondering about the biological piece of your identity is often viewed as a slap in the face to the adoptive parents. How dare you want to know about these other people? After all we've done for you. Nurture is the only thing that matters, nature plays no part. We're your real family now.

She's not saying that adoption never turns out wonderfully, not at all (she addresses that further here, in a post about the above post); my own story has MUCH that is wonderful, make no mistake - but she's talking about it in ways that step outside of what have become the only acceptable storylines about adoption in our culture:
I also understand the desire to keep adoption a positive narrative. There are so many kids in the world who need homes, and putting some of the uglier sides of adoption out there diminishes their chances of finding any home. Of course, I don’t believe in any home for children — I believe in the right home, the permanent home, and I don’t think that home can be found if the pill is sugared so much it’s not a pill anymore. So, it’s a perspective I understand, but now that I’m not a member of the adoption industry anymore, it’s not a game I’m willing to play. There are plenty of other people — too many, I think — who are willing to do that. This space isn’t.
In light of all this, I very much hope Fugitivus shares her thoughts on "Mother and Child", if she sees it. I'm especially eager to see how this film portrays these adoption stories, if they're willing to look at some of the nuance and injustice and fundamental trauma, or whether it's going to be another sugary pill.

1 comment:

  1. I sort of guess the movie will be sugary, but I've been surprised by Hollywood before - I'd be happy if it lived up to the movie Crash. I felt like that was a mainstream movie that really hit a lot of points well and unbiasedly.

    While I was not adopted, my father was (domestically) and so was my husband (South Korea). It was actually one of the talking points that brought my husband and I together, and maybe someday we will adopt a child of our own. (We would both love to, but we're currently nowhere close to where we would need to be financially. I'm currently pregnant with our first child.) Although adoption may begin with a form of the worst case scenario, it has had a HUGE positive effect on my life - Without adoption, I wouldn't have been born or have had the chance to meet my husband.

    Looking forward to your review of both movies.