Adoption Stories Worth Checking Out

Philomena_posterPhilomena, The Book – As I wrote in a previous blog post (1/26/14), the movie Philomena was incredibly powerful and has gotten rave reviews, as well it should. Recently I had a conversation with a birth mother who suggested I read the book, Philomena. Why would I do that? I saw the movie. She said, it’s told from a different point of view. She was right. Whereas the movie is told from the birth mother’s point of view, the book is told from the son, Michael Hess’ (née Anthony Lee’s), point of view. It is just as powerful as the movie. I would recommend that anyone who loved the movie should also read the book, particularly any adoptive or prospective adoptive parent. I just can’t emphasize how important it is for our branch of the adoption triad to understand the other two branches – adopted children and birth parents. It is truly humbling to see where we fit in this incredibly complex relationship.


 juno_ver2_xlgJuno, The Movie – You may remember Juno, which came out in the fall of 2007. In brief it tells the story of Juno MacGuff (played wonderfully by Ellen Page), a 16-year-old Minnesota teenager who gets pregnant with her not quite boyfriend, Paulie, (played by nerdy but cute Michael Cera.) The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Notably, Juno’s father Mac is played by J.K. Simmons, now starring in Farmer’s Insurance commercials (at least here in California), Rainn Wilson of The Office and Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, who play Mark and Vanessa, a yuppie couple desperate for a baby.

I have a particular affinity for this movie because, other than her pregnancy, Juno reminds me so much of Casey – a girl determined to go her own way and be her own person. And what a mouth on her, straight from her dad and step-mom. But also it may well have been the last movie Casey saw in a theatre before she died. I can’t help but think if this movie touched Casey beyond the fact that it is very well done and very funny, in a dark sort of way.

Birth mothers may be put off by this movie, but so might adoptive parents. After rejecting an abortion, Juno decides to have the baby and find him good parents, thus Mark and Vanessa. She continually refers to the baby growing inside her as “it” or “the thing” which may strike some as repulsive. But this is a light comedy and Juno is only 16. So my theory is that this is a teenager trying to distance herself – perhaps terrified but not showing it – from the baby growing in her belly. But that’s me.

Likewise, Mark and Vanessa come across as alternately sincere, genuine and narcissistic. Mark, in particular, becomes extremely inappropriate, leading one to wonder if wants to be the father of Juno’s child, Juno’s father, Juno’s cool friend or Juno’s boyfriend (I think it’s #3). Ultimately Mark is not ready for fatherhood, but the baby finds a good home – Vanessa.

Putting on my Roger Ebert hat, I think this movie deserves a sequel. Juno believes that the best thing for her newborn son is a closed adoption, which seems impractical considering Juno and Vanessa live only an hour apart. But suppose it was? The sequel: Juno is now 30 and her son is a teenager. They reunite. I’ll leave the rest to a screenwriter.

admission_xlgAdmission, The Movie – I’d have put this on my list of movies to rent but wouldn’t bother with the theatre list. But it’s actually surprisingly good, especially if you are part of the adoption triad. Tina Fey plays a Princeton admissions officer – Portia – and Paul Rudd – John – an alternative school teacher trying to get his gifted student into Princeton. I mean, who doesn’t love Tina Fey and Paul Rudd? Turns out the boy prodigy, Jeremiah (played by Nat Wolff), is adopted and not much is known about his family. Thus the Paul Rudd character takes a special interest in him, not to mention the fact that he IS gifted. But then there are more story twists. Turns out John is convinced that Jeremiah is Portia’s son, as it is disclosed that she had given up a child for adoption in her past. But then there are even more story twists, so I won’t be a spoiler here. Yes he does get into Princeton. But does he go?

Open or “Closed” Adoption. Is One Better Than The Other?


Dr. Nancy Snyderman With Daughter Kate and Kate’s Birth Mother

As we in the adoption community know all to well, the process of adoption has evolved dramatically over the years. Up until the 60’s or 70’s it was much like as it was depicted in the movie, Philomena (the movie version being a bit at the extreme end of the spectrum.) The adoption was a hush-hush affair on all sides, the adoptee never knowing that she was adopted. Instead, she was told a lie where she was in fact the biological offspring of the adoptive parents. In most cases there was nothing malicious about this; it was thought that this was best for all concerned, particularly the child. Well, we know how that worked out.

Then there was the stage in which we found ourselves in the early 90’s. The adoption wasn’t kept a secret at all. Unfortunately, many adoptive parents knew little or nothing about the birth parents and birth parents. Oftentimes, the birth mother gave strict instructions that she was not to be contacted, as was the case with us. Again, this was probably not out of malice but, rather, shame or fear. Perhaps the mother had a husband and family. Her pregnancy might have been the result of an affair, which if revealed, could destroy her marriage. Who knows?

For lack of a better word, ours was a “closed” adoption. We were told that Casey’s mother did not want to be contacted. We never told her that out of fear that it would’ve been too hurtful. So we made up a story, the classic, “your mother loved you very much but wanted you to have a better life.” And that was probably true, but then how would you explain the fact that she had other children?

In our neighborhood in Marin County, Casey had 2 other friends who were adopted under different circumstances. Ian was adopted at birth from a birth mother in the Midwest; his parents had her contact information. Esme was received by her parents under an open adoption; her birth parents lived in the Bay Area, and they visited her regularly.

While we always assured Casey that if she ever wanted to contact her birth mother we would do everything we could to reach her. These days, with the Internet, an increasing number of adoptee reunification services and private investigators, it is increasingly possible to connect adoptee with birth mother. But secretly, Erika and I had our fears and reservations. Would the experience blow up in Casey’s face, leaving her even more emotionally scarred? Would we have to endure a complicated, uncomfortable and potentially jealous relationship? Would we be taken advantage of? Would Casey pit both sets of parents against each other? On the one hand I was dying to know what Casey’s birth mother was like, what she looked like, what kind of personality she had, what mannerisms Casey inherited from her. On the other, I was just as happy to keep her at arms length.

I don’t know that there is a magic answer that suits every adoptive family. Open and closed adoptions each have their weaknesses and benefits. But knowing what I know now, I do believe that an open adoption is better for the child, just to have that primal connection with the person who brought you to life. There is always the possible that a reunion could prove disastrous, but I think it’s a risk worth taking. Many adoptees – Casey (and her friend Ian) included – insist they want nothing to do with their birth mother, and that’s understandable. But as one adoption therapist asked me, “Did you believe her?” It never occurred to me to challenge her.

Perhaps a middle ground could be to provide the child with the mother’s contact information, just enough to let the child explore on her own in her own time at her own pace. That’s why we have Facebook.