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Movie Review: Mother and Child. Written and Directed by Rodrigo Garcia.

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I wanted to see Mother and Child a second time before writing about the movie, to test my memory before recording my observations here.  I got so much out of the post-movie discussion with my friend Linda after seeing the movie once, that I wanted to see and discuss the movie a second time in the company of other friends, some of whom are birth mothers, to get their unique take on it.  We planned a party; six of us would attend the movie together, and discuss it over lunch.  Alas, it had too short a run in Phoenix!  We missed it by one day. 

From interviews on NPR with writer/director Rodrigo Garcia and from the website for the movie, I knew that the writer started out to make a movie about relationships of longing, not necessarily an adoption movie.  After interviewing a few birth mothers and adopted persons, as well as adoptive mothers who longed for a child to love, he knew that in adoption, he’d found a subset of relationships to highlight the soul’s longing for its own missing piece. 

The end result — though Mr. Garcia probably didn’t intend for it to be — amounts to a visual demonstration of the changes in adoption practice over the last forty years.  This feat of showing change is accomplished by juxtaposing three characters and their stories: a grown birth mother, an adult adoptee and a prospective adoptive mom.  

Karen (Annette Bening) is a frustrated fifty-ish, never-married woman who fantasizes about the daughter she placed for adoption when she herself was 14.  As the daughter’s 37th birthday approaches, Karen tells her elderly mother of the impending birthday.  Her mother looks at her daughter with a blank stare, reflecting the societal judgment common to birth mothers in the years of adoption secrecy.  Karen turns to her constant companion, a notebook where she records her thoughts in a never-ending Dear Diary entry to her absent daughter.  At work as a physical therapist at a Los Angeles nursing home, she notices and is noticed by a newly hired physical therapist, widowed Paco (Jimmy Smits) whose efforts to befriend her are rebuffed by Karen’s extreme over-reactions.  Karen, at this stage of the movie, is stuck at 14 in her emotional development, a not-uncommon side effect I have observed in some teen pregnancies.  Karen’s transformation to adulthood gives the actor a wide swing of character development, which she does with believable grace and ease.  As her relationship with Paco grows, he encourages her to begin a search for her daughter.  With Paco at her side, Karen cautiously approaches the adoption agency that took her baby for placement, where Sister Joanne (Cherry Jones) explains that she can write a letter to her daughter to be placed in the file. If her daughter contacts the agency, she will be given the letter; otherwise, the case cannot be opened.   Karen hesitates (also a true-to-life reflection of beginning searchers). The significance of the support she gains from Paco helps Karen in her evolution, and allows Jimmy Smits to show a rare soft side of the masculine role in the adoption community.  By the time she does bring her letter to the agency, a mature Karen is ready to face the future. 

The second story line involves Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) as an aloof, self-assured attorney interviewing for a job with the head of a large law firm (Samuel L. Jackson as Paul) in her home town of Los Angeles.  When he asks for details about her personal life, she tells him her father died when she was young, she has no current relationship with her mother; she is adopted and therefore knows nothing about her background.  In a twinkling, she reveals just enough for the viewer to suspect she is the daughter born to Karen.  She soon reveals a flip side to her over-bearing professionalism, as she revels in vindictive sexual promiscuity (another legacy of the secrecy era of adoption: the adoptee with no information may assume her mother was ‘of loose morals’ and therefore, follows suit). Nearing her 37th birthday, Elizabeth decides to start a search for her birth mother.  She visits the adoption agency, where Sister Joanne tells her, as she told Karen, to write a letter to go into her file.  “It works!”  Sister Joanne insists; indeed, as an adoption agency worker for 30 years, I can confirm that such letters can lead to matches!  When Elizabeth returns to the agency, a different worker accepts her letter.   And again, I can confirm that the matching of letter to file is an art that sometimes stumbles, as the process does in this story where a misfiled letter causes a delay that is significant to the plot.

The third story line, the adoptive mother’s longing for a baby to love, is shown through the character of Lucy (Kerry Washington), who with her husband Joseph (David Ramsey) interviews with Sister Joanne to discuss their need for a child to love.  Sister Joanne sets up a meeting between Lucy and Joseph and a 20 year old pregnant woman, Ray (Shareeka Epps) who is searching for the right family to raise her unborn baby.  At her bakery, Lucy is badgered by her mother (S. Epatha Merkerson) who struggles to accept this new style of adoption.  Nevertheless, the mother pulls it together to become her daughter’s main support as she faces the unknown future.  Ray is clear, when they meet, that this is serious business:  she will pick them only if Lucy answers her pointed questions truthfully.  Lucy has been carefully framing her demeanor to help them get a baby; finally she drops the effort to make Ray like her, and answers with the bald truth.  The couple leaves the interview sure they’ll not be chosen, but a call from Sister Joanne soon informs them that Ray has chosen them to be parents for her unborn child and invites them to the hospital for the delivery. 

What follows weaves these three stories into one, reflecting the serendipity of life.  Race and ethnicity is an unspoken theme in this movie and, as one reviewer has noted, the movie weaves white, Hispanic and African-American characters without joke or innuendo and (to that reviewer) is ‘the elephant in the room.’  To the contrary, it seems to me that this movie accurately reflects today’s melded communities and models tolerance in a positive way.  Indeed, acceptance of difference, whether race, personality, aptitude or attitude, is integral to the world of adoption.  

To prepare for writing this review, I read other posted reviews of Mother and Child.  Most negative reviews were penned by males who decry the piteous, thin portrayals of men in the movie and declare this a ‘chick flick’ thereby dismissing the power of the issue of adoption.  Indeed, if I were to make changes to the characters portrayed, I would have fleshed out the role of Joseph, who states:  “Lucy, I don’t want to do this; I want a child of my own.”  I would have stuck with Joseph until he discovers, much to his amazement and to his wife’s relief (and like many couples I’ve worked with), that he is up to the task of loving a child not born of his blood line.  And, we don’t need another adoption movie with a prospective father who, like Jason Bateman’s character in Juno, bails out of the adoption, pre-placement!

One more thing about the way the movie looks on screen:  the colors are muted, the sets seem to be real places, the over-all feel is one of authenticity.  The dulling effect is subtle, and contrasts with the highly emotional issues dealt with in the movie.  This is Los Angeles without the glitter; it is the busy ‘burbs without adornment.  None is needed.  The issues are real.  Rodrigo Garcia has, I believe, accomplished his goal of making us aware longing for ‘the other’ of these relationships. 

I still wish to see the movie a second time, and it is unfortunate that this appears to be a movie with limited distribution.  I pledge to post the DVD release date on my blog when I learn it.  When the DVD comes out, I know there will be a screening party with friends, colleagues and adoption circle members – including birth fathers, adopted men, as well as adoptive fathers and significant others.    I invite readers to hold your own screening parties and share your impressions here.  If you write about this movie on another blog, let me know and I’ll cross-reference-link to your blog.  We’d better plan a late night for our screening parties; there will be lots to talk about when the movie ends!

“Then She Found Me” – movie vs book

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This was first published on June 3, 2009 by bethkoz.

Back in May 2008 when I saw the movie “Then She Found Me” starring Helen Hunt and Bette Midler, I was impressed with the extensive adoption issues covered: infertility, ‘adopted child’ vs ‘home grown’, being found vs searching, the poignancy of the adoptee’s longing for a child of her body rather than through adoption, the anxieties expressed about search. When the credits ran, I noticed that it was based on a book. A friend said she had read it and it was different from the movie.

When I found and ordered the book from Amazon, I also read the author’s blog linked through the Amazon site where the book’s author, Elinor Lipman, was magnanimous about the changes made by Helen Hunt, the actress who spent ten years getting the movie produced.

Now that I have read the book, I see the changes that Helen Hunt brought to the project. She didn’t loaf while she tried to get the film funded; she delved into the field of adoption even more, and fleshed out the issues of adoption even better than the book.

The one major change which is better in the book is the birth father’s identity. In the movie version, there were several different stories told by the birth mother, and this viewer was left wondering which, if any, of the stories was true. In the book, it is clear who the father is, and his role is handled respectfully too.

Read the book or see the movie, now out on DVD. Both are good ways to educate ‘civilians’ (i.e., those not directly involved in adoption) to the issues faced by adoption triad members and their extended families.

Tags: adoption movies, Ellen Lipman, Helen Hunt, search and reunion, Bette Midler

Written by bethkoz

June 12, 2010 at 6:46 am

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Review: Spirit Babies

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Spirit Babies; How to Communicate with the Child You’re Meant to Have by Walter Makichen, published in 2005. The author is a self-proclaimed clairvoyant medium who specializes in healing work. Sometimes this involves working with couples who can’t get pregnant. He says he looks at the aura of his clients and identifies a ‘visible oval’ which is the spirit of a child who wants to be born to this couple. He communicates with the spirit babies asking what is keeping them from being born. It may be the fears of one or the other potential parent; he gives the couple breathing exercises to do and encourages them to have discussions with these spirit babies, inviting them into their lives. He illustrates with case histories of couples he’s worked with who later report to him their successful pregnancies.

So I’m reading, fascinated, but at the same time my own inner voice is crying out: “But what about adoption?” and then I saw that he has a chapter on adoption, and another on abortion. He is not judgmental about either of these choices, rather, he reports the feelings of spirit babies about the decisions of adoption and abortion, and that they have more to do with the past lives of the spirit babies.

As to abortion, he says some spirit babies are acceptant of the decisions previously made while others are angry. Sounds like a good cross section of feelings on this side, too.

This is definitely a ‘woo-woo’ book, and not everyone will be open to the spirit world in this way. It may be completely foreign to the reader, while others will be fascinated at this explanation of the Whys of infertility. The author gives a clear explanation of his view of this world, reincarnation and karmic contracts. Whether you’re a believer in this realm or not, it is a very interesting read.

Written by bethkoz

June 12, 2010 at 6:39 am

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Review: Life Sure Feels Different Living in a Separate House from my Brother

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There are few topics in adoption that haven’t been written about. Newly published authors Pamela and Camela Rollins have found one. Life Sure Feels Different Living in a Separate House From My Brother (Halo Publishing Company, 2010) highlights a unique situation: siblings separated through the foster care system. In the book, five year old Camela remembers the special times she shared with her brother when they lived together. Now, her brother lives with his biological father and Camela and her baby sister have been adopted by a family that values ongoing contact between siblings. Illustrations by Kim Sponaugle capture the special closeness of siblings in a whimsical way.

This book could be used to help prospective foster parents understand the bond that exists between siblings, and to help them understand the advantage of keeping the connections alive between separated siblings. It would also help a child growing up in foster care to realize that longing for sibling contact is acceptable; it must be: someone wrote a book about it!!

Written by bethkoz

June 11, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Review: Reading Adoption by Marianne Novy

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First published on January 30, 2009 by bethkoz.wordpress.com

This is a unique read, much out of “the usual” in adoption books. The author, as an adoptee, admits to having been sensitive along her educational journey to themes of abandonment, parental exchanges and orphans. But unlike other students exposed to the Greek plays, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Thackery and the Bronte novels — for Marianne Novy, the dark brooding stories of human foibles awakened knowledge of shared fate.  Ms. Novy has written a book that interweaves her professorial knowledge of literature with her personal story of search and reunion.  Her extensive exploration of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Tree and Pigs In Heaven gave me a glimmer of what it would have been like to have found someone to discuss these books when I read them — and longed for that discussion!

And to think, I was under the impression that adoption books started being written about thirty years ago!  I was wrong, as Ms. Novy points out.  The theme was all around me.  And that is her point.  Our view of adoption, of the roles the players “should” play, is unconsciously influenced by what we read, even if we don’t realize it.

Let this be a good ‘heads up’ for all of us educators in adoption (and we are all ‘educators in adoption’), to be aware of the subtle influences on all students!  A great read!  Thank you, Marianne Novy, for opening my eyes!

Written by bethkoz

June 6, 2010 at 7:28 am

Review: “Odyssey of an Unnamed Father” by David Archuletta

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First Published on February 4, 2009 by bethkoz.wordpress.com

Don’t be taken in by the tease on the back cover: “This book will teach you [prospective adoptive parent] what to look for to spot fraud or unethical maneuvers in the adoption process and to avoid this terrible scenario when you welcome a child into your home.” Sadly, it doesn’t follow through on that promise.

What it is: This is David Archuletta’s personal story as an alleged father whose former partner committed perjury by signing an Unknown Father Affidavit [in New Jersey] in spite of his having been somewhat involved in the pregnancy until she left her Colorado home to do an adoption — but the reader has to make it through a third of the book to learn that. Editing would have helped make this book more readable, and let these very important points more readily available.

Mr. Archuletta has two important messages to deliver: don’t assume that adoption is the best solution to every unwed pregnancy, and the baby’s father has important information to share, including (as in his case) potentially dire medical history. Mr. Archuletta should not have been left out of this important decision for his child. Whether his involvement might have meant a different outcome or not, his rights were discounted.

Mr. Archuletta’s story should be a reminder to adoption agency workers and adoption attorneys why a best services practitioner should refuse to do an adoption when a pregnant client refuses to identify the father. To do less is to risk loss of licensure.

HOWEVER, this is one of those books that takes one situation and generalizes it to all adoptions.

Beth Kozan, Phoenix

Written by bethkoz

June 6, 2010 at 7:19 am

Explore Ebooks at Tapestry.com

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First published on February 27, 2009 by bethkoz.wordpress.com

Tapestry Books sent out an announcement that they have an e-book, “A Birth Mother Perspective on Open Adoption” available on its website.   Actually, it is a Two-in-one of first person accounts by birth mothers Patricia Dischler and Melissa Nilsen.  It’s good to for an adoption-focused site to give space to birth mothers, the often silent side of adoption. For a limited time, this is downloadable for free. Take advantage of the offer and connect to these two articulate women and their personal stories.   Included are links to each author’s blogs.  Take a look.

Written by bethkoz

June 6, 2010 at 7:01 am