Their own birth parents, especially their first moms, are often the topic of those conversations. Women who have no idea that their daughters grew up to become birth mothers themselves. I play the amateur sleuth every now and then late at night, googling the scraps of information I have on them. I don't know what I think I will find, or what I would do with anything I did. But still I poke around, wondering whether my children, their own immediate family connections so carefully maintained, will want to reach back a generation further when they are grown. Their family trees are a tangle of cut and grafted branches waiting for them to sort through one day.
I brought all of that to my viewing of Sunshine: The Movie, a very personal documentary by Karen Skloss which airs this Tuesday on the PBS series Independent Lens. Sunshine tells the story of two women from similar backgrounds, one in the '70s and one in the last decade, who became pregnant before they wanted to be, before they felt ready. One secretly checked herself into a maternity home for "unwed mothers" and the baby was placed into a closed adoption. The other headed uncertainly into parenthood, co-parenting as a single mother with her ex-boyfriend.
|Skloss and her first mom|
The film tells that intimate story well. It makes a strong case that we're all better off when we let the boundary lines of family fall in creative ways, when we bring our relationships in all their messiness into the sunlight and let them grow. Obviously ideas this open adoption mama can get behind.
It fell a bit short for me in its discussion of adoption, though, not really acknowledging the ways adoption practice hasn't kept pace with society's progress. I thought it gave the impression that shame and secrecy in adoption were things of the past. Though we learn that the home in which Skloss' first mom lived has closed, there are still all sorts of agencies running maternity homes, villifying single parenthood, and pressuring women into placing their children. What really brought it home for me were several shots of "Pregnant? Scared? Need help?" billboards sprinkled throughout the movie, perhaps meant to show that unplanned pregnancy has been brought out of the shadows, that we as a society now offer support to women? But when I see those signs, I think about how the phone numbers on them typically ring in an adoption faciliatator's office or crisis pregnancy centers directly or indirectly connected to some the least ethical adoption agencies around. There is help, but it is too often help with an agenda. It was a disappointing (to me) note in a film so otherwise supportive of parents having the freedom to forge their own paths.
My adoption hang-ups aside, it was a touching movie. There is a moment at the end which explains why the film is titled Sunshine. That's when I started crying. Then came home video of her daughter's birth, Skloss' two mothers equally present, waiting and rejoicing. You'd better believe I kept on crying at the sight of that.
If you'd like to watch it on Tuesday, check your local listings for the Independent Lens show time. Then come back here and tell me what you thought.
Disclosure: I was sent a preview DVD of the movie, with no compensation or obligation to review attached.