May 02, 2010

Airing Tuesday: Sunshine

Puppy and Firefly's first moms were themselves adopted, Kelly as a newborn and Beth when she was one year old. They bring up their adoptions quite a bit with us, talking about their (very different) feelings about being adopted and the choices their (birth and adoptive) parents made on their behalf. At times each has touched on how her experiences came into play as they were making decisions on behalf of her own children. I know what they share with us is only the tip of the iceberg of their thoughts and emotions.

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 stories are made all the more powerful by the fact that the filmaker, Skloss, is telling of her own families' origins. She was the baby placed for adoption and was just a few years into reunion with her first mom when her own daughter was born. She examines how dramatically the social mores surrounding single motherhood shifted in a single generation, and how those changes shaped her life.

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.


Hilary said...

Just followed the link to Christian Family Adoptions and got a little sick to my stomach. I get so mad when people of my faith essentially use their faith to justify unethical practices. Thanks for the heads up on the movie, looking forward to see it.

mama2roo said...

Can't wait to check it out! (oh and saw you in a certain magazine I subscribe to this week :)

Sonya said...

As far as searching for missing pieces, I found my 3-year-old's birthfather on Facebook. To our best knowledge, he has NO idea that he fathered a child. What would you do with this info? Anyone have any thoughts?

Heather said...

@Hilary - Isn't it awful? I mean, you know there are agencies and counselors out there with those tactics. But seeing it so blatantly stated is really something else. It makes me ill and angry that adopting parents continue to use them.

@mama2roo - Shhhhhh. ;)

Heather said...

@Sonya - Wow, that's huge. And only you know everything that's involved here. Could you start by talking to Nikole? What does she think of you finding/reaching out to him? It's hard sometimes, balancing our current relationships with our kids' right to information about their history. No matter what, I'd be grabbing screencaps of everything I found on him online and saving the info for your son.

Have you thought about posting your question over at Open Adoption Support? I bet there are some folks there who've been through something similar.

Unknown said...

Just watched it. I see the contrast between the old days and the new, as pointed out by the staff member from Marywood, is that nowadays, there isn't a market for the maternity home because there isn't the same need for secrecy...but maybe today, the shame and secrecy are shifted onto placing babies for adoption (because these days you don't "have to" place them)rather than on getting pregnant in the first place.

My mom was pregnant when she got married (or else) in 1964. I wasn't married when I got pregnant in 1993 and no one in my family batted an eye about it--but if I had placed my baby for adoption, I am sure they would all have freaked out totally and ostracized me out of fear and shame.

And, oh, the conservative grandpa's subject-changing tactics.
Did they used to teach that in school? My dad is around his age and uses the same technique. Not smooth.

Sonya said...

Heather--Nikole finally told us his last name when Stephen was a couple of months old. She recently clarified the spelling of his last name and said that he had posted a message on her MySpace page about being sorry how their relationship ended. She quoted the state he's in now, and the FB profile confirmed what she knew. His page is private and I wasn't about to "friend" him, so all I can see is a shadowed face under a hoodie. She seems to think he could figure out that Stephen is his by the dates they were together and Stephen's age. She has no plans to tell him. I am here wondering if his birthdad and his parents would want to know of his existence, and where my boundaries are.

SustainableFamilies said...

My adoptive parents made sure that I placed. I don't think open adoption is any less traumatic, or that pressure is always less than it used to be to place. They just use different techniques to convince women, and opening adoptions is one of those techniques

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