Yes, these things did take place and they still do. The players are different: social workers and lawyers have replaced nuns as marketeers of children. Unwed mothers-to-be are no longer hidden away in convents but coerced through slick marketing campaigns to give their children away so they can have "a better life." Adoption records continue to be closed in most states. Children in foreign countries are still sold to Americans whose only qualification as parents is their ability to pay large fees. Records for these children are often non-existent or false. Unlike American adoptees who may find their birth families through the Internet and search angels, foreign-born children may never learn anything about their origins.
Thankfully intercountry adoptions have declined; sadly there is legislation in Congress to coerce poor countries into making their children available for adoption through taking away their aid if they don't comply. The champion of this legislation? Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu whose husband Frank Snellings was adopted from Ireland!
Adoption, particularly intercountry adoption is often defended with "at least the children are better off." Philomena herself said "'He had a good life, didn't he? I could never have given him all that.'" As we learn from Sixsmith's book, Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search, on which the screenplay was based, the answer is No! No! Anthony had a wretched life.
He was adopted by Michael "Doc" and Marge Hess when he was three and a half. and renamed Michael Anthony Hess. He believed he remembered his mother but the Hesses assured him he could not; that she had left him in care of nuns at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Ireland when he was born. In fact, as the Hesses knew, his mother lived at the Abbey and spent as much time with her son as the nuns allowed and prayed for him when she could not be with him.
Michael struggled all his life with feelings of abandonment and worthlessness. He was also gay, in conflict with his strict Catholic upbringing. When he could resist his urges no longer, he began frequenting prostitutes even while retaining the facade of a model student at the University of Notre Dame. After college, he went to George Washington University School of Law because of his interest in politics. He also began a series of failed relationships with men. He could not be faithful to his trusting partners, seeking pleasure in gay orgies and through alcohol and drugs.
RETURN TO IRELAND
Michael was obsessed with Ireland, and when he graduated from law school, he became determined to find out the full story of his background. He traveled to Ireland with his adopted Irish sister Mary. Mother Barbara who had arranged their adoptions refused to give them any information. Michael returned to the U. S. full of hopelessness and self-loathing.
"Now all the setbacks and rebuffs seemed to him the result of his own inadequacy: the orphan's rootless insecurity, his sense of not belonging, left him feeling adrift, helplessly tossed by life's tempests. These were the moments in which his desire to belong became paramount, when any chance to be part of the established order was sought like a refuge in a storm."Although a Democrat, Michael went to work for the Republican National Committee when it offered him a good job, eventually becoming its chief legal council even though he was appalled by the Republican party's opposition to gay rights and lack of support for AIDS research.
"At age thirty-two Michael Hess had risen from illegitimate birth in an obscure Irish convent via the lottery of adoption to a position of influence in the world's most powerful nation. ...His appointment should have satisfied his striving to belong, confirmed his acceptance by the world, but the lurking sense of his own unworthiness did not leave him: I don't deserve to be where I am; I am an impostor, just waiting for my secret to be exposed. He was a gay man in a homophobic party, a rootless orphan in a world of rooted certainties."In 1993 when he was 41, Michael was diagnosed with AIDS and given at most two years to live. He told his partner Pete Nilsson he needed to return to Ireland. "For Mike, in the shadow of the unknown, the reunion with his mother seemed the key to unlocking the sorrow and the pain, a last chance to find the answers to the puzzle of his life. Because if I don't find out now, he told himself, I never will. And I have to find out who I am before I am no more."
A DEAD END AND A BEGINNING
Sister Hildegarde, who had succeeded Sister Barbara, refused to give him any information about his mother or his early life even when he told her he was dying. He then made one last request -- that he be buried at the Abbey so that his mother could find him; he was sure she would come looking for him. Sister Hildegarde granted his request conditioned on Michael making a significant donation to the Abbey. Michael died two years later and was buried at the Abbey.
Philomena had returned to the Abbey twice seeking information about her son and had been rebuffed both times. She returned for a third time with Sixsmith and her daughter Jane, again receiving no answers. When they returned to their hotel, Jane looked at pictures they had taken and saw a gravestone for a man with the same birth date as Philomena's son. At last Philomena found her boy.
WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN?
The hardest hearts cannot read the story of Philomena and her son without breaking out in tears. Even The View matriarch, adoptive mother Barbara Walters, usually outspoken on the positives of adoption, didn't try to defend this adoption. Yet these stories will continue albeit in new forms until legislators unlock adoption records and Americans accept that devastation that can occur when children are taken from their mothers whose only sin was having sex with the wrong man at the wrong time. --jane
Philomena: A forced adoption, a lifetime quest, a longing that never waned.
Senate bill encourages more international adoption