' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: The Movie: Mother and Child packs a wallop

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Movie: Mother and Child packs a wallop

With the release of two excellent adoption-themed films, Casa de los Babies (2003) and Loggerheads (2005), I thought Hollywood had finally come to understand adoption loss. No more schmaltzy stories with birthmothers as misty-eyed heroines (e.g. To Each His Own, 1946 and Three Secrets, 1951). My hopes were dashed by two dreadful films released in 2007, Juno and Then She Found Me. No longer a self-sacrificing martyr, the birthmother was now a wise-cracking teenager or a manipulative liar.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to see Mother and Child, a new film written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. This film is all that I hoped for and more. It chips away at adoption myths, telling the truth about forced separations of mother and child.

The film opens in 1973 with 14 year old Karen unbuttoning her blouse while her boy friend watches, eager for what is to come. Next we see a very pregnant Karen in a room with other pregnant girls followed by a screaming Karen giving birth. Fast forward to 2010 and the adult Karen (Annette Bening) tells her mother, “she would be 37 today”.

The scene shifts to Elizabeth, Karen’s daughter, (Naomi Watts), an attorney interviewing for a job. We learn that Karen has moved from place to place, never committing herself to anything. Finally we meet Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband. Lucy explains to a social worker nun that they have accepted adoption because Lucy has not been able to conceive. Her husband nods in agreement with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm

The three women struggle with loss. Karen is tense, bitter, and distrustful, striking out at those seeking to help her. Elizabeth, unable to connect with anyone or any place, uses sex to assert herself and control others. Lucy works to convince herself and her husband that an adopted child can replace the child they cannot have biologically. The stories of the three women move separately until they intersect dramatically at the end of the film

Other women fill in the tableau, displaying the many facets of mother-daughter relationships -- Karen’s mother who cannot accept her responsibility for Karen’s loss of her child; Lucy’s mother, encouraging her daughter but unsure about having an adopted grandchild; a pregnant woman planning to give up a child; her mother, facing the loss of a grandchild; the social worker nun, moving infants from one woman to another; and a single mother, employed as a housekeeper who brings her daughter to work with her when other care is unavailable.

Although adoption connects all the characters, Garcia said in an interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, that he considers the film to be about forced separation, not adoption. He learned about the loss inherent in adoption loss by reading memoirs of young girls forced to hide their pregnancies and give up their babies. (The interview itself is well worth hearing.)

The film has some fine acting, particularly by Annette Bening and Samuel L. Jackson who plays Elizabeth’s boss and lover. The cast also includes one of my favorite actors, Law and Order’s S. Epatha Merkerson as Lucy’s mother.

There are some flaws -- Elizabeth’s behavior is unconvincing, some plot twists seem contrived, there is way too much graphic sex -- but they do not mar the truth and power of the film.
PS: A piece of news today: "Adopted," the movie  (80-minute feature documentary) is now from Netflix!
Documentary only. Educational DVD for professionals and parents that includes 6 distinct sessions with advice from leading experts in the field of adoption not included. I've been anxious to see this and am glad I'll be able to. Here's the trailer:


  1. I have read the reviews and was waiting for a mother to write about it. I am glad that this one is not a Juno! Thanks for the update. I will see it soon...

  2. While I agree that Annette Benning portrayed the feelings of the first mom's unresolved grief and depression and guilt, and Naomi Watts portrayed the control issues and difficulty in relationships that some adoptees display, I was disappointed in the neatly-wraped ending. Although, I could tell from the beginning that this would be the ending, I still didn't like it.
    I am sad that this film has not received much notice. Many of my firstmom friends have told me that they could not find the film in their town. Maybe in time it will come. It was interesting to me how many WOMEN attended this film when I went. Usually alone, I wondered how many of these women were like me, a woman who lost my firstborn to the adoption machine and then made to feel good about it.

  3. Was this playing in regular show?
    Just wondering how many will see it?
    Glad someone has some inkling of losses involved even though the producer is calling it separation? Guess he is covering bases with almighty powerful trying to ease their pain yet let he public see. I do hope this movie makes an impression but it is so hard to fight money and power.

    sounds like it is a film involving interracial relationships too.

  4. While we can celebrate that at least "Mother and Child" truthfully portrays the horrendous aftermath that follows a birth/first mother's loss of a child to adoption, this will be muted by the release of "Juno" coming to television.
    Just saw the ad for it the other day.

    I watched "Juno" on DVD because I wanted to see how the movie portrayed the decision to relinquish and child--pretty much no sweat for the wise-ass Juno--and was glad I did not see it in a movie theater so I could scream at the TV set in privacy, and cry too. I don't think I, as a mother who relinquished a child, could stand to see the horror of "Juno" and still sit there. Yeah, we can say it represented only one person but that is how stereotypes became part of the common consciousness. It would have made me nuts to see an audience with numerous prototypical adoptive parents, or adopted people, thinking, Hmm, so that's how it was. A few tears and she moves on with her life. Good. No need to find her....

    Juno in myth is the wife of Jupiter, the Roman name for the Greek god, Zeus. (Hera is the Greek counterpart of Juno.) Juno/Hera, was always doing bad stuff to the many women that her wayward husband slept with. Turned Io into a cow, for instance, who was always bothered by a fly and who wandered the earth with an itch. Juno/Hera is chiefly the goddess of marriage, sexuality and ... fertility.

    That's us, all right--goddesses of fertility. Too bad those who would stone us for wanting to know our children after relinquishment don't pay us the respect due to a goddess! Like Juno we could...well, you fill in the blank.

  5. I've been wanting to see this movie so badly!!! Mostly because of the plot/theme, but I also love Annette Bening. Unfortunately, for those who asked, it was only in limited release in the major cities (NY and LA were the only 2 I saw mentioned).

    I'll just wait for the DVD which is actually fine by me since I can't stand to watch adoption-themed shows in the presence of other people. I've always been that way...

    You can see a few clips here:

  6. Separation or loss? That leaped out at me from Anon's comment about the producer calling it separation. For me, that is the right word today. I feel I was separated from my son, and he from me, but that he is no longer lost since I now have some relationship with him, know where he is, and we can communicate. He is now found, no longer lost, and the separation finally grows less dire and complete. Unlike some, I do not feel my loss was forever or that my son is still lost now.

    I don't care for adoption movies unless they are comedies so I think I will skip this one. My favorite is Widow's Peak with Mia Farrow, set in Ireland, where a reunited adoptee and birthmother get even with the whole puritanical town in a very clever plot.

  7. I noticed that Salon has a review of the Mother and Child by an adoptive mother. She did not like it.

    That's a plus for me.

  8. I'd never even heard of this movie! I waited a long time before I watched Juno on DVD. I too prefer to see movies like this in the privacy of my own home... if at all. Thanks for the scoop. At least I'll be prepared if I do see it.

    Then She Found Me was actually a pretty good book. I read it more than ten years ago. As often happens, it translated badly to film.

    IMO, Secrets and Lies, Casa, and The Other Mother are still the best and most honest films about adoption.

  9. Stacy, I saw that review. A real whingefest! Where's the adoptive family? Waaaah? (Where's my crybaby button when I need it.)

  10. This movie is kind of being distributed like a foreign film isn't it? Not some big blockbuster. I agree with you Jane about And Then She Found Me. That movie upset me and I never watched it all the way through. I couldn't stomach it. I would like to see this one though. And I'm glad you liked it and at least it is closer to the truth than the four letter word in movie tittle form Juno..(and yes, I know there are some bad Real Parents out there, like the loser in my state who tried to sell his infant daughter to a gas station attendant so he could get some crack, but that is rare, so Pro-Closed AP's please just leave me alone...)

  11. Let's not forget The Rabbit-Proof Fence, an Australian movie about the abduction of aboriginal children in Australia to integrate them into the white society, and how two little girls escape to get back to their mothers. It's based on the terrible policies of Australian government until the mid-Seventies, I think. Highly recommended to anyone interested in adoption. It's about five years old. Bring hankies.

    --Netflix here we come.

    And I can't wait until Mother & Child makes it to the art house near where I live.

  12. I find that I am interested in watching "Mother and Child" and I have recorded "Juno" - but I am having issues watching either. I don't know if it is the loss or the lack of reality.

    I find that I am delighted that more and more realistic films are out there - and that people are talking about them.

    I don't know, maybe I will watch.....I have to think about it.

  13. I was profoundly moved by "The Rabbit-Proof Fence" as well, and highly recommend it.

    But I am usually disappointed in adoption themed films. I am horrified that Juno is coming to TV and agree with Lorraine that it will serve no purpose but to further glorify adoption and give encouragement to those who really believe adoption is always in the best interest of the child.
    Juno's "no sweat" attitude was insulting and appalling to most of the mothers I know.

    Like Lorraine, I am also a fan of mythology and personally always related Demeter's loss of Persephone to my experience; rather than Juno/Hera.

    I do look forward to watching "Mother and Child" to judge for myself, but doubt that this film will get much mainstream attention due to the subject matter.

  14. I wrote a piece on Demeter and Persephone for my old newsletter years ago. The main point was that the adoptee was split between worlds, and often not fully there in either. like Demeter who had to return to the Underworld for six months of every year. I always liked that myth of why we have winter.

  15. Maryanne, I subscribed to your old Origins newsletter - probably under my married name, but not sure. It was excellent.

    It's possible that's why I associated with the story of Demeter and Persephone.. But I do remember relating to that myth as well.

  16. Oops, 'scuse me, it was the daughter, Persephone, who had to return to the Underworld, Demeter was her mother who grieved for her while she was gone:-)Gotta keep these mythological beings straight!

  17. I saw the film at a premier and reviewed it at: http://familypreservation.blogspot.com/2010/04/mother-and-child-adoption-themed-film.html

    I agree with everything Jane said.

    How wonderful for those who can say: "he is no longer lost since I now have some relationship with him, and we can communicate. He is now found, no longer lost, and the separation finally grows less dire and complete. Unlike some, I do not feel my loss was forever or that my son is still lost now."

    For people like Lorraine and I, and even those with living children who do not communicate, the pain of loss is acute and never-ending.

    However, I must say that I was an ardent advocate against unnecessary, unwarranted separations of mothers and their children long before my daughter passed, long after I was fortunate enough to meet her, and will remain so for life - regardless of my own personal life's outcome in regard to adption...because for me, it never was never just about me and still isn't. There is a far bigger picture here or as they used to say, the personal is political.

    Losing even a part of your life, is for many irrevocable and causes lifelong irreparable damage to their very soul and psyche...that even reunion does not heal. Even when reunification brings healing or reduces feelings of loss for one party - we have no way of really knowing if it has a similar effect on the other party. We may no longer feel loss, but what about our children?

    While we are all unique in how we react to similar situations, I know I am not alone. Studies have indicated that for many mothers who lose a child to adoption the pain - and anger - INCREASE over time, rather than subsides. While there was no indication that these mothers had been reunited "successfully' or not, they said that they felt worse over time because as they matured and came to realize how much they had lost.

    I do not want to be a spoiler about this film, because I know many have not as yet had an opportunity to see it. I am waiting with baited breath for that time to discuss it fuller. For me, it was VERY INTENSE and brought up a great deal of inner pain and emotion. I do suggest you bring a tissue....or like MaryAnne avoid the painful realities adoption has for some....

  18. Here's another review:

    "'Mother and Child' is rife with the uncomfortable worries that some adoptees, adoptive parents and birth moms (they are moms here, not birth parents) struggle with."


  19. disappointed that this movie is playing nowhere in chicago metro except pipers alley and highland park, both a considerable distance from the western suburbs where I live....any ideas as to how one might approach the big chain movie houses to convince them to show movies with controversial themes?

  20. How about calling your local movie theater and asking that it be shown? If we all did it...well, who knows what might happen?



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