' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Mother and Child is a film not be be missed, though critics overlooked

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mother and Child is a film not be be missed, though critics overlooked

The last batch of comments on the previous blog (Practice Babies: Unnatural Mothering) rapidly degenerated into snarky lobs across the net--are we no better than the discourse between the opposite political factions in this country? Apparently not. I admit a bias: I side with the folks who say: you can have your "expert" opinion, you might be better read (of those self-same experts) but those authorities do not know how I feel. They do not speak for me. And this is how I feel.

What I'm sorry about is that so many negative comments were posted, and I posted them. It's hard to decide when the first one ought not to be posted, because the two sides reflect opposing kinds of discourse: one is "I feel this way," and the other side says, "The experts say" you don't, and everybody gets riled up. I was particularly disappointed with the whole business when one commentator (apparently a first mother) wrote and said that she no longer will use her name, but only  post under the veil of "Anonymous."

'Nuff said.

So, let's go to the movies, given these weeks of awards, award shows, fashion shows based on award shows, and some of us (that would include me) trying to squeeze in all the award-winning movies in order to have an opinion (I love film) before the next award show...which brings me to Mother and Child*-- which is not winning any awards but should be. It's a movie I missed during the one week it played out here at the end of Long Island. I had to wait until it came out in video recently, and then I happily heard that it made at least one critic's best of the year list, David Edlestein of New York magazine and NPR, and hope that gives it at least spurt of viewers.  Everyone with even the slimmest of connection to adoption ought to see it. Juno it's not.

Mother and ChildIt's a movie about us:  We birth/first/call-us-what-you-will mothers who lost our children to adoption.

Mother and Child,the very title evoking the Mother Mary and Christ child, is about the damage relinquishing a child does to us, not just for a year, but for our entire lives. That emotional hole in our heart is seen clearly in the character of Karen (Annette Bening), now a seemingly childless grownup woman, a physical therapist at a home for the elderly, who clearly has never gotten over giving up her child. Karen is emotionally flat except when she displays an unnatural dislike of her housekeeper's daughter, who obviously reminds of of what she has lost: her own daughter. Karen was forced to give her up when she was 14 by her now elderly and obviously dying mother she cares for with barely concealed rage.

Yeah, it's painful because it takes us back to when, no matter the circumstances.

Karen's baby grows up to be a brittle, bright and ambitious young lawyer, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) who seems to have a steel plate where most have hearts. She lives and breathes: attachment issues, comittment issues. Like some adoptees we know. She doesn't want to search because her mother could have, right? So why didn't she? I hear that comment from both sides of the fence, and it's especially poignant when someone searches (as in Jean Strauss's film, Adopted: For the Life of Me) and hears that the search comes too late, the one searched for has died, and would have welcomed the other person...but did not seek out the other because she felt she did not have the right.

When Elizabeth get pregnant by her boss, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson), a widower, she will not even tell him he is the father, though he is willing to be more than the sperm donor, to be a father, in deed as well as biology.

And of course, there is the story of a couple looking to adopt, and seem to have found a willing young woman to give them her baby, but lord, was I cheering hard when the smart-talking young woman, who doesn't want to be like her mother--a single struggling mother--but (spoiler alert) thank god at the last moment changes her mind and takes home her baby. The director, Rodrigo Garcia, uses this moment in the hospital to show us the intense, immediate grief of the would-be adopting mother when Ray (Shareeka Epps) decides to take her baby home. Then all hell breaks loose in the hospital corridor. It works in the film but I couldn't think of scene in any film where the women who is giving up her child has ever been allowed to carry on. No, that would be too much, right? We are not allowed to show that much emotion. Please point out any film that I'm missing where this is shown.

There were many personal touchstones for me: Bening getting in the car of her suitor, Jimmy Smits, and telling him what's wrong with her: that she gave up her daughter. She is damaged goods, in other words. I told my first husband when we were driving to a restaurant on top of a mountain in Altamont, New York, the historic Altamont Inn. He said, Why don't we get married...and I knew I had to tell him on the spot, right then and there. Not even wait until we got to the restaurant. Not say yes until I told him. He had to know first. I remember looking out the window and not answering for a few long seconds before I mentally gulped and found the words to tell him about my daughter. Watching Bening dole out the same news took me back to when I had to make that very same confession.

There's' more to the story but I assume that most of the readers here are going to see the movie. It has a somewhat happy ending, just as does my own person saga, for a year ago I found my granddaughter, also of mixed race, that my own daughter gave up for adoption in 1986. That has been nothing short of joyful, and the movie ends with the same up note, as Bening is able to get to know her granddaughter...as Elizabeth dies in childbirth, a letter is misplaced so theirs is not reunion, and the child ends up with the woman who lost out on the other. Okay, a bit of a plot device, but I did not care, and weirder things have happened in life.

Bening won a Golden Globe last night for The Kids are All Right, which also dealt with identity issues (and more about that tomorrow(, which is fine, but her performance in Mother and Child was overlooked because the movie itself was a bust at the box office and overlooked by the majority of critics. Naomi Watts does a great job also as the cool, emotionally distant adoptee. Yet that Mother and Child was made at all is a great leap forward for first mothers because the film acknowledges our pain, and that time does not heal all wounds. A great many of us end up depressed and sorrowful all of our lives. Last week I came across this: 
“While only an insignificant proportion of birth mothers had been diagnosed with a mental health problem before adoption (three percent), in the time between the parting and contact, 24 percent had psychiatric diagnosis mainly for depression, with half of them having inpatient treatment."**
This is from the most comprehensive follow-up survey of first mothers after surrender, one done published by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, the leading UK-wide membership organization for all those concerned with adoption, fostering and child care issues. 

Thank you, Rodrigo Garcia, Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Samuel Jackson and others. You made a movie that tells the world that for those of us who surrender our children, for the children we surrender, adoption always begins with a personal catastrophe. --lorraine
* See Jane's review and reaction: The Movie: Mother and Child packs a wallop
** Triseliotis, John, Julia Feast, & Fiona Kyle, The Adoption Triangle Revisited (2005), p. 91.


  1. Cried my eyes out while watching the movie. It was very well done.

  2. Several months ago I saw the movie in an uncrowded theater in NY City. It was good, and there must be an award of which it's worthy.

    However, as emotional moments go, the one carrying the highest potential pitch was left out -- the surrendering of the newborn.

    Meanwhile, near the end, after the adoptive mother has been exhausted by her child and is now aware that caring for a baby is thankless work, she's told by her mother -- suck it up, you're the mother.

    That moment is a killer.

    Meanwhile, the adoptive mother is oblivious to the series of events that put the child in her home. Two separate worlds intersect at one point, but too often the two worlds remain apart.

    For whatever it's worth, I was adopted and found my birth families 20 years after my birth mother died. However, I'm on excellent terms with a half sister and my birth father.

  3. Naomi Watts did a GREAT job in "Mother and Child" and I think she should take the Oscars Best Actress award this year but it's most likely that the perpetual underrated, overlooked and snubbed actress is going to be ignored again.

    Besides this great performance in "Mother and Child", she had also delivered two terrific performances respectively in "Fair Game" and "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger".

    As a reminder to all, the HFPA or the Golden Globes have again snubbed all her performances this year for the 11th year continuously.


  4. Richard: I see that you stumbled upon our blog because it mentioned Naomi Watts, even though it probably surprised you, unless you happen to be adopted. I too am a fan of Naomi Watts, ever since 21 Grams and especially, one of the movies on my "favorites" list, Eastern Promises. Once again, there is a baby without a home.

  5. Imo, one of the best scenes for me (SPOILER ALERT!!) was at the end when the nun hands Benning the piece of paper with info about her granddaughter and she burts out into hysterical laughter. Then in the next scene we see what the laughter was all about as Benning was able to literally walk down the street to meet her granddaughter for the first time. As Lorraine said, weirder things have happened.

    It was nice to read your review on this movie, Lorraine. Mother and Child did not come to my small town at all, so I had to wait and buy the disc. It was worth the wait.

  6. "For whatever it's worth, I was adopted and found my birth families 20 years after my birth mother died. However, I'm on excellent terms with a half sister and my birth father."

    I read and hear this same thing a lot from adopted adults, and each time I hear it, it makes me so sad for the mothers who died without knowing that their child survived and was okay.

    And, sadder still that the father has a good relationship with the adoptee, when the mother can have none. For some reason this makes me want to weep.

  7. Agree Sandy and so sorry No Slappz...and it's the reason Jean Strauss's film, Adopted: for the life of me, is so terribly sad and poignant. One of the main characters find friends of his mother, a Brittany spaniel that she had, and discovers that she had a whole collection of poems about losing children and sons...she wasn't in the movie but her presence was so very real to me. I feel so sorry for all the mothers who do not search because they think it is not their "right," somehow, and their children search when it is too late.

    I must admit I cried more during that film that I did during Mother & Child. But the awful missed connection of Mother & Child, in which the daughter dies, is incredibly moving too. It's always a tragedy of circumstance.

  8. Lisa in WV, you wrote:

    "Then in the next scene we see what the laughter was all about as Benning was able to literally walk down the street to meet her granddaughter for the first time."

    My own experience was close to this part of the movie script.

    My birth father looked for me and found that I was listed in the International Soundex Reunion Registry. Within the first few minutes of our first conversation, we realized we lived about 10 stops apart on the same NY City subway line.

  9. Lorraine,

    Yes, Adopted: for the life of me was profoundly touching. The obviousness of the statement made by the social worker from Kansas who said no birth mothers had ever complained that their relinquished children were given their original birth certificates makes a sane person wonder why New York (where I live) is so desperate to keep people like me in the dark.

    Fortunately, I've met almost every living member of my birth families, but nevertheless, I want my birth certificate..

  10. I've always intended to see Mother & Child, just waiting for the DVD so I could view it in privacy. I know... it's been out for a while... and I will. Same with The Kids Are All Right.

    I didn't see Juno until it came out on DVD. And then I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that good, even though it got many nominations. It was still hard to watch.

    Movies that come out early in any given year get forgotten by Oscar time. And Richard is right: some movies, directors, and get snubbed. Hollywood is such an in-crowd game.

    Who cares what gets nominated or awarded? Lorraine and Jane, keep telling us about films we might not otherwise hear about.

  11. No slappz

    And you should have your original birth certificate!!! Please write to your state senator and assemblyperson and moan, complain, demand they see the light of day if they haven't already. There are several in Manhattan who don't! Check out Unsealed Initiative for news of NY.

  12. Tomorrow I promise I will get to The Kids...I'm just wiped out tonight.

  13. slappz...that is amazing! I'm sure you were both thrilled and shocked.

    At the time I found my mother, I was in college and one of my professors turned out to be my great-aunt (my grandmother's youngest sister). After the reunion, my great-aunt told me that sometimes she would stare at me during class because she knew I looked familiar, but couldn't figure out who I was. *chills*

  14. I had one of those "just walk down the street" moments as well...after 4 years in reunion with my son I decided to locate his first dad, who I hadn't spoken to in close to 30 years. He did not know he had a son, as I gave birth after we had both moved from middle school to different high schools. When my son was born the social workers recommended that I not inform his father, and at the time it seemed like good advice because his dad had bolted when I brought up the possibility, hypothetically, of me being pregnant. I still remember his exact response "I'd drop you like a hot potato".

    Fast forward almost 30 years. After my son inquired a couple of times about his first dad, I did a short search for him, and came upon a facebook site with his name. After exchanging a few emails I was certain this was the right person. I broke the news to him, and after the initial shock subsided he asked where I worked. Turns out he was working in the same building as me, one floor down. What are the odds of that happening? Spooky.

    8 mo. later I took a picture of the three of us together, closing the reunion loop completely.

  15. Pandora's Paradox,

    Yours is another knockout story from the the surprising world of adoption.

  16. I'm reading Anne Fessler's book; first time reading anything like this. I became pregnant @ 16; a friend took me to a social worker and I ended up being placed in a home, where I babysat, cooked and cleaned, while the state paid the family to keep me. I didn't want to give my baby up for adoption, but didn't know what else to do. It seemed like thats what most girls were doing. Social worker lied and said they had an adoptive couple. It wasn't true. She went directly in to foster care and remained there until I "found" her 7 years later. The woman finally adopted her; today she has drug and alcohol problems; lives in poverty; is bitter toward me because I ended up marrying her dad and having 3 more children, all college grads, successful in their careers. She doesn't have much to do with me, unless she needs money. I stopped giving her money when I learned most of it went toward crack. Not a good ending, but I'm still glad I know her and she knows her birth family.We live 2000 miles apart.



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