' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: 'Our Little Sister' a tender study of family and kinship

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

'Our Little Sister' a tender study of family and kinship

Sisters greeting an unknown sibling who shares one parent is the subject of Our Little Sister, a Japanese film now in art theaters. Adoption is not part of this story, yet the issues were close enough to the bone I was glad to be sitting in the dark, alone, with no one near me. They would have wondered how this deeply charming and quietly moving film would have elicited deep feelings in me. Some people might simply get misty eyed as the film ends, but I slipped my sunglasses on as I left to hide the outright tears.

Let's get on with the story: Three sisters, now grown and working, were left by their father 15 years earlier when he had an affair that produced a daughter, Suzu, now an adolescent. Suzu was living with the father, and a new wife in a distant village when he died. The three sisters travel by train to funeral, and Suzu, the little sister, meets them at the station, walks them to their hotel, and quietly says goodbye.

You soon learn Suzu's mother has already died, and she is living with her stepmother and three-year-old stepbrother, whom she is seen taking care of at the funeral. Suzu is in kind of a no-man's land emotionally and physically. Other than these sisters, she has no one who shows up to claim her as kin. She politely shows the sisters around a bit, takes them to a place with a beautiful view she and her father often went, and escorts them to the train a few days later. Everything is underplayed, no big emotions roiling over the story, but how alone Suzu will be when they leave settles in like a thick fog.

Jane and Lorraine, 1982, six months after
reunion, in Sag Harbor 
As the train is pulling away, the oldest sister, Sachi, who has been a surrogate mother to the others, suddenly proposes Suzu comes to live with them in their old family home where they reside. And so Suzu does. The sisters talk, eat, squabble over clothes, have boyfriends, meet their auntie, briefly connect with their mother who lives in some other city. Suzu meanwhile adapts to her new life, plays soccer, makes friends, and blossoms into young womanhood. She is sweet but never saccharine; she is the model of goodness. She is impossible not to like. In Sachi, who is having an affair with a married doctor at the hospital where she is a nurse, we see how history repeats itself in families. The doctor's wife is alive but ill. When he is offered a position in America, he asks Sachi to come with him.

The story is told in a gentle wispy way, like a leaf falling from tree in the fall but whirled around by a gentle breeze before hitting the ground. Suzu eats whitefish bait on toast, and in trying to please her sisters, says she's never had it before. When in fact, she and her father ate it often. One of the sisters wants to know what their father was like, because she was so little when he left, and Suzu of course knew him better. They show her a place where he took them, and the view is similar to the one Suzu knew with him that she showed the sisters.

Suzu finally says that she was born of a bad act, that led to their father leaving them. They assure her she herself is good, or at least that is the way I remember it. By then I was choking back tears. Not only have I heard many stories of how kept siblings react to the emergence of an adopted one, I put myself in my daughter's shoes. Her father had four other children. She died without meeting any of them, yet all of them knew of her existence. Since I was the bad woman in our story--the one who was the catalyst that eventually broke up a marriage, but too late to keep our daughter--I was also that woman--unseen in the film. I fell in love with a married man, and he with me, we had a child. And without him as a partner, I proceeded on.
But it was about my daughter Jane that I felt the deepest. Jane was was resented or simply ignored by his other children, her siblings--two girls, two boys--because she represented a relationship of their father's (Patrick) that was other. While that did not stop the women in this film, that was not true in Jane's life. His oldest daughter not only boycotted her father's funeral, she apparently convinced her younger brothers to do so also, according to Patrick's second wife. Jane and I both hoped she would one day meet at least her half-sister from his second marriage, but that also never came to pass. I sometimes wonder if she even was ever told about Jane, though I have stopped trying to conceal Patrick's identity. I refused to do it when I wrote Hole In My Heart. I was tired of protecting him or his family. My daughter was his family too. She need not be an embarrassment any more.

As I said, there was nothing about adoption in the film, but so much that resonated to me, and I suspect, will to anyone who is adopted. I've heard good stories of acceptance and redemption by siblings; I've heard about resentful siblings; I've counseled adoptees who don't know if they should contact their siblings if a mother or father rejects them. But those siblings are their kin and that cannot be denied. One can reject them, but one cannot do away with the desire to know one's kind and kin. A piece recently at adoption.com was titled The Five Reasons Adoptees Search for Birth Family Members, and the title alone struck me as offensive. The reasons go beyond words. The best answer to why do you want to search is: Because I do.

Adopted or not, we all have the right to know the people we came from, and the people to whom we are related by blood, lineage, and history. One would hope that natural birth mothers and birth fathers who are still hiding could willingly accept that kinship is not ever rend asunder by decree. We might think we can walk away from our kin, but good or bad, our biological families cannot be rewritten or obliterated. We can ignore them, we can wish they were somebody else, but they are there, a part of us, we breath them in like air.--lorraine

Should adoptees contact their siblings when first parents are reluctant?

Lorraine Dusky's Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption is more than a good compelling story. While it is a gripping tale of one woman's journey though life as a birthmother; it is a story of an adoptee and the very real risk and challenges that many adoptees face. It is a story about forks in the road, choices lost and missed communications. It is a story about adoption, the history of adoption, and the story of adoption reform in the United States. I was soothed by the familiar mentions of studies on the long term outcomes of birth mothers (not good), the risks of secondary infertility, the suicide risks posed to adoptees, challenging the concepts of adoptees as " healthy and happy", the mythology of birthmother confidentiality, the current adoption practices with questionable ethics, and the history of sealed adoption records along with the quest for adoption reform most especially in New York. These are the facts that make this so much more than a memoir and a book that should be read by anyone who is at all touched by adoption.

What Lorraine does do beautifully, is weave story around factual informational and documented research in a way that greatly adds to one's understanding about adoption practices in America.--Claudia Corrigan D-Arcy at Amazon. 


  1. Family separation and unification themes are common in books and films not ostensibly about adoption. In "The Secret Life of Pets" which I saw today with my granddaughter, two dogs, Max and Duke, are running from the bad guys. Duke says they are near where he used to live with his kind master. He explains that he got lost one day and ended up in a shelter. Max encourages him to go to the old master's home insisting the master will be happy to see him. Duke is reluctant, afraid of rejection. "He didn't come for me at the shelter," Duke says. The dogs go to the home and learn the master has passed away. A sad and touching moment.

    Many adoptees have said words to this effect: "If my mother wanted to find me, she would have." In fact I heard author Jeanette Winterson say this when she spoke in Portland after the publication of her first book, "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit." Eventually Winterson did search and wrote about her reunion in "Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal" which Loraine reviewed here.

    That the separation theme is common and portrayed as tragic says what we in the adoption community know well, the need to connect with kin is born from nature.

    Tragic that Jane's siblings locked up their feelings out of resentment to their father's actions.

    1. Hi Jane, have you heard about the two back-to-back cases of First Nations men being switched at birth in the same northern Canadian hospital? Both cases happened in 1975 in Manitoba at Norway House, an old Hudson Bay Trading Post, now a First Nations reserve (official name: Norway House Cree Nation).

      Everyone concerned deeply upset and waiting for answers.


    2. I hadn't heard about these cases. Just awful for the men and their families. Hard to imagine how hospital staff could be so incompetent.

  2. Separated at birth is a common theme running through lots of children's stories as it is primal and basic, before we "grow up" and get caught in the notion that it's okay to be separated from your own people and you will be loved and accepted the same. I read a blog the other day about whether adoptive parents ought to take their children to see Finding Dora, the sequel to Finding Nemo. And consider Cinderella, the girl without either of her real parents. (And if anybody is going to scream that I used that word--real--please get real.)

    Sibling reunions can be wonderful for adoptees, if they are fully accepted. But mothers and fathers who have not told their children are always of course fearful of letting the truth out. Secrets have so much power over the holder of the secret.

  3. This hits close to home for me. My siblings on both sides have either not been interested in meeting me of if they did it seemed as a curiosity to see who I looked like and then back to their regular lives. I guess I was just a reminder of something unpleasant everyone wanted to forget. It is comforting though to realize this is not an unusual reaction. I'm sure they had no idea what an impact seeing some of the blood relations I had wondered about all my life had on me and seeing people who looked like me for the first time.

    1. My cousins are over the moon that I found them. My sisters, have not returned any phone calls from any family member. My cousin called my sister not telling her why he was calling, but she did not return the call. I have called and written letters, but nothing...yet.

  4. I want to add is that it does not appear that my siblings even considered how I might feel or that I might deserve the same courtesy that they would probably extend to a stranger. Apparently this happens to adoptees more often than I realized.

    1. yes, it does, unfortunately. i have seen it. i'm sorry that it's happening to you. i have great empathy for your situation and wish you the best.

    2. My own half brother kicked me out of hospice as our mother lay dying. That was the last time I saw him. He has 4 other half's from his Dad, and they are all he wants or needs.

      My father has 2 kids, much younger than me. They don't have room for another sister either.

      Very sad, but that's the life that we get. Sometimes I really do wonder if I did something terrible in a previous life, to deserve this.

    3. I can't understand how people can be so mean. They have nothing to lose by being nice to you.

    4. well if any of y'alls are in northern california or have the occasion to visit there - i welcome you to my home, let's be long lost cousins ! i would enjoy meeting those of you i've come to know here and on my blog.

  5. Separation from and or loss of a parent for whatever reason is a sickeningly common theme. It is so prevalent in tv and movies that it's extremely difficult to find anything pleasant and not hard on the mind and heart. So many seem to love these things I don't understand it. For those that live it, it hurts.

    I personally would LOVE to see a real family, dealing with life, sticking together and all WITHOUT anybody dying or being lost to adoption or anything else. For those that would say there aren't that many that have lost to adoption or separation theme out there, I say bull! Any movie that has someone or some thing (cartoon character) found or rescued or taken in by any other IS a lost to adoption theme to those that have -lost to adoption-. Any movie or show where one parent or family member DIES (which seems to be morbidly popular with so many) and 'oh, here we have the beautiful love story of how another person shows up and marries and or ADOPTS (takes into their family) the child/ren. Constant reminders of loss. Why the hell do they have to kill off a parent to 'make a movie' or a series? Have they lived it from the loss side? How about movies that show a family TOGETHER FOREVER..no substitutions allowed. Yeah, I know. I'm dreaming. Maybe it's cause LOSS OF FAMILY HURTS. After all, isn't that what so plays at the heartstrings of those that gobble this stuff up? Live it, then tell us how "good" it feels.

    Finding Nemo only lasted about 14 minutes or so in my dvd player... then buh-bye! It was horrible! How about the movie with the song, "Somewhere Out There"? Was that the Rescuers or The Adventurers? That brought me to intense tears. Can't watch that either. 101 Dalmations, I love that movie up until.. ALL the puppies are 'kept' by the family of the main characters. Why not get all of the other puppies back to THEIR real parents? I'm sure the other parents are just as heartbroken as the ones they showed.. but no, let's just leave it here with an 'ADOPTION THEME'. I want a part II where they go on to return the other puppies to their parents and Cruella Deville gets in on it and helps return them. That would be sooo cool! That would be a 'feel good' movie.

    Lorraine, you can't use the word real for true (ooooops) b@$%% parents! Cinderella had a mother. She is real. She IS the real mother! Real cold, real mean, REAL UNFEELING to an orphan and their needs. As are so many who think hey adoption is just one big beautiful thing. Forget about any 'loss' you're supposed to be HAPPY. This is supposed to be a feel good. Can't you find anything good to say about adoption? I will when the way human's practice it is no more. Then I could say, 'Man made adoption is dead, GOOD!'. (of course the first 4 sentences of this paragraph were sarcasm.)

    Sorry for the rant. I'm just so tired of it all. The lack of understanding of how much hurt this causes.

    I wish for adoptees such a welcoming acceptance by their siblings (if any). Brothers and sisters are the best family in the world.

  6. Concerning the 101 Dalmatians, if I remember the end of the book book well, the human members of the core family had their puppies stolen, and did, being good people, for humans, look for other families who had their puppies stolen, but could not find any because the other puppies had been legally bought, so the non-returning of the other pups is true to the source material, though the book's reasons "it was legal" and "unfindable real parents" come very close to adoption.

    1. I love the name Theodore.

      Thanks for the story from the book's perspective. I didn't know that.

      I still think going from purely the parents (the dogs...ha ha ha aren't we parents often thought of that way. i.e. breeders.) perspective all the puppies should be returned. "Bought" or not.

      Were they bought from the parents? Were they bought from an outside source (the owners) with little to no willing input from the parents? To me it's the perfect example of the adoption machine. Which is really not a machine. It is human run.

      If that was the case, it was only the human /owner's feelings and wants that mattered. The parents' feelings didn't matter at all. I thought the whole point of finding the puppies and getting them home was because the parents feelings (from the movie) were what everybody was in such a tizzy and worry about. Maybe believing that they were considering the parents feelings was just wishful thinking on my part.

      If it just had to do with the humans (those that owned and held title to the dogs) and what -they- wanted and not the feelings of horrible grief and sorrow of the (real/true/bio.) parents of the puppies, yup, sounds totally adoption to me. Adoption 'by the book'.

    2. Classic Disney films from back in the day often had very serious social motives, and they were marketed for adults as well as children. A new Disney film was just as big a deal for the theater-going audience as was a new MGM film, or any other major studio.

      Cindy, I haven't seen 101 Dalmations, but after seeing this discussion, I will make it a point to see it, with this in mind.

      Having seen some others though, I can say, that Pinocchio had a truly scary sequence where he got kidnapped and was transported away. It was very powerful, uncomfortable to watch, and haunting. And of course there's the infamous killing of Bambi's mother. The psychological effects of these 2 films have been discussed here and there, online and by people I have known.

      Snow White or Sleeping Beauty (I can't remember which, although I saw both) dealt with the issue of death in a very serious way, I remember and was surprised at the time.

      The Disney storytelling was such that the audience could relate to the main character(s) and the issues they were describing, in a broad sociological context. In sort, they made the audience think about things, a mark of good storytelling.

      That's a very insightful observation, and I will check out 101 Dalmations at some point soon.

  7. Cindy,
    the movie with the song "Somewhere out there" was from a movie in the 80's or early 90's about little cartoon mice, I think...was it "An American Tale (Tail?)". My mother wrote me a letter once saying that she sat and "wondered" (about her grandchildren) when she heard a niece sing that song. Now I am the one sitting and "wondering" and crying when I hear that song, now that she is dead and will never meet those grandchildren. And maybe I won't get to either.

  8. This issue was just on my mind earlier this week. My son has a "secret sibling" and I was pondering when he should know or "IF" his biological family will eventually tell him.

    Several years ago his father was engaged to be married and his fiancé was pregnant. They broke up before marrying and before the baby was born. I was already a reader at this blog and a couple of others so I had learned a few things and I practically begged the family to have my son's father register on the "putative father" website so that his ex-fiancé and her pathologically controlling parents couldn't cut him out.

    He never did anything. The baby was born and the mother and her parents kept him out of everything. He wasn't allowed at the hospital, he wasn't allowed to see the baby at all. At one point they "allowed" my son's grandfather to come and see the baby but he had to leave his cell phone in the car - pictures were forbidden. It was barbaric.

    Not too long after the birth they moved several hours away to a part of Texas that they were originally from and were never heard from again. The mother removed herself from social media (she had friended me early on in her relationship with my son's father). I have Googled her to no avail.

    ANYWAY. My son is eleven and I don't see the point of bringing his brother up... His family would get mad at me for "stirring the pot" I'm sure, plus with no idea where the brother is it seems cruel to bring the subject up.

    Opinions are welcomed.

  9. I have found my maternal side of my real family. I have tried to contact my sibs, but so far they have not responded. It is my cousins that are opening up their arms and hearts to me. To be fair, my family has had lots of heartache and seem to have fallen away from each other with little to no contact amongst themselves. My sibs have not returned my cousins phone call either.

    Today, I am to meet (on the phone) another cousin.One of my cousins wonder if my sibs are embarrassed about my adoption. He said that even the Marines know not to leave anyone behind.One day at a time, and one step at a time.

  10. Cindy, "Somewhere Out There" was from An American Tale.

    1. An American Tail. Song is a huge heart strings yanker.

    2. Wow. I just listened to the Linda Ronstadt version and am all verklempt.

  11. Thank you Meg. I was too lazy to get up and go look for it.
    I knew it was something with micey critters in it. :)



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