Cue the lights, pop the popcorn, and settle down in the best seat in the house to enjoy 90 plus minutes of escape to another realm. The entertainment industry is not only worth hundreds of billions of dollars, but it brings joy to people all across the world. Watching movies brings friends and family together, honors traditions, and evokes thought provoking-conversations.
So, what happens when a movie that is supposed to tell a fictional version of a story hits a little too close to home? Movies about adoption can be bittersweet. They can either help remove stigmas about adoption, or they can further the negative narrative. Watching movies can be a great break away from reality, but it can also trigger some really tough feelings. Although there are not many options to choose from at this time, here are a couple of the most widely discussed movies about adoption.
I have to start out with the movie Juno. This movie came out in 2007, one year after I placed my daughter for adoption. I was happily living my life, avoiding all negative emotions associated with my adoption plan because it was easier for me to deal with these feelings by putting on my happy mask instead of allowing my real grief to show. The movie was praised by critics and audiences alike, and I found it being mentioned to me by people who knew I placed a child for adoption.
It was groundbreaking at the time to have a box office movie about adoption that wasn’t a Lifetime movie grossly misrepresenting birth mothers as villains. (We will get to that in a minute.) Although it might seem like the kind of thing I would be interested in watching because of my ability to personally relate to the story line, I refused to watch it. I was spending so much energy suppressing my true feelings about the situation that I was afraid if I watched it, they would all come spilling out like water released from a tank, drowning me with the pain I was trying so desperately to suppress. It might seem silly that something as trivial as a fictional movie could trigger feelings that big, but any birth mother knows sometimes it is the tiniest thing that can send you into an emotional tailspin.
As the years went by, I began to learn how to cope with my emotions in healthy ways, such as counseling, journaling, and connecting with other birth mothers. Fast forward to today and I find myself writing articles for adoption websites. I came across the subject of movies about adoption, and my initial thought jumped immediately to Juno. So, for the sake of the readers, I finally watched it.
Juno tells a story of a 16-year-old girl who becomes pregnant after losing her virginity to her best friend. She is sarcastic, witty, and marches to the beat of her own drum. She entertains the idea of abortion before quickly settling on adoption and locating a prospective adoptive couple, Vanessa and Mark. The rest of the movie details the duration of Juno’s pregnancy and ends with her (spoiler alert) placing her child with Vanessa even though the couple has split up.
Now, as someone who is highly active in the adoption community and a birth mother myself, I had a lot of feelings about this movie. I want to stress this is only my opinion and I do not speak for all birth parents. I have said many times that every person’s adoption journey is different and there is no right or wrong way to walk through that. However, this movie’s story line was so different from any story I have yet to hear, and it was difficult for me to relate to at times.
The ease with which Juno decides on adoption and how quickly those around her fully support the idea seemed far-fetched. Many birth mothers deal with not only an internal struggle at choosing to place their children, but also with the negative opinions of those around them, whether they be friends, family, or strangers. We do see one moment where the sonogram technician makes a snide remark after finding out Juno is placing the child for adoption, but for me, that one moment does not fully represent the depths of the negativity birth mothers can be met with, no matter how secure they are in their decisions or at what point they are in their journey.
The biggest issue for me in this movie is when Mark and Juno begin to spend a lot of alone time together. There are a few moments where the viewers are led to think there may be a romantic connection developing between the two. This is hugely problematic for several reasons. Not only is Juno a 16-year-old girl and Mark a 30-something-year-old man (at least), but this story line is completely unnecessary. It is extremely inappropriate and completely unwarranted. The idea that those kinds of boundaries would be crossed is something more suited to a Lifetime movie (we are getting there, I promise!) and that is basically the opposite of what a healthy relationship would look like between birth mother and adoptive parent. It gives meaning to the term “cringeworthy.”
There are many other issues the movie could have brought to light, such as proper adoption language. Juno does incorrectly use the term “give away” rather than the correct language, “placed for.” I myself made this mistake many times before I knew better. That could have been a great time to highlight the importance of using the proper terminology and how even birth parents need to be sure they know the correct terms to use.
There were some good moments in the film, and I did find myself facing the tears I was so worried about. Watching Juno release her emotions by crying after the baby was born brought me back to my own birth experience, and I was able to relate to her more at that moment than in any other part of the film. I was also pleased to see Vanessa and Juno continue the adoption plan without Mark. I felt Vanessa and Juno’s connection was much more authentic. It was a little awkward and uncomfortable, but the common bond they had for making sure this child had the best life possible was exactly how I view the beginning stages of an adoption plan. It can be messy, weird, and beautiful all at the same time.
Lifetime Movies about Adoption
The time has finally come—let us talk about Lifetime movies. Lifetime movies have a reputation for being emotional, extreme, and unrealistic. They often depict unstable main characters and far-fetched story lines. Of course, these characteristics can make for the most entertaining and memorable movies. Like any generalization, however, there are exceptions, and Lifetime has produced positive, heartfelt films.
Long before my adoption journey began, one of my favorite movies was called Mom at Sixteen. It told the story of a young girl who becomes pregnant, attempts to parent, then eventually realizes placing her child for adoption is the right choice for her. It leaves out any of the negative stereotypes frequently seen regarding birth parents and even shows the main character advocating for adoption and maintaining a relationship with her birth child post-placement.
Unfortunately, there are far more movies about adoption that continue to perpetuate the negative stigmas that surround birth parents. These movies could not be further from the truth. The most controversial movie about adoption as of late is called Birthmother’s Betrayal. While I personally have not seen the film, the internet allows me to read the entire synopsis without actually seeing it.
Basically, this movie is about Tara, a teenage adoptee who is interested in connecting with her birth mother, Grace. Her overprotective adoptive mother, Amy, helps facilitate this. Grace enters their lives, and dangerous and unexpected things immediately start happening. Eventually, it is revealed that these unexplainable hazards are not caused by Grace, but her evil twin sister, Karina, who never supported the adoption in the first place.
There is a lot of suspense, twists, and murder before Karina is arrested for her crimes and the women are able to move forward with building their relationships. Whew, what a story. A completely offensive and inaccurate portrayal of birth mothers. The story made viewers think Grace’s ultimate goal was to steal her daughter back after killing her adoptive mother, which is a stretch even for a Lifetime movie.
The film made a lot of waves in the adoption community because this type of story line is exactly the kind of negative propaganda that we work to erase. It painted birth mothers as mentally unstable and dangerous, when in reality, birth mothers are mostly regular women who are trying to make sure their children are provided the greatest life possible, even if that means it is not with them. They are selfless, brave, and break their own hearts in order to protect their children. I have yet to meet a single birth mother who fantasizes about “taking” her child back after placement. Of course, we wonder what life would be like if we had decided to parent, but there is so much intentional thought that goes into making the decision of adoption. It is insulting to this birth mother to have others view that decision as something made lightheartedly. Perhaps that is why in Juno, I struggled so much with her almost-flippant attitude towards placement. Personally, I did not come to my decision to place that easily, and I am honestly envious of anyone so sure of themselves in that moment.
Birthmother’s Betrayal was another huge missed opportunity for filmmakers to highlight some of the real struggles birth mothers, adoptees, and adoptive parents face during their adoption journeys. Instead of perpetuating inaccurate stereotypes of birth mothers, why not flip the adoption narrative? The idea of a birth parent wanting to re-enter the life of the child they placed would no doubt cause certain anxieties for an adoptive parent. Let us watch a story about a family that faces that situation head-on. Let’s see families communicating, embracing fears, and celebrating the common good that brought each party to choose adoption. Birth parents already face so many stigmas in their daily lives that making movies about it seems just cruel. Save the thrillers for moms who kill to get their daughters on the cheerleading squad.
Hope for the Future Movies About Adoption?
At the end of the day, movies are going to provoke different reactions in each person who experiences them. Many factors affect how you receive a movie, including your life history, personal viewpoints, and even your mood while watching. Any movie that has a story line regarding adoption will always hit closer to home for me than for a woman who has not placed a child for adoption. Similarly, I might not be triggered by a movie that highlights abortion, but a woman who has personally experienced that would be.
As of now, there are not many films that make adoption their main story line and those that do often miss the mark. The good news is society seems more ready than ever to learn about the things they were once afraid to ask questions about. My hope is that there will be more movies about adoption that will help keep the lines of communication open. The more we talk about it, the more opportunity we have to remove the negative stigmas associated with adoption.Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.