Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: What To Expect When You're Expecting

This one’s for people considering adoption, especially if they’ve also dealt with infertility.

Five couples are trying to become parents. Each story is unique, each circumstance is different. Jules and her boyfriend conceive unexpectedly, and Jules gives birth to a girl through very painful labor. Gary and Wendy have wanted to be pregnant for a long time; they’ve finally decided to take a break from concentrated efforts at conception and are surprised to become pregnant. Wendy then undergoes a life-threatening C-Section, but produces a son. Gary’s father Ramsey has married a young woman named Skyler. She easily conceives and gives birth to twins. Rosie and Marco have a one-night-stand. She gets pregnant, but miscarries. Davis learns that he has a toddler-aged daughter that he’s never met. Holly and her husband Alex can’t conceive, and instead decide to adopt from Ethiopia.

How is This Relevant to Adoption?
Many (but not all, and perhaps not most) considering adoption have had some experience with infertility. The bothersome process that has turned sex into a chore for Gary and Wendy will be familiar to some viewers. The mixed feelings – and bitterness – that Wendy feels when another woman gets pregnant very easily will also be familiar to some. People say unwittingly hurtful things, “You’re so good with kids; you should have one. Don’t wait too long.” This crushes Holly, who loves children but who is infertile. Many viewers will relate. One family suggests adoption as a possible future option, and another actively pursues it, in spite of the husband’s doubts and in spite of financial worries. 

Strong Points
This movie shows that many people have difficulty around fertility and pregnancy. This movie proves that you’re not alone.

The movie shows the different forms of stress that come along with infertility: stress in the couple’s relationship, stress involving parents and in-laws, stress involving pregnant friends, and stress within oneself, grieving and wondering  whether this is “my fault.”

Infertility is an unexpected twist in any couple’s journey, and couples struggling with infertility can feel alone – both in their infertility, and in the fact that for everyone else, pregnancy seems so easy. This movie at least suggests that, while people have different challenges, most people’s journeys towards parenthood involve quite a bit of difficulty, tears, and tension. And it allows you to be irritated at those few people who seem to be oblivious to the fact that the road is usually hard.
The Ethiopian adoption agency requires parents to swear to help the child they adopt, “always remember his Ethiopian heritage.”

Weak Points and Challenges
Holly and her husband lie to their social worker. Their social worker is a bit stand-offish. They also seem to have different levels of interest in the adoption.   In a healthy situation, Holly and Alex would have talked through their feelings and reached some agreement before meeting with their social worker, and their social worker would have been both more investigative and friendlier.

The movie is about the adults’ desires to become parents, rather than the needs of the child adopted by one of the couples.  Some prospective adoptive parents do think more of their own desires than they think of the needs of the child. For example, Holly and Alex quickly express that they have “no issue” with the fact that their son has no medical history available “and probably never will.” They view parenthood as the goal, and don’t really notice that, unlike other forms of family-making, adoption creates a situation where a child has – and needs to have access to – two families’ histories.

Rosie’s miscarriage may be a difficult scene for some viewers.

One character makes an insensitive joke about returning adopted children.

For couples who’ve approached adoption after (or because of) fertility issues, this movie will hit close to home. It might hurt, but facing your feelings about infertility and talking through them is an important step in preparing for adoption.

Discussion Questions
Holly and Alex didn’t get around to talking about their feelings about infertility until Holly broke down and cried. Have you talked with each other about your feelings?

Alex hadn’t talked with his wife about his hesitation to adopt. He finally explained, “I’m not like you. I can’t look at a picture and feel the bond.” Where are each of you in your excitement, anxiety, fears and ambivalence about adoption?  On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you? How nervous are you? How fearful are you? What three words describe your feelings about adoption, right now?  Write your answers down separately, then share them with each other.

How do each of you feel about Skyler? Who’s more annoying to each of you, Skyler or Ramsey? Why?

How are each of your extended families treating you as you consider adoption?

Why is it important for Holly’s and Alex’s son to always remember his Ethiopian heritage? How will you make sure that the child you adopt always remembers his birth heritage? What if you adopt domestically or from foster care?

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You might also enjoy the Adoption Movie Guides of:


  1. I have to challenge your description of a "healthy situation" when you were discussing the adoptive couple. When a couple are pregnant, often the mother feels connected to parenthood prior to the father and that is not considered unhealthy, it just is. I can agree that it would have been great for them to have talked more thoroughly about it sooner but honestly, even if they had, each of their readiness could wax and wane and fear of sharing that with each other is also common. It is also common for any parent to struggle with attachment at any point in the process and I would see their inclusion of this as a strength because it is a reality for many people. It does not mean that they are not going to love their child and it does not mean they will not make wonderful parents. Attachment and connection are a process for children and parents. Also, their being open to not having medical history is just a necessity with international adoption. You cannot go into it demanding that or you will not get a referral for placement. They may not have been thinking yet about how this would impact their child but them having a problem with that will not make the information appear. And there are stages to adoption. At that stage, they need to be planning about their child's adjustment to their home and also attachment parenting. I think they were wanting to appear open so they would be accepted as prospective parents. That does not mean that they do not care about their child's feelings. Again, they will have to learn how to help their child grieve that lack of information and maybe they had not thought about how they were going to do that yet. but just because they were doing image management with the person deciding if they can become parents does not mean they do not care or will never care about their child's feelings about the lack of information they will likely have regarding their history. The real weakness of the film is that it in no way shows the real process of international adoption. It is a long and arduous task for most people. A journey that is full of incredible joys and worth it beyond what I can describe. But it is hard. And to imply anything else is a disservice to those of us who have walked that journey.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. You've made a good comparison between the experience of some couples in pregnancy where one is invested/excited about parenthood before the other, and I think it's fair to apply that to adoption as well. I've worked with fost/adopt parents who've openly admitted that the feeling of attachment to their new children didn't happen immediately, and praised them for their honesty.

      I think "healthier situation" would have been a better phrase than "healthy situation," because you're right - good families can form out of situations like the one in this film. And at the same time, it'd be healthier if they'd talked it through ahead of time.

      Similarly, it's understandable that they're doing a bit of image-management with the social worker (and it's understandable that the social worker approaches the family with skepticism, and goes through their home kind of rapidly). And it's understandable that, through excitement, image management, and other motivations, they jumped at the prospective placement without questioning the availability of information. Good families can and do form from situations like this.

      So - again - I think "healthier" would have been a better word than "healthy." Even though healthy families form from these situations, there is still value in saying, "Hey, if you're a social worker, be a little friendlier and a bit more thorough," and also value in saying, "Hey, do try to talk this through as a couple ahead of time."

      I don't think we disagree so much as I didn't phrase my thoughts as precisely as I should have.

      And thanks for sharing about the difficulty inherent in the journey.

      I really do appreciate you taking the time to comment, and the points that you made.

      Any movies you've seen that hit a bullseye?

  2. Thank you for taking the time to reply. I agree with you that we have very similar viewpoints. I love this site and adore your commitment to adoptive families. I am an LCSW also and until I adopted, I did not thoroughly understand or respect adoptive parents' journeys because my education centered more around the adoptee and though I graduated with degrees that focus on systems theory, I think the adoptive parent experience often gets lost in the mix. I much better serve families now that I have a deeper picture of all involved and because of this, I do feel protective of adoptive families and birth families. If you ever have a chance to read anything by Heather Forbes I think you would love it. She understands so well the entire familial experience and how the adoptive journey uproots state levels of trauma in many parents making the journey more complicated than meets the eye. further complicating it are rude social workers as you mentioned who do not create an atmosphere of safety which is crucial for parents to be open to communicating. it is in secrecy that real damage is done which is something you were describing when you talked about the importance of couples communicating honestly. While it is not a movie, the best representation of adoption I have yet to see on T.V. is the previous season of Parenthood. I actually thought of you when I watched it because I think you would love it. The adoption story, while not without its flaws (some aspects are not realistic but mostly it is), is honest and raw and beautiful. And when the parents do have varied attachments, it is discussed, arguments are had (which is understandable), deep rooted fears come to the surface, and then progress is made and it is not pretended as though that progress means "end of story, all is well", it is still a process and treated as one. If you get a chance to watch it, I would LOVE to hear your take on it.

    1. Adopting was probably the most formative thing to your understanding of adoption! I'd love to hear your story :)

      I think I have read some of Heather Forbes - She wrote, "Beyond Consequences" with B. Bryan Post, I think? The "Parenthood" show sounds amazing. I do have it added to my Netflix queue. Is there a "best episode" to start with, or is it really kind of a "start at episode 1 and work your whole way through" kind of thing?

  3. The episode from 3/29/11 starts with their discovery of infertility. A few episodes before that includes some testing they both did. But to totally understand the entire family, starting from episode one is a good idea and it will suck you in. it is a very popular show. There are definitely a few wonderfully key adoption episodes but they all come together to give you the whole picture. enjoy!


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