Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Girl Like Her Adoption Movie Review

Ann Fessler’s documentary, A Girl Like Her, revisits America in the 50’s and 60’s to explore the experience of single women who became pregnant then. Fessler blends the women’s own stories in their own words with 50’s- and 60’s-era sex education videos. The documentary is uncomfortable to watch. The sex education videos blatantly assign full responsibility for physicality in relationships to women; the women interviewed express that their parents reacted very poorly when they learned of their daughters’ pregnancies. One father called his daughter a whore. One mother “treated it like her own personal tragedy.” One family moved “so no one would know.” One religious leader told a mother that her baby would be “stuck in purgatory” unless she allowed an adoption. Some were forced to choose between relinquishing their baby or being ostracized from their family of origin. Their words are powerful. One explained, “I didn’t give him away. He was taken. He was never meant to be a gift.” Another related, “I felt like I had no choice.” One says, “No matter how many children you have, this emptiness is still there. Trauma attaches itself to you in a way that’s hard to undo.” Some women reported a sense of shame that followed them their whole life; one never even told her husband about the child she had earlier in life. One woman said, “You never get over this.” Fessler’s documentary captures the cruelty that was experienced by many pregnant women in this era, and the pain they experienced. It’s not easy to watch.

 It’s also difficult to see reflections of the approaches that adoption agencies utilized. One clip shares that “only children in good health are offered [for adoption so that they bring] happiness, not burden.” Another professional explains a desire to reserve “brighter children for [mentally] superior families.”

I think it is worth seeing, for prospective adoptive parents, though. There seems to be a widely-held misconception that adoptions have historically been closed and secretive. Some people pursuing adoption do so with a sense of entitlement to a child with no attachment to his or her birthfamily. This film is helpful because it shows where these expectations may have come from.

If you’ve spent time on adoption blogs, you’ve probably read the words of some people who have been hurt by adoption and who are generally quite strongly opposed to it.  Watching A Girl Like Her might be a safe way to understand where they’re coming from.

The film focuses on coercion, pain and loss. There aren’t really any happy stories. It’s not balanced within itself. But it can be part of a balanced film-based education for people pursuing adoption.


This is worth seeing if you’re considering adoption. Please especially think about seeing it if you’ve never considered an open adoption. It’s best-aimed at adults. It will be especially painful (but possibly affirming) viewing for parents who have relinquished children.

Questions for Discussion

What do you imagine about the parents of the child you will adopt (or have already adopted?)

What’s the difference between “finding a family for a child” and “finding a child for a family?”

What’s the difference between confidentiality and secrecy?

Recommended Reading


  1. That's the way it was in 1977-78 when I was coerced by Catholic Charities/my mother. These two sites might help you understand us better. www.babyscoopera.com

    1. Thanks for the sites, Mary. I'll check them out. I appreciate the chance to learn more. I'm sorry for the coercion you experienced. Like Barbara says in her comment, the coercion still happens today and it needs to stop.

  2. You want a balanced approach? Then don't take babies from perfectly good mothers. It is still happening today, the marketing is just slicker. This movie is painful to watch because it shows the heartache of the mother. Ann Fessler came from a very happy adoptive home - she didn't have an agenda to show only one side. Sadly when you lose a child, unless you are part of the 10% that really don't want to parent, there is no happy ending.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Barbara. I'm sorry for the pain you experienced. I have come across agencies that are coercive, and it is painful to see that they still operate that way. I hope that there are some agencies that aren't that way. Thanks again for your insight.


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