Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Losing Isaiah Adoption Movie Review

Khalia Richards is nursing her newborn infant, Isaiah, in a rundown apartment where she is squatting. She wants to go get some cocaine, but the other squatters prevent her from leaving Isaiah because he is crying. Khalia leaves Isaiah in a covered cardboard box while she does drugs. The next morning, garbage men are putting Isaiah’s box into a trash compactor, and notice that Isaiah is there just barely before he would have been crushed to death. They take him to the hospital, where he catches the eye of Margaret Lewin, a social worker. When Khalia recovers from passing out, she tries to find Isaiah, but he is gone.  She believes that she has killed him. Khalia is later arrested for shoplifting, which leads to her being enrolled in a rehab. There, she gets her life in order and begins caring for other children, all the while holding her secret guilt over her belief that she killed her son. Meanwhile, Isaiah is adopted by Margaret and her husband, and is thriving. Three years later, Khalia learns that Isaiah is alive. She gains access to his case record, and finds the name of his adoptive family. She then sets off to have the adoption overturned and to win him back.

The Adoption Connection

Losing Isaiah touches on many fears related to adoption. Many birth parents might fear for what has happened to their child, and feel loss, grief, or guilt for the child being in the system. Adoptive parents often fear having their adoptions overturned and losing their child. Adoptees often fear a lack of stability and belonging, but might wonder whether their birth parents will ever come for them. 

This is a very unsettling film, and it brings us into the court process of an adoption that is being contested several years after the fact.

Strong Points

Khalia and Margaret both love Isaiah. They are eventually able to express this to each other, and each believes the other; they embrace, and work together to help Isaiah overcome his difficulties with the adjustment of Khalia being in his life.

Even in periods of great distress, Margaret is able to acknowledge some of Khalia’s strong points, and Khalia is able to recognize and apologize for the grief that her lawsuit is causing Margaret.  In the end, it seems that both mothers are working through their own emotional pain for the best interest of Isaiah’s own development and health, even if the judges and lawyers are more concerned with principles and legality.


The film explores public attitudes towards interracial adoption, without giving a firm answer as to whether it’s OK. One expert witness in court suggests that it would be better for a Black child to be placed for years in foster care with a White family, waiting until a Black adoptive family can be identified and then moved, rather than to be adopted by that White family. Isaiah says the difference he sees between his hand and his (White) adoptive sister’s hand is that his hand is smaller than hers.

Weak Points

A professional in the neonatal intensive unit is frustrated about other professionals’ lack of care for Isaiah, and makes an insensitive joke about dumping Isaiah “back into the garbage.”
There are so many triggers in this movie. The legitimacy of both mothers is questioned. Isaiah is almost crushed by a dumpster. Khalia is asked about how many children she have, and she answers painfully “I ain’t got no kids.” A lawyer for the Lewin family calls Khalia “a drug-addicted prostitute,” even though she has been clean for years. Margaret’s husband says Khalia “should be incarcerated, not given back her kid.” Khalia speaks very harshly to Margaret. There are lots of baby cries in the film. Khalia breaks down while reading a parenting book, showing her great shame at the loss of her son. A character has a miscarriage and we see a lot of blood. It seems apparent that she miscarried because of drug use.  Khalia is able to break into adoption records and is able to find the home of the family who has adopted Isaiah. She trails them without their knowledge and, while a babysitter’s attention is diverted, Khalia picks up Isaiah and starts talking to him. This scene could play on the fears of many adoptive parents, and presents reunion in a scary light. (SPOILERS AHEAD… Isaiah is returned to Khalia, and is dragged kicking and screaming from the Lewin home. He does not adjust to Khalia, and runs from her, hides from her, and bites her. Eventually Khalia decides to return Isaiah to the Lewin home temporarily.)


I think this movie has a chance to trigger painful emotions in everyone who watches it. Losing Isaiah captures a few different battles that may come up in foster care and adoption. Khalia is black, and the Lewins are White, and the judge and lawyers make much of that distinction. The film also captures the struggle between the child welfare system and the birth parents from whom children have been involuntarily detained. Mercifully, by the end, it does seem like everyone is trying to work for Isaiah’s best interest, but the journey is a traumatic and uncomfortable one that will probably hit emotional triggers for most people who have been touched by the foster care system or by adoption. 

For those who aren’t scared away by all the trigger potential, this film does invite thought about some important clinical issues in interracial adoption, and reflection on what makes someone a mother – but it’s probably not going to be a good choice for most people, and certainly not for anyone under 18.

Questions for Discussion

When a child is adopted by a family of a different racial, ethnic, or cultural background, what can the adoptive family do to best serve that child?

What makes someone a mother? Can a child have more than one mother?

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