Philomena and Adoption Reform (Yes, they are related)

Mar 3, 2014 by

Philomena LeeThe Oscar-nominated movie, Philomena, has created a great deal of buzz.  It isn’t often that the effects of adoption practices in the Baby Scoop Era are widely discussed outside of adoption circles.   Philomena Lee (the original, not Judi Dench) is in the audience at the Oscars tonight — she even got a shout-out from host Ellen Degeneres!

If you haven’t heard about this film, here’s a snapshot:  Philomena Lee, was an unwed Irish mother who was not given a choice about keeping her son, Anthony.  Anthony was born in an Irish Catholic Abby in 1952.  He lived there with his mother until he was adopted by Americans when he was three.  There are many review of this movie — here’s one:  Philomena is the most powerful movie of the year.  And another, written by fellow adoptee, prolific blogger, and pastor Deanna Shrodes:  Deanna’s review of Philomena.

Even more frustrating than the fact that she felt she had no options to raise her son,  both birth mother and adoptee were searching for each other and the nuns who facilitated the adopted stood in the way of a reunion between them.  Sadly, Philomena found her son when she found his tombstone.

It is an understatement to say that Philomena Lee was treated badly by Irish society and the Catholic church.  However, as difficult as it had to be for her, she is telling her story in hopes that other birth mothers will find the courage to overcome the shame bestowed on them by society many years ago and search for their children.  Philomena Lee, along with her daughter, are promoting The Philomena Project to advocate for open records in Ireland.

Also encouraging, Philomena Lee and her daughter were recent guests on the Katie Couric show.  Katie also recognized that bad adoption practices weren’t limited to Ireland.  The show also included an interview with an “American Philomena” and the son she placed for adoption.  Leslie Pate Mackinnon’s story makes it clear that adoption agencies in the U.S. are also capable of trying to keep mother and child apart, even when they know both desire a reunion.  You can watch the interview here:  American Philomena.

I love that Couric included the interview with Leslie and her son.  The issues created by adoption practices and beliefs are very important issues.  However, those issues don’t often get mainstream publicity.   When adoption makes the news, it often doesn’t present a clear picture of the issues of adoption on adoptees and birth parents.  I have a growing library of books by and for adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents.  I’m pretty sure most of my non-adopted friends have never heard of any of those books.  An “adoption” section in a typical library contains many books geared toward prospective adoptive parents, while ignoring the voices of adoptees and birth parents.

This movie hits close to home for me.  My mother was also an American Philomena. She found herself unmarried and pregnant in an era when middle-class young women were viewed as unfit to parent if they were unmarried.  She has kept her story inside for 52 years.  I know only the bits and pieces she was willing to tell me in one phone conversation. Her story remains untold.  As do the stories of countless more mothers were deemed unfit to parent only because they were unmarried women in an era with religious and societal stigmas attached to single parenthood.

The stories may not be in mainstream media.  However, one doesn’t have to go far to find stories of how unmarried pregnant women were treated in the “Baby Scoop Era (BSE)” in the United States.  A quick Google search will give you lots of examples.   Keep in mind for every BSE birth mother who tells her story, there are many thousands of women still living with the aftereffects of how they were treated.

My hope is that the film, Philomena, opens up conversations that start a tidal wave of change in the views surrounding adoption, search and reunion in mainstream America.   I hope that many American Philomenas will begin to understand they are not alone and that they can let go of the shame and let their stories be heard.  I also hope that American society will begin to understand that adoption laws and practices need to change.  The secrecy that has long surrounded adoption does not have a place in the society today.  The secrecy NEVER was a good idea.  But now we have plenty of evidence to back up the fact that secrecy does not have a place in adoption practices.

Giving a voice to the unmarried women who felt they had no option but to allow their babies to be adopted is a good place to start.  Changing access laws, changing current adoption practices, and changing society’s perceptions about adoption are all important.  I hope we in the adoption community can continue to build on the buzz around Philomena and create a wave of true change!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *