Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Philomena Penomenon: So Much More Than a Movie

I am Philomena. 

We all (birth parents) are Philomena, the mother portrayed in the film that bears her name.

In the film Judi Dench portrays Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who, never forgot the child she birthed as a teenager and she was forced to watch walk away from her while she was captive in a convent in Sean Ross Abbey for 4 years,  in the 1950s.  

It is loosely based on her true story and falls short of depicting the fact that 10,000 women and girls as young as nine were punished for the "sin" sex outside of marriage - even those who had raped or incested.  Mannix Flynn, Dublin City Councillor, calls it "sentimentalised through a naive catholic spiritualism" and writes:
...Mr Coogan, producer, co-writer and star of the movie, didn’t really understand the politics of the issue of the banished babies and the criminal trafficking of children for profit out of Ireland and other countries that was perpetrated by the Catholic Church and religious congregations.
...Nobody so far has been held to account for this practice; there have been no Garda investigations or Interpol investigations; nobody from the national Airlines (Aer Lingus) or Pan Am airlines that actually trafficked the children out of Ireland have been confronted. Indeed, this whole issue has been slightly saccarined and turned into a warm human interest story rather than a story of organised, joint-venture criminality. 
 ...Despite the warmth of the film and the good reception that it received at all the film festivals so far (Toronto, London, Venice) somewhere, the real issues that are at the centre of this story, the hard cruel facts, that unheard story, that brutality, uncomfortable as it is, has to be heard, has to be owned has to be accounted for.  It is not just the story of Philomena and Anthony Lee, it is the story of a society and as such the secret history of Ireland and the Irish State and religious institutions cannot be so simply packaged in a feel-good, heartfelt portrayal of real events that have not been dealt with so far.
Read Mr. Flynn's full critique here.

Every woman who lost a child to adoption can relate to this mother's tragic loss and irresolvable grief. Fathers too who struggle against a system designed to take their parental rights without their consent share her painful loss. Loss is loss. Grief is grief. Both are universal emotions suffered equally by mothers in Los Angeles and fathers in Sierra Leone. The loss to adoption has been called a limbo loss and the pain irresolvable. It is socially unacceptable to lose a child to adoption and thus has no ritual or comforting support as does the loss of a child to death or miscarriage. Mothers like Philomena have traditionally been told to keep adoption loss a secret and act as if nothing at all happened which adds to the shame. Rather than heal, studies (quoted here) indicate a mother's pain may exacerbate over her lifetime.

Other than intentional - and usually paid - surrogates (a practice which represents a who other level of exploitation), no woman becomes pregnant with the intent of "gifting" her child. Women do not chose to carry a child for nine months, risk their lives in delivery, with the fear of never being able to conceive or carry another pregnancy again…only to loose the current child. Expectant mothers are subject to social, cultural and religious pressures to do so. Some are coerced, exploited, and deceived; alone, without any support, their lack of resources exploited.

In many parts of the world natural disasters or wars leave families vulnerable, as we saw in Haiti. In industrialized nations, poverty, youth and marital status are factors in judging who is and who is not deemed “worthy” of motherhood. Those on the losing side of that equation are persuaded that others are more "deserving" of a child than they themselves, they are told their baby deserves more than the love and continuity of heredity that they alone can offer.

In 1980 I co-founded of Origins, a NJ-based national organization for women who lost children to adoption. I was also involved with the AAC (as Director) and CUB. Through those organizations, as well as later online support groups and social media that connect adoptees and birthparents and blogs where they share their concerns...I have had my finger on the pulse of this marginalized population who were called the invisible side of the adoption triangle.

What happened to Philomena is not at all unique. It happened - and still happens - to women of all faiths throughout western Europe and here in the US as documented in Ann Fessler's book, "The Girls Who Went Away." In homes for unwed mothers in every state in the union during the 50s and 60s American woman tell of being spoken to exactly as the nun in the movie spoke to Ms. Lee during labor....with utter disdain, blame ans shame.  Nuns, priests, ministers and Rabbis told us to lie to the men we might marry lest they wouldn't have us. We were stained and damaged.   Today in America, the Religious Right that preaches love for fetuses shows similar contempt for the single mothers who bear them and deems them unfit to raise their own children.

Back then it was sin and shame. The stigma of "unwed" pregnancy has dissipated in the US since the post WWII years known as the "Baby Scoop Era" because of the large number of forced adoptions. Yet today, women who are deemed to young or too poor are still pressured, coerced, their temporary crisis and lack of wherewithal exploited. Fathers have their rights abrogated daily. The headline grabbing story of Baby Veronica is unfortunately not uncommon.

Currently, Allesandra Pacchieri, an Italian woman living in the UK is currently fighting for the return of her child and suing for having had a forced cesarean birth in order to take her child from for adoption.  This flashback to the days of lobotomies occurred in the industrialized world in 2013 and warranted this observation:

The scale of public outrage has once again thrown the spotlight on family courts, which authorise the adoption of thousands of children, many forcibly removed from their mothers at birth, under strict secrecy.

Many forcibly removed....and many of those for questionable "cause" in the UK and the U.S.

Adoption is admired as a win-win that rescues orphans and "unwanted" babies. The truth is that it is a billion dollar demand-driven industry that is far too loosely regulated, lacking in ethical guidelines and rampant with corruption and child trafficking. Adoption is racist and classist. In what has been called "Reverse Robinhoodism" it takes the babies of the poor and provides them to those willing to pay an average of $40k per child. Children are a highly sought commodity and there are not enough being placed truly voluntarily to meet the demand so the pressure is still on with adoption agencies spending millions on "marketing" to young women, inducing them with promises of openness. Some even offer college tuition. Expectant mothers are matched with prospective adopters who befriend, enmesh, and woo them with gifts, then hover over them at the moment of delivery denying new moms any time to bond...all orchestrated to create obligation and indebtedness, diminishing the mothers' ability to refuse to hand their child over despite strong natural inclinations not to.

I am Philomena and every day Philomena's are created to meet the demand of the adoption industry.

No comments:

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

Russi Today: America television Interview 4/16/10 Regarding the Return of Artyem, 7, to Russia alone

RT: Russia-America TV Interview 3/10

Korean Birthmothers Protest to End Adoption

Motherhood, Adoption, Surrender, & Loss

Who Am I?

Bitter Winds

Adoption and Truth Video

Adoption Truth

Birthparents Never Forget