Philomena: Yesterday and Today
Through tears and some laughter I was thrilled to see a movie told from a birth mother’s perspective. Philomena’s story and feelings were an excellent representation of many of the feelings I hear today.
This Academy Award nominated movie tells the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who, as a teenager in the early 1950's, gave birth to a baby boy. Her son was then adopted as a toddler through the convent where she worked. Set fifty years later, the film follows Philomena in her search to learn what happened to him.
Just like most, if not all, young, unwed women who gave birth in that time period, Philomena was made to feel shameful and guilty for her actions. She was judged harshly and in turn kept her secret for many years. She struggled for fifty years deciding which was worse – telling someone what happened or continuing to keep her secret, even from her family. Throughout the movie, and the ups and downs of her search, we watch Philomena wrestle with the idea of sharing her story. Her journey through this decision making process is so real. The women I work with who were shamed for their pregnancies and adoptions, whether they gave birth in the 1950's or yesterday, have a vivid fear of being further judged when they talk to anyone about what happened.
Philomena’s son was taken from her. She did not choose an adoption plan. Prior to her son’s adoption, she was only allowed to see him one hour each day. Parenting him was not an option. From the day she watched strangers drive off with her son, she was left to wonder if he knew she loved him. Did he think she discarded him? Did he think he didn’t matter to her? Did he know she thought about him every day – every day for fifty years?
With no information at all, Philomena spent those days wondering what had become of her son. She wondered if he was safe and happy. She even wondered if he had died. She had no answers and, therefore, no peace. While the film focuses on Philomena’s story, we learn that her son also lacked many of the answers he so badly needed. No matter the date of birth, these feelings are real for anyone in a closed adoption or without information. These feelings are real for any woman who doesn’t feel like she was given a choice.
There’s a lot of discussion about “what happened in Ireland” or “what happened back then,” but the lesson here is larger. Women should be empowered to make a choice; they should be educated and counseled. If the choice is adoption, ongoing information, in whatever form is comfortable, needs to be available. And when that hasn’t been offered, ongoing support is necessary.
Philomena needed answers. A brave daughter with a lucky encounter gave Philomena what she needed to search – but most people don’t find a powerful person with significant connections to help them. And even with connections and seemingly unlimited funds, Philomena hit dead ends and unexpected, sometimes devastating, surprises. Birth mothers, adopted people and adoptive parents searching, hoping to connect, or trying to reconnect, need the support of an adoption professional to help understand and manage bumps in the road, dead ends, and the good and bad news.
I encourage you to see Philomena. It’s not just a story about what happened in Ireland, back then.
Learn more about The Center for Lifelong Adoption Support at The Cradle.
Recommended reading and resources from our counselors.