We saw the film Three Identical Strangers last night. Here’s the synopsis of the film from its website:
Three strangers are reunited by astonishing coincidence after being born identical triplets, separated at birth, and adopted by three different families. Their jaw-dropping, feel-good story instantly becomes a global sensation complete with fame and celebrity, however, the fairy-tale reunion sets in motion a series of events that unearth an unimaginable secret –– a secret with radical repercussions for us all.
As an adopted child, and a birth mother, this film left me with so many thoughts.
First, watching film footage of those three boys discover each other (they were 19 when they found each other), made me ache with a longing for that kind of discovery. As an adopted child, I’ve wanted to see my face, see my walk and mannerisms, see my personality reflected in someone else.
Even though I’ve met much of my birth family, I’ve not had that experience, and I don’t think I will. My mother was in her late 80’s when I met her, so the 40 years between us makes any resemblance only visible in photos. My half sister on her side and I looked alike as kids, but we don’t resemble each other at all now. And she has physical conditions that have changed her gait and body. The similarity I can see from childhood photos is gone now.
I will be meeting one of my half sisters on my new birth father’s side of the family in September, so perhaps it is still there to be found. Perhaps.
Second, watching the boys make the talk show circuit right after they met, I noticed their desire, and everyone else’s desire, to see similarities between them. All three of them smoked Marlboros. Isn’t that like saying all three of them wore clothes? How many people smoked Marlboros in 1980 in the US? Millions. It’s hardly proof of genetic connection.
There clearly were similarities between them that overcame their different upbringings. Nature vs Nurture remains worthy of consideration.
As a child who grew up in a loving family full of people who had much more in common with each other than I had with them–I was on the outside of the nature/nurture relationship. I was a morning person in a family of night owls. They all had similar taste in food that I didn’t exactly share. Watching my dad and my brother order food in a restaurant is sight to behold. My family never made me feel like I was different. They loved and valued me. It’s just true that I was different.
And so as I’ve met birth family, I have had a huge desire to see similarity. Did my sister and I order the same food? Did my mother and I like the same books? Is anyone I’m related to as bossy and self assured as I am (and have been my whole life)?
And I’m confident I’ve seen similarity where it was just coincidence, because I wanted to see it.
As I wrote recently, I’ve discovered that my birth father was not who my birth mother told me he was.
I can’t explain to you how I inherited eyebrows from a man with whom I don’t share any DNA. Because I’d seen resemblance, where it could only have been coincidental, I quickly recognized the desire of the triplets in the film to grab on to whatever they could see to connect them.
We want connection. We yearn for connection. Isn’t that an interesting truth in a world so divided, so disconnected.
Third, I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I won’t reveal exactly what happens at the end (can you spoil a documentary? Maybe that’s not possible…), but I will say that adoption is complicated, even when it all goes well. And when the adults in charge get in the way, and play around with human lives casually, adoption can be very painful.
I wrote an article a few months back about a theology of adoption. And the article received more hate mail and nasty comments than I’ve gotten about anything I’ve written (and I write about abortion rights and ending gun violence!). I discovered after that article came out that there is a community of people, mainly people who had difficult lives after (or because) of adoption and for whom adoption is an evil. They accused me of child trafficking because I placed my son for adoption when I was in college. I don’t encourage you to go look for those comments, or engage those people, but I was stunned, frankly, to know there was a community gathered around abhorring any kind of adoption. It is a community of hurt people, and they seem intent to hurt others with their hurt.
That is not the conclusion of this film.
It must be a reminder to us, as our government is separating children from their parents at the border for no good reason, that when we treat human lives as pawns in a political or ‘scientific’ war, people get hurt. And those hurts manifest themselves in different ways, many years down the line.
Fourth, the birth mother who placed her triplet sons for adoption doesn’t have a voice in the film. I don’t know if she didn’t want to be in the movie, or if the filmmakers even considered asking her side of the story. Birth mothers remain the silent character in most stories about adoption. I was thinking about her a lot as I watched the film. It was terribly difficult and painful to place my son for adoption in 1989, when I had lots of support and adoption was open. I’ve seen how much more difficult it was for my birth mother in 1968. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to give up 3 babies at one time, in 1961.
I recognize people can grow up in their biological families and feel they don’t fit in, they don’t belong. I recognize adopted children can have all sorts of similarities and affinity with their adopted families.
It’s been four years since I got my original birth certificate and started the discovery to meet my birth family. I’ve wondered who I would have become had I been raised by my birth mother. Which parts of me would be the same? Which parts were nurtured into existence? This film dredges that all up in masterful ways. The title of the film is Three Identical Strangers. In some ways, I feel like I’m One Identical Stranger. I can’t separate out what was nurtured, what was nature. I can’t find a perfect match on either the birth family or the adopted family side. I’m somewhere in the middle, unique to myself, unique to my upbringing. Grateful to be exactly who I am.
I recommend the film. And I recommend you watch it with people who will want to talk about it when it’s over. It brings up a lot of ethical and moral questions. It shows the debate between nature and nurture is ongoing and no closer to a resolution. It reminds us that children are not tabula rasa, blank slates that aren’t affected by the situations of their lives. I’m grateful their story has been told. And I’m still holding out hope for the sequel.