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Juno: Fact And Fiction

By Mirah Riben

21 February, 2008

The comedic fictional movie Juno has garnered praise, awards and nominations. It also created uproar among those of us for whom adoption is not a comedy, but our life.

The namesake character in this film was taken from the Roman version of Hera, Greek goddess of marriage, who is not notable as a mother. Myths include that Zeus and/or Hera herself were disgusted with her son, Hephaestus' ugliness and threw him from Mount Olympus.

While not exactly a Greek tragedy, Juno is often mythological in that it relies heavily on, and perpetuates, many potentially dangerous adoption myths., a national non-profit that advocates for the rights of mothers and keeping natural families together opposes the message the film sends. Origins-USA president, Bernadette Wright, PhD notes that the organization "has been inundated with emails from irate members offended at the film's light-hearted approach and concerned that audiences will accept as truth myths and untruths about adoption the film portrays."

As a real-life mother who lost a child to adoption, researcher, author, and board member of Origins-USA I would like to help moviegoers sort fact from celluloid fancy:

FACTS portrayed in the movie Juno:

* Adoption takes children from the less affluent and poor and gives them to wealthier families and singles. The playing field is uneven to begin with and surrendering places mothers in a powerless and “socially disfavored position" (Samuels, 2005).

* Mothers considering surrendering their rights and allowing their child to be adopted often do not receive any counseling about the long-term effects such a decision will have on them, their extended families and all future relationships.

* Mothers negotiating an adoption most often do not have legal representation while those adopting almost always have an attorney to protect their rights. When expectant and new mothers do have legal representation, it is almost always paid for by those adopting.

* When expectant mothers meet couples desiring to adopt their children they become bonded and or enmeshed with them, often feeling an indebtedness, making it is far more difficult for them to make an objective decision as to what is best for them and their child.

* Lack of independent counseling and informed objective consideration of all options for the expectant mother and the child's maternal and paternal grandparents often results in the mother-to-be dissociating and thinking of the child she is carrying as "it" or someone else's. It is for this reason that ethical adoption practices insist on no decision being made until after the child is born, seen, and held by the mother.

* There is no guarantee that those adopting will be any better at parenting that the mother who is being asked to sacrifice her child (facts said in anger at a sonogram technician in the film and then ignored).

* Adopting a child while experiencing a loss such as a divorce is one of forty predictors for a possible failed adoption according to the website of Informed Adoption Advocates. Mothers considering adoption of their child and trying to select parents need to be made aware of these indicators. (Red Flags in Adoption That May Lead to Potential Disruption

FICTION - untruths portrayed in Juno:

* Mother who lose children to adoption often suffer shock and denial in the ensuing days or even years, but never forget or "get on with their lives as if it never happened." Instead they suffer studies have found that mothers who lose children to adoption have been found to suffer traumatic stress disorder and are at risk for long-term physical, psychological, and social repercussions (Askren and Bloom, 1999).

* Mothers who surrender children for adoption have no guarantee of having another child. In fact, they experience a higher than average rate of secondary infertility.

* Juno, and those who follow in her footsteps will find that while the "act that one day was regarded as a ‘loving choice’ is the next referred to as ‘unloading responsibility'." (Jim Gritter, Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption). Rather than removing shame, it adds to it.

* Mothers who lose a child to adoption, "not only suffer[] the loss of her child/ren, but the loss of her sense of wholeness, her sense of control over her life, and loss of self-esteem....Often she has lost identification with her mother as a role model. She has suffered loss of being accepted by society and loss of her adolescence, as well as loss of her sense of trust and self-worth....This magnitude of loss is, to say the least, difficult for her to overcome. Sometimes the best a birthmother can do is to remain in denial and numbness for the rest of her adult life, unconsciously encumbered by her silent sorrow." [Michelene Davidson, K. "Healing the Birthmother's Silent Sorrow. Progress: Family Systems Research and Therapy," 1994, Volume 3, (pp. 69-89). Encino, CA : Phillips Graduate Institute].

The problem with Juno is summed up well by Carolyn McConnell: "A movie that suggests a person can come through nine months of gestating and then surrendering her child unscathed is peddling a dangerous delusion" ( Juno a film not just about adoption, but about intergenerational familial disconnect, beginning with Juno's abandonment by her mother, and as such is a sad commentary on American life in the 21st century. Adoption is a tragedy for families who fail to receive the support they need to remain intact and are left unable or unwilling to care for its own offspring. It should always be a last resort according to The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and UNICEF. It needs not to be made light of, glamorized, proselytized, or glorified.

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