Karen Skloss, producer/director of Sunshine(premiering May 4 at 10 PM on Independent Lens on PBS, check local listings), shares the process that brought her to find her biological mother and to carry her pregnancy to term, as well as the social stigmas that subtly color our view of single parenthood.
I suppose anyone who is adopted wonders about their natural parents. When things are kept secret, questions are all you’ve got. In the back of my mind, I’d always thought about what life might have been like growing up with my biological mother, but I was afraid of what I might find if ever I met her. I was also afraid that she wanted to forget all about me. When I turned 19, my adoptive mom told me that if I wanted to, I could go back to the adoption home and ask my questions. It turns out I had ridden my bike past that place a million times, The Home of the Holy Infancy, right down the street from the biggest sorority at the University of Texas in Austin, where I had been going to college. Waiting for me in the files there was a letter from my biological mother. “I just need to know that you are okay,” said the letter. It had been waiting there for five years.
We started writing and became fast friends, Mary and I. She is a married Montessori schoolteacher who gardens and has four other children. Even my adoptive mom, who was not entirely crazy about the idea of our reunion at first, could not help but be charmed by her. What had I been afraid of? After Mary and I had known each other for a couple of years, I had just started seeing this guy from my work, we hooked up and the condom broke. It was scary. I thought about getting the morning after pill, but wound up blowing it off. Turns out that was a life-changing decision. It was then that I began to understand why I had always been afraid of meeting Mary. Growing up, it seems I had bought into old stigmas surrounding “unwed mothers.” It was very difficult to imagine terminating the pregnancy given my own history.
So, was I supposed to get married to a guy I’d just only started dating? On the other hand, what would it be like to raise a child alone, especially when I felt totally unenthused and unprepared? Could I even consider giving the baby up for adoption? Unlike my mother Mary, I was fortunate to be able to talk through everything openly, with no one pushing me to keep things under wraps or to make a specific decision. Everything was up to me, me and my brand new boyfriend, Jeremy. Choosing to have and keep my daughter Jasmine was the most empowering thing I have ever done. Although things weren’t romantically right between Jeremy and me, we agreed to work hard to do to things fairly, and with Jasmine’s best interests in mind. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. Understanding how I’d judged Mary made me painfully aware of the lingering stigma that single parents, especially single moms, still face. This Mother’s Day, after a long journey making this film, I’m grateful to have the opportunity, based on real-life experience, to celebrate knowing that it’s love that makes family, not a piece of paper or a paradigm. Happy Mother’s Day to moms of all stripes!
- Karen Skloss, producer/director of Sunshine Watch a preview of Sunshine airing tomorrow night at 10 PM on Independent Lens >>
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