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January 12, 2008

"Juno" and Voluntary Relinquishment

Juno My husband and I got out on a date last week and saw "Juno." The movie has generated a decent amount of commentary, like this somewhat scattered piece in the Tribune which linked the film with L'il Spears' pregnancy.

One piece of information in that op-ed piece stuck in my mind as we walked back to our car from the movie: Less than 1 percent of teen mothers these days give their babies up for adoption.

I confirmed the stat, or something close to it, here at something called the Child Welfare Information Gateway. According to that site, today's low figure is down from 19 percent for white girls/women and 8 percent overall before 1973.

Before I became a mother, I'd shake my head at this trend and think, "What a shame that girls don't consider adoption anymore." I'd think that pregnant girls who keep their babies are naive and don't realize they're ruining their lives and their babies' lives, they think that having a baby is going to be fun, etc. I'd give those girls who keep their babies a serious judging.

But looking at that 1 percent statistic really made me think. Before 1973, girls scarcely had a choice in the matter. A decent number of them got married and had the baby. My aunt did that, and when the baby died, she went back to high school, something for which I will always admire her. But so many were forced to give up their children -- forced by their parents or by the overall societal pressure.

Now that those pressures are largely gone -- and with the availability of abortion -- hardly any girls give up their babies. I think that really shows how hard a thing this is. If you are not forced to, why would you relinquish your own child? You probably wouldn't, even if you were ill-prepared, even if it was going to ruin your future. Most babies available for adoption, I suppose, come from parents who were forced to give them up -- by the U.S. government because the parents couldn't care for them properly, by the Chinese government because of the one child policy, or by the law of poverty.

Right? Right, I thought. Then I saw "Juno," and I don't think it's a spoiler to tell you that it's about a girl who quite happily relinquishes her child with no apparent second thoughts. I came home grousing that the movie was unrealistic because it didn't show how wrenchingly painful the experience would be. Because the girl seemed to bounce back too easily -- I was still weeping in the theater while she was cheerfully riding her bike with her pre-baby body back.

But my mom, who was babysitting for us, thought the movie sounded realistic. She works in labor and delivery, and she said those teen mothers that do choose adoption, in her experience, appear to bounce back. Kids, after all, are flexible.

For those of you who saw "Juno," what did you think? Did this movie unrealistically minimize a traumatic and tragic event? Or am I underestimating the elasticity of youth?

Either way, great movie, right? Love the dialog, and am about to download some Kimya Dawson music.

Ellen Page and Michael Cera in JUNO. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory

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