Normally with this blog, I like to approach the form, aesthetics, politics and/or cultural context of the documentaries I write about, but for this week’s POV airing of Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy, I find myself thinking about just the content. It’s no doubt because I recently experienced the birth of my second child, and the subject matter of parenthood strikes a raw (and sleepless) nerve.

still from Wo Ai Ni Mommy

Donna greets Faith for the very first time. Photo courtesy of Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy.

Even though I have some friends who have adopted children, the pertinent and pressing issues of adoption never have really seeped too far into my mind. And it’s never come up in conversation. Partly because I want to be polite, I’ve just never broached the subject. But, after watching Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy, I did — with a friend who confirmed that she generally doesn’t “really try to ‘educate’ the public,” on the issue, but she was willing to hear me out. And that’s the power of documentary — it brings things into the air that we otherwise might not talk about. It educates the ignorant, which in this instance, I’d consider myself.

Let’s start with when the “mommy” of the doc, Donna Sadowsky, who adopts two girls from China, says that it annoys her when people say how wonderful she is for adopting children as if it is an act of charity. She says it’s not for the kids that she’s doing it — it’s to fulfill herself as a parent, and to fill a void. That sounds like the same motivating force of a birth parent. I checked in with my friend: “I did not have a charitable goal in mind,” she confirms. “I understand that sense of annoyance when people say that (or other things) but generally feel like people mean well and just don’t really understand. So I try not to be annoyed when someone (like my mother-in-law) tells me how lucky my daughters are, and just reply that I/we are the lucky ones. “

I kind of knew this without knowing it, if you know what I mean.

The other issue that really struck me was when the adopted girl Faith gets upset and says she wants to go back to China. It reminded me of that awful case earlier this year where the woman returned the boy she had adopted from Russia — by putting him on a plane back to Russia. Is this a constant threat to families with adopted children? I brought up the issue with my friend, who said that particular story made her feel “terrible” and that she had read similar stories about “terminated” adoptions. “In most of those cases, the people did not sound like awful people, or people who did what they did without a lot of thought,” she says. “I think it is easy to say that it is wrong — but hard to know what one would do if, for example, you adopted a child who was a sociopath.”

And then she asked me a good question, “For that matter, what does a birth parent do when their child is a sociopath?” As a sleep-deprived dad, sloughing through the first weeks of my baby’s life, and occasionally wondering to myself if a one-month-old can be deemed a sociopath, I’ll tell you what you do: you keep at it, take it day by day, and keep tapping whatever reservoirs of patience and effort and endurance you’ve got. What’s incredible is that you keep finding more. I could see that happening with Donna Sadowsky. But, as my friend suggests, you can see that in every good parent, birth or otherwise.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen