I tend to get lost in movies because it allows me to live a pseudo life for the next two hours. I see every life experience depicted in a movie as a correlation between my own and the characters that represent the most growth and introspection. The movie “Losing Isaiah’, pulled on my heart strings because I could empathize with the drive each mother possessed to prove her position as best caretaker for the child. Even though it has been over a decade from its production, this film captures the reality of our long standing parenting problem, the exhaustion of social workers and the confusion a child faces when being taken away from the only care takers he knows. It is a tale about the loss of love and the stretching of one’s own emotion to love for the greater good of another. Few possess this capacity, to love with a heartbeat pulsating for another, but for the slim majority who do; life will be filled with ups and downs. My opinion was split down the middle, understanding both the role of adoptive mother and biological one. I have walked the line of both and could commiserate with the storyline of fighting for a child who m you believed was best cared for in your possession. Or was that the first right that needed to be surrendered? For in real life we know what looks good on paper is seldom the mandate of reality. To abolish our personal need of being right, means to recognize that a child’s future well-being is at stake.
Remember that Biblical account of two mothers showing up to court and pleading their case before a judge about being the real mother? The one was willing to chop the little human in half for the sake of winning an argument, the other willing to relinquish her rights just for the sake of the child living. That mother, the one who loved her son enough to offer him a chance at life, was awarded kinship of him. I can’t imagine the gratitude that welled up in her heart to know that she could now steward the direction of her baby into becoming all that she missed the mark on, and to instill something greater to another generation. “Losing Isaiah” gripped me from the very first scene, because hopelessness has a way of inviting extreme adversity, which is what abuse of anything represents. Abuse always leaves the one who has suffered it, open to methods of self-medicating that change the course of direction for all involved. For a mother to leave her child on a trash heap to get her next fix tells me that she is completely taken over by a mild altering substance, a behavior masking the symptoms of her own pain brought on by the neglectful environment in which she lives. After all that is what drugs do, they usurp one’s ability to cognitively make an accurate decision because her judgment is impaired and value of herself is lost, in essence she was abusing her mind and body. This biological mother however, had the potential within to redeem her life and Isiah’s, it just took a shaking of her world to realize the potential that was always hers. Through the belief that she threw her baby away and killed it, she vowed to never submit her choices to drugs again. It was that awakening which put forth motion for both of them to live freely.
This was not your typical storyline because the audience would assume the junkie mother would always remain captive of the ghetto, living in a high rise of sorrow and depravity. But I have been in those places so this movie depicted an accuracy that I appreciated. For many crack babies, their mommas were only looking for love in the arms of a stranger or their next fix. And when we describe addiction, all admit that passageways to the brain are without cognitive ability to reason. When I watched the storyline of this movie unfold, I was impressed with grounded decisions the biological mother made to overcome a lifestyle that could have been dictated to her. Once she realized that Isaiah was alive and she started to work her case plan for re-unification with him, she stopped neglecting herself and gained empowerment through work, leaving her negative surroundings and sowing into someone else’s child because of the love that was growing inside of her. Her resolve to withstand temptation after getting clean was phenomenal, especially when a man consistently tried to distract her from getting Isaiah back. The scene where she told him to get away from her because she was on a path to get her son had me championing parents who would do such a stellar thing.
Before this movie, I may not have been able to commiserate with a woman who was smoking crack while pregnant. I could have easily been the white adoptive mother who took pride in her role as a social worker and swooped in to save an addicted baby. But both of these women could represent me at any given time in my life because of the brokenness I have walked through to get to the other side of sanity. I suspect each character had her motivation come from a real rejection in her own childhood, the type that has one search for significance or succumb to apathy. Each mother, whether assigned or designated, had a trial, a spirit of vigilante that she needed to work out and prove to herself first before being able to care for an innocent victim. But that biological mom fought with a fervor that few have and it was palpable, a run for the money that the well- to- do pretentious white family would need to be humbled by. Judgment really shows it ugly face when having to stare possibility of challenge in the eye. Both of these women were battling a very soft spot, the need to prove her worth in the eyes of the court without negating that the other had her own story to tell.
When litigation started and the lawyer took on the case to “make a name for people of color”, the hope of re-unification took a different spin for the biological mother’s case. She followed protocol with flying colors, but his agenda at large was still using her determination to plead a case of race on a much larger scale. In her naivety she progressed for the ability to hold her son and care for him especially after the long road of sobriety had been proved with adequacy. Then you had the adoptive family suffering from the opposing council of biological mom because he was wielding that race card tactic, driving a wedge between being white and able to care for a black baby. When the adoptive mother took the stand and asked the black lawyer, “Why do you have to identify color, you’re saying white is the wrong color, what about love? Isiah doesn’t see color, he only knows me to be his mother”. I was crying at this point because these two parents were being ripped apart by the protocols of a system that uses emotion to clinch its own agenda. Sometimes it takes a dramatic scene to play out the realities of offenses and prejudices that won’t get addressed in the day to day but reveals itself at the height of facing the painful truth.
And this movie was about the raw awareness that each adult fearfully faced as they lost the interaction with a child. Both moms were faced with the innocence of a child’s vulnerability after custody of Isaiah was awarded to his biological mother. Even though she was his own flesh and blood, his reality of being torn from his “surrogate” family manifested in depression and behavioral outbursts. It makes sense that most children prefer to be reunited with their own parents, but from his perspective he was being traumatized by the system when removed from his adoptive home and placed in care “fostered” by a biological stranger.
In a way each mother was the same, striving to prove her adequacy in loving another, when in reality that instinctual drive can be met through many avenues. For some, love of a parent will never be proven, and for infants like Isaiah, parents could painstakingly try to re-establish relationship after abandonment only to remain second in the child’s eyes. But the beauty about this story is that humility invited restoration for all. It was indeed a happy ending because each mom lost herself to find out what she was truly capable of. And they were now ready to embark on the rest of their lives together raising Isiah with a keen awareness of just how powerful love is, for a little child led them. (Isaiah 61:1)
Our choices matter and yes, there is always a second chance like all these characters experienced, but how awesome was it that it occurred after the biological mom found gumption for herself first. She exemplified the need for adults to put on the oxygen mask before they place it on their child. Without her ability to be stable and breathe in the midst of crisis, she would never be able to hand-off responsibility to a child that lacked words in that moment of chaos. She didn’t fail in not knowing how to deal with Isiah’s outbursts and separation from the only caretaker he knew, she rose above when initiating help from the very one she believed opposed her. That was magical, supernatural and it was divine. Such wisdom could only have been gained through her trials and tribulation of changing her past to cultivate a future and a hope for her and her son. And it happened for all involved. They were able to unite in a common good for the child and invite relationship, the most pivotal anecdote to anyone who has suffered abandonment and isolation. That resurrection power to forgive and unite began a lifetime of deep connection and the end of rivalry that could only further detriment and traumatize Isaiah. How adult it was for the biological mom to call the stand-in mom for support, because an entire legacy will be shaped by it. Humility and grace sing in my heart after watching this film, and I am more hopeful than before in knowing that someone first thought of this before it became a movie, how much grater are the odds of many to live it out.