"Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy" - My Take

Try not to be shocked y'all, but I'm going to blog about something and I might catch a little flack for it. That's not normally my style, I pride myself on this being one of those nauseatingly "happy" and non-confrontational blogs that so many folks dislike, you know, because it's not "real" and all? Well, I watched the documentary, "Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy" for the first time last Thursday night, and let me tell you, it was real with a capital R. At times, it's not easy to watch. I cried for Faith, I cried for my girls, I cried for all the children in China (and all over the world) who have been taken away from everything they've ever known and thrust into a new family in a new country that was nothing like the one they left. This might be a good time for me to add that I, by NO means, consider myself an "expert" on adoption. I'm a mom who has two daughters from China, one of whom was "older" when she joined our family, but I know better than to confuse my experience with expertise, so keep that in mind as you read my thoughts on this documentary.

I've been reading quite a bit of the discussion that has been going on all over the internet about this and I have to say that I am quite shocked at some of the criticism that the Sadowsky family, specifically, the mom, Donna, has received. What really bothers me is that a lot of that criticism is coming from people who haven't experienced what this family did. Now, I'm not saying that if you haven't adopted (or adopted an older child) that you can't express your opinion on this documentary, that's not it at all. I do find it unfair though, that one can watch 76 minutes out of 17 months of a family's life and deem the mother cruel, heartless, and ill-prepared for her daughter's adoption. I've seen post after post breaking down everything Donna did "wrong" with her daughter. My how easy it is for us to sit in a place of judgement and point out all of the "mistakes" of others after the fact. I can GUARANTEE you that if there had been a camera crew following my journey to China to adopt Jacey and her first year and a half with us, there would have been many moments captured that I would not have been proud of later. Let's just say that if the incident one night at dinner in Guangzhou where Jacey spent half an hour sitting under the table crying because I refused to let her have yet another Coke that day, had been captured on film, I'm sure I'd have been viewed as "harsh" too. No doubt the part earlier in the day when I let her have one Coke (even though I don't let my kids drink Coke at all) would have ended up on the cutting room floor. And I can think of other moments right off the top of my head that, especially if they'd been taken out of context, would not have earned me a Mother of the Year nomination.

I'm not saying that there weren't moments when I disagreed with how Donna was handling things, because there were. Did I feel that Donna was harsh at times with her new daughter? Yep, I felt that too and I cringed when she insisted that Faith "sit up" and get back to work on the English flash cards. But I also knew that we weren't seeing the whole story, how could we, in only 76 minutes, possibly know what was happening between Donna and Faith for the entire 2 weeks they were in China or in the 17 months after she was home? The simple truth is that we couldn't possibly know. I've read comments from Donna, since this first aired, that stated she had no editing rights to this documentary and that she knew after watching it for the first time that she was not being portrayed in the most flattering light. The most difficult moments were the ones that made the final cut. Adopting an older child is hard for everyone involved, especially in those first weeks and months. Even in the best of circumstances, when both the parents and the child are prepared as well as they can be, it's hard. Although I do wish the film maker had shown at least a few more positive interactions between Donna and Faith, if this documentary had been all sunshine and smiles, I wouldn't have seen it as a very accurate or realistic portrayal of what most people experience when they adopt an older child.

For those who have commented that Donna should've learned Chinese before she adopted Faith, well, yes, in a perfect world, that would have been wonderful. For every adoptive parent from every country around the world to learn their child's language before they meet them would be ideal. Unfortunately in the real world, or at least in my real world, that would not have been practical. I signed up for Rosetta Stone after we received Jacey's referral and I learned a few basic words and phrases before we left (and it seemed to me that Donna did that as well) but there is no way I could've been fluent, or even remotely conversational, in Mandarin in only a few months. Learning Mandarin (or Cantonese, or any other dialect spoken in China) is extremely difficult and the notion that one is only fit to adopt an older child if they've studied and acquired the language is, in my humble opinion, completely unreasonable.

After seeing Wo Ai Ni Mommy once, I decided to watch it again, and the second time I watched it with my girls, because I thought it would be interesting to get their take on it. Adoption is something that's openly discussed in this house, always has been, so I had no hesitation in allowing them to view it. The girls, of course, took away very different things from the story. Jaden, who was only 10 months old when she was adopted, understandably was more focused on the cute Hello Kitty pajamas Faith was wearing, how long her hair had grown, her fun birthday party, and the cool Barbie car that the girls were driving than on the interaction between Faith and her family. She did say she felt sorry for Faith when she was sad, but obviously can't really compare Faith's experience to her own given the drastic difference in the circumstances of their adoptions. [and let me add that I'm not saying there isn't "loss" involved in infant adoption as well, I'm simply pointing out that there is a huge difference in the experiences] But for Jacey, who was almost 6 when she was adopted, it was much more personal and emotional. I stole a glance at her face as she watched Faith meet her new mom for the first time and I could see the empathy in her eyes. She'd been there and done that, and though she didn't react quite the way Faith did, I have no doubt that she remembers just how nervous and overwhelmed she felt meeting us for the first time. The scene that really got to Jacey though (and I knew it would), was when Faith was in the bedroom sobbing that she wanted to return to China. Jacey held my hand tight while tears streamed down her face. You see, Jacey too, had sobbed and said those same words to us, more than once. And even though before we adopted Jacey I was prepared for the fact that she'd probably feel that way at times, it didn't make it any less heartbreaking for me to hear it. At that moment in the documentary, my heart ached for both Faith and Donna.

I asked Jacey a few questions after the show was over and here were her answers.

Me: Do you think Faith's mom was too hard on her at first?

Jacey: Yes, sometimes.

Me: Do you think I was too hard on you when we were in China and after we first got home?

Jacey: Yes, not all the time, but sometimes. I didn't like all the rules.

(I could probably do a whole other post about this comment and Jacey's expectations and pre-conceived notions about what life in an American family would be like, and maybe someday soon I will)

Me: Like the time I wouldn't let you have the Coke?

Jacey: (big smile) Yes.

Our conversation continued from there and as hard as it was to see Jacey cry while we watched this together, it sparked a discussion that I'm sure we'll continue to revisit in the coming weeks and months, and I'm thankful for that. Even though Jacey's been with us for almost five years now, each time we get the opportunity to have discussions like these I learn a little more about the experience from her perspective.

There is no "perfect" way to prepare for the adoption of an older child (or any age child for that matter) and there is certainly no "perfect" way to parent them. I think Donna, and most parents out there, would agree that we do what we think is best for our children at the time, and yes, we make mistakes, it's part of the process. While we're all going take away something different from this documentary and there are going to be varying opinions on it, some of support, some of harsh criticism and some that fall in between, I, for one, respect the Sadowskys for being willing to share their family's experience so publicly. It was, at times, heart-wrenching to watch, but it was real, it was authentic and my family could relate to it on many levels.

If you haven't seen "Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy" and would like to view it, it will be available online until November 30th. Grab some Kleenex and click here.

Back to regularly scheduled "happy" programming now. Or maybe not? Maybe I'll actually publish that post I wrote a while back about why we still recognize our girls' family days...


vintage.childhood said...

I really enjoyed hearing your comments about the movie as well as the girls' reactions. Will check out the movie if I can get it to play in Canada

Jboo said...

My thoughts echo yours though I have yet to put pen to paper and write anything concrete down. I also recognize that they couldn't possibly show everything that happened with the family, but do admire the family's willingness to have a camera there to record it. At best, adoption is difficult and sad and hard at times, and sometimes it takes some time and distance to actually realize just how hard it was/is. Thanks for sharing your feelings on it and that of your daughters.


Donna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna said...

I'm so glad you wrote this, Marla! I watched this documentary a couple of days ago and experienced a myriad of emotions - mostly conflicting. I was actually sobbing at the 10 minute mark and turned the movie off and walked away for a hour or two. But I did eventually watch the whole thing.

I searched the internet to see what other people thought of the movie and read the harsh words about Donna and found her clarifications and rebuttals. In the end, I was sorry that she had to do that because it was obvious that our emotions were exploited by a film maker who knew the full story yet made the decision to make her look bad.

Just look at almost every Disney film ever made and you'll quickly figure out that killing the mother is the go-to ploy when you really want to grab the attention of the viewer. It's tired and old but it works so I guess this film maker decided that taking an orphan, tearing her away from her foster mom and sticking her with a "mean" adoptive mother was a more interesting story than just reporting the facts in a more balanced way.

What a disappointment.

I think this movie will frighten potential adoptive families away from older child adoption. I've wanted to adopt an older child for many years but my husband is dead set against it. If there was ever a chance that he would change his mind, seeing this movie would kill that chance. Most people I talked to about this can't even agree if the movie had a happy ending. Many thought Faith just accepted her new life but probably will never embrace it or know real happiness and that is profoundly sad.

Every anti-adoption blog on the internet used this movie to illustrate their warped belief that adoption is wrong and kids are better off facing starvation, disease, poverty, exploitation or even death in their birth country than being "purchased" by white couples who (they claim) can't tell the difference between owning a trendy expensive Chinese purse and having a Chinese daughter. The facts don't sway them and, frankly, nobody notices the facts because they're too busy looking at the little girl crying on the bed in the White Swan hotel while her "Mother" demands to know if she thinks white people are ugly. Seriously! What was the point of including THAT painfully indelicate moment in this documentary?

My girls are six years old and I'm not sure when it might be appropriate for them to watch this documentary. There were some snippets of truth and honesty but, overall, I feel like I was emotionally ripped off so I'm reluctant to inflict that upon my kids. At least not until they're old enough to know they're being manipulated.

Our Blog: Double Happiness!

Donna said...

(sorry, posted twice!)

Julia said...

What a great post. I agree with all of what you said, specially the part about seeing 70 minutes worth of the the past 17 months and judging based on that. No doubt she's not a perfect mom, but then again, neither am I.

Becky said...

Can I just say AMEN?!?!?! I have read some of the comments and I agree with everything you said here! I did not catch it all but I will and I will see that my girls watch it. I just wished I DVR'd it....

Ellie said...

Thanks for sharing about this, I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to view it soon - and I needed that link! :)

Half Gaelic, Half Garlic! said...

I share many of your feelings on this documentary....

In the end, I watched it twice.....

The first time I watched it, I was so devastated for Faith. I sobbed as I watched a scared little girl sitting on a couch meeting Donna for the first time. I cannot imagine what that was like for her..... as the film progressed, I did kind of start to question why Donna was doing some of the things she did, but after I had time to sleep on it and realize that we were only seeing snippets of their time together, you kind of realize that there are "two sides to every story"

When I watched it the second time, I paid attention I tried to look at it from a different perspective. I too have read many of the comments and reviews on this documentary and have been impressed that Donna has been right there to explain the circumstances and even admit to some of the things she thought she could have done differently.

It is pretty obvious that the producer portrayed this in the way she wanted to and unfortunately, it did not always put Donna in the best light. I know if I had a video camera on me for the last 18 months there would be more than a few moments captured that I would never want aired publicly.

I give the Sadowsky's a huge amount of credit for putting their lives and their story out there for others. I think they made decisions that they felt were right for their family...... and it seems as though they have made a lot of progress with Faith.

One of my favorite moments was at the end when she was Skyping with her foster family in China. To hear the two girls going back and forth (even if through the translator) and seeing each other for the first time in months brought on the tears of joy. I have heard that her Guangzhou Mei Mei is being adopted in New jersey..... I am sure they will have one happy reunion~

BTW, I think it is great that you watched it with the girls. I am sure it really hit home for Jacey.

Happy Friday my friend.....fabulous post!!



PS. Wish you were coming to town this weekend. We will miss ya

Denise said...

Thank you for sharing. Even though Maggie was 2 when she was adopted she went through so much and I know that I was ill prepared for a lot of it...and probably didn't do all of the right things. Thanks for sharing your thoughts...I guess that I should go and watch it~

Life Goes On... said...

Great post!! One thing I love about you is you provide your honest opinion. I will watch this very soon! Thanks for the link. Tell those kiddos Miss Shannon says Hello and I miss them! :)

Sophie said...

Thanks for sharing this, I watched some of this and must say I felt sad for this little girl.We adopted our daughter at 1 yr. and I remember how frightened she was and how she cried ever night, I can't imagine how much more difficult a transition it is for an older child. I don't know that one can ever be prepared to deal with all the challenges of adopting a child, and what works for one family many not work for another.

I'm sure adopting an older child can pose more challenges, perhaps Donna could have been a little more patient with the flashcards and some other things, but I give her credit for adopting an older child, it's not easy so I'm not in a position to judge her.

Great post.

connie said...

Thank you for sharing your opinion! My post on the documentary nearly mirrored yours, but I admit it took me a few days after watching to really put my thoughts into words. I hate that the doc was used as another weapon among the anti-adoption crowd. Our son was almost 14 when he came home last November, and watching the documentary gave me a better glimpse of what was probably going through his mind at the time we met. I applaud the Sodowsky family and others who are willing to capture their most difficult moments on film!

t~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
t~ said...

I couldn't agree more with you! I watched it and the only time I really cringed was during the mandatory flash card moment of "sit up" & learn the word 'bagel'...
I however, am a practical gal. I see real life behind the few minutes we escaped into their home and felt as though the Mom was being a Mom. It was the beauty of real life with a side dish of IA thrown in. The part that made my heart ache, was the same part that affected your Jacey, I felt her sob was so gut wrenching and true that it would shatter the hardest of hearts.

Thanks for your perspective & though I've yet to meet a 'professional' in the world of IA motherhood, I consider you top notch~

3 Peanuts said...


I am laughing because I too don't post too much that I think will cause controversy but lately I have stepped out on some issues (like COKE;) and I am thinking I will not again. I have this Dvr'd and will watch it this weekend and come back to read what you have written again. But I like this side of you. You are a very smart, observant and compassionate person from what I can tell and I think we'd benefit from your opinions more often...just sayin...


I'l come back after I watch the show:0)

Fliss and Mike Adventures said...

Love it, love it, love it... this post is awesome.... I can understand what you mean that we only saw 'pieces' of it... I can honestly say the only thing I didn't agree with (and I am sure that there are more pieces on the cutting room floor) was pushing her to learn English with the flash cards... ok... teach her a few words gradually but not 'bagel' or 'ice cream', I mean... really... at least let Faith 'settle in'... other then that... this was my only thing I didn't like. I love your conversation with your daughter... I know it is being nosy but would love to hear more of her points of view... her take on it... well, hugs to you and sorry I haven't visited as much... life is insanely fun and crazy and busy :)

Casey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Casey said...

Boy. You weren't kidding about the Kleenex, were you? And it was a BAD idea for me to start watching it at midnight. Come 2:00am and I am still crying.

To be honest, I haven't heard anything about the documentary until I saw your post, so I haven't read any reviews other than your own, but I really didn't think the mother was that horrible?!? There were a few moments that I just wanted to yell "hug the girl and forget about the flashcards" but that was only a moment or two... and God knows when I was exhausted from lack of sleep and coming back from China that I probably did many a thing that was not the best choice.

Thanks for sharing the link.

Anonymous said...

I watched this with my kids and our foreign exchange student from China.

My adopted daughter (at 9 months from China) thought the mom was mean and should have held Faith when she was crying in her bedroom. She is five.

The interesting comment came from my exchange student she was angry at the translators and said that all English translations of what was said in CHINESE was not what was being said. She was extremely sad that the Chinese language ability was lost and said that she wished it was easier for the adoptive children to maintain the language.

Not a popular opinion I hated the movie. I cried throughout. I was disappointed in editing because of how it portrayed the mom. I felt it portrayed the mom as uncaring and I do not think in normal day to day life if I knew her that I would think that. I did not adopt an older child but the flashcards bothered me so soon in the adoption, don't know why it just did. When faith was crying in her room I just wanted to see the mom rush in and hold her BUT again I realize I have not adopted an older child and so I am not to judge.
But overall the movie left me with a deep saddness.


Anonymous said...

I watched this with my kids and our foreign exchange student from China.

My adopted daughter (at 9 months from China) thought the mom was mean and should have held Faith when she was crying in her bedroom. She is five.

The interesting comment came from my exchange student she was angry at the translators and said that all English translations of what was said in CHINESE was not what was being said. She was extremely sad that the Chinese language ability was lost and said that she wished it was easier for the adoptive children to maintain the language.

Not a popular opinion I hated the movie. I cried throughout. I was disappointed in editing because of how it portrayed the mom. I felt it portrayed the mom as uncaring and I do not think in normal day to day life if I knew her that I would think that. I did not adopt an older child but the flashcards bothered me so soon in the adoption, don't know why it just did. When faith was crying in her room I just wanted to see the mom rush in and hold her BUT again I realize I have not adopted an older child and so I am not to judge.
But overall the movie left me with a deep saddness.


Dita said...

You blew me away with this post, Marla...what can I say except that I am even more in awe of you and your incredible children than I was before...and that was hard to do!

I adore you,

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