It seems once again the most tragic of stories has become a brilliant film. And there is no denying it—Tim Wardle’s documentary, Three Identical Strangers, definitely hits the “documentary jackpot.”
I saw the movie with my mother this past Saturday. It wasn’t until I walked into the theatre and passed by the poster that I realized I was familiar with the story. It’s the kind of story you only need to hear once to have it engrained in your memories database—in my case, in a little mental file labeled: “Most Disturbing Stories Of All Time.” Once my mother sat down, adjusted her reclining chair and sorted out where she’d rest her popcorn, drink and Goobers, I leaned toward her and whispered, “This is the story about those identical triplets, who like other multiples, were intentionally separated at birth in the name of scientific research.” She said, “Yes, I know, the Nazis did unspeakable things.” I couldn’t get the words out fast enough: “No Mom, the crimes [and let’s be real, that’s what they were] against these children happened somewhere in the 1960s through ‘70s, right here in New York City.” These triplets (and God knows how many twins) were adopted out by the Louise Wise Agency—the most prominent adoption agency of its time—and the “esteemed psychiatrist” Peter B. Neubauer (who was, of all things, a Holocaust survivor) conducted the studies. My heart was already pounding.
Then the movie started.
For the duration of the film—one hour and thirty-six minutes—I sat with my eyes fixated on the screen. One might even use the word gobsmacked to describe my reaction… and uneasiness. There was a pit in my stomach—like the kind you feel when hearing about a grave diagnosis affecting a young child. The film was so good, but even the “feel good” moments (and there were many) couldn’t outweigh the horror of what was stolen from these kids—a childhood spent with an identical sibling.
The entire audience seemed to feel the impact. In fact, many remained in their seats, even after the final credits. Then people started talking. They were striking up conversations with perfect strangers because they needed to talk it out. It was the kind of film that ends up feeling like fabric draped around you even after leaving the theatre.
My mother and I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to us. She had come alone, but suddenly looked as if she couldn’t figure out how to leave on her own. When she asked if we found the film (though really she meant the events depicted) as disturbing as she did, I found myself quoting what I think was a line from the documentary: “Well, yeah, they belonged to each other.”
And that’s when I thought about my daughter’s donor-related half siblings and the donor himself. It’s now 2018—we don’t need any further studies to tell us that biology matters. Biology matters. Got it?
I thought back to the day I made the decision to introduce my daughter to her half siblings. It wasn’t an easy decision but once I jotted down all the pros and cons—and saw, right there on the paper, “I wait and say nothing. My daughter learns of this years later and feels betrayed and angry and I’m left to explain how I stole all those years of knowing her siblings from her”—and I had my answer.
Donor-related families are biologically connected, and it’s a connection we ought to celebrate and foster, not hide from.