Three Identical Strangers documentary

Mateo and I watched the 2018 documentary, “Three Identical Strangers,” last night. (Yes, the film finally came on DVD to our local library, because, as Mateo claims, we’re the only family in the country who doesn’t have Netflix.)

Wow. If you haven’t yet seen it, you must.

You probably know the rough outline—three identical triplets separated at birth, adopted to families in the greater New York area by the Louise Wise adoption agency. They find one another through pure chance at age 19, when two of the boys attend the same college and everybody calls one by his brother’s name.

I hesitate to say more, because the movie is full of surprises. Just when you think “Unbelievable!,” something more outrageous happens.

One small observation: The film focuses, rightfully and effectively, on the profound repercussions of being separated at birth. The practice is wrong, period. The boys continue to pay a heavy price. What the film overlooks is the repercussion felt by any and every child who is placed for adoption, the answer to the question, “Why did she give me up?”

The boys’ relationship with their birth mother is mentioned only once, in a short scene, when the brothers describe finding her name in New York Public Library records and meeting for a drink. Their mother was a high school student when she got pregnant, and for reasons not explained—Social pressure of the times? College looming on the horizon? Lack of family support to care for three babies?—she placed the boys for adoption.

I kept wanting the boys or their parents, spouses, extended family, or the psychologists involved in the boys’ case—many people are interviewed—to at least acknowledge this first, deep, primary loss. But everyone is so focused on the horror of the triplets’ separation that the core “hard thing” of adoption—being separated from your mother—isn’t even named. It’s completely overlooked. And, no matter what the circumstance or reason why, and no matter how loving and supportive an adoptive family is, being separated from your mother is a loss that never goes away.

Still, “Three Identical Strangers” is a provocative, engaging, important documentary. Mateo and I recommend it.

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