‘I Am My Own Mother’ shows finding birth families an awkward business

What child would not want to know their DNA origins? In the experience of adopted children, most of them do want to know, Where do I come from?

That was the case with Dionne Audain, playing the part of Esther, the lead character in I Am My Own Mother, written and directed by Andrew Zox, which played recently at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. Esther, who was herself with child, wanted to meet her birth mother, which begs the question, How will my mother react to meeting me? How many adopted children fantasize that it will be a reunion of joy and newfound information for both the child and the mother, and all can be happy?

Not so fast. Many times what is revealed instead are the openings of new, or not so new, hurtful wounds. Regret, anger, envy and jealousies come to the surface.

The film begins using available light on an overcast day, lending a moody air of somber depression. While Esther sat in her car, she secretly watched her mother, played by Lyne Odums, for several days. Gradually she mustered enough strength and nerve to approach her.

Esther’s mother worked tirelessly in a brussels sprouts factory, and had to raise two other children on her own (Esther’s half-brother and -sister). Her mother had a life of suffering, much of it silent, to make it through each day of grueling agro-industrial work. Having to work under such harsh conditions does not bode well for anyone, much less a single Black woman trying to raise two children on her own. Esther was fortunate to be adopted by a family who were able to give her a nice home, good schools and love.

Esther’s half-brother Kent (played by Conphidance) was the keeper of the family secrets—not a role he had chosen to play in his family, nor did he seem to enjoy it. He is the one who wanted to meet his half-sister. One thing that needs to be recognized is that not all the brothers and sisters are of the same mind—happy or anxious—about another sibling appearing seemingly out of nowhere. However, Kent wanted to know his half-sister, hoping that his own daughter (whose mother abandoned her) could have a relationship with her new half-aunt.

Throughout the film, there were subtle indications of seething anger on the part of Esther’s half-sister Dawn, played by Délé Ogundiran, who was not thrilled to meet Esther. However, she did stand to have her picture taken with Esther and their mother. The delivery truck driver at the brussels sprouts factory, played by Joseph Camilleri, took the photographs.

The 24-minute short family drama film concludes with Esther and her mother talking beside the river bank, a scene that stood in stark contrast to the factory. Nature does have a way of allowing us to release many inhibitions that are harbored in more crowded spaces such as city dwellings. Nevertheless, Esther still had to face the fact that her mother was probably never going to be able to accept that Esther had found a better life than she had or was able to provide.

Esther would need to live with the realization that what she could not get from her birth mother she already had within her. “I am my own mother.”

The trailer can be seen here.


Jo Allen-Eure
Jo Allen-Eure

Jo Allen-Eure writes from Los Angeles.