Conceiving Family, a documentary that follows five same-sex couples in Canada along the path to parenthood, is ironically named—all of the couples adopt, rather than biologically conceive, to bring children into their families.
American-born filmmaker Amy Bohigian chose the title, she said in an interview, because she liked the double meaning of “conceive”—the biological sense and the thought process. She also hopes that people who Google “conceiving”—most likely people trying to have biological children—might come across the film and “it may just open their eyes to adoption as a viable option.”
The film was a personal as well as professional endeavor for Bohigian. She began it because she wanted her own adopted children “to see how we all came into each other’s lives.” She and her partner Jane Byers are one of the couples featured.
Bohigian at first “tried really hard” not to make a documentary, however, she said in a Director’s Statement. She feared Byers would be annoyed “if I had been worried about camera placement and lighting as we were meeting our children for the first time.”
She therefore “decided to document particular moments, not make a documentary film.”
Eventually, however, she realized she wanted “to share the ways adoption had transformed our lives for the better,” and decided to weave the moments of their story with those of other lesbian and gay adoptive parents—making a film despite herself.
Each of the families has a different tale to tell about their path to parenthood. Bohigian and Byers adopted biracial (East Indian/Caucasian) 15-month-old twins who were being fostered by a Christian Fundamentalist couple. In order to help the children transition, the two couples lived together for two weeks. The birth family expressed that they felt homosexuals were sinners, but Amy and Jane realized that it was in the children’s best interests for the two families to get along.
“[Bohigian and Byers] have committed to loving these kids. That to me is more Christian that what I see in most of the denominations. . . . These guys are actually practicing the reality of what it is to commit and love people.”
Jan and Lindsey, another couple in the film, took a different path. They first tried assisted reproduction—after having to lie about their sexual orientation to a doctor who didn’t want to treat lesbians—but did not get pregnant. Then, inspired by a friend who had adopted from Romania, they decided to do the same. Not only was the trip to Romania challenging in itself, but it was followed by one of the twins nearly dying after coming to Canada. After that, they fought the courts for the right to have both of them named as legal parents, eventually becoming the first same-sex couple in British Columbia to get joint custody and guardianship. Twenty years later, they fostered and adopted a baby boy and his older sister from British Columbia.
Daryl and Ian faced subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination from adoption agencies and birth families. After preparing a nursery and buying a minivan, they were rejected at the last minute by the first birth family that had selected them. Eventually, the men adopted a four hour-old baby boy from another family.
Jim and Ted considered surrogacy, but rejected it as too expensive. Instead, they adopted a five-year-old boy, as Jim worked to overcome the self-doubt instilled by his upbringing as a “good Catholic boy” and fears of disappointing his devout mother.
Colleen had had children through a previous marriage to a man, but then decided to raise a child with her partner Tammy. They fostered a sick child of indigenous heritage, and made the choice to return with her to her community in Haida Gwaii. Although they feared someone there might want to adopt her instead, they knew it was important for the girl to maintain connections with her roots. As it turned out, they were welcomed with open arms. Although the girl’s birth mother struggled with whether to keep her child, she ultimately decided to let Colleen and Tammy become her adoptive parents.Bohigian captures the experiences that her subjects share—waiting to hear if there is a match with a child; misunderstandings or discrimination because they are same-sex couples; the process of transition for the children; maintaining connections with birth families—while not ignoring the differences in how each approaches these issues.
Notably, she takes us several years into the children’s lives, showing there is more to family creation than simply bringing a child home. The film manages to tug at our hearts without being saccharine, shining a light on both the personal and societal challenges the families face, and how they overcome them with love.
Bohigian’s other films include an award-winning documentary about American expatriates, Love It and Leave It, funded by the National Film Board of Canada. That film, too, was driven by her personal experience.
Conceiving Family is perhaps even more personal. “The emotionally and technically raw footage” of her family, she said, “is not as much through the lens of a filmmaker going through this process, but of me when I was becoming a parent. That distinction may sound slight, but it made all the difference.”
Find out more about Conceiving Family or buy the DVD at conceivingfamily.com.