I finished my documentary Hayden & Her Family—about a family raising seven biological children and five children with special needs who were adopted internationally—in March 2020. But then, of course, came the pandemic. Naturally, the private premiere, film festivals, and other screenings would have to wait.
While my heart withered a bit as I pondered the future of “my child”—a project that’s taken six years of my life to create—I kept thinking about the subjects of my film, who’ve signed onto a lifetime’s commitment in raising a family of 12 children.
I decided to catch up with Elizabeth Curry to reflect on her involvement in the film and find out how her family’s life has changed since working together.
May M. Tchao: It’s been a few years since we finished our film. Looking back, how do you feel about your family’s involvement?
Elizabeth Curry: While I’ll admit there were moments when I wondered what the heck we had gotten ourselves into, the short answer is I’m glad we did it. I love the film you created and I love having that period of time in our family’s life captured so beautifully. I hope people will watch it and realize that it doesn’t take super powers to love and raise children who have more than the usual number of challenges.
MMT: What was your biggest challenge after Ting Ting and YuTing arrived in 2016? Anything you know now but didn’t know then?
EC: Before they arrived home, we had but a glimmer of TingTing’s challenges. The first few years were sheer survival as we slowly figured out how to best parent TingTing, help her feel safe, and help her become emotionally organized enough to give us some idea of the scope of the effects of her traumatic past. I’m happy to say that things are much, much better these days.
MMT: Since making the film, your family moved from your longtime home to a farm. Tell us about this transition.
EC: Moving to a more rural setting wasn’t difficult. In fact, it felt very much where we were meant to be. What was difficult was leaving a place we had called home for 30+ years. I wasn’t fully prepared for how lonesome and exhausting it would be to move to a place where not a single person knew us, or our family. I grew extremely tired of having to introduce myself and have the same conversations about our family, particularly how many children we have.
COVID didn’t help. Just when we felt as though we were finding our footing, everything shut down. Tentative, beginning relationships don’t weather that kind of thing well. It felt a bit like we had been slowly climbing our way up a chutes and ladders board only to end up on the square with the slide that takes you all the way back to the beginning.
MMT: Has your perspective on adoption changed in any way in the last few years?
EC: My perspective changed fairly immediately after our first adoption. Noble ideals bump hard against real life experiences. I’m 100% in favor of adoption when it is needed, but I am also 100% in favor of children being able to stay in their family of origin if at all possible. As I said in the film, adoption, especially intercountry adoption should be seen as a last resort for a child. I would love it if, in addition to considering adoption, people helped to support organizations that help keep families intact.
MMT: I’m so excited that our film has been selected for PBS’s 2022 America ReFramed series. I thank you for sharing your adoption story with the world and hope that the film will inspire viewers to recognize that “every child deserves a family.” What do you hope this film will accomplish?
EC: I hope it will encourage viewers to develop a broader definition of what it means to be a family. But I also hope that, if people do choose to pursue adoption, they do so with their eyes wide open. I think, May, that this is one of the strengths of the film—it is not all butterflies and rainbows, but a fairly accurate slice of life. (Well, some of the calmer moments, at least.)
Adoption is complicated, and while it can come with great joy, it is born out of great sorrow. There is a tension there that is always going to exist, and you have to be willing to not take it personally. You also have to be willing to make any changes that are good for your child, even when you find those changes uncomfortable. Don’t adopt because you think you think you’re doing a “good deed”; adopt because you realize there is a person missing in your family and you want to be that person’s parent.
I also hope that the film broadens people’s idea of “normal.” We left what is considered to be normal so long ago, I’m not sure I remember what it is like. There is actually a lot of freedom in that, and I think our children thrive because of it.
What I hope people do not take away is that Jud and I are anything special, because we are not. We didn’t plan to have 12 children. We just enjoyed being parents and figured one more couldn’t be that hard. It takes no special power to love a child; it is something anyone can do. But the act of loving changes you.
For more information about the film and the America ReFramed schedule, visit haydenandherfamily.com. Take a sneak peek at our trailer here.
Catch up with the Curry family on Elizabeth’s blog, Ordinary Time.