by Ed and Ruthie Szeto
October Baby is a touching movie about a young woman who, upon learning that she was adopted after a failed abortion attempt, embarks on a journey to find her birth mother. The movie’s tagline, “Every life is beautiful,” plays off of Psalm 139: “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (vv. 1314).
The main character, nineteen-year-old Hannah, collapses on stage during a play. After a series of medical tests, her doctor and parents tell her of her premature birth and adoption after a failed abortion. Hannah’s doctor explains that her life-long and current medical issues (epilepsy, asthma, etc.) are related to her traumatic birth.
Hannah struggles with anger and betrayal at her parents for concealing her adoption and the circumstances of her birth. At the same time, she struggles to understand who she is, where she came from and why her mother would make the decision to end the life of her own child.
With little information to go on other than her birthplace of Mobile, Ala., Hannah embarks on a road trip with her best friend, Jason, hoping to find something that will lead her to her birth mother and answers to her questions.
Hannah finds her birth mother (a very strong and moving performance by Shari Rigby) but is devastated when she receives no answers and no happy ending. Instead, she is rejected and denied. Defeated and lost, Hannah is brought home by her father.
Although she and her parents are Christians and Hannah’s father finally apologizes to her for hiding the truth, Hannah is stuck in her anger and pain. Searching for something she can’t name, Hannah visits a Roman Catholic church. A caring priest tells her that what she’s looking for can’t be found on a road trip or in a cathedral but only on the cross. He reminds her of God’s forgiving love and the blessings that come with forgiving others.
In this forgiveness, Hannah finds her way back home, forgiving her adoptive parents and, ultimately, giving her birth mother the gift of her forgiveness. This provides the most compelling moment of the movie as her mother faces the reality of the choice she made 20 years earlier.
Why we like this movie
Despite some of the weak dialogue and superfluous plot devices used to move the story forward, October Baby is a credible and refreshing movie with beautiful cinematography and some terrific performances. The primary themes of forgiveness and redemption (along with its clearly pro-life, Christian message) will be satisfying to Christian viewers. Conversely, secular critics and those squarely in the pro-choice camp posit that the movie is trite, melodramatic and unbelievable because of its basic premise of a child surviving an abortion.
One of the strongest performances in the movie is by Jasmine Guy. Guy portrays the nurse, Mary, who was present the day of Hannah’s mother’s abortion attempt. Most of the truth about the reality of abortion comes from Mary’s re-telling of the story of Hannah’s mother, the abortion attempt and Hannah’s subsequent birth. “It was tissue,” Mary says to Hannah, explaining what the culture led her to believe about the abortions she assisted with. “Tissue that couldn’t survive. Non-viable tissue.”
Mary’s penetrating line, “When you hear something enough times, somehow you start to believe it” also explains much of our culture’s rapid shift toward the acceptance of the incomprehensible: women killing their pre-born children while calling it a personal choice.
The additional themes of post-abortion healing, chivalry, adoption, sexual purity, obeying the Fourth Commandment and parental sacrifice make October Baby a life-affirming movie that does not disappoint.
Shari Rigby, who portrays the birth mother, is post-abortive but had not revealed that to anyone until the writers sent her the film’s manuscript. Her heartfelt revelation during the closing credits gives us the final “ah” moment in a movie that has already delivered.
Playing a role that so closely mirrored her own life helped to bring “complete healing in the moment. That wasn’t acting,” she said. Instead, it gave her a chance to find comfort and assurance from Christ. “It’s over,” she said, and “[I’ve] been forgiven.”
About the Authors: Edward Szeto serves as LCMS Life Ministries Coordinator. He and his wife, Ruthie, live in Woodbridge, Va.