Nina Packebush: Reimagining Juno

How often do the anti-choicers and the pro-choicers, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives all cheer a movie about teenage pregnancy? When the teenager chooses not to parent, that’s when.

JunobabyIt’s the tenth anniversary of Juno, the cute little Ellen Page movie about a pregnant teenager that everyone was talking about back in the day.

You’ve most likely seen it by now, probably loved it. I mean after all, Ellen Page is completely adorable and it’s hard not to love her. It also sports a really great soundtrack, a cast of damaged, yet likeable, supporting characters, and a story that up until that point—and even still—has rarely found a place in movies. But in case you haven’t seen it yet I’m about to tell you a little bit about it complete with a spoiler, so be warned.

Okay, so Juno is the story of a smart, independent, quirky teenager from a working class two-parent home who finds herself pregnant by a boy she isn’t completely sure she loves. Juno initially decides to have an abortion, but after some harassment at the clinic she changes her mind and decides she will have the baby. She won’t be keeping her baby, however. She decides that the only logical thing to do is to give her child up. I mean, after all she is only sixteen-years-old, right?

Plus, she’s really intelligent so she knows this is the only choice that makes any sense for a teenager.

Juno uses her independence and intelligence to find herself an adoptive couple who she feels would make great parents to her child. They have All The Things and are a stable two-parent, hetero family. Juno and the potential adoptive father, Mark, even have a lot in common and Vanessa, the potential mom, is wonderful with children. It’s a perfect match.

As the movie progresses Juno struggles to figure out if she really does love her boyfriend, but doesn’t really seem to put a whole lot of emotion into the growing pregnancy. She’s made the the only reasonable choice in placing her child with another couple and so she’s mostly at peace with it all, because that’s what teenagers tend to be like when pregnant. Or so I’ve heard. Of course Vanessa and Mark’s marriage falls apart right before the birth, but this doesn’t deter Juno from her choice to place her baby with Vanessa.

Eventually Juno gives birth, cries for a couple beats, and then we find her back with her boyfriend happily playing guitar while the baby goes to live with her new well-off, mature single mom who can properly provide for her.

When this movie first came out anti-choicers, Republicans, and conservatives cheered because Juno made the “right” choice, didn’t kill her baby, and also chose adoption. Progressives, liberals, and feminists cheered because Juno looked at all of her choices before choosing to proceed with the pregnancy and adoption AND she even chose a single woman to single parent her baby. Score an extra point for the progressives.

How often do the anti-choicers and the pro-choicers, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives all cheer a movie about teenage pregnancy? When the teenager chooses not to parent, that’s when.

The two sides of the choice game almost never agree, but one thing they do agree on is that teenagers should not be having children, or rather should not be keeping their children. Teenagers really only have two legitimate choices: abortion and adoption. Somehow dissing on parenting teenagers is a unifying force in a land divided.

“I actually see the movie as completely apolitical,” Jason Reitman, the director of Juno, was quoted as saying. I can tell you the only people this movie wasn’t apolitical to was real life, actual, flesh and blood teenage parents. If you’re a teen parent like me, or maybe a teen parent like my daughter, or possibly a teen parent like my best friend, or a teen parent like so many of my friends you probably sat watching Juno that very first time enthralled. You saw yourself. Finally, finally, finally you identified with a character on the screen. You saw a scruffy, tough, smart, quirky, insecure, working class teenager who came from an average messed up family from an average town and here she was pregnant just like you are, or were. You understood that when she walked away from the abortion clinic it didn’t make her anti-choice, it simply meant she was exercising her right to choose. To choose to have the damn kid.

If you were like me, you pretty much fell in love with this girl. You were this girl. You knew she had to go through the motions of looking into adoption as so many of us had, but you knew in your guts that in the end this girl—this smart, highly capable, logical girl—was going to keep her kid. You couldn’t wait for that moment when she saw her baby and knew she would keep her. I mean, they sort of went out of their way to show us just how capable Juno was which you were sure meant she would keep that baby. You even hoped there might be a sequel so that you could see your badass teenage mama-self portrayed on the big screen with your bad ass baby.

This was your moment. This movie was making history. You could hardly even sit still waiting for that moment when mother and child looked into each other’s eyes, like mothers and babies do in the movies, and Mama just knew she could do it. Just like you did.

I mean every moment of the movie was leading up to this point, wasn’t it? The cash-strapped second marriage parents who fumbled at parenting and the rich adoptive parents whose money wasn’t enough to make them love each other and remain the stable parenting unit we originally met were both there to highlight that age and cash and education doesn’t really mean shit when it comes to who is capable of parenting. It was almost formulaic, almost too predictable. I sat there watching it thinking, yes! Yes! They’re showing that love makes a parent, not age or class or any of that other shit. They’re going to show that girls like me can be good parents.

But that’s not what happened.

In the end, Juno hands her baby over and basically goes right back to her old life. No leaky boobs or looking back. She made the right choice. The choice that the majority of American’s wanted her to make because the majority of Americans pretty much see teenage parents as the dredges of society. We aren’t fit to raise children and we certainly better not be asking for a handout. I mean, everyone knows that we are single-handedly destroying this country. We’ve been doing it since the ’60s when we stopped marrying. Back then nobody gave two shits about teenage parents. As long as we got married nobody cared, but now we no longer marry and people freak out.

Every president in my lifetime has discussed the need to deal with the problem of teen pregnancy.

We are a destructive force hell bent on taking the rest of you down with us, except that we aren’t. Teen pregnancies have been steadily declining for years and for decades teenage parents have been proving that we are just as capable as older parents, but people still freak out just as hard as ever and honestly they mostly don’t even know why. It’s just what we, as a country, say. It’s what we, as a country, believe. And it’s the single thing we can all agree on. Teenage parents are the one group we can all still pick on and not worry about being called out. Teenage pregnancy is possibly the only issue that all sides of the political spectrum can agree on. Teenage mothers suck and should be shamed into silence. Some might even call it bullying. Or maybe that’s just me.

And we damn well can’t be shown choosing to successfully raise our babies on the big screen. Man, can you even imagine the uproar? Ellen Page would have been accused of promoting teen pregnancy and that would have been it for her. An ending like that certainly would never be labeled “apolitical.”

I could back up my statements with all sorts of real statistics and facts showing that teenage parents are basically no different than parents of any other age bracket, but nobody listens. Seriously, I’m being real here. Nobody listens. Trust me, I’ve been spewing these facts for over a decade, as have most of my friends, and nobody seems to hear. I have proven by example that teenagers can be good parents, as have many of my friends. I have people in my life that think I’m great and hear me talk often about teenage parents and occasionally put up with my fact-soaked soap boxing and yet they still sometimes say things that leave me cold.

The silencing and shame I faced 32 years ago still sits heavy in my guts. It’s a part of me and always will be. But I’m not going to keep trying to convince people that teen parents matter. It just feels futile at this point.

These days I think it makes more sense to convince other teen mamas (and papas and parents) that they matter and that’s what I do. Other people will believe what they want to believe and I simply can’t change that.

So don’t worry, I won’t bore you with facts, but I will say this. The one thing that teenage parents need to be successful is to be treated with respect and dignity. They need to know that they matter and that we believe in them as a society. They need this more than money or programs or educational grants. It would even be cool if they could see themselves on the big screen and in print and other media. Please think about that and then go watch yourself some tenth anniversary Juno. Make sure to get extra butter on your popcorn and a real sugar coke, but do me a favor.

Before you finish the last of that cola take just one minute to reimagine a different ending for Juno. One where she looks at all three of her choices and makes the same choice that I did, and like me, goes on to live a messy, complicated, and beautiful life and where it turns out that it’s not actually teenage parents destroying the country, but rather a bunch of mean old white guys in suits.


jason-and-me-beachNina Packebush is forever a teen mama. Her new YA novel, Girls Like Me, will be out in November, 2017, published by Bink Books. Girls Like Me is the story of one bad-ass, queer teenage mama and it’s not at all apolitical.


on “Nina Packebush: Reimagining Juno
10 Comments on “Nina Packebush: Reimagining Juno
  1. Yes. This. I was so excited for this movie, and I’ve only watched it once. Because, I don’t believe Juno would have given her baby away. Or I would have liked to see her reality if she did. It’s cute and it’s okay, but it’s a let down. Cause teen moms learn early and often the best lesson of motherhood, that it might not be the thing your planned, but it might be the best thing ever.

    • I agree. My son turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. His birth completely changed my life for the better.

  2. So true- the stigma of teen pregnancy is far worse than the reality. Every new mom deserves to be empowered and encouraged to do her best but teen moms aren’t given that luxury. One thing teen moms have going for them is the developmental “adults are idiots” that insulates them from the bullying. Babies are amazing and when I was 19, my baby was a wake-up call that said “OK, grow up NOW” which is fine because I didn’t know what I was doing with life anyway. I loved being a mother (still love it) and the stigma wasn’t good for anyone, I’d love to see a film that shines an interrogative spotlight on the socially-acceptable bullying of teen moms rather than bowing down to the idea that “OK we’ll admit that pregnancy happens but THIS is how it should end, these girls can’t POSSIBLY be parents.”

  3. I hated JUNO too — because it showed that a woman/girl bearing a child and relinquishing it for adoption – with basically NO emotional, psychological or physical consequences. Just lalala, back to guitar playing “freedom.” Which I know, from years of knowing first/birth mothers, that this couldn’t be further from the truth. The PACKAGING of Juno was so manipulative and SO political. Thanks for shining yet another light on this terrible movie.

  4. Yes!
    Imagine being someone given up for adoption and watching this.
    We know the pain of losing our entire family., living a life pretending another woman is our mother.
    devestating, for many of us.
    And watching how little we meant to our mothers, wow that hurt.
    I watched it once too, and hated it.
    Price of crap movie that has no idea what infant adoption does to people. Tone deaf.

  5. I was a teen mama. That was 27 years ago and the shame and sadness still make my stomach twist into knots at times. Once a teen mom always a teen mom, even when your middle aged. I find myself so angry. Nobody was happy for me. Nobody celebrated my baby. Then when she was born she had a brain bleed and of course it was my fault, not the dr who put gashes in her cheeks to yank her out with forceps. I will have my baby for as long as I can physically take care of her. She is something and someone I will never regret.

  6. Juno was a horror movie.

    It’s an adoptive parents wet dream. Intelligent, healthy breeder, unselfishly giving up her firstborn for the greater good, with no regrets.

    How the child will feel is not important, with enough love, everything will be fine.

    No lifelong sorrow for anyone involved. Horsecrap. Women do not have babies then give them up without a backwards glance, and newborns miss their owm mothers. This pain never goes away.

  7. Well try being a “Teen Mom” at 14 my parents and his parents forced us to get married and have the baby. He was 18. Needless to say life was miserable because he beat me all the time. So Juno can kiss my ass.

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