Three women's lives share a common core: they have all been profoundly affected by adoption. KAREN (Annette Bening) had a baby at 14, gave her up at birth, and has been haunted ever since by the daughter she never knew. ELIZABETH (Naomi Watts) grew up as an adopted child; she's a bright and ambitious lawyer, but a flinty loner in her personal life. LUCY (Kerry Washington) is just embarking with her husband on the adoption odyssey, looking for a baby to become their own.
Karen lives with her elderly mother NORA (Eileen Ryan), works as a physical therapist in a rehabilitation clinic, and relies on SOFIA (Elpidia Carrillo) to look after Nora and their home while she is working. While Karen and Nora barely speak, Karen keeps up a silent monologue addressed to her absent daughter, writing journal entries and letters never to be sent. Nora‘s caregiver Sofia brings her little daughter CRISTI (Simone Lopez) to work with her, and they enjoy a warmer relationship with Nora than does Karen. Karen resents Sofia and is uncomfortable around little Cristi. In fact, she‘s uncomfortable around just about everybody—she‘s a prickly, demanding, and unsociable woman at home and at work, where she coldly and rudely rebuffs the friendly gestures of a new therapist, PACO (Jimmy
Elizabeth has been newly hired at a tony law firm presided over by PAUL (Samuel L. Jackson). Elizabeth impresses Paul with her sharp legal skills and blunt straight-talking style—but also with her take-charge attitude towards seduction. Before long, the sexy associate is having an affair with her much-older, widowed boss. Paul is a big-hearted family man with an expansive view of life, while Elizabeth is emotionally chilly; she describes herself as remote from her adopted family, with no close attachments. Their opposites-attract affair is curious enough to keep them both interested. Elizabeth, though, enjoys sex as sport—and roping in her neighbor STEVEN (Marc Blucas) is her latest casual conquest. Steven is married to the very-pregnant TRACY (Carla Gallo), and Elizabeth seems to take pleasure, cruelly and deliberately, in undermining the happy-family-to-be.
Lucy and her husband JOSEPH (David Ramsey), disappointed that they can‘t conceive, turn to SISTER JOANNE (Cherry Jones) at a private Catholic adoption agency. There they meet RAY (Shareeka Epps), a young pregnant woman who is interviewing potential parents for her unborn child. Ray is no grateful, helpless teenager—she‘s an articulate adult with tough questions and a demanding attitude, but Lucy‘s forthright candor wins Ray over. Lucy is excited that she has at least made the first cut, but family and friends on all sides feed uncertainty. Ray‘s mother LETITIA (Lisa Gay Hamilton) discourages her from giving up the baby. Joseph‘s parents can‘t hide their disappointment that their ―prince‖ won‘t have a blood heir. Lucy‘s mother ADA (S. Epatha Merkerson), who helps Lucy run her successful bakery, is supportive but worried. Eventually, Joseph gets cold feet and admits that he wants his own biological child, even if that means breaking up with Lucy, however reluctantly.
When Nora dies, Karen is distraught to hear from Sofia that Nora blamed herself for ruining Karen‘s life by making her give up her baby 37 years earlier—just the words that Karen waited in vain to hear herself. Looking for solace, Karen tracks down the father of her baby, TOM (David Morse), now a long-married father who confesses that he has never forgotten her. They make love, but Tom can‘t live up to Karen‘s expectations. Out of her despair, though, comes an impulse to reach out to her tolerant and generous co-worker Paco, who is protective and drawn to her wounded neediness. They marry, and happiness seems finally within Karen‘s reach. Paco encourages Karen to try to find her long-lost daughter. Karen‘s adoption decades earlier was handled by the same Catholic agency that has connected Lucy and Ray. There, Sister Joanne explains to Karen that the only way for she and her daughter to find each other would be for one of them to leave a letter inviting contact in the agency‘s file. Karen assumes that since her daughter never left such a letter, she must not want to make contact.
But Elizabeth is that daughter—and she does indeed want to find her birth mother, because she discovers that she is pregnant. She has decided to keep the baby and wants the child to know her grandmother. She writes a letter to her birth mother and leaves it with the adoption agency. Elizabeth had her tubes tied at 17, but she has—against all odds—conceived anyway. She can‘t know if the baby is her boss Paul‘s, or her neighbor Steven‘s, but she takes flight, disappearing from her upscale apartment, job and life. Paul tracks her down and offers to take care of her and the baby, but she denies that it‘s his, releasing him from obligation. The baby girl who is born by emergency C-section is brown-skinned—hence Paul‘s—but Elizabeth dies giving birth, leaving her baby orphaned.
Meanwhile, Lucy has decided to go ahead with adopting Ray‘s baby on her own. Lucy is present and ecstatic at the birth, but Ray changes her mind about giving up the baby. Lucy is devastated. There‘s another baby, though, who needs a home—Elizabeth‘s.
A year goes by, and Elizabeth‘s letter is finally found in a pile of paperwork clutter at the agency. When the agency contacts her, Karen discovers that the daughter she never knew is dead, but her daughter‘s daughter lives in her own neighborhood, adopted by Lucy. Their first meeting is joyful. New mother Lucy, her adopted daughter ELLA, and Ella‘s grandmother Karen begin to forge a new family connection.
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