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Sheila Ganz
Producer/Director Bio

Sheila Ganz is writer, producer, director, principal camera and editor of the documentary Unlocking the Heart of Adoption.  She is a recipient of the 2006 Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's Angels in Adoption Award.

There was a time – not too many years ago – when Sheila Ganz felt like she was living the life of Sisyphus, the character from ancient Greek mythology who was condemned to roll a block of stone up a steep hill, which tumbled back down when he reached the top – leaving him to start all over again.  But, those days are long past for Sheila Ganz.  Today, she’s a woman who walks tall with determination to increase awareness and understanding around all aspects of the adoption experience.

Sheila’s story begins at the age of twenty.  It was 1968.  While others were doing the Watusi and grooving on the music of the Beach Boys, Sheila, was instead absorbed in her passionate pursuits that started in her early teens – classes in oil painting, listening to Beethoven and studying the lives of the Masters... Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Renoir, Van Gogh.  After high school she commuted to Boston to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.  She dreamed of creating something with her art that was never before accomplished.  But on a hot August Saturday of that year all of those dreams came to an abrupt halt.  Sheila was raped – and became pregnant.  Abortion, not yet legalized, wasn’t an option. Her parent’s solution: Send her to a home for unwed mothers.

Sheila did not want to go there, so she decided to take action.  She found a job, saved money, bought a car and made plans to move to California where she would keep her baby.  That’s when, once again, tragedy hit.  It was an early Sunday morning – January 19 – while driving to California and just east of Pittsburgh, PA, Sheila hit a patch of ice on a hill and lost control of the wheel. The car flipped over throwing her partway through the rear side window.  Lucky to be alive, she was pinned under the car with a fractured pelvis.  Sheila was five months pregnant.

For the next two months unable to walk for weeks and then on crutches, Sheila recuperated in a small hospital outside of Pittsburgh.  Her parents, fearing the winter snowstorms, felt it best that they stay at home.  Hundreds of miles from her family, Sheila was alone.  She looked forward to the weekly telephone call from her brother.  He sent her books.  But, she couldn’t help feeling deeply depressed – and ashamed.  With her car totaled, she felt stranded with no safe place to go.  When it came time for Sheila to leave the hospital, it was a home for unwed mothers – exactly what Sheila tried to avoid – became her destination.

The home in Pittsburgh sat eerily in silence on a hillside – by itself. Though Sheila’s child was conceived in rape – she became attached to her unborn child as it grew inside her. Two days after Sheila gave birth she was allowed to hold her daughter for a mere ten minutes. It was during those moments that Sheila was captivated by the miracle of life. And she was struck by how much her daughter resembled her. She still remembers the heartbreak of her parents "no" when she asked to bring her daughter home. Given no other option by the social worker, Sheila unwillingly relinquished her child for adoption – to the unfathomable unknown. It was at that moment that she made a sacred vow to herself and to her daughter. Someday she would find her. Someday she would tell her the truth. Someday her daughter would learn just how very much she is loved and wanted.

Eleven years later, Sheila returned to school and completed her interrupted college education – majoring in sculpture.  She had continued oil painting all through these years.  School gave Sheila a vision of unlimited possibilities for what she could explore artistically.  She constructed a group of seven seated life-size figures placing them in a circle on campus as a message for people to talk instead of making war.  For her graduate project, she wrote, directed and produced a play, Pretend It Didn’t Happen, about her experience of relinquishing her daughter.  At this same time, Sheila practiced karate and earned her Black Belt at the age of 36.   And, she implemented a daily meditation practice – that she continues to this day.  After graduation, Sheila wrote a second play, Leaving Joe, about domestic violence.

As an activist for adoption reform Sheila testified before the California State House and Senate Judiciary Committees on behalf of the civil right of adult adoptees to obtain their birth records and birthparent rights.

With a solid commitment to make a difference in the world through meaningful media in 1988 – and after 14 years in the making – Sheila launched her filmmaking career through the writing, directing, editing and producing of a documentary.   Unlocking the Heart of Adoption is a film that bridges the gap between birth and adoptive families through diverse personal stories of adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents in both same race and transracial adoptions.  Two months after Sheila began work on the film, her fondest dream came true – she found her daughter at age 19.  They met only once, but Sheila held hope for the future.

In essence, Sheila Ganz is a woman who moved beyond simply surviving – she’s a woman who chose to throw away her guilt and connect with a life filled with purpose.

Unlocking the Heart of Adoption ends with these words from Sheila in voice over a slow pan of the completed sculpture, "When I realized social forces were behind my having no choice but to surrender my daughter for adoption, I threw my guilt away.   And I forgave myself for not being able to defend myself or keep her.  This freed me to speak out for the truth.

It’s hard to know why some adoptees welcome their birthparents and others do not.  But, I do have hope that some day we’ll be part of each other’s lives.  Every year I send her birthday card and let her know that I will always love her."

Sheila now has an update on her story, "I called my daughter to let her know that the film was done and she was open to talking to me.  She was happy to hear things were going well for me and congratulated me on finishing the film, and she told me she was married and has three beautiful children.  And I told her how happy I am that she has a good life.

We met some months later and enjoyed a really nice visit.  I let her know I would tell her all that happened, if she wanted to hear the story and she did.  So, I told her everything from start to finish.  Later, she thanked me for being so honest with her.  It has always been my belief that, even though it is not a great story for a beginning, it is her right to know the truth.  And now she knows that though I was not able to keep her - that she is loved and wanted.

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About Sheila Ganz | Acknowledgements | Essays

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