On Life's Terms: Mothers in Recovery


The 57 minute documentary On Life's Terms: Mothers in Recovery follows five women with substance use disorders struggling to transform their lives and parent their children in a gender responsive residential treatment program in San Rafael, CA. Their story is told through intimate interviews and vérité scenes with their kids and family members.

Rachel, 22, escaped her abusive boyfriend with her two babies. Lisa S, 41, from an alcoholic family served time for selling drugs and petitioned the judge to give birth outside prison walls. Lisa R, 38, relapsed and is determined to make it for her two daughters. Leslie, 31, charged with online prostitution and drug use strives to regain custody of her daughter. Julia, 27, doesn't want her son to end up in rehab.

The film follows the moms through treatment, transitional housing and re-entering the community as they courageously step onto the path of self-sufficiency with integrity and pride. Their three year journey is told against the backdrop of drug laws and policies impacting mother and child.

Stigma and fear of losing her child can stop an expectant mother with alcohol and drug addictions from seeking prenatal care. Today in America there are less than 150 residential substance use treatment programs for pregnant women and mothers with young children. This timely film will serve as an educational tool for service providers, encourage policy makers to support treatment programs vs. incarceration and inspire hope for recovery.

Filmmaker Bio(s)

Sheila Ganz's (writer/director/producer/editor) first documentary, Unlocking the Heart of Adoption, explores the lifelong process of adoption for adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents in same race and transracial adoptions with illuminating historical background. The film aired on public television, 2003-2006, and The Documentary Channel, 2012-2014; and is in distribution to adoption agencies and educational institutions worldwide. Ganz wrote a Discussion Guide and three hour Curriculum on the Issues of Loss and Identity for the film. She received the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's Angels in Adoption Award in 2006.

Ganz came to make this film out of her experience as a birthmother in 1969 after becoming pregnant as the result of rape. In an attempt to move to another state, she totaled her car and fractured her pelvis at five months pregnant. After recuperating in a hospital, she went into a home for unwed mothers. She unwillingly relinquished her baby for adoption. She later found her daughter.  Ganz is an activist for adoption reform and testified before the California State Judiciary Committees for adult adoptee civil rights and birthmother rights. While her first film is about adoption, Ganz wanted her next film to be about family preservation.

From 2005-2007, Ganz was an instructor at Film Arts Foundation and guest-lectured on filmmaking at City College of San Francisco and Academy of Art University. From 1984-1989, Ganz wrote two full-length stage plays, Pretend It Didn't Happen about her experience as a birthmother, and Leaving Joe about domestic violence, both plays had staged readings in San Francisco. Ganz attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and has an MA in Interdisciplinary Arts and BA in Sculpture, San Francisco State University. Her paintings and sculptures have exhibited in and around Boston and San Francisco. Ganz is also a martial artist, holding a black belt in Karate. She is committed to making a difference in the lives of mothers and children by giving a voice to their untold stories.

Film Details
  • Country(ies): USA
  • Language(s): English
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 57 minutes
  • Director(s): Sheila Ganz
  • Producer(s): Sheila Ganz, Regina K. Scully, Debbie Brubaker
  • Writer(s): Sheila Ganz
  • Cinematographer(s): Sheila Ganz, Frances Nkara, Song Chen, Alisha McCutheon
  • Editor(s): Sheila Ganz
  • Music: Nora Kroll-Rosembaum
  • With: Rachel, Lisa S, Leslie, Julia, Lisa R, Sylvia, Nancy, Trevor, Harriet Gaines, Dr. Sushma Taylor.
  • Website: http://www.onlifesterms.org

FSP 915