I wasn't going to acknowledge OXYGEN's new "reality" show, I'm Having Their Baby. I deleted emails and avoided the subject as a whole. Ignoring the show doesn't make it go away, much like the denial of grief and loss doesn't magically make a birth mother happy and whole again, so I decided to take one for the team and watch the screeners of the show which premieres next Monday, July 23, 2012. There were some good things, there were lots of bad things and, when it comes down to it, adoption reform now needs to encompass the way "reality" shows portray adoption, because they sure aren't doing our efforts any favors.
I mean, watching the preview alone is enough to make my head spin... and my heart break.
I'll start out with the good things I found in the show. I always find good things in shows about adoption, whether they are reality based, comedies, dramas or movies. I'm a positive person, to a fault, and can always find a silver lining. As such, I was able to zero in on some good things that happened in the first two episodes of this show.
Mothers choosing adoption aren't all teenagers. Thanks to the 16 & Pregnant phenomenon, we've been inundated with teen mothers for the past few years. Catelynn, one of the moms, chose adoption, cementing the idea in the viewing public's mind that teenagers are the ones who choose adoption. The reality, according to a study released in 2006 by the Even B. Donaldson Institute on Adoption is that mothers choosing this route "are no longer primarily teenagers; in fact, only about one-fourth are teens. The predominant profile is young women in their 20s who have graduated from high school, many of whom have other children." In the first two episodes we saw one 18-year-old who already had a child, one 19-year-old, one 25-year-old and one 29-year-old who already had children. I feel the diverse representation of women -- none of whom were addicted to drugs which is another stereotype that birth mother's face and fight for their whole lives -- lent something necessary to the discussion.
Same sex adoption is a good thing. One of the mothers in the first episode chooses a same sex couple to parent her child. The footage showed her facing strong opposition from a good friend and how she dealt with what was said. If we're going to use reality TV to champion for change -- in adoption or otherwise -- this was a welcome addition to the show.
"We'll be able to talk about it and keep talking about it." One of the adoptive couples said that this was why open adoption was good, that they could visit and revisit the issues at hand and keep talking about everything to make sure everyone was on the same page. I kind of liked this approach in that the adoptive couple wasn't all, "Yes, it will all just be fine and dandy." The truth is that open adoption is hard work and requires lots of discussion and evaluation over the years.
One mother of four chose to parent. Now, they made her look the most ditzy, most flighty of all of them, but she chose to parent. I don't like how they portrayed this mother, but I'm glad they showed that mothers are allowed to parent their own children, even if they have matched with a family. Until TPR is signed, that baby is hers, no ifs, ands or buts. I do love you can watch her adoption counselor from one of the unethical adoption agencies that participates in these shows simply shuts down when the mother says she is going to parent. The immediate distancing and lack of care is so visible. It's further proof that mothers are seen as a means to an end, and when it isn't going to happen the way counselors want, bam! Uninterested.
There were, of course, many problems with the show. Many. Beyond the title. Beyond the premise. Above and beyond what I have the time, space and patience to list here. As a birth mother involved in a fully open adoption, I am more in tune to some of the glaring red flags than the general viewing public. I try to keep that in mind when watching shows like these, but some things are too garish to ignore.
"# of weeks until adoption. I about choked when the very first thing I saw as they launched into individual stories was "9 weeks until adoption." I wanted to scream, "YOU MEAN NINE WEEKS UNTIL THE BABY IS BORN TO ITS MOTHER, RIGHT!" But no, they ended up counting down the hours until the mother signed the TPR, which is still misleading. Even after a mother signs the TPR, she has the right to revoke consent in various states for varying amounts of time. More over, the "adoption" is final until months and months later. So no, it wasn't "2 hours until adoption." The text, of course, wasn't flashing in front of the mother's eyes, but it is misleading for the viewing public.
"They are a dream family." I wish one of the attending adoption counselors would have said, "Well, yes. They're a loving, two-parent home with a pretty house and a fun-loving dog and a great supportive extended family. But those types of family divorce too. They get sick. They die. They abuse drugs. They have grandparents who aren't supportive of openness or adoption in general. They're a human family with flaws; they are not perfect." I saw myself in these young women, comparing my once lackluster life to the shiny pages of parent profiles. How could I compare back then? Unmarried, sick and on bed rest and unable to work, barely any savings to my name. I didn't realize that these families were just steps away from their own types of failure too. I wish we told young mothers those things so, if they did choose adoption, they weren't blind-sided by divorce and financial problems and general imperfection.
Why aren't we hearing more from the birth father? One of the birth fathers was "involved" in the process. In two, we never got to see or were fed any information about where they were or if they were given an opportunity to parent their own child. In another, the guy was a real jerkwad. But that one dad who was involved? The camera never really asked him how he felt. It never really zoomed in on his face as he tried to find the words to describe what letting his child go really felt like. He was just along for the ride. And I hate that. We keep treating fathers like they aren't important, so they don't feel important. When fathers' rights are trampled and they find out seven years after the fact that they have a child, the devastation is far-reaching. Ignoring that fathers are greatly affected by the relinquishment of their children only continues to harm the child. I was hoping we'd hear more from fathers. In two episodes, with four adoptions, the network fell far short on this one. They may not be "having their baby," but they're "giving them their baby." I'd like to hear from them as well as they are an important part of the adoption process.
And the kicker: Cameras are coercive. There is no way around this fact. A mother who has video cameras in her face while going through the pre-placement process will feel lead to place her baby out of fear of what the viewing public will think about her character if she feels lead to parent. One mother did end up parenting her child in the first two episodes, though I would argue that they chose to edit her scenes to make her look as flighty as humanly possible. Cameras are coercive. You can try to argue that they aren't, that these mothers know what they're signing up for when they agree to allow cameras into this weighty decision, but they don't know. You don't know what it's like to make that decision, to sign those papers and to hand that baby over until you have done so. The lure of "fame," especially monetarily compensated fame, is sometimes too strong for mothers already struggling. They don't understand the emotions that will accompany relinquishment or how much they will love that child. Cameras -- and accompanying lures of fame and money -- are coercive. End of discussion.
There were other things that bothered me, things that were triggering for me specifically as a mother who relinquished her child. The scenes of mothers signing their TPR forms while still in the hospital and the haze of birth and exhaustion, pushed me over some edge and I wept openly on my couch. I suppose, on the one hand, we can give credit to the network for allowing these mothers to share their grief in front of the camera, instead of Juno-ing it up with only a quiet, tearful moment. But that leads us to the point that these birth mothers' stories are not over. I'd like to see an interview in a year, in two years, in five... in ten. I'd like us to ask them, "Is your child's adoption still open? How do you feel now? Have you ever "gotten over it" as you were told that you would?"
But shows don't want to get that real. They, meaning this one and all of its predecessors (TLC's early An Adoption Story and later, Birth Moms; MTV's 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom; etc) continue to show the emotional moment of it all and leave the public hanging. What you see on TV is not the end of the story. Some open adoptions close, some open adoptions work. Birth parents can struggle with adjusting to a new life without the child they lovingly cared for in their womb. Adoptive and birth parents don't always see eye-to-eye on the subject of visitation and gifts and the whole mess of it. Open adoption requires a lot of work from both sides. And it really never ends.
Other bloggers chimed in on the topic, having seen previews of the show.
- Monika at Monika's Musings wrote: "I think this show and shows like it should be boycotted because this is the only way that the producers might not put shows like this on air and they wouldn't be interested in using people to get ratings."
Author Trace A DeMeyer wrote: "NOW: I have a better show idea - go interview the doctors who diagnose the adoptees (and some mothers) with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - or adoptees stuck in mental hospitals - or tell the stories of abusive adoptive homes or children languishing in foster care - or the struggle to keep families intact in poverty-stricken areas - but NOT THIS. "
Nell's Diarie wrote: "Thank God for reality shows…sounds funny doesn’t it? I don’t know about y’all, but I learn something every time I watch one. Well, maybe not every time. But anywho, a new reality show called “I’m Having Their Baby” is about to premiere. Will people judge these young ladies as they did our mixed up one? Only time will tell. But this blogger thinks these young ladies should be congratulated for their strength."
OXYGEN went for the sensational, emotionally charged moment of relinquishment to fuel their show, but I can tell you that the "reality" of living an open adoption is nothing like what they would have you believe. I won't be watching the rest of this series, maybe taking the hour that it would take out of my day to watch it once a week to either Skype with or write my daughter a letter. A much better use of my time and a better representation of what living an open adoption entails.
What do YOU think about I'm Having Their Baby?
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