Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable #24

How have you seen open adoption portrayed on television? What did you think? What, if anything, would you like to see?

This is an interesting question because I think for a lot of people, what they know (whether correct or not) about adoption comes from television. I haven't seen a lot of shows that portray open adoption... I've seen a lot of shows with closed adoption in their story-lines. Modern Family has Lily who was adopted by her two dads, but she was adopted from Asia and they don't have an open adoption with her birth parents.

Probably the show that opened my eyes to adoption the most is MTv's 16 and Pregnant. While most people probably hate the show, I think it's great. I love that even though it's been edited, it's pretty realistic as to how difficult it is to be a parent.

The first season had Tyler and Catelynn and they placed their daughter Carley for adoption through Bethany Christian Services. I was pleased that MTv showed them grieving and not making the choice not to parent lightly. They both said that it wouldn't be right to raise their baby in either of the homes that they were living in, and they wanted the best for her. I don't know how that can be a negative thing. 

The couple that adopted Carley (Brandon and Theresa), lived in NC and came up to meet Tyler and Catelynn. I remember watching that episode and feeling nervous for them!! It was great for me as an adoptive mom, to see that the birth parents get just as nervous about meetings, and contact. It honestly helped me when dealing with Gus's birth parents and their families.

The series wrapped, and if you've ever watched the show, it's ten different girls and each episode is one hour showing that one girl's story. Then there's Teen Mom which took four of the girls from 16 and Pregnant and followed them for a year. I think because it was an interesting storyline, they followed Tyler and Catelynn as well as three other moms (Farrah, Leah, and Macy). 

It was so gut-wrenching to watch Tyler and Catelynn go through the year without Carley. Cameras were there when they'd go to meet with Dawn, the adoption coordinator with Bethany. They DID receive post-adoption counseling, which is something wonderful to see. All agencies should provide counseling for the birth parents BEFORE, DURING and AFTER placement. Catelynn went on a birth mom's retreat and the cameras were there to film and it was nice to see that part of a healthy adoption. It showed the reality of it being hard for the birth mom, and I liked that the adoptive parents weren't really discussed much at all. The focus was on the birth parents and their struggles to get through the first year sans Carley. Tyler was matched with a birth father and he learned that the pain of not seeing Carley everyday is normal and will eventually be something he can work though.

At the end of the first season of Teen Mom, we got to see Tyler and Catelynn see Carley for the first time since saying goodbye. They have a "semi-open" adoption and got pictures of Carley (which they showed them going to Bethany to see pictures and a video... and they cried as they saw the baby they placed growing into a big girl.). When they drove from MI to VA to meet up and see Carley, Brandon and Theresa for the first time... I felt like I was in the car with them. When they met at the park, it was incredible to see them unite with Carley.

I think because of how our adoption went, I found myself sucked into the storyline and I felt for everyone involved. Obviously, it's not an open adoption where everyone gets together as they choose, and pictures and items have to go through their agency first. However, I really think it was amazing that it was a positive relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents and maybe teens watching, who might not have ever thought about adoption as an option, gave it a second thought when they got pregnant. 

While yes, there was a lot of editing and "manipulation" for production, the bottom line was the same and it was (in my opinion) portrayed in a very positive light. HOWEVER.. it was a semi-open adoption and not an open one.

The second season of 16 and Pregnant had another teen who was an adoptee.  She struggled with the decision to place her baby for adoption. Her name was Lori and her boyfriend Cory was not on-board with her placing their baby for adoption. He was very reluctant to placing their son for adoption, and it caused a lot of stress for Lori. In the end, they place the baby with a couple that they interviewed.

There's an adoption ceremony at the hospital (which I thought was nice), and then they show Lori a few months later living life and being very happy. Not sure if the adoption was open or closed, but my guess is it was a closed or semi-open. They did show the process of the birth family looking at adoptive family albums and trying to find the "perfect" family for their baby. Instead of looking at albums with Lori, Cory goes to the bar with his friends.

The last season had another adoption storyline, but I did not like how it was portrayed. The teen was Ashley and she lived with her mom in Texas. She decided that adoption was the best option, and instead of going through an agency or attorney, her aunt and uncle call to ask if they can adopt the baby. That right there struck me as unethical. I don't know... I don't think I'd ever call my niece and ask if I could adopt her baby. WEIRD. 

The girl decides that yes, she'll place her baby with her aunt and uncle. So after the baby is born, she takes a few days before signing over the papers, and the aunt and uncle take the baby. It was so hard to watch her struggle and sign the papers. She was crying and I was crying for her. She did not have a lot of counseling prior to the decision being made, and I think that coupled with her mom's lack of support, is what made her decide to sign away her rights.

A few days go by and Ashley has regrets and she ends up taking back her baby as a "trial period" and then after a month she realizes that she can't do it, and she gives the baby back to the aunt and uncle.

My biggest problem with Ashley's storyline is that it made it look like you can always get your baby back if you have doubts. Maybe it's because it was family... which is a whole different game, but there's a time-frame in each state where you can change your mind. When that time is up, that's it. MTv didn't explain this, or show how it's not something that you should easily enter into... so that was my issue with that.

The bottom line is that a woman has the ultimate right to parent, regardless of her age. I hate the thought of MTv having anything to do with glamorizing placing a child for adoption, but on the flip-side, the episode in which the girl goes and gets an abortion, was too much. ADOPTION is ALWAYS an OPTION. There ARE many families out there wanting to adopt!!

  • There's an MTv series called "True Life" that documents various things and there was an episode about placing a baby for adoption. Again... they were all closed or semi-open and not open adoptions.

  • Right now on Gray's Anatomy, Meredith and Derrick adopt an African baby that came over for medical treatment. Not sure how realistic it was and made it look like anyone can just decide to adopt and it happens like that. AND- it's closed.

  • Find My Family was a show about reuniting adopted and birth families, but again... closed adoptions.
  •  There's a show called "Adoption Diaries" on WE that I haven't seen yet but looks interesting and hopefully positive. It shows different women going through the adoption process, from the adoptive side and birth mother side.
The bottom line about what I'd like to see... well, I'd like to see open adoption shown for the beautiful thing that it is. I think it's the only way to make sure that that child/children involved get the best of both worlds. It's not easy, and can be quite difficult, but it's what's for the best.

Lastly, I'd like shows to use correct language when talking about adoption. I hate seeing the words "give up" when referring to a woman's choice not to parent, or to place her child for adoption. They didn't "give up" their baby. There are a lot of things that need to be corrected... but I can't change them all. I can just start with me and by educating those around me. 

I'd also like to see birth parents portrayed in a positive light. The women and men that decide to place their children for adoption are not the bad guys and shouldn't be viewed as anything short of amazing.


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