Correcting misleading portrayals of adoption in the media is a never-ending battle for many of us. And while I often ignore bad adoption references, choosing to roll my eyes at things like Loki being “adopted” or yet another bad-seed-type horror movie, I couldn’t let this one go. I am sure that my readers are aware of the scripted and false nature of so-called reality television, but I wanted to point out just a few of the most obvious problems–mainly enormous breeches of ethics–in the show, beyond the meta-problem of putting these women on television in the first place, with an assumed story line that they will be relinquishing their children at the end of the narrative.
1. Moving expectant moms out-of-state removes them from their own support networks, isolates them and creates a more vulnerable situation in which they are less likely to feel in touch with their own parenting and other resources.
2. Housing pregnant women in adoption-agency housing does everything above, plus creates a sense of dependency and indebtedness towards the agency.
3. Moving expectant mothers to Utah puts them in a state which has, perhaps the worst record of all fifty states on adoption ethics. Utah adoption law is often used to intentionally cut off biological fathers from their children even when they want to and would be able to parent. In Utah, a woman is allowed to sign an irrevocable termination of her parental rights to her child as early as 24 hours after birth.
These times limits–in any state, of whatever length–are almost always explained in these terms: “the birth mother has XYZ hours/days to change her mind.” This completely misrepresents the law. In fact, the mother has eighteen years to make decisions about her child. These time limits are supposed to be helpful to women making adoption placement decisions by restricting them from being allowed to sign papers before they’ve had a real chance to carefully consider the decision, spend time with their babies, contact friends and relatives who might be supportive of their parenting or even allow the drugs they received in labor to fully leave their systems. A state that allows a woman to sign away her rights so soon after birth with no option to rethink her decision is failing in its obligation to protect women from coercive adoption practices.
4. I know that it is a sticky subject, and that there are exceptions to this rule and people on all sides of the adoption “triad” (for lack of a better term) who have had good experiences, but with that caveat, it is not a good idea to have prospective adoptive parents in the birthing room with a woman considering placing her child.
This situation creates an emotionally coercive atmosphere in which the adoptive parents seem like the baby’s parents before they are. It creates a situation in which a birthing mother feels that much more obligated not to let them down and disappoint them by keeping her child.
5. When a mother says “I want to keep my baby,” or “I don’t want to give him to anyone else,” or “I want to raise him myself” but that she feels she has no choice but to place him for adoption because she has no money, no job, no car, no house… a social services worker has a moral obligation to find support for her to keep her child. Poverty alone is not a good reason to place a child in adoption. Virtually no healthy infant adoptions are occurring in countries with strong social safety nets like paid maternity leave, free and subsidized child care, socialized medical care and other benefits. Adoption is a drastic, traumatic life event for both mothers and children and should never happen unless absolutely no other options are available.
6. At least in the way this show was filmed and edited, it looked like the “counseling” session these young women had with a man from the adoption agency was nothing but a give-away-your-baby class. When one of the expectant moms suggested that another’s difficulty in choosing a family might signal her desire to keep her baby, the “counselor” was silent and the woman seemed pressured to prove that she was committed to adoption, when in fact, she explicitly wasn’t. A real counselor ought to have picked up that thread and helped her explore her options besides adoption.
Likewise, when she complained about the lack of racial diversity in the prospective parent profiles, the “counselor” again said nothing. She made an excellent point that the only family she liked already had three biological children–all blonde–and her biracial son might feel out of place in such a family. No one affirmed her hesitations as reasonable or right. No one offered her information about transracial adoption and its effect on children or the ways in which white parents ought to be prepared to raise a child of color. No one offered to put her in touch with adult adoptees who grew up in transracially adoptive families.
Similarly when another expectant mom asked the prospective adoptive parents of her child not to tell her son that he was adopted it ought to have raised a red flag that she was not ready to place. Whatever her troubles–and the show certainly made her look quite troubled–adoption, if she is feeling that much shame about it, will only add to them. At the very least, she ought to have been given some real counseling. She ought to have been given such counseling when she talked to the doctor about her drug and alcohol problems as well. It was sadly clear that no one she talked to–the adoption agency “counselor,” the doctor, the prospective adoptive parents–cared at all about her and what would become of her after her baby was born. All they cared about was getting that baby away from her. And all the show seemed to care about was portraying her as always-already unfit to raise her own children, so that we wouldn’t care too much about her ourselves.
[Just a little update here to say that if you read the Huffington Post’s ridiculous story about this woman–which concludes “Are you horrified by her?”–and then read the comments you will get a sense of just how horrifying people are about young women in distress. There is just about zero compassion for this woman. It alarms me that people with that attitude towards pretty much anyone, might go out and become parents–by adoption or otherwise. I am surprised that so many people don’t seem to know the basic fact that addiction is a disease, that by its very nature is uncontrollable. The woman with an alcohol and drug addiction could not stop her behavior through willpower or love for her baby, no matter how much she wanted to. But it doesn’t surprise me that such a woman might have given up trying to be “good” when everyone is so determined to paint her as evil.]
7. When a baby goes home with adoptive parents and a mother goes home without her baby, that is not the end. Adoption is a lifelong condition that has repercussions forever–into future generations. I am not saying that adoption can never create a happy family (it created one for me) or that all adopted people are especially broken. (We are all broken in some way, but we are also resilient.) But adoption is not automatically a good thing just because it’s adoption. In fact, I was not sure why some of the prospective parents were adopting. It seemed like a couple of them just thought adoption was an inherently charitable act and they wanted to do it to have done this good deed, when in fact, it was unneeded by the mother and the baby. (I am thinking of the family with three children who said “we’ve always wanted to adopt.” Why? And they adopted a baby whose mother wanted to keep him and was already raising a healthy daughter. It was not exactly a “rescue” of a child in desperate circumstances.) There is so much more to adoption than these simplistic stereotypes.
8. A small note about language: A woman is not a “birth mom” before she has given birth and relinquished her parental rights. The term “birth mom” itself, even after relinquishment is problematic to many people. But even those who accept the term don’t accept it before the adoption happens. Calling women who are merely considering adoption “birth moms” is part of the cultural coercion that makes it more difficult for a woman struggling with a crisis pregnancy to see options besides adoption.
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