Adoption on TV again…

19 Mar


We watched the show NCIS last night, it has been one of my favorites for years, although other than Mark Harmon, I couldn’t tell you who the actors are, or even most of their character names (I looked them up so this post makes sense).  I like to be entertained and the writers make it so that you can’t figure out who the guilty party is within the first few scenes.  Over the years, I’ve watched characters come and go, but to me, the show has staying power.  (Spoiler alert – after the break I talk about last nights episode.)

A while back, adoption made its début into one of the smaller underlying storylines with Abby finding out she was adopted, a late discovery adoptee who meets her brother, the writers handled it fairly well.  Last season, Palmer (assistant to the medical examiner Ducky Mallard) and his new wife decided to start the process to adopt a new-born.  You can imagine my thoughts about having to watch that storyline, in one of my favorite entertainment shows.  As it was an underlying storyline for a minor character, the odd update to the adoption process was minimal at best, and easy to ignore, most of it anyway.

The being Matched with a “Birthmother” was hard to watch, I assume the excitement shown is pretty normal as you want to become parents after all.  Watching it was surprisingly hard though, even knowing it was simply a made-up storyline, it still triggered feelings in me.  The feelings that despite how happy one family would be, a child would lose their family, a mother and father would lose their baby, a family would lose a family member.  I can’t see the excited side, without also seeing the loss side, simply because, I hold the place in the center.  Why I try hard to ignore real stories of people going through the process, because to gain, others must lose.

Other updates about the adoption were dropped into episodes, simply referring to her as “The Birthmother”, no mention of her as a real human being with a name, no angst that their happiness would could at another’s expense, the character was came off as simply that of an incubator that would make their dreams come true.  Neither was there any mention of the father of the baby, or other family members and the impact of adoption on them.  I want to assume that was simply because it was an underlying storyline, but there was no attempt by the writers to have Palmer to talk to another character of conflicted feelings of pain that goes hand-in-hand, the loss to many, the concerns on how the baby would deal with being adopted.  All that would have been fairly normal for that character, seeing as how last nights episode had Palmer practicing changing diapers on a doll under Ducky’s attention and timing.

Last night was also when the baby was born.  The racing to leave for the hospital.  The returning looking dejected that the now “Mom” had decided to parent.  The returning of baby shower gifts.  Every time I heard the expectant mother called “The Birthmother” in the different episodes, it reinforced how wrong it is for the adoption industry to use that term pre-surrender, and that it must stop.

And even though it was just a made-up storyline, that pre-birth matching and hospital attendance is now part of story lines, shows how common it is in the real world.  It reinforced my distaste for pre-birth matching, coupled with being at the birth.  I know for some on both sides, it is a good thing.  I also know that it creates an attitude of entitlement to the baby, which can also be seen as both a good, or bad thing.  I understand it is person dependant, I also know it can be abused horribly by creating intended, or unintended pressure on the mother to sign the surrender papers simply because of the relationship created.  I don’t like it because of the potential for harm.  Adoption is one of those situations where caution needs to be the ever-present default setting, and for some I don’t think it is.


Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Adoption, adoptive parents, biological child, Ethics


Tags: , , , ,

14 responses to “Adoption on TV again…

  1. eagoodlife

    March 19, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    My belief is that the birth is the time for mother and baby, not for viewers, spectators or future adopters. Special as it might be for adopters the mother and baby should come first at the beginning of their story.


    • TAO

      March 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Von, you know I agree with you, but I can also see why there could be exceptions, as long as it is fully the mother opting for that without any agency SW priming the decision and full respect is given to the needs of the little one to first have time with the mother. I do think the duty of caution to fully protect the mother must always be the go to default standard with no coaching of what is the norm.


    • Carlee

      March 31, 2014 at 12:41 am

      Ugh. I too loathe the term. A woman with child is simply a pregnant lady.


  2. Dannie

    March 19, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    The show is also a favorite of my husband and I. Was wondering if you were going to write about it. And while the storyline made Palmer look very cheesy and naïve about it all, I like the end where he was sad but understanding about why the mom decided to parent and didn’t vilify.

    Other than that I also kind of cringe with adoption storylines on TV


    • TAO

      March 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      Agree Dannie, there was no vilification at the end…what struck me so hard was the lack of humanity by using the term “the Birthmother” in the different episodes, it dehumanized her.


      • Dannie

        March 20, 2014 at 2:50 pm

        Yeah that was a bit uncomfortable. ‘Our Birthmother’ yeah cringe every time


  3. Tiffany

    March 20, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    We were at the hospital for our daughter’s birth, but at the invitation of the parents. Looking back, it is one of my regrets. I wish we had held back. I would like a do-over of my daughter’s adoption to fix a few things that I didn’t have time to really think about at the time, and being at the hospital is one of them. At the same time, there were circumstances that made me glad we were there for them. I was initially invited by my daughter’s mom to be in the room when she gave birth, and I told her that I was quite sure she would change her mind as that’s such a private moment, so I would hold off unless she asked me to come in and support her if she needed. She did not ask me, and I think that me telling her it was ok to not have me there made her feel that it wasn’t an expectation she had to fulfill. We also told them to take all the time they needed before asking us to come in to meet her, and then we stayed only very briefly to get her a “real” dinner (yuck to that hospital junk after not eating for hours and hours!) before leaving and letting her have her night with her daughter.

    I think it’s a complicated situation. We had an agency conducting the paperwork, but we did not meet through an agency but through a mutual friend. The agency involvement was pretty minimal, so I know there was no coercion or influence on that front as they had not had any interaction yet besides a short phone call to state they were having us adopt their child and wanted to use the agency (We offered the options of an agency or individual lawyers, and they chose agency).

    I don’t like pre-birth matching for some reasons, but I do like it for others. I firmly believe the parents should be choosing the prospective adoptive parents and get a chance to know them and feel comfortable with their decision. However, this can cause complications in ensuring the parents are making the choice because they want to and not because they now feel they owe the baby to the prospective adoptive parents. It’s all really, really complicated, and agencies do not help the matter any. There should be boundaries in place enforced by the agency/lawyer, but if this was done, it might cause more adoptions to not go through, and that’s not what the agency/lawyer wants, so…. it will all continue.


  4. Valentine Logar

    March 22, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Yesterday was my first mothers birthday. As I usually do I called her to talk, I am fortunate even blessed to have a fulfilling relationship with this woman who gave birth to me 56 years ago and surrendered me having only heard my first breath and my first scream.

    There are some pragmatic realities, I know Tao you view much of this through the lens of the adoptee, but there are many lenses and many views. All of them are relevant and of equal value and importance and weight.

    Yes, the industry is corrupt. The industry needs to be changed, swept clean of corruption.
    Yes, in fact it should not be an industry at all. Industry implies profit and there should never be a profit where lives are concerned.

    Yes, we do need to find ways for adopted children to be informed of their history, of where they come from. But this is truthfully a double edged sword and all the rights are not with the child, sometimes we simply have to consider the life of the first mother, her intentions, her rights and her reasons. Sometimes there are reasons for a birth mother to want her confidentiality to be maintained, this should be respected.

    I agree with you, the dehumanization is wrong. Open adoptions should be truly open and all of the people involved should be respectful and have ‘names’. The standards we use today are simply wrong, but there is another side, I think I understand it.


    • TAO

      March 22, 2014 at 8:54 pm

      Val, I’m not sure where this is coming from on this post. You can’t force a relationship, everyone has the right to say I don’t want to know you – my father didn’t want one, I would have liked a 10 minute conversation but that wasn’t going to happen, his loss. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t respected the other side.

      But they don’t have a right to deny the adoptee their original birth certificate, a court of appeals has stated as much in a challenge on TN law change in ’99 – paraphrased because I don’t have time to look it up – a birth is both a private and a public event and the right of privacy does not extend as far as adoption – I want to say the Sixth Circuit but am not sure.


      • Valentine Logar

        March 22, 2014 at 9:09 pm

        I am sorry, I tried to tie it to the naming issue and how we all view these within the context of adoption. That privacy follows the lack of humanization of original parents, which is I think where this started. I wasn’t very clear in what I was trying to say.


        • TAO

          March 22, 2014 at 9:25 pm

          Okay, I get you and if she doesn’t want her name out there fair to other people fair enough. It’s the hasty branding of the title that it’s a done deal when it isn’t – that I have issues with. If they called her an expectant mother, than to me she is a human being who is considering doing what must be the hardest possible thing any mother could choose…and whether or not she does is yet to be determined. I also think it would help prospective adoptive parents keep the right perspective and might lessen the pain if she parents – mind games.


          • Valentine Logar

            March 22, 2014 at 10:29 pm

            yes, that is what humanizes the entire process and what I was trying to say so ungracefully.


  5. onewomanschoice

    March 24, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Yes, I agree. How can a woman who has not given birth or signed relinquishment papers be deemed a birthmother. That’s society’s way of psychologically preparing her for what they hope she will choose. Since they are unable to use the old scare tactics, the shameful tactics, the bad girl tactics, the “you’re inadequate” tactics, they have found new ways to subliminally prepare her for their anticipated choice. So they call her by the name that labels her as a future candidate for the adoption industry.



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