ETA: If you're landing on this post from a Google search for "Juno storyline," there is a fairly detailed plot summary here.
I love love love Jennifer Garner from her ass-kicking Alias days. I would watch an entire movie about nothing but Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber planting tulip bulbs together. So I was happy to see an Oscar plug for her in the current issue of Entert@inment Weekly (page 45, for those of you reading along at home):
But that last sentence wilted my enthusiasm a bit. "She definitely deserved that baby..." It captures in a few words much of what makes me uneasy about Juno: its affirmation of domestic adoption as a transfer from the undeserving to the deserving. The storyline is designed to appeal to our sense of what is right and fair. Vanessa (Garner's character) desperately wanted to mother; Juno did not. Vanessa paid steep emotional and financial costs in her attempts to become a parent; Juno conceived without even meaning to. Vanessa "practically glowed with maternal warmth and longing;" Juno was detached and decidedly non-maternal. In the logic of the story, then, Vanessa deserves the baby and Juno does not. Therefore, Juno did the "right thing" by following through on her adoption plan. (What the baby deserves is kind of left out of the equation.)
I understand why we say to one another that certain people deserve to be parents. Infertility is absurdly unfair. Most of us know--or have ourselves been--wonderful people who were prevented from bearing a child for no reason that makes any sort of cosmic sense. Sometimes the people most capable, most desirous of parenthood just can't achieve it on their own. It's shitty even without infertility treatments, and years of disappointing procedures just make it that much worse. Without picking apart the definition of "deserve," it seems to me that when we say that those people deserve a baby, we're acknowledging the arbitrary nature of it all. We're saying that no one should have to go through all of that heartache to experience something as universal as parenthood.
But when we venture into the world of adoption, I'd argue that it's best to leave talk of "deserving" anything behind. Because you're no longer talking about successfully creating a child, but being entrusted with an existent child. It's too easy after a match to shift from the idea of deserving to be parents into deserving a certain baby. But if I start to talk about deserving someone else's child, especially a specific someone else's child, I am in a dangerous place. One in which I might make choices I regret.
I'm not claiming to be some saint who has never felt these things. I've broken down in bitter sobs over a sister-in-law's accidental pregnancy, simmered in indignant frustration when one of T's students cavalierly fathered three children in one year. There were even moments I struggled with K's pregnancy. But I think envy--like grief and anger--is one of those feelings you've got to work your way through before it blows up in your face. We're going to feel what we feel, but we shouldn't always act on it. And too often adoptive parents' sense of deserving a baby leads us to reduce expectant parents who are making adoption plans into certain roles. In our tidy categories, they don't deserve their babies that we've waited for and wanted for so long. Then those who end up setting adoption plans aside in favor of parenting get demonized.
I think all sides of the triad deserve to be treated compassionately and respectfully. Baby B deserves a family who will love her well, but it doesn't have to be us. Ms B doesn't owe us anything except honesty. Maybe Puppy deserves to be a big brother someday, maybe T and I deserve a second child--but we don't deserve that baby, we don't deserve her baby.