February 08, 2008

Deserving That Baby

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.

15 comments:

Thankgsivingmom said...

Love this post!

Clementine said...

I saw that line in the EW as well. It made me angry. I like your comments about envy in this post; I struggled with that myself when we were waiting to become parents.

Munchkin's Mom said...

Mmhmm. Your post is so absolutely on spot that I don't have anything to add to it.

My beef, however, is still with the movie in general. Obviously, as we can see by the line in EW, the general public is now viewing birth mothers as undeserving, etc. It did nothing to promote an already stereotyped group of women/mothers in a positive manner. And I'm just so tired of this crap. :(

Heather.PNR said...

Thanks, Thanksgivingmom.

Clementine, when I read it my first thought was, "I wonder if Clementine saw this!"

Munchin's Mom, weren't you interviewed for an article about Juno? Has it come out yet? I hope the reporter really took in your words.

call me mama said...

Recently saw the movie. I'm sure my husband and I were the only adoptive parents in the room. When everyone else was laughing, I was weeping.

Gretchen aka mamagigi said...

Nice, thoughtful post. Oh, how the word "deserve" irks me so. Well done.

As for the movie, I finally saw it, albeit hesitation and butterflies in my stomach. A friend asked me to go with her. I second Call Me Mama's thoughts -- I am sure I was the only adoptive mom in the room -- and every laugh in the audience was accompanied by a group of young women/girls commenting how "cool" Juno was, how "funny" she was. Broke my heart in myriad ways.

abebech said...

This is a great post.
I haven't seen Juno yet. I really think I should just to be an informed participant in what is, quite surprisingly to me, becoming a national conversation, if one sorely lacking in complexity. (Without seeing it, but reading spoilers, I wondered in some juvenille/utopic way why Juno and Garner's character didn't coparent).

Andrea said...

I'm sorry but I agree and disagree. Some people DO deserve a child and some DON”T deserve one. I have seen too many friends of mine trying to conceive only to read about an abandon baby found in a dumpster; or a woman ( with five kids or more) who, out of frustration, injures or kills one of them.

I do think it's very, very hard on potential parent to sit and be judged “deserving" or "worthy" by expectant parents to raise their child. It also must be hard NOT to think a mother who took drugs or alcohol when pregnancy, deserve to be a parent.

What I am trying to say is, just because one can give birth to a child does not mean they are deserving, worthy or even the best person to raise the child.

Andrea said...

I'm sorry but I agree and disagree. Some people DO deserve a child and some DON”T deserve one. I have seen too many friends of mine trying to conceive only to read about an abandon baby found in a dumpster; or a woman ( with five kids or more) who, out of frustration, injures or kills one of them.

I do think it's very, very hard on potential parent to sit and be judged “deserving" or "worthy" by expectant parents to raise their child. It also must be hard NOT to think a mother who took drugs or alcohol when pregnancy, deserve to be a parent.

What I am trying to say is, just because one can give birth to a child does not mean they are deserving, worthy or even the best person to raise the child.

Heather.PNR said...

Andrea, thanks for your comment. I agree with you. Every parent needs to prove themselves, whether they became a parent by birth or adoption. People who abuse don't deserve to parent, period. I doubt anyone would disagree with that. And I don't have a problem with saying many infertile people would make wonderful parents and deserve that opportunity, in general. My point is that those two things have nothing to do with each other. Even if there were no infertile people in the world, an abuser wouldn't deserve to parent. And vice versa.

The nuance I was trying to tease out was the difference between talking about "deserving" in the abstract and turning adoption into a ranking of who deserved a particular baby more, the birth parent or the adoptive parent. It's comparison and specificity that makes me uncomfortable.

The key for me is not making it a competition between an e-parent and a prospective a-parent. It shouldn't be about whether Vanessa deserved the baby and Juno didn't, or whether I deserve Ms B's baby more than she does. Our fitness to raise the child should be judged independently from the other's.

I know first-hand how hard it is to feel like you're being assessed and judged and scrutinized as a potential parent while watching other people fail their children in significant ways. And I've struggled at times with the differences between K's prenatal choices and what I like to think mine would have been. I just know, personally, how destructive those feelings can be when I wallow in them or apply them to specific people.

It's unfair that some people want to get pregnant and can't, while others don't want to get pregnant but do. But Ms B placing her child with us isn't going to even out some cosmic score. I think the Juno storyline suggests that it does.

Lori said...

This is the best review of Juno that I've seen.

christie said...

Love the post. I can't speak for the movie, I haven't seen it yet, but I think there are parents that may appear better equipped to have kids than others but I highly doubt there is one parent that has properly (as if such a thing exists in parenthood) addressed every situation that comes with raising a child. Talking about deservedness, though, I'd be concerned about who was setting up the system and how it was calculated. Is it enough to want the baby to call you "deserving"? Would it eventually boil down to those with money are more deserving than those without?

Kohana said...

I very much agree with your discussion about parenthood being (and not being) deserved, but I completely disagree with you about the movie. I agree with you about that line from the magazine, but I thought the movie itself was great.

You said "The storyline is designed to appeal to our sense of what is right and fair... In the logic of the story, then, Vanessa deserves the baby and Juno does not."

I didn't take that away from the movie at all. I felt that the movie did an excellent job of portraying the complexities of emotion and circumstance on two sides of the triad. I didn't feel that Vanessa was glorified at all, rather I think that she was somewhat exposed. Her longing to be a mother was palpable, yet she wasn't completely likeable as a character. I think if they had portrayed her as wonderful and Juno as less than...but they didn't.

I don't think that Juno's lack of a "maternal glowing" connection to her baby indicated a lack of attachment. Each person experiences pregnancy differently and copes with loss differently.

I guess I should go write my own blog post, but while I agree that adoptive parents don't deserve any mother's child, I feel like the movie was an excellent portrayal of the messy thing that is domestic infant adoption.

Ariella said...

Thank forwriting this post. I personaly felt the verysame way about the movie. I loved it and LOVED JG in it but I felt something missing from the movie.

I felt the Juno'spain was missing becuase I have yet to meet a first parent who has siad that it was easy.Who said it wans't hard and that they didn't cry.

A long time ago I came across a video on youtube where a first mom was saying good bye to her child. As her family sat idely by watching her cry and scream in emotional pain she said good bye. It is to this day is the most true piece of human emotion I have ever seen.

It is also what society seems to ignore: That on the day adoptive mothers recive lifes greatest gift, another mother's heart is breaking.

I know you and your readers know this even better than I do. Thank you for shining the light on such an important issue.

Claudia said...

Came across this post randomly but had to say just HOW fantastic I think it is.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...