It’s not like we haven’t seen this before.
The near-constant reruns of Adoption Stories often showcase domestic adoption from the prospective adoptive parents’ point of view. Just the other month, the MTV series 16 and Pregnant featured a young couple who placed their child in an semi-closed adoption. Even Dr. Phil recently got into the business of pressuring encouraging a teen mom to place.
But the WE tv network blows them all out of the water with Adoption Diaries, a new regular series premiering this fall focusing on domestic open adoption. Not the years upon years of relationship between birth and adoptive families that is the heart and guts of open adoption. But the brutally emotional period of pre-birth matching and placement.
On their website, WE tv explains the show will showcase “the matching process between couples who, having struggled with infertility,* turn to adoption and the brave, expecting mothers** whose difficult and selfless decision to place their children for adoption makes it all possible.”
If you’ve already framed the show as the story of brave, selfless women "gifting life" to helpless infertile couples, then you have a problem. Right out of the gate there is a troubling imbalance, in which the only happy ending is the baby going home with the more-deserving adoptive parents--and opting to parent means a mother is cowardly and selfish. The script is pre-written and you'd better know your role.
Think about being cast as "the birthmother" in an Adoption Diaries episode. Imagine cameras trailing you as you deliberate over which couple to choose. As you prepare not only to give birth, but to say goodbye to your beloved child soon after. While you hold your baby for the first time and the enormity of what you're considering hits you in a completely new way. During those precious few days you have together with them.
Now imagine that you realize—for whatever reason—that adoption isn’t the right decision after all. You're breaking from the script of the show. Not only will you have to face disappointing the hopeful adoptive parents, but millions of viewers (including people you know) will watch you do it.***
Could you choose to raise your baby in that situation?
Todd and I adopted two children through open adoption and had pre-birth matches, just like the families on this show will. Both processes were quite smooth, from an industry standpoint. We probably looked like something out of a brochure at placement, with everyone hugging through tears and brimming with love for the tiny babies and each other.
But in the years that followed, both Beth and Kelly have told me that relinquishment was the single most painful experience of their lives--and one of them has known some serious trauma in her life. Different adoptions, different agencies, different women with entirely different life experiences and reasons for placing. Both secure (at least in front of me) about their decision. Yet both with immeasurable grief that they couldn't wholly understand until some time into the adoption. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
A social worker who works with expectant parents considering adoption once told me that no matter what she says or does, her clients think relinquishment won’t be as hard for them as it is for everyone else. But it always is. By the time the women on the show will have reached that point of realization, it will be too late to back out of filming. That an agency would agree to put that experience up for public consumption on a regular basis deeply troubles me.
I understand the appeal of the domestic open adoption process from the producers’ perspective. It’s a process with a built-in storyline full of emotion, tension, and longing. The creation of the new adoptive family and the trusting commitments between them and the first family are incredibly powerful things to witness, not to mention live through. Plus, babies! According to a press release, the agency involved hopes to get the word out about open adoption and clear up misinformation. But doing it in this way is an ethical minefield with the potential to really hurt people. And the misconceptions I run into about open adoption? They're not about the matching process--they're about all those years afterward.
So here is my plea to WE tv: By all means, tell our stories. Let us show you why we are so passionate about open adoption. Let us open a window onto the joy and sadness, love and struggle that are part of it. Let our children share in their own voices about what it’s like to grow up in an open adoption. But please, please keep the cameras away until well after the adoptions are finalized.
* I wonder about the “infertile couples” bit, since the agency in question works with quite a few single folks and same sex couples hoping to adopt. Will they be excluded from the show?
** They call them expecting mothers here, but most everywhere else on the press release and website they're called birthmothers.
*** Or maybe the show won't air because it doesn't have a happy ending and the producers will be angry at you for wasting their time. The producers who probably offered financial compensation in exchange for your participation in the show.