Adoption used to be reserved for the occasional 20/20 special or the stories of adoptions gone wrong such as Baby Jessica's in the 1990s. Recently, Dr. Phil featured a birth mother who wants her child back, a birth father who never terminated his rights and lost his baby to adoption, and a few other stories. Today, shows like MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, ABC's Find My Family, and An Adoption Story, give viewers more opportunities to learn about adoption---a world that is clouded by stereotypes and mystifies many.
But are these shows accurately portraying the adoption experience? Well, there is no ONE experience, first of all. Second, remember these are televisions shows used to generate money for advertisers whose commercials appear every ten or so minutes. So the more drama, the better.
Take ABC's Find My Family, a show that features two stories a week of adoptees or birth parents seeking their biological family members. They meet for the first time in years, sometimes even decades, under the "family tree" (a crooked tree, on top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere). The host dramatically tells the seeking party to make his or her way up the hill, to "Go find your family." The whole show is terribly corny, yet I admit that it has brought me to tears a few times.
Teen Mom. This is a new show, a spin off of MTV's wildly successful show 16 and Pregnant. Teen Mom features five teenage mothers, four of whom are parenting their babies, and one of whom placed her baby for adoption. I just finished watching the newest episode, and I'm so disturbed by the environment the four babies are being raised in. There's constant drama (yelling, cursing, arguing, smoking, tantrums---from the adults!, breakups, artificial makeups, dirty houses, enabling grandparents, and immaturity)---and it sickens me. There the baby is, crying in a car seat, while her mom curses out her boyfriend, the baby's father, on the phone....again.
I am often torn between what is "right." I don't know if there are concrete reasons why a baby should be placed for adoption. I do not believe, for the record, that a young mom cannot be a good mom---but she needs support, and a good environment, and more support. I don't see a single one of the babies on Teen Mom being raised by their mothers (and their sometimes fathers) as good environments.
Maybe it's because I come from a middle-class, Christian household---where the standards were clear and morals were high---no cursing, smoking, drinking, screaming, etc. I was raised to believe that "normal" and "ok" meant safety, cleanliness, and respect for ourselves, others, and God. I admit my bias.
I believe that a child has needs RIGHT NOW---not in three years when a mom can finally pull herself together, breakup with a man who abuses her (physically or emotionally) or neglects her, and get herself an education or a good job. Love just isn't enough. So if a mom has a baby and can't take care of her in that very moment, is it fair or right to parent that child with the hope of a better tomorrow? I don't know. I don't think anyone does.
I also wonder if these shows, which document specific adoption journeys, are good for the shows participants. What about the baby that the MTV couple, Katelynn and Tyler, placed for adoption? What will she think seeing her birth parent's parents screaming and cursing at their children for placing the baby? What will this do to the little girl, Carly? And how do the adoptive parents feel? Their child's birth parents are being followed by cameras as they constantly deal with family and adoption drama. Is this a good thing for viewers who are watching the show in order to learn more about adoption? Will Katelynn and Tyler regret participating on this show and "airing their dirty laundry" for viewers to see (and judge)?
Adoption is a mystery to many people. Others think they understand it, but watch these shows out of interest and for the purpose of education. But what type of education are they getting? Will these shows backfire? Will adoptions rise, decline, or change because of the television trend?
The Media is a beast of its own. But then, what we, the viewers do with it, is a whole different ball game.