I admittedly have watched way too much TV since the pandemic began, binge watching TV shows once my husband and I get our girls down to bed. I’ve watched all the popular favorites these days, including Bridgerton, Ted Lasso, Queen’s Gambit, The Marvelous Miss Maisel, Emily in Paris, you name it….So, since I feel like I’ve been through all the favorites, I am now tormenting my husband Ray a bit by watching a teen drama, All American, focusing around a Black star high school football player from Crenshaw in California and his move to live with a former Crenshaw football player-turned Beverly Hills football coach and his wealthy biracial family.
A few episodes into Season 3 (spoiler alert) I first get a glimpse of an upcoming adoption story. I always find myself cringing when an adoption story begins on TV, because, in my experience, adoption stories rarely portray adoption in real life. For a little background, Jordan, the football coach’s son, has a girlfriend named Simone who is pregnant with another man’s baby. Simone’s parents want her to make an adoption plan, and so she enters into a private/independent adoption in California. For those of you who don’t know, the private adoption laws in California allow a mom to sign consents after birth, but she has a right to revoke those consents for 30 days (there is an exception under CA law that allows her waive that revocation period, but that isn’t addressed in the show). A few weeks after the placement Simone is questioning her decision about making an adoption plan, and she has learned that she has a few more days in her revocation period to change her mind. Simone discusses this with Jordan and says that everyone tells her that her decision to place her child is “selfless” but how she feels like it is “selfish” to place him, questioning whether he will be happy or better off with this adoptive couple. A few days later, Simone tells Jordan she’s going to take her son back and you see her walking up to the door of the adoptive parent’s home (sans lawyer or social worker, rather unlikely…) The prospective adoptive father answers the door and initially is defensive when he sees her. Then, the prospective adoptive mom comes to the door to tell the prospective adoptive father about some milestone the baby had just made. That’s when she sees Simone. Simone initially turns away, purportedly changing her mind now that she has seen them and her baby, and that’s when these prospective adoptive parents do something I was surprised by. The father tells her she doesn’t have to apologize for wanting to see her son, and the prospective adoptive mom introduces her to her son as her “other mother” and says there’s no reason both of his mothers can’t be in his life. The couple invites her in and I’m assuming an open adoption begins (I haven’t gotten any further in yet).
As soon as that scene was over, I started to sob. Why?! I’m honestly not exactly sure why that scene made me so sad. But I think in part it was because I was so surprised by the reaction of the prospective adoptive parents. I was surprised by how welcoming they were to Simone in that moment. I was surprised by their reaction in probably one of the scariest moments in their lives. They were opening the door to their child’s birth mother and potentially losing a child they had cared for for almost a month, or at a minimum now sharing him in some way with his birth mother. I think it was sad for me because it shouldn’t surprise me. As adoptive parents, this should always be the reaction to a mom making a decision to parent, or at least wanting a more open adoption with their child. These children that we are hold, that we temporarily care for before consents or signed or during a revocation period, they are not our children yet! While it can be one of the most devastating things to happen in an adoption journey and admittedly a sad thing for the prospective adoptive parents, it is absolutely the right of the child’s family. If reunification can and does happen, we as adoptive parents have to find a way to celebrate that for these women and families and move on in our journey’s to find a child that is ours. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be sad, you absolutely can be. It is often a loss after years of infertility, or even other adoption disruptions. But we need to embrace these expectant mothers and birth mothers making some of the most difficult decisions of their lives, and know that it is their decision and their right to change their minds. If they decide to parent, we must know that child wasn’t ours, and grieve and move on any way we know how. If they just change their mind about the openness they want in their adoption, we need to embrace that too. We need to celebrate open adoption and what that means for our children, even if it might be hard or different than we expected going in.
I thought back to the way Simone talked about “selflessness” and “selfishness” during the earlier scene. The “selfless” statement is often used in conversation with an expectant mom, and it is thought that language like that is coercive to a mom considering adoption. Since I intentionally don’t have any contact with expectant moms during an adoption journey, I can’t speak to what agencies, attorneys, social workers and counselors are saying to these moms during their counseling, but I do see language like this on adoption agency and attorney websites.
But I can speak more to what is often said to adoptive parents. We often get told by friends and family how amazing we are to bring this child in, to love another child as if they were “our own”. But in reality, we as prospective adoptive parents are selfish. Now before you get mad or defensive, I am not using selfish in a negative way, but it is a reality. We are trying to add to our families – we aren’t saving a child. There are more than 36 prospective adoptive families for every child that is being placed through domestic infant adoption and I would guess that number is even higher since COVID and the spike I’ve seen in prospective adoptive families. Now, there may only be a handful of families per child open to a baby who is born exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero, or where the mom has mental health concerns, or where the child will have special needs. But let’s be clear, prospective adoptive parents are not saviors. I was selfish. I wanted to be a mom, there’s nothing wrong with that. I was not unique, and I was not saving the child I was adopting. In fact, in many ways, my child actually saved me. While I initially didn’t want a really open adoption, I crave that for my child now, even though it also admittedly scares me.
Anyway, adoption disruptions are very hard. I have personally experienced one and it broke me at the time in ways I can’t fully explain. But, once I held my daughter, it made sense. I hope that prospective adoptive parents work hard to be the prospective adoptive parents in this show. To be welcoming of this mama who made this hard choice at the child’s birth, even it that may break their hearts as well, or lead them to a more open adoption experience than they were expecting.
I had a good cry, and it made me think, another good excuse I told my husband so he’d keep watching my guilty pleasure…