Too Much Oxygen

Photo by Matt Lemmon via Flickr

8/5/12 Edited to add: Please also check out this list of blog posts on this topic written by other adoption triad members.

The adoption community is up in arms about a new show that premiered on the Oxygen network this week. I’m Having Their Baby is described as a “six-part docu-series that reveals the story that often goes untold – that of young, pregnant women as they struggle to go through with the most difficult decision of their lives, whether or not to place their babies for adoption.”

My first reaction was to join the @Boycottoxygen movement that quickly sprouted on Twitter. Then I read a post by someone who knew of people who had been banned from the show’s Facebook page for their comments opposing the series. I looked at Oxygen’s site for the show and found statistics from a survey they had commissioned to learn the public’s attitudes toward adoption–a survey of a mere 1,000 people, with no mention at all of adult adoptees. The survey made me mad enough that I tried to leave a comment refuting its results, but after getting an error message for nearly a half hour, I gave up. It had been two days since the last successfully posted comment (there more than 40, all negative), and me thinks Oxygen had heard enough from us protesters.

Now I was REALLY mad, so I went over to the Facebook page for the show to read the discussion there. All I can say is, wow! Every corner of the adoption triangle had chimed in, along with quite a few audience members who seemed to have no real-life connection to adoption at all. Those folks were easy to recognize because of their very misguided comments. I ended up spending over an hour reading the discussions and leaving comments of my own, mostly in an attempt to educate, sometimes to support adoptees who were literally being attacked for expressing their feelings about adoption, both positive and negative. Sadly, some of the attacks came from other adoptees who seemed to be so trapped in their own inner turmoil, they couldn’t accept that anyone might feel differently.

Finally, I decided that if I was going to publicly comment about the show, I had to watch it. So on Wednesday I sat down with my computer and watched the first episode, which is available via Oxygen’s website. Two pregnant women are followed: Mary, who became pregnant with another man’s child while separated from her husband, and Claudia, who became pregnant after a month-long relationship with a guy in his mid-twenties who’d already managed to knock up three other very young women. The women were assisted in their adoption plans by Bethany Christian Services.

Now, I should mention that I watch quite a bit of reality TV, and I’m not naive enough to believe everything I see on a reality TV show is authentic and unscripted. When you watch these shows, you have to always keep the camera in mind, imagine yourself in that place with a crew of people recording your every action and word. Keep in mind also that when you watch a reality TV show, you’re not seeing raw footage. You don’t even see raw footage on the news, so you’re certainly not going to see it on the Oxygen network. It was obvious to me that every scene on this show was carefully pre-arranged. I think it’s important to realize this, because if you acknowledge this fact then you also must acknowledge that the real life experience of a pregnant woman considering placing her baby for adoption is much more complex than anything you’re going to see on this show. A great documentary could be made on the adoption process, but this show is definitely not that great documentary. (If you really want to understand the experience of birth mothers, check out Ann Fessler’s work.)

Of course, having read comments about the episode before I watched it, I already knew going in what to expect. Many commenters were angry at Mary because she decided not to place her child after he was born. I say, good for you, Mary! She was also criticized for her reasons for considering adoption in the first place–because she wanted to try to salvage her marriage. Any idiot could see that her husband just wanted out, that nothing she did was going to save that relationship. Interestingly, Claudia was not criticized nearly as much for her path to pregnancy or her decision to surrender her child for adoption. I had the distinct sense that public opinion–at least on Oxygen’s Facebook forum–was much more symapthetic to potential adoptive parents than to the young women who were contemplating handing their newborns over to strangers. And very few commenters who weren’t adoptees had anything to say about what struggles the children themselves might face in their futures.

What struck me while watching the episode was how very young both Mary and Claudia were. Mary was better established, living in her own home and having a full-time job, but her reasoning was still quite immature. Claudia was barely of age, and an adoptee herself, one of thirteen children who had been relinquished when her biological parents could no longer manage caring for so many young ones. There was a lot the viewer didn’t get to see: we don’t know how the women’s families felt about their pregnancies, and we don’t know what counseling they received at Bethany prior to when they appeared on the show, which was in their third trimesters. The biological father of Mary’s child did not appear onscreen. Claudia’s adoptive mother joins her in one scene, but does not speak on camera. My point is, we have no idea how these very young women were influenced by the important people in their lives or by the staff at Bethany. When I think back to how I made decisions in my late teens and early twenties, I know I was just as immature as these two women. I remember how easily I was influenced by my parents, my friends, my teachers, how easily I was influenced by what was expected of me. In the end, when Mary tells her Bethany counselor she has decided to keep her baby, she cries as she talks about how ashamed she felt because of her unplanned pregnancy. Shame was a factor in her considering adoption for her child. How many young women unnecessarily lose their children to adoption every day because they’re shamed?

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9 thoughts on “Too Much Oxygen

      1. K – a lot of folks don’t realize how important it is to look at the entire thing, not just the socially acceptable beliefs. We need to hold their hands…. and then travel our own paths. You are more than welcome.

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  1. this is an adult real natural mom who advocates adoption abolishment. I do feel that some of the homeless and imprisoned are not repressented in the studies. here is a great article about the extreme effects of adoption. the minor effects, such as extended therapy and such are not noted here. as i said all adoption involves traums
    http://www.originsnsw.com/mentalhealth/id2.html

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  2. I’m going to provide a very cynical view of what factors may be going on that the cameras aren’t capturing. I’m going to venture a guess that the only counseling readily available to these women are counselors who have a vested interest in helping separate mother and child for the benefit of some couple willing and able to shell out a pretty chunk of change for their trouble. And the families could well be more than happy to allow their daughters to get swept into the adoption riptide is…I don’t know…laziness? They’re going to get saddled with a kid too, when perhaps they are already disappointed with the way their own kid’s lives have panned out? I really don’t know. I’m struggling with what was going on in my own family that they, like everyone else around me, just sat there and let me go on with the madness – AS IF IT WAS NORMAL! AND A GOOD THING!???!?

    I’m 21 years into relinquishment, and I’m really just now coming out of the fog and facing the utter violation of it all. I watched a similar show on TLC that only aired a few times called “Birth Moms.” When the show was over, I thought of what the women were saying, how they were coping with the loss and said to them (as if they could hear me through the TV screen, ‘It ain’t over, honey. It’ll never be over.’

    I was actually still maturity delayed enough and naive enough at 27 years of age to think that all these pretty little good karma butterflies were going to be flying around and fluttering all these good things my way for doing this good deed of “making a family.” Instead, I went straight to nervous breakdown hell and everything about my life went to s**t. I was so destroyed by it I was even homeless for a while (which I don’t tell very many people for obvious reasons). I see it now, though, as the symptomatic response to the insanity that whisking a woman’s child away from her after giving birth. The way my life played out in the aftermath is the only honest truth about what an unconscionable thing it is to allow a woman to even THINK that relinquishing her child for adoption is a good, and normal, and reasonable, and rational thing to do. It’s a sick world. If it’s not one thing showing the sickness, it’s another. If it’s not the crusades, the dark ages, and the witch hunts, it’s the killing off of the indigenous Americans and the stealing of their land and resources. If it’s not kidnapping Africans and selling them off like cattle and enslaving them, it’s American segregation of the displaced Africans and years of discrimination to follow when we are FINALLY forced to stop sh****ng on one particular segment of our humanity! We haven’t, as a society, had our Rosa Parks refuse to stand up on the bus when a back seat is not available in the adoption human rights travesty – yet. And so, the sick world gets to continue on being sick on the backs of its mothers no one gave a rip about except for the commodity they could provide: their children, and on the backs of a few fathers who actually give enough of a rip to take notice and stand up for their right to know their children rather than give them to strangers.

    Pardon me if I’m a little angry, but, yeah…I’m actually more than a little angry.

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    1. I think you have every right to be angry. I feel very angry, too, because I did not need to be taken away from my biological family to be raised by strangers. How different would my life have been if my mother had been supported through her pregnancy and helped to keep me rather than shamed and abused into relinquishing? And while things have improved somewhat, unfortunately these tactics are still being used today to convince young women that their babies would be better off with someone else. It needs to stop.

      I am very sorry for all you went through as a result of relinquishing your child. My heart goes out to you, and I hope that you will one day find peace. I am glad you’ve taken the time to lend your voice to this discussion. Thank you!

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  3. I’m sorry for what you’ve had to go through too. Since I started allowing my eyes to be opened, I have thought of my son, as a little boy, alone at night in his room after being tucked in, there in the dark with his head on his pillow, wondering about this other “mommy” out there. I’ve thought about him having to trying to process that and grapple with making sense of it (when there is no making sense of it), and perhaps even wondering what he did wrong to make me give him up (I now realize that children tend to internalize things their parents do this way, by wondering what’s wrong with them, but I surely didn’t realize it when I was carrying him). It breaks me. Every time I think of it. And I cannot help but think of it. And I really must think of it.

    I thought that as long as he had a mommy and a daddy who loved him and that he was safe and supported as a human being that he would be okay. And I’m sure he is, and was, okay – except for perhaps when and where he’s not with being adopted. I mean, people are adopted perhaps every day. I may never get to hear or see or know about any of that as far getting to hear about any of that directly from him, as badly as I want to, as badly as I want to tell him how very sorry I am for anything and everything my ignorance put him through.

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    1. I don’t know what you’re relationship is to your son now, or if you have one, but I do hope that in time you will be able to talk with him about these things. I think you should not be so hard on yourself. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to be an adoptee, but many of us, adopted or not, face monumental difficulties in our lives that are able to overcome. The fact that you are so aware and so willing to be there for him when he needs you puts him at an advantage that many adoptees aren’t lucky enough to be in. It’s obvious to me how much you love him, and I believe it will be obvious to him as well.

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      1. I have contacted him a few times, but he has not yet responded. I’m sure that has something to do with why I have been so hard on myself. Thanks for the reminder to go easy. And thanks for your very kind words.

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