Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Birth Mother’s View of “Find My Family”: The Best Thing to Happen to Adoption

Guest Post by Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy for Adopt-a-tude

This is Adopt-a-tude's second post in a series about the ABC reality show Find My Family, which first aired in the United States this past November. Each episode involves the reunion of an adoptee with his or her birth parents. Click here to watch recent episodes.

Find My Family pushes different buttons for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive families. These differences emerged in the comments to adoptive parent Lisa's post this past Monday. We'd like to invite the adoption community to keep talking about this together. 

Claudia began posting about Find My Family on her own blog when the show first aired and agreed to do another take for us. A post by an adult adoptee will follow later this week.

After watching the pilot episode of ABC's new reality show Find My Family, as a birth mother, I was truly surprised by my reactions. I had expected to find aspects of the show to be scripted and hokey. I’d expected to feel a sense of "happily ever after" that doesn't always correlate with adoption reunions. I’d expected to be annoyed that ABC glossed over the fight for adoption records and adoptee civil rights.

What I didn’t expect is that the network would pull off the show as well as it has.

I really do think that Find My Family is the best thing to happen to adoption since...well, I don't know since what! Even Madonna being called a "baby stealer" in the tabloids pales in comparison.

After Episode #2 of Find My Family
Now I’m even more convinced that the show provides the public with a much-needed public education in terms of the reality of being adopted and the truth of how adoption can affect lives.

When I watched the pilot episode, I tweeted and crowd-sourced the reactions. Of course, ABC knew it had a built-in audience based on its Extreme Home Makeover series; people eat up those feel-good sob stories. All they really needed was a Ty Pennington-type dude who came with an adoptee pedigree. Tim Green was bred for the job.

On Twitter, it was obvious that ABC had hit gold. I could almost see the tears pour out as America's collective heartstrings were not merely pulled but yanked. I had expected I would not be able to escape tears. After all, as a birth mother, I don't have to imagine feeling the emotions portrayed in the 23 noncommercial minutes per adoption tale; I’ve lived it since I was 19.

But to realize that others could feel the pain and joy, and see how it was often bittersweet, hokey or not…it won me over.

ABC's Neatly Wrapped Emotional Bomb
The adoption community was all abuzz about Find My Family, but our reactions are expected. Even with many adoptive parents feeling put out by the name of the show and the implication that ABC was devaluing their role—and real concerns that it doesn’t accurately show the difficulties in adoption reunions, that it has an almost rushed feel that goes with a lack of preparation, and other cries of emotional exploitation by ABC to make a buck—there’s a truth to Find My Family that cannot be dismissed.

The people who do go forth and let the cameras into one of the most emotional and intimate times of their lives are real. What they feel and how deeply they feel it cannot be faked, and it shows.

What I hear the "contestants" on Find My Family express are the same sentences I have heard word for word many, many times in the last ten years as I’ve deeply involved myself in learning from the lives of other adoptees, birth parents, and even adoptive parents.

What's more, I know it's real. I have experienced it myself throughout the adoption separation from my infant son and the search and subsequent reunion with him and my family. These quotes from the show ring true to me:
  • "That is where I always belonged"
  • "I have thought about you every day for my whole life"
  • "I don't want to find her, I need to find her"
  • "It's my legacy"
  • "I don't know who I am"
  • "I just want to know"
Oh, I still feel strongly that ABC has an obligation to educate people about the fight for adoptee rights currently happening in this country. I was happy to hear it at least alluded to in Episode 2 when Ashley says "the laws are against me." Maybe with time, the producers will speak the truth about how it is only archaic and unjust legislation sitting on the books that keeps our 6 million adult adoptees from having the choice to find their families.

But even if that does not ever happen, Find My Family is still a very great thing for adoption and adoptee rights.

Show Normalizes the Desire to Search
For too long, the mantra about adoption has been that "so many babies are unwanted and need homes" with a "so many people who deserve to be parents can't" sprinkled in for good measure.

The end result is that we have a society wearing blinders. Many people assume that no matter how you slice it, adoption is a good thing; anyone who feels otherwise is easily dismissed as angry or is accused of having had a "bad experience.” Few who make such assumptions have had true experience with adoption besides what’s trickled down to them through media stories.

Or they’ve had no real, truthful, open dialogue with adult adoptees or birth mothers. I cannot count how many times I have heard, "Well, my cousin's sister's uncle was adopted to a wonderful family, and he has no desire to search, ever."

I know. I get that not every adoptee suffers a primal wound and not everyone has that burning need to search all their lives. But can you guarantee that you all really know what lurks in the deepest recesses of every adopted person's and their birth families' hearts?

Not everyone spills out his or her most private thoughts over eggnog at a tree-lighting celebration. I have told some pretty bland versions of my adoption experience when I haven't felt like exposing myself so emotionally to even the dearest of friends and family.

Find My Family Finds a Truth
But now, with this pithy, scripted, should-be-sponsored-by-Kleenex show, Find My Family is letting America not only see inside what it is like to have adoption loss and separation but also the pure joy in a journey to repair those rifts.

By showing the same happily-ever-after formula weekly to Americans and by making them cry vicariously on their couches, ABC is building sympathy for the struggles of adoptees and their biological families. Find My Family is proving a means for more communication, openness, and understanding.

Adoption is such an isolating experience. All too frequently, we go on a personal journey, often not of our own choosing, but we feel that no one else has lived it. Because there are so many different variables—personal situations, emotional make-up, the overall outcome of the experience, others involved, even where one is on the timeline of life—our feelings differ a lot.

Yet Find My Family validates what so many folks do feel but are afraid to say. It provides positive role models for the whole adoption-reunion experience. We see families accepting whole branches of severed family trees with open arms. We see tears of fear and joy. We see acceptance and understanding. We see that the desire to search is human and the need to know universal.

Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy spends her life online. When she is not running social-media campaigns at her job, she is writing about adoption issues, the need for adoption reform, birth mother's informed consent, adoptee rights, and anything else that could be covered in life as a birth mother. The best places to catch her are on her blog Musings of the Lame or Twitter.


David Biddle said...


This is an awesome post! You've really captured so much that is important, both about FMF and about the whole journey all in the Triad, especially the adopted, must make both personally and intellectually. Everyone who has any connection to the adoption question should read your thoughts here They are timely, intelligent, informed, clearly heartfelt, and, though your post is long, succinct. Thanks so much!

Martha Nichols said...

Yes, and I'd like to underscore how much I like the lines about not everyone spilling their most private thoughts over egg nog or during other family gatherings. It's so interesting that in an age of fake celebrities, avatars, and all sorts of alternative personas, people choose to take at face value the social chit-chat of a public gathering.

What "Uncle Fred" or my "stepmother's hair stylist" said about adoption so often reinforces stereotypes; these kinds of idle comments, whether in real-time or online, shouldn't be taken as proof of anything beyond what's acceptable to say in public.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Right on babe!