Tuesday, November 24, 2009

High Marks for Find My Family


Find My Family on ABC hit it out of the ball park last night with their half-hour reunion show. Yep, it milked the strong emotions that surround the reunion of first/original/birth/genetic/biological parents with their offspring. Yep, I got glassy eyed, and so did the co-host, Tim Green, who met with the birth parents, Sandy and Scott Steinpas, and told them their daughter had been found. "I've waited so long for this," says the mother, Sandy. "I was sure I would always look for my daughter." She was sixteen at the time she gave birth and relinquished; her boyfriend and the father, Scott, was sixteen also. The year was 1979. They married two years later and had two more daughters and a son. 

Sandy says she had been looking for her first child for nine years, only to hit a dead end. Yet our intrepid friend and search angel in Wisconsin, Mary Weilding,* found the daughter, Jenny Jones, now a 29-year-old single mother, living in the same town, Brookfield, Wisconsin, a mere eight miles away. Okay, I've seen a lot of reunion shows in my day, and the coming together, the feelings unleashed, never fail to raise a tear.

The reunion takes place--as it appears all will in Find My Family--under a huge tree on a hill. Symbolism, anyone? Family tree, roots, all that. As the parents walk towards their daughter, Tim Green, a reunited adoptee himself, says: "Every adopted person's dream is to be found."

And that's when I said: Hooray! Maybe this will be heard by legislators who are against giving adopted people their original birth records; maybe this will be heard by people who think it's wrong for a birth mother to find her child; maybe this will be heard by people who think it is unloyal somehow for a person to search out his or her roots, parents, family, when it is a most natural desire of consciousness.

Those who say they are not interested or do not wish to search for their biological parents, I think, are subverting their natural instincts, that is, to know who they are, who they were before they were adopted, who they were when they were born. And those adopted people who say, She gave me away, why should I be interested? They are only covering up a huge hurt in their heart they are afraid to acknowledge because to do so is too painful--and what if the birth mother (or father) indeed is not interested? Fear can keep you from finding the truth. I was afraid, oh so afraid, when I searched for my daughter. What if she did not want to meet me? Happily, she did and we had a relationship (that had its low points, to be sure) for more than a quarter of a century until she died in 2007.

The show continues with the entire family sitting under the tree as the first/birth/etc. parents read letters they have written to their daughter. More tears. Hugs. Later the two sets of parents--birth and adoptive--meet back in Wisconsin, and Sandy thanks the adoptive mother for taking such good care of their daughter. I know that some found this simple act irritating, but I did not. Birth mother Sandy thanks the adoptive introduced as "Mom"--from a position of strength: it is a vivid acknowledgment of all concerned that Sandy is the mother (no qualifier necessary) who gave birth to this person standing before them. And the gesture recognizes that the other mother is the Mom who raised her. When I "thanked" my daughter's adoptive parents, at least the mother brushed it aside and was visibly annoyed: What gave me the right to thank them? It was much too presumptive of me to "thank" them. Thanking them presumed that Jane was "my" daughter, that I had a "right" to thank them.

Although some people in adoption do not like these kinds of shows, I say, Bring 'em on! Every show about adoptee/birth mother/father reunions is worth doing because it illuminates the cruel and unusual punishment of adoption as practiced in most states of the union today--42 to be exact. Forty-two states still strip a person of his or her identity when he or she is adopted, and never give it back.

We at First Mother Forum rail against sealed records--for both the adopted person and the birth/first mother--but we know the general public most often thinks that the records have long been open. Every time I strike up a conversation with a stranger on a plane or train and tell them where I am going and what I am doing when it's adoption related, they are amazed that all adopted people can not get their original birth records merely for the asking. Yes, it is a miscarriage of justice at the deepest level, and the legislators who sit on their votes and do nothing are guilty of perpetuating this great and sorrowful injustice.

So I will be a huge fan of Find My Family when ABC gives it a regular time slot. Last night's program was a preview; there are five more shows ready to be aired. Yes, it appears to be a ripoff of The Locator on WEtv, but this will get a greater viewership and perhaps change more opinions about the need to reconnect with one's natural/birth parents. A quick look at the discussion boards on the ABC site shows that many people are posting about wanting to be found, as well as a lot of people kvetching mightily about the show--and the great damage it will do to adoption as we know it. In fact, Find My Family generated a lot of upset kvetching from adoptive parents over at Rainbow Kids blog, ** even before it ran, and you can be sure they will be asking ABC to not run the rest of the episodes.

We know that in the glow of reunion all is swell, and that anger, hurt and outright rejection can emerge in the aftermath. It's happened so many times it certainly is a statistical probability; but still, the questions have been answered, the gnawing doubts put to rest. Even when my daughter took a time-out and decided not to speak to me for months at a time, I was still better knowing what had happened, who she was, where she was. And then she would call and we would pick up like we had never been estranged.

Let's hope that Find My Family builds a big audience and furthers the fight to make adopted people full and complete citizens with rights just like the rest of us. If adoptive parents really cared for the well-being of their children, they would be with us, fighting for open records. Alas, their numbers are few.

If you missed last night's episode of Find My Family, here is a link to the whole episode.
__________________
 * Contact Mary at isearch@jvlnet.com
** For more on the RainbowKids and fear of Find My Family, see Osolomama.

It's a different story over at The Huffington Post,  Read Peggy Drexler's rahrah adoption column and gag. An adoption agency worker is hardly the person to quote on the health and well-being of adopted people, but that's who Drexler, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell Medical School quotes. She ought to know better, Cornell no less. But that's a topic for tomorrow.

Have a good night y'all. Turkey day two days away. I'll be baking pies, with crust from scratch.--lorraine

16 comments :

  1. Lo, your Rainbow Kids blog link is taking people elsewhere, but yes, they can still find it at my blog.

    It wasn't aired here (in Canada), I believe, but I will check out your show link. A Psychology Today columnist had a decent article too. All it kvetched about was that these are weighty issues/feelings and the good doctor thought the show might gloss over them.

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  2. I liked the show for the reasons Lorraine stated but for other reasons as well. "Find My Family" made clear that adoption is pain for birthfamilies and that it does not subside with time.

    While the Steinpas' made the usual perfunctory statements about DECIDING upon adoption because they were too young and so on, they made clear -- or at least Scott did and Sandy seemed to concur -- that they regretted their DECISION.

    In fact, of course, they didn't make a decision; they simply followed the default path apparently because no one offered to help them.

    I hope that this shows encourages young women considering adoption to try a little harder to find ways to keep their babies.

    And perhaps "Find My Family" will help adoptive parents understand that adoption does not obliterate the birthparents.

    Finally, it was heartening that both sets of parents met early on and made a commitment to get along. There was no "who's the real mother bickering." They shared a cake decorated with the simple words "God Bless Our Families."

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  3. Okay, so I have to admit, I was one who didn't even pay attention or realize the hoopla about this show until I read O Solo Mama's blog.

    It wasn't until then, and a mere 10 minutes before it was to air, that I decided to watch this show and see what it was about exactly.

    And like others, for the most part, I liked the show. I did, admittedly, cry like a blubbering baby through it but in relation to this show, it was a good thing because I cried with an understanding, a relation to the emotions that the show portrayed that struck so close to my own memories of reuniting with my son.

    Overall, I do agree with you. I like this show and I like that it portrays the side of adoption so many don't show or want to believe exists.

    I hope in this there will be more understanding of just how deeply the loss of emotion can exist for those who are separated. I hope that there is more realization and support for open records for adoptees and more of a backlash against those who still believe they should be denied these rights.

    But I also see where there is going to be those who argue and fight against this. First will be those adoptive parents who see this as a threat and fear the side of adoption is shows. And second is, like Claud pointed out in her blog, Musings of the Lame, that it will be something that will be used to push more pregnant moms into adoption with the belief that, this doesn't happen in the world of open adoptions without making very clear that, in law, in truth, the only thing that truly still exists in today's adoption world is closed adoption.

    I am with you about the goodness of this show but I do hope that further episodes might give more insight to mom's who were given no choice or left with no choice but to give up their children and to the struggles adoptees face every day of their lives by being denied their basic human rights.

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  4. "Finally, it was heartening that both sets of parents met early on and made a commitment to get along. There was no "who's the real mother bickering." They shared a cake decorated with the simple words "God Bless Our Families."

    Jane, and Rainbow commentators keep insisting how insulting this is to the a-family. Sheesh. One should be so lucky.

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  5. I am so with you in agreement here! I am so thankful that for once there is somehting adoption related on TV that actually opens the door to the truth.
    I would love for ABC to take this one step further and actual bring up open records legislation.

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  6. Didn't see the show, and would never recommend anyone go on one of those shows, but it does sound like it makes reunions seem common and normal which is a good thing.

    I do not think there is anything wrong with adoptees not searching nor do I think it is a "natural instinct." It is their choice, and some people are just generally more curious and adventurous than others. Nothing wrong with either searching or not searching, but I would hope those found would at least be polite and kind to the parents who found them.

    As far as the cinematic properties of reunion, the hill and tree and all that, mine was a winner had anyone been there to film it. I met my son and his wife at a restaurant, and it had been raining all day. As I was driving there, before sunset, it slowly cleared, the sky turned golden and raindrops sparkled on all the trees. For a grand finale, as I drove up to the restaurant and saw them waiting outside, a glorious rainbow appeared in the sky! It made me laugh, it was so over the top and Disney, I expected little cartoon birds and forest animals to be dancing and singing too:-)

    I asked my son and his wife if they saw the rainbow, they had, and I said it was a good omen. I could never make up a scene like that if I tried.

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  7. In truth, I don't know exactly how I feel about the show. I have always disliked "miracle" fixes for anything. They seem to tend to backfire. And yes, I know that a lot of times - my reunion included - there is that surge of emotion that includes anger, rage, fear, and that desparate feeling of realing out of control. But with these shows, while I think that this one is better than most, since it is done by adopted persons, I still fear that the reunions will blow up and the anger that happens will make the show a pariah. Undoing, as it has before, the good that this particular show can do.

    I did not like the "adoption" language, but that is personal. I think some people seem to be fine with being called "birth" mother.

    Ambivalence....yes, simple ambivalence.

    Oh - since I am a WI resident this makes it very interesting. At least for this episode - now if they actually make it to AZ -- that would be totally interesting to me.

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  8. Lorraine already knows I'm not thrilled with this show, just as I wasn't thrilled with the creepy Who's Your Daddy. I noted the lack of stylists for the biological parents, it seemed as though the producers were purposely portraying them as "less than."

    Hearing the sentiments of both adoptee and birthparents brought tears, we've all heard those words, even uttered them ourselves, thousands of times. I also liked the cosmic connections/eerie coincidences that are so common in reunions--the fact that the adoptee lived just eight miles from her biological family, the strong family resemblances.

    The worst part for me was when the biological mother thanked the adoptive mother...um, no, no, and no. If anything, the adoptive mother should have been thanking the biological mother for her great "gift."

    The whole idea of meeting under a family tree was ridiculous--my daughter met me at the airport gate (pre 9/11) in Raleigh, NC. We hugged, we stared at each other, no tears, we had known one another three months, and I really never had a tear-jerker moment until she pulled away from me the first time.

    Search and reunion is difficult enough without having a camera crew recording the journey. Now, if there are follow-up stories to reveal the roller coaster that reunion has been for most of us, then I'd be interested.

    If the show leads to more awareness about open records legistation, then I'll eat a piece of humble pie, but honestly, how many minds do you think a reality TV show designed for maximum ratings is going to influence legislators and a relatively naive public?

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  9. Thanks everyone. Interesting.
    Unfortunately, because of not being in the US, all I was able to see was the trailer, so will have to reserve judgment until I can check the full monty out for myself.

    However, I was kind of fascinated that the trailer included an ad for the sleep medication AmbienCR, which of course included the inevitable list of "possible side effects".
    Sweet dreams, nightmare consequences.
    Kool-Aid, anyone?

    Little Snowdrop

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  10. Wow, Linda, I totally disagree with much of what you say. Didn't want the Steinpas family to have stylists--they would have looked fake; and I will go to my grave saying that anything that puts adoption reunion in the public eye, no matter how sentimental, does move public opinion--which eventually gets to the legislators. Civil rights, adoption rights--all need to be aired, all the injustice brought to light again and again until public opinion changes.

    As someone of course who brought the pain of being a birth mother into the public spotlight with writing Birthmark back in the Seventies (when birth mothers were still appearing on television behind a veil), I don't quite understand your irritation with this program. Yes, I know sound self-serving here but we know each other, after all, because of Birthmark....

    Thanks Osolomama for the heads up; the link at the blog has been fixed. And anybody reading this who wants to contact the show, please go to the discussion link at the blog: lots of adoptive parents weighing in complaining they were not given their due, the focus should change, etc.

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  13. It might open the door but they still were pc and used the words, correctly so not to upset those who adopt.

    guess I will call my son birth son.
    he is my son oh, hell I will call all my kids birth sons and daughters that way I will be pc and they won't feel slighted...by me.

    Wish they could actually tell the truth about adoption and its underbelly and money...side. Oh, and the side where they took babie because they could without any ifs ans or buts. But no one would believe that crap happened her in U.S.Churches selling babies to highest bidders...ahhh the good old Catholic Charities, Mormons, and Salvation Army. Onward Christian Soldiers...marchin off to war,,I used to attend that church and that must have been there theme song,,,,off to war...with the cross of Jesus...

    so loving, and kind and gentle the words of that song.

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  14. Yuk just saw on youtube that Lisa Joiner from the show adopted a baby. Grossed out by that. Yuk.

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  15. My name is Elizabeth. I'm in my 30's and was adopted at birth by two wonderful people.

    Growing up I had a fantasy that my biological parents were teenagers in love who were forced to give me up.

    I found them while I was in college and that fantasy turned out to be true. And though they are very nice, caring people, I'm even more grateful to have been adopted to my parents. Thank God I hit the jackpot to have had the most wonderful mom & dad growing up that I did. It's really true that I was the child they were meant to have - and they were the parents I was meant to have. There must be a God for me to have been that lucky.

    Good luck to all of you finding your birth children.

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  16. I believe the TV program showed an obscure facet of adoption reconciliation. I have facilitated thousands of "reunions" and all are shrouded in anger, shock, culture shock, & sugar-coating. It may take years for birth relatives to develop the love & concern for each other that was weepingly portrayed. If we always knew who we were, we would not be bitter about being removed from our families. Give us our true identities.
    pelto.ann@live.com

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