' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Is adoption ever funny to the adopted, to first mothers?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Is adoption ever funny to the adopted, to first mothers?

The inglorious New York Times Op-Ed Page today has a story about adoption! You might think that it might at at long last a piece about the continuing battle to open the vaults where the original birth certificates (OBC) of adoptees are still locked up in the vast majority of states--but NO! It's a spoof from someone named James Collins about how the writer is the biological father of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and billionaire behind Facebook, and alas, how said father needs a heart-lung-liver transplant and asks if Mark wouldn't mind sending him a big check to help out.

The piece makes the nod to the adoptive father as the lifelong, long suffering caregiver who provided food and shelter, but points out that he is not the father " in the sense that you [Zuckerberg] are his authentic, natural child." Okay, I admit I smiled at that--at the language, at the choice of non-PC words.

The "letter writer" dealt with the mother by saying she disappeared in a remote area of the upper Amazon, and was the kind of person who lived off the grid: No social security number, no tax returns, no credit cards, not utility bills, "no traceable means whatsoever, ever." The "letter" to Zuckerberg goes on:
Well, we were two scared kids — that is, now there was just one of us, me, and I was 38 years old, in a tough situation — and when I got back to the United States, I very reluctantly put you up for adoption. In this so-called blind adoption, the adoptive parents believe the child is their own. It’s complicated. Maybe we should keep the whole thing between ourselves. Why upset Ed and Karen, who are such terrific people? 
I'm sure the piece has hit all kinds of outrage buttons--and to judge from Facebook, it has--but it comes on the heels of the many pieces that Jobs's adoption that have been in the media. (Our posts about Jobs, incidentally, have been among our most popular because of the number of people searching the web for just such pieces.)

Me? I wasn't upset by the Times Op-Ed--in fact, I did find the piece humorous, in black humor kind of way. Yet of course I can see the objections. The fact that the satire was not written by an adoptee is what galled so many adoptees, to judge from the comments. African-Americans can familiarly use the N-word when talking about to and to each other, but from the mouth of a white person, it has a whole different meaning. If Collins is an adoptee, he ought to have made that known. As a non-adoptee, I did see the piece as absurd and satirical because it overstated everything (lung-heart-liver transplant?), and so could smile. But...

As a mother who relinquished a child, I hated just about everything in Juno, the Oscar-winning movie (for original script!) that made seem like giving up a child was a lark, with a momentary sad moment. I could see why people found it amusing, even though I was crying profusely and blowing my nose throughout the whole friggen two hours. And I can't even discuss it with anyone who isn't part of adoption.What galled me the most. perhaps, was that the script came out of the head of a young woman named Diablo Cody who said that she imagined what it would have been like if she had gotten pregnant in high school and...not had an abortion? Diablo, really? You are clueless.

Other than Juno, Perhaps I'm inured to the constant references to adoption in the media today, and as a plot device on just about any dramatic show: Unforgettable, a new drama on CBS recently had an adoptive father have the biological father murdered rather than share visitation (the natural dad had not signed any papers); NCIS (last week, apparently, this reference is thanks to Mark Plotczyk at Facebook); every fourth of fifth plot of Law and Order, SVU; I stopped watching Grey's Anatomy a zillion years ago when the character played by Katherine Heigl turned out to be a secret first mother and she convinces a young African-American mother to give up her child for the benefit of everyone; to judge from the promos Parenthood seems to have a running adoption story; a couple years ago Brothers and Sisters had a first mother as an African-American doctor who didn't want the updates on her child offered by the adopter, played by Calista Flockhart, a real adopter. The percentage of any black women giving up their babies is miniscule, less than one percent, so how was this related to reality? Really? A black doctor in her thirties gives up her kid? And of course there is the current Glee controversy. We'll get to that tomorrow.

But back to the Times. The newspaper of record, as it is called, has been so very slow to respond to the sealed-birth-records story that it has set it back. This history of ignoring what has consumed us for decades goes back decades, as E.Wayne Carp notes in Family Matters: "Between 1971 and 1975 the New York Times barely noticed the movement, publishing only one article, which appeared not in the news section but in the "Family, food, Fashions and Furnishings" section.

In the Eighties, when Charlotte Curtis ran the Op-Ed Page I was able to publish three pieces there about the drive to unseal original birth records; Charlotte, incidentally, had been the editor of the Family, Food...etc section during that time that Carp covers, and, in full disclosure, I knew Charlotte personally. She had been the editor who hired me during my brief tenure at the Times, and also the one who old me "it wasn't working out..." (I was assigned crazy stuff--for me--to cover and I was at a loss--what did I know about minor, very fringe, visiting royalty?)

But since Charlotte Curtis's reign, it's been nada for adoption reform on the Op-Ed Page, though not for lack of trying--including earlier this year when the push in New Jersey issue was hot on everyone's mind. I wrote two pieces, both rejected; I've written others over the years whenever I thought adoption reform was in the news enough to get space. Do I believe my writing has gone down hill and is no longer Times worthy? No. The late Betty Jean Lifton did manage to get a couple of pieces in the paper about loss and search and reunion, but they were decades ago. Even the last battle in New Jersey (that is a neighboring state to New York) got very little press (or any at all?) in the Times.

The last time I remember the Times ran an Op-Ed piece about sealed records it was from the point of view of an adoptee who doesn't want to search, Ellen Ullman.* That is what the Times Op-Ed wants to cover:  the anti-open-records-adoptee crowd. That, and, of course, the humor of an absentee biological father trying to cadge money off his ridiculously wealthy--and adopted--son.--lorraine
You might also like:  *Further thoughts on Ellen Ullman's life in the dark
and Maine Yes! But this fight ain't over yet;
Birth Mother's Lament: The Pain of Giving Away My Baby


  1. That particular article was amusing, if, as you say, dark. It also says a lot about the perception of parents out there. That we are somehow looking for a free ride off our "wealthier" children.... which I find nauseating.

    We are, since my generation is still coming of age in the fight for adoption reform and open records, losing ground almost as fast as if we had been shoved off a cliff.

    Just out of curiosity, can any of the BSE mothers not see that taking a "younger" mother under their wing and tutoring them, helping them make the big steps now, would, in the long run, keep the movement alive?

    I am just now 50 - and I am the next gen from BSE - Help us become a force as you and your gen were.....

  2. Don't watch Parenthood! I have enjoyed the show immensely, a great show with great actors, modeled after the popular movie with Steve Martin. However, on this season, the incredibly successful sibling, a top attorney at her firm with a stay-at-home husband and an elementary school age child, decides that now she has been told that her baby-making days are over, she'll "buy the latte girl's baby". I almost threw up then threw the tv out the window. (Thank goodness the remote was nearby.)

    The worst part was that the quote was taken from a serious conversation between siblings (on the show). Is this really how low our society has come? We seriously think we can "purchase" a baby at will? Babies are nothing more than a commodity?

    Oh wait...yeah, we are that low.

  3. It's funny you should raise thi sbecause I have been wondering the same thing. Have not read this particular piece but did read two in the New Yorker where the author made fairly serious situations into funny bits. One was about a son who had lost his way and the other was about losing a computer in a taxi.

    So I started thinking could I write a funny piece about adoption - haven't found a way into that yet. Maybe as Allan Alda says in Crimes and Misdemeanours, comedy is tragedy plus time. Not enough time has gone by and sometimes there is too much tragedy.

  4. "Comedy is tragedy plus time"- Carol Burnett

    Actually, humor is one of the ways many adoptees have been able to survive/cope with adoption. Adoption is so absurd, it IS funny.

    BUT- it's one thing for adoptees to make fun of ourselves and the ridiculous situations we have been put into, it's a totally different story when someone else does it. I may have had a different reaction if I knew that Collins was an adoptee. While I still would not think it is funny, it might explain things a little.

    What I find amusing about this & Jobs'passing are the comments that people think Jobs'natural Father only wanted money. It makes me LOL. Like grabbing my sides lol. Welcome to the world of adoptees, Mr.Jandali. Adoptees who find their natural parents are often accused of wanting to be put into the will, or that we want/expect/deserve a hand out.

  5. http://www.adoptedthecomic.com/

    Check out this website, Adopted the Comic. It's written by two Vietnamese adoptees. It's funny! I love this site. Here's what they say:

    "I take adoption very seriously, but I also think that humour and the ability to laugh at ourselves is key to our healing. Laughing at ourselves gives us perspective and the ability to step back and not take ourselves too seriously without minimizing the importance of the topic."

  6. Interesting post!

    I agree with Linda. Oppressed groups being able to use humor is an important part of regaining respect and empowerment. It's when the humor is used by others at the expense of an oppressed group that it isn't funny. I don't like it when people who are not adopted use adoption jokes. I find most adoption joking by the non-adopted to be completely ignorant.

    The NY Times article made me grumpy. I wasn't offended, per say, I just didn't like it. Again, as Linda mentioned, people always assume that we seek our roots or other family members because we want something. How many biologically/non-adopted people are told "oh, you must want something from them" for wanting to say hi to mom or dad? The double-standard is absurd.

  7. Linda in the mink coat: You're right in that adoptees certainly might have had a different reaction if we learned that Collins was an adoptee--and that the little bio at the end stated such. One of the things I hated most about Diablo Cody getting the Oscar for Juno was that she stated she wrote the movie imagining how it would have been if she had gotten pregnant in high school. And not had an abortion? She will always be near the top of my "Most Hated" list. Some people don't deserve forgiveness.

    As for Jandali, I haven't seen comments anywhere assuming that he wanted $$$ from Jobs; in fact Jandali himself stated that besides his "Syrian pride" preventing him from calling Jobs, he didn't want his son to thank he was asking for a handout. But I assume that is what some people might think.

    And yes, you are right, both sides (by outsiders are accused of "wanting $omething..." Sigh, neither side wins in the judgment of public opinion.

    Glad to see ya back, Linda. Adoption is so absurd, it is "funny."

  8. Amanda and all:

    How would a piece of humor written about the racial discrimination (Oh, I know, we in a post-racial society) by a white guy about a black situation go over? I doubt it would have made the cut at the Times.

  9. From Facebook when IO asked for other references of adoption in the media today:

    Just a few of many. A friend's status this morning asked elope to pray for children not to be put back with their abusive parents, but to open the hearts of adults to foster/adopt these children; the NCIS episode; an episode of Hawaii Five-O a couple weeks ago; an opinion piece about ADHD by a person with ADHD that read this morning addressing the 'negatives' of the disorder that people take as stereotype (that people with ADHD can be promiscuous and therefore have more children that may end up adopted and what does that do for adoption); another opinion piece on Steve Jobs' separation from his mother at a critical time in his life 'may' have led to his illness (total conjecture, but I liked the terminology used by the author). More than few, but that's all I can remember off the top of my head.

  10. Here's a new Made-for-TV movie coming up on Monday, October 24th on LifeTime Channel at 9pm ET called Possessing Piper Rose
    A short blurb:

    A couple desperate to adopt a child finally get the little girl of their dreams in Piper Rose. But Piper's birth mother wants her baby back and has returned to claim her--from beyond the grave! That's right. This deeply emotional adoption drama is also an intensely scary yet touching ghost story with two moms-one living, the other dead-battling over custody of one daughter. With eerie moving dolls and other nightmarish moments, sudden shocks, and a commanding, heartfelt performance from Rebecca Romijn, this extreme fright-fest slowly builds up the spine-chilling tension until it explodes into a pulse-pounding no-holds-barred thrill ride.

    Hmmmm... might watch....

  11. Thanks for posting my FB comment, Lorraine. I'm at the point that I'll turn off a show with 'adoption' themes. When that Hawaii Five-0 episode came on I had to watch to the end to see if there was any redemption at all the for the natural mother. The plot centered on the disappearance of a teenage girl, whom we find out was adopted as an infant. Thank goodness it didn't end with the 'birth'mother attempting to harm her child, but that was the set-up. It seems that nine times out of ten the natural mother is shown in such a bad light. It's insulting and triggering.




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