' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: 16 and Pregnant, I'm Having Their Baby: Does TV influence reality?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

16 and Pregnant, I'm Having Their Baby: Does TV influence reality?

From I'm Having Their Baby
I have been trying to think of what to say about the news that came out yesterday about how the MTV show, 16 and Pregnant, has led to a decline in teenage pregnancy in areas where teenagers were watching more MTV programming--not only 16 and Pregnant--than in areas where they did not.

The cautionary tale of diapers and derailed dreams that 16 and Pregnant features appears to have turned teen girls watching off from having a baby. The teenage birth rate in areas where
viewership is high--based on Nielsen ratings--has dropped by six percent, contributing to a decline that accelerated during the recession. The study focuses on the immediate period after 16 and Pregnant began running in 2009, and accounts for the fact that the teenagers who tuned in were at higher risk for teen pregnancy to begin with. In all, researchers Melissa S. Kearney, director of a research group in Washington (Hamilton Project) and Phillip B Levine of Wellesley College, attribute up to 20,000 fewer births to teen mothers in 2010.
Lorraine and daughter, reunited, 1983

The finding carries the stamp of the National Bureau of Economic Research, which released the data on
Monday. Other researchers who have reviewed the study concur that while the conclusion is striking, it appears to be sound. However, what the data does not reveal is whether the show resulted in more "safe sex," that is, a greater use of contraception, or less sexual activity overall.

But thinking at all about 16 and Pregnant--which admittedly I have only seen snippets of--led me to Oxygen's I'm Having Their Baby, a logical extension of 16 and Pregnant, and which scares the bejeesus out of me. I have only seen a few episodes--and sometimes the women do decide to keep their babies--but if they glorify the act of having a baby for someone else to raise, and if that in turn leads to more women doing so because it looks like a good thing, then god help us. God help a new generation of children who grow up with the emotional issues of being given up. I realize I sound like a Cassandra here, but having lived through what giving up a baby did to me, and heard the stories of so many others, I can't help it.

This afternoon I watched a few shorts from I'm Having Their Baby, available at Oxygen on line. Even the title freaks me out. Prospective adoptive parents share the moment of the first sonogram, hear the heartbeat. One woman, apparently in her mid thirties with her boyfriend at least in in his thirties, talks about how she knows she will feel grief leaving the hospital with empty arms because she has done it before, but now she will grieve with her whole family. The boyfriend of a teen having twins jokes with the prospective parents about coming over and seeing all the pictures of his kids all over the wall. He's already beaming with pride. A young woman tries to talk her pregnant 41-year-old mother from giving up her baby--a sibling, in other words--but her mother is very matter of fact--she can't even take care of herself, how could she take care of a baby? One teenager at an amusement park says how relieved she is just be a teenager and have fun. Without her baby, obviously.


I remembered being a newspaper reporter again within months of having my baby and giving her up, and really, what I remember is how bereft I was, struggling with feelings of despair and grief and loathing. Are these young women different? Is it that different if you can have an open adoption? I don't know; maybe it is. Maybe it is great deal easier. But then one of the women in the clips mentions that even though hers is supposed to be an open adoption--she can't be positive that the adoptive parents won't change their minds--because, she says, she knows others have done that. Yet she has already signed papers promising to relinquish her child. The father looks on, saying nothing. What a clutz! She keeps talking about the grief she knows she will feel.

What the show does not do is show the women ten years later, nor how the children will fare, or what the emotional kickback will be of having been given up. We get pummeled by those who call "primal wound" rubbish, but we at FMF do not discount it. We have seen and heard too much from too many adoptees to kick it aside. I lived through the effect of having a daughter who had a good adoptive family and loving parents, but still exhibited behavior that appeared linked to her sense that I had abandoned her. What does seem obvious from the clips I've seen of I'm Having Their Baby is that the mothers and fathers to be who are on the show fully expect to be a quite involved in the lives of their children, or at least as much as they want to be. Yes, that is a huge difference from our day. Jane and I both had no choice and entered into closed adoptions.

We don't know if I'm Having Their Baby will result in more girls who think giving up their child is merely a speed bump that  leads to brief and transitory grief (the message of Juno), and thus be more likely to do so. That's what I fear. I fear that the message of "the better life" yadda  yadda yadda that the young mothers-to-be talk about is the main take-away that will reach into the heart and minds of women faced with pregnancies they feel unequipped for. The social services they need to feel they can keep their babies are not in place, and nor are they likely to be in the near future. Does art imitate life or life imitate art? It would appear that life is learning from TV, which may be nearly the same thing. Art, no. Reality, yes. It's scary.--lorraine

'I'm Having Their Baby' turns into 'I'm keeping MY baby'

Does one adoption spawn another? Too often for comfort.

Today's new mantra: My Baby, Not my Child

The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child 
"The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child", by Nancy Verrier, is a challenging and courageous work. A book which adoptees call their "bible," it is a must read for anyone connected with adoption: adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, therapists, educators, and attorneys. In its application of information about perinatal psychology, attachment, bonding, and loss, --Amazon



  1. I enjoyed season 2 of "I'm Having Their Baby" much more than season one. First and foremost because season 2 had about a 50/50 rate of women keeping their babies which was so refreshing. (I think season 1 had 2 out of 10 women who didn't relinquish.)

    Of course it's still heartbreaking and frustrating to watch the women that do relinquish. But as hard as the show can be to watch, it captures so many different agencies/adoption situations and is just such a true snapshot of how adoption works today. As an adoption reform supporter I like to think of the show as a way to "know the enemy" so to speak. It fascinates me to see the contrast in agencies as well. For example, they feature an agency that only shared profiles of adoptive couples from many states away. Then on another episode they show an agency who refuses to even let the expectant mother look at adoption profiles until the expectant father consents to the adoption.

    Most of all, as sad as it may be to think that this show might encourage women to relinquish their children, I think this show can also do just the opposite. The women on this show who kept their children have set a fabulous example that says "no matter how much an adoptive couple and adoption agency may do for you, your baby is YOURS, and you CAN do it!". Season 2 shows so much of this and I am so thankful for the example it sets to pregnant women who might feel like they have no choice but to relinquish.

  2. I do not think that open adoption is any easier than closed--although I cannot say for sure, not having experienced closed. I would describe the open adoption that I have experienced as being a special kind of hell; one where someone else, not a part of you or your family, has total authority over your child--and therefor you, blaming you for any slightest insecurity they may have, and banishing you if you do not tow their line. I would liken it to tyranny.

    It's easy for them (adopters)to promise that you can be completely involved and included in your child's life, because they are not held to anything they promised once the papers are signed in most cases. I was told my family and I could be completely involved in my daughters life. They really never intended for this. We were promised a lot of things. They just told us what they felt we needed to hear in order for us to relinquish. I think it's difficult for people to believe that people could look you in the eye and lie in order to take your child--but they do. I do not know how they can live with themselves, but as far as I can tell, I don't believe it bothers them in the slightest. I know I will never be the same though.

  3. Lorraine, is it a feasible project to create a program in which pregnant young women are given the opportunity to hear from older first mothers? Perhaps a panel of all triad members. Panels in which I have been involved, have been geared toward pre-adoptive couples, and with the goal of educating them about the painful dynamics of raising another's child as your own. However, I am not aware of educating mothers this way. Of course, the panels are usually organized by an agency which cleverly disguises their desire for revenue as "adoption education". Maybe there's someone in our midst creative enough to design such program. On the other hand, I'm just not sure about the public nature of reality shows. I am a reunited first mother, a member of your Facebook forum.

  4. It would be great to have programs for pregnant young women to hear from older first mothers. The problem is publicizing the programs would take money. First mother organizations operate on a shoe string and have no paid staff to do this kind of work. Origins-USA and Concerned United Birthparents as well as FMF and other first mother blogs do have materials on their websites for young women considering adoption.

    We encourage First Mothers to do whatever they can to get out information about the painful realities of losing your child to adoption--guest appearance on radio programs, letters to the editor, speaking to civic and teen groups.

    Because more first mothers are not speaking up is part of the problem--legislators don't hear from enough of us, women and teens considering adoption don't hear the message either. Today more babies are being given up by couples--sometimes married, sometimes not--and that just seems like such a horrible fate for both natural family and child. Anything that can be done to prevent such a disruption should be. This happens because adoption has begun to seem like a solution for couples who can't have children and the "gift" of a child a "generous" good thing. The aftermath of this for the family and the child is being swept under the consciousness. --JANE AND LORRAINE

  5. Anonymous on January 14 said that open adoptions are not any easier than closed, and I think the same. I'm an adoptive mom in an open adoption, and so this is just my viewpoint, but it seems very hard for our daughter's other parents, her mom especially, to see her. We wanted an open adoption and were really flexible on the visits; her parents asked for one a month, and we were ok with that. I think that only happened for maybe three months before it slowly tapered off to the point where it has been since August that we saw them last. (That is entirely their choice, to be clear- I end my weekly emails with some version of "hope to see you soon; we are available weekends x, y, and z." We were and are ok with once a month visits.)

    I *think* without being able to really know that this is mostly because of how emotionally difficult it is for my daughter's mom. It must be incredibly hard to see your child grow up in another family. Open adoption, to me, seems like a double-edged sword for a first mom. She is able to see her child and not wonder without knowing anything, but sometimes the knowing is just a different kind of hard from the not knowing. I know my daughter's mom cries after every visit. I do, too. It's both beautiful and achingly sad seeing her with our daughter; they look so complete together, and they mirror one another beautifully. It makes me sad to know that our daughter, at this point, doesn't realize who she is (too young to understand), and I can only begin to imagine the depth of pain that must cause her mother... it would consume me, if I were in her place. Open adoption doesn't remove or fix or heal that pain, I don't think; it just changes it from the pain of suffering and not knowing to suffering and knowing.

    I'm fully in support of making open adoption agreements legal and enforceable in all states. Even in my state where contact post-adoption agreements are filed with the adoption paperwork, it is a challenge for a first mom to fight and win if the adoptive family doesn't abide by the agreement.

    On a personal note, I believe that my daughter deserves to know her parents, and I'm grateful that they are willing to go through what must be a great deal of personal grief to see her. It means a lot to me, not for my personal benefit, but for our daughter. I hope that now that she's getting older, they will be willing to spend one-on-one time with her and really establish a relationship.

    We invited my daughter's other parents to her birthday outing in a couple weeks. I'm crossing fingers that they come, but I'm not holding my breath. Last year, the birthday month was a very hard time for them, and they needed to step back for a couple months. So, see, I don't think even being given open access (very open, in our case) to your child makes everything ok for a first mom... it doesn't erase the pain of loss, and sometimes, I think it might actually make it harder.

  6. I can't watch "I'm Having Their Baby" it makes me too upset! I watched one episode with a married woman who had cheated on her husband and got pregnant. She kept thinking if she gave the baby away it would prove to her husband she loved him and they would get back together. I thought I was going to throw up! In the end she kept the baby! They followed up with her and she and the baby were so happy! Just the two of them! It made me so happy! After that roller coaster I have avoided the show!

  7. Tiffany,
    You write: "I do, too. It's both beautiful and achingly sad seeing her with our daughter; they look so complete together, and they mirror one another beautifully."

    That makes me wonder whether you have considered returning the baby to her first mother. You set up an agreement where you could remain involved.

  8. Tiffany could give back the child to her birth parents. Then the birth parents can pay for the legal proceeding to transfer the parental authority back to them as well as the back child support while Tiffany babysat the child. In the end the birth parents will cut Tiffany out of their daughter's life since she is no longer needed.

    Tiffany will then be told by you all that she did a "brave" deed. Meanwhile she will fall into a deep sad depression that none of you will care about because in your mind she should just be happy that she did the "right" thing in your mind.

  9. I have never seen this program "I'm Having Their Baby". I probably would not be able to sit through it.

    As an adult adoptee, I am upset that the adoption industry still yields the power that it does. It is a huge money making industry that happens to deal in human babies. But the truth is adoption hurts. First mothers will grieve the loss of their baby no matter what they are told to the contrary. And the innocent baby, who had no say in the matter at all, will have to deal with adoption for the rest of their life.

    I am of the Baby Scoop Era of closed adoptions. Even though I had (and still have) great adoptive parents, adoption never goes away. I grew up in the perfect suburban, white picket fence family, and my AP's still see it that way. They "did a great thing". But I am left decades later battling depression because I have no knowledge of my beginnings, ethnic background or medical history. AP's won't talk about it. I have false documents, and my state will not let me have my OBC.

    Adoption is a struggle. Having a TV show like the one described here is a disgrace, in my opinion. Adoption is supposed to be about finding homes for children really are in need. But it has morphed into a huge industry, with reality shows to boot!

    Sorry for the long comment!

  10. Jane,

    I don't publicly share details of the reasons why my daughter's parents chose us to adopt her, and that would explain a lot. But those are private and not mine to share. The circumstances have not changed, though. I can't share more than that... it would explain a lot if I did share, but I won't divulge the private situations to justify myself. I know that adoptive parents aren't viewed favorably by a lot of first moms, and quite frankly, I totally get why. I appreciate the opportunity to learn here, and I'm not trying to derail the conversation. But in our case, the reason was 100% out of our ability to change or fix or make better. It just wasn't a simple case of needing money or support; it was more complex than that. I cannot make a decision for another person or force them to do something; would I have made the same choice in their place, in their situation? I can never know, but I think it's very likely I would have. Maybe the reason I feel so much about the tragedy of adoption is because I could have been my daughter's mother at some point in my own life. I could have been in her exact place, dealing with her exact situation, and by mere chance, I escaped it.

    The vagueness of my reply is unavoidable, and I am sure it will come across as reflecting poorly on me, but I value their privacy, even anonymously online.

  11. I wonder whether it would be healthier for all concerned if the first and second families lived in the same vicinity as each other, and had daily lives that entwined.

    It's often the mundane and everyday details that cements the sense of family and that can iron out the insecurities that long absences and big event meet ups can cause.

    Just a vague wondering - I have no experience at all of open adoptions or the feelings involved.

    I am moved by Tiffany's respect for her daughter's other mother, and of course for their daughter too.

  12. Tiffany: I too found it painful to read your comment because you are witnessing up close what adoption is really like--to your daughter's natural mother, and to the girl herself. I don't have any words of advice, really I don't, on this case because it sounds as if you are struggling to make this work the best way possible for everybody concerned--and it is still hard. I agree that it is probably too difficult for the mother to have many visits; emotionally they are certainly wrenching. Even getting pictures and updates--though you are certainly keeping the agreement--is traumatic to the mother; it's why Heidi Russo (Colin Kapaernick's mother) said she had to cut off getting the pictures because they were tearing her apart. Returning your child to her mother may be not realistic, but it seems from my vantage point that you are unusual and deeply empathetic to all the issues and feelings. Please stay with us.

    Also, do not hesitate to email us privately at forumfirstmother@gmail.com

  13. I am sorry- I didn't mean for my comment to be painful to anyone to read. I was sharing because as an adoptive mom, I don't think open adoption is the magic potion the adoption industry sometimes presents it to be. It's so often used as a way to convince a wavering mother ("But you can have contact with your child and see her anytime you want."), and that angers and saddens me. I simply meant to convey that from this side, I don't think there is anything that makes adoption any easier on a first mom, openness included. It's hard, all around, no matter what, and anyone considering it needs to know that.

    I appreciate your email offer. I do know my daughter's mom values her privacy, so I try to limit who I discuss particulars with. I don't think that even anonymously, she would appreciate me sharing details of their side of the story, so I try to stick to just mine. I realize this can leave me seeming a bit callous, but I'd rather have that than violate her trust.

    Last year, when it became too hard for visits, I asked specifically about the pictures and emails. She said she doesn't want those to stop and they help her, so I continue. I also told her that whenever they were ready to visit, we would be here. Nothing will ever change on our end- we always want them in our daughter's life. I hope that when she is a little bit older, my daughter will be able to maintain a relationship with her parents on her own, apart from needing us to facilitate visits, and I hope that helps make it better.

    Cherry, your comment is interesting. I'm not sure if it would be easier or not. We live in the same general area as my daughter's parents, although not the same town or neighborhood, which I think is what you meant.

  14. Reading Tiffany's experience with open adoption, and dealing with my own closed adoption lead me to one conclusion: Adoption is a very difficult, tangled, complicated thing. It requires, I believe, counseling and understanding, and tremendous work on everybody's part.

    Tiffany is doing all the right things in a difficult situation, but a lot of AP's in open adoption do not. They promise open adoption and then close it tight at the first opportunity. They got their prize, and don't care at all about the first mom. Or the child, in my opinion.

    My closed adoption was handled very differently back in the day. Mom and Dad received no counseling. They just received a baby, and never spoke about it again.

    Things have changed, but I do not know if they have changed for the better. Luring young girls to relinquish with the promise of an open adoption that will solve all the problems is not the answer.

    I wish I knew the answer.

    The adoption industry needs a complete overhaul. There is too much money involved. It should be about the babies, about the children, and about the person they will grow up to become. But it seems to me to be about money and politics. very few people involved in this industry are really concerned about the baby.

    And these reality TV shows are not helping matter at all.

    God knows where all of this will lead.

  15. To Tiffany: I am a first mother in reunion with my young adult son and also attend a birthparent support group that is intergenerational, so we have women who relinquished as long ago as the 50's and as recently as last year; some have open adoptions. I believe your comments speak to much of their experience as well - the relief in seeing your child alive and well yet the pain in not having the relationship one could have had if parenting and the pain in leaving over and over again. I want to say how much I appreciate your care for her privacy, your daughters story and your commitment to do what is best for the child you share, as well as honor your commitment to her original parents. Please keep coming and comment when you wish. Your words are important for all who read here.

  16. I grow so weary of listening to first parents endlessly debate which is harder; open adoption or closed. There is no prize at the end of that argument. At the end of that argument there is only pain for so many on all three sides of this bitter triangle.

    Yeah, adoption is a "special hell" alright. That much is certain.

    ....Anonymous in the north

  17. @Copperjil, to a degree the "network" of sites like this already functions as such a program, at least to a gravida with free internet access.

    Look at the recent comment by Anyaish here, for instance. http://adoptioncritic.com/2011/12/31/a-natural-mother/



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