' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: This Is Us gets adoption right

Sunday, December 4, 2016

This Is Us gets adoption right

Does media attention to the issues of adoption change society's perception of adoption?


Every show that focuses on adoption moves public opinion--media attention is a major reason the acceptance of LGBT individuals and marriage equality moved seemingly quickly, compared to the adoption reform. But progress on our issue is being made and more states have at least limited access to birth information for adoptees. Shows also now portray adoption in less than a glowing light. Sixteen and Pregnant, for instance, went from showing Catelynn and Tyler's giving up of their daughter in at least partly positive light so they could go about their teenage lives and finish school, et cetera, but a few years into their semi-open adoption, the audience learns that not all is happy in adoptland, and the limited contact with their first daughter Carly is far from ideal. In 2013, The Baby Sellers on Lifetime with Kristie Alley showed the dark side of international adoption.

NBC's breakout hit his year has an adoption theme right through the center: This Is Us. So far, the show speaks to the intimate issues of being adopted with clarity and empathy. For those who haven't been watching, the plot line revolves around triplets, one of whom is adopted and black, in a white family. The show moves from say, the Eighties to the present day when the kids are grown and living separate lives. In quick vignettes going from past when the triplets are children to the present, This Is Us depicts the genesis of the adult issues of the now grown children--obesity, adoption, sibling rivalry.

The two boys have the issue of adoption between them because the white biological son felt ignored while the black brother was favored because he was adopted and black, and so his mother went overboard to try to make up for that. In addition, the black son, Randall is gifted and much smarter than his adopted siblings. Randall has tried his best to make his brother, Kevin,  like him, but the resentment was always burbling along. When the show moves to the present, Randall (superbly acted by Sterling K. Brown) is a successful commodities trader with a wife and two daughters, living in an upscale white neighborhood. He hasn't seen his white brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley) for years. Kevin is an actor trying to bridge the gulf from sitcom TV (where he's been successful) to serious drama on a New York stage. Thus their paths cross in the New York area.

Issues that the show has dealt with in the first seven episodes: Search and reunion with William's biological father, who becomes a continuing part of the drama; the adoptive mother's keeping secret that she knew who the father was all along; raising a black child in a white family, and that child's feeling of alienation from his race; and as noted, the sibling rivalry between the brothers; the influence of DNA.

The issues that adoptees talk about among themselves and here are handled with sensitivity and and subtlety. I am sure they are eye openers to many watching who have not been personally touched by adoption up close.

Where the show falls down is in the depiction of the traits that are inherited. We see absolutely no resemblance between the poetic/musical/drug fused life of Randall's biological father William and Randall when we meet them. The last episode (7) tried to make the bridge as we learn that not only was William a poet/drug user but he also plays the piano. Randall now intends to learn to play piano. In real life, even if the lifestyles and social status of the natural and adopting families is an ocean apart, certain traits seem to bubble up and surprise both adoptee and natural parent upon reunion. When I first spoke to my daughter on the phone--she was 15 and knew nothing about me--she said that when she grew up she wanted to be a journalist. Kinda blew me away, as both her natural father and myself were newspaper reporters when they met, fell in love and she was conceived. The synchronicity involved in adoption stories are legion.

We know that music and math are somewhat related in the brain function, but there was no nod to any music in Randall's life before he came upon his father. In high school he played football like his brother Kevin, which seemed out of character for the brainy kid that he was. Joining the school band, or a teenage garage band, would have had more resonance. However, that would have not made possible the fist fight on the football field when the two characters are on opposing teams. Randall, you see, was taken out of the public school and transferred to an academy where he could be challenged, his brother stayed with his sister in public school, which is how the two boys ended up at different schools.

The two biological siblings are incredibly close. Kevin is blond and handsome, his sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) is obese, and her story line centers on dealing with her weight, also handled realistically.  No fat jokes here, poignant realizations instead. There isn't a character you do not like, and except for the above, everything happens the way it might as in life.

As for how they physically resembly one another? That's where the casting disappoints. Obviously the two boys/men would not look similar, but then, neither do the biological siblings. If they are supposedly sharing DNA, it's not obvious. Physical resemblance is rarely considered when putting biological families together on television, and it's certainly missing on this show for neither of biological siblings look like their dark-haired and thin parents one iota.

But my objection notwithstanding, the show is a milestone in portraying adoption issues realistically, the way, say Will and Grace depicted a gay character and increased public awareness of the issues involved. I've been watching On Demand, and haven't caught up with the aftershow, in which I believe the cast and producers talk about the issues they confront in the episodes. Normal time for the show is 9.m. Tuesday on NBC. I look forward to see where this show can go.

Media does have the power to make a big impact on public opinion. I knew that when I and Lee Campbell, the founder of Concerned United Birthparents, made our early television appearances in the mid-Seventies, we were not doing it only for ourselves, but for all the other first mothers out there who were living in secret. We were also telling adoptees that many mothers did not forget them and wanted to find them. Florence Fisher, the founder mother of the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association, did the same for adoptees and mothers who wondered if their children every thought about them. Today we are still working on getting every state in the union to give adoptees their full and accurate original birth certificates, and so the more shows like This is Us this the better. Legislators do have hearts--as well as siblings and children who also watch these shows.--lorraine

Looking for someone you can't find?
One show that focuses directly on reunion is TLC's  Long Lost Family which finds missing family members and brings them together. I don't think I can get through a single episode without an ample supply of tissues. While some feel that these shows shouldn't be part of a reunion, their overall good--portraying the need to connect with blood relatives--heavily outweighs any negative. We still have a lot of hearts and minds to move in the world on opening the records, and every bit of focus on this issue helps.

Long Lost Family is an import from Britain where it won awards and is in production now for the second season. It is moderated by two adoptees, one male, one female, and the staff do the search as well as bring the people together. Anyone interested--birth parents or adoptees--read on and please let the producers know you heard about their request at First Mother Forum:
We understand that this is a very emotional quest and it is important to us to handle each case with the utmost sensitivity. Any investigations that we are able to take on would be at no cost to those who participate.  
Getting in touch does not obligate you to take part in the series in any way. If any members of your association are contacting me through email, they will need to provide a phone number and a brief summary of their story. They must be 18 years of age or older to apply for the series.

Thank you so much for your time, and please email or call with any questions that you might have.
Daniel Gradias
Associate Casting Producer
TLC's "Long Lost Family"
Office: 323-904-4680 http://www.shedmedia.com/dgradias@shedmedia.com         

The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child  by Nancy Verrier
on October 21, 2016
This is one of the most important books ever written about adoption. As an adult adoptee, I have to admit that it was
 painful to read but it was painful because what is written is so true. I highly recommend that both adoptees and 
adoptive parents, or prospective adoptive parents read this book. How helpful this would have been to my own 
adoptive parents. How little they truly understood about adopting children can't be understated. A child is NOT a 
blank slate that remembers nothing of their biological mother. In fact, the opposite is true. This is a must read. It will 
truly help you find the truth of what a child endures when they are taken away from their mother.
Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity  by Catana Tully
5.0 out of 5 stars
on November 17, 2016

Naked truth. That’s what author, Catana Tully, lays out in her marvelous memoir of her life as a black Guatemalan
baby girl raised by a white German matriarch. That basic narrative alone was enough for me to dive right in. So 
many questions! How? Where? Why? I must have misunderstood the memoir’s description! But no, SPLIT AT THE 
ROOT tells the story of one woman’s search to precisely understand the how, where, and why of herself. And 
there’s the rub. How does one uncover decades-old truth when every character involved (including Catana) has 
seemingly recited his or her personal version of Catana’s story ever since her birth? As the author uncovers the 
mysteries of her life, the reader, no matter the seeming banality of their own life story, revisits, wondering.... In the 
end, how author Catana Tully deals with the truth of her life provides inspiration for all. SPLIT AT THE ROOT is a 
must read memoir. Highly recommended.

The Baby Sellers portrays the dark side of international adoption


  1. I just purchased and downloaded this series last week. I've been through the first three episodes and I agree, this is very, very well done. Actually, I had happened upon the inaugural episode by accident one night while channel surfing and saw the 2nd half and was completely taken with it (in fact, I think I emailed you later that night about it). But life has been overwhelming the past few months and it was not until a friend of mine, with no relation to the adoption world whatever, mentioned it one day and how poignant it was. Well, that told me alot. Thanks for the very optimistic review and also for being a part of impacting the course of history for the better.

    1. Pamela--Yes, you did email me and that prompted me to take a look. Thanks!

  2. I watched the first segment of the show where the son meets his natural father. Very well done. The son insists he just wants to know and to tell his father off for abandoning him. He says his piece and starts to leave but he keeps delaying and continuing the conversation. You realize he is drawn to this man and wants some kind of relationship but can't quite accept this. I think this is not unusual. Adoptees may claim "One meeting is all I want" but in truth they want far more.

    1. Yes, that first scene about the father was excellent. If you catch up, you'll see the producers and writers have done a great job with the issues of adoption. Not surprisingly it is a hit. I can't imagine how they can keep the issues going for several years, but hits shows do that until they start to feel old....

  3. I think you may be jumping the gun on your complaint that father and son share no real personality/interest traits. It may be possible, and maybe as yet unrevealed, that personality wise he is more like his natural mother than father. I share no interests with my father, our personalities are polareally opposites, but he is still my father (biological too). I don't know if my daughter shares any of my traits, or if my father's skipped a generation, or maybe she's like her father instead. So in this instance I would cut the writers a break. Making father and son so alike would probably have been the "easy way" out, narrative speaking.

    1. Math and music are related in the brain, as I pointed out. What mostly seemed false is that Randall, the son, now suddenly plans to learn to play the piano and he is going to take lessons from someone in the neighborhood who it sounds gives lessons to kids. Sometimes, I've found, adoptees both are pleased to find traits and also--in a direct nod to their being adopted, and to make a point of their differences. This was just being handled, to my sensibility, not realistically, but off.

  4. I too love this series. I only wish I had had a Prime time show like this while I was growing up. Although I also can't imagine my young self sitting in a room with my adoptive parents and watching it and hearing Randall voice the words in my head and worrying they would catch on and know that's how I felt. I especially loved this last weeks episode (11/29). To hear an adoptee finally getting angry at the secrets, to express the feeling of being unwanted and to say "If only I had known I was wanted and loved would have made all the difference"...it was just so validating. I just hope his voice isn't silenced. When you hear the adoptive mom (Rebecca) say I can't lose my son and Why can't we be enough and Randall starts to reconsider his feelings...I myself started getting that feeling of being silenced and feelings being squashed. I hope that's not what happens.

  5. Yo! This morning I caught up to the last episode of TIS...the twists may not make it too top heavy--a nar suicide to make Randall appreciate that everyone has problems; William is gay; and that final spill onto the floor of Toby? Maybe it is all a bit much, though I the adoption stuff was handled well. Anyway, Randall is dying, and so the birth father issue won't be around for the second season. I don't see how the level of family drama can sustain itself. Though I do love Kevin's Jewish GF rather than that snot Olivia who couldn't get over herself. Anyone else?

    1. I'm not a fan of Toby's - I think he's so incredibly pushy, and that he seems to see Kate as a person to be rescued instead of a three-dimensional person with layers. I don't want him to die, though. Just to go away. There is a lot of drama and it was too much. I wanted to see more of Randall and Rebecca, although his nice-enough but icy greeting to her told me that he's still not completely forgiven her, not should he yet. It was a big, awful secret she kept and she needs to consider more what she did to him and not how it made her feel.

    2. Made a critical err in the first comment--added a NOT when I meant the twists did make it too much. Yo! This morning I caught up to the last episode of TIS...the twists may make it too top heavy--a near suicide to make Randall appreciate that everyone has problems; William is gay; and that final spill onto the floor of Toby? Maybe it is all a bit much, though I the adoption stuff was handled well, and yes, I don't want it to eventually be all fuzzy with the mom. I have never heard of an adoptee who learned a big lie late in life and just forgot about it. Anyway, Randall is now day as well as dying, and so the birth father issue won't be around for the second season. I don't see how the level of family drama can sustain itself. Though I do love Kevin's Jewish GF rather than that snot Olivia who couldn't get over herself. I like Toby, I think Kate was constantly ambivalent and drove him crazy. Didn't feel he pushed too much. Anyone else?



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