Tell Me a Real Adoption Story: Misrepresentation of Adoption by the Media

By Samantha Plotner

Quinn, from Glee

On Glee, ex-cheerleader Quinn is on a mission to regain custody of the daughter she gave up for adoption in season one. On NCIS, lab tech Abby is reeling from the revelation she was adopted: she doesn’t know who she is anymore.

Adoption is having a pop culture moment of sorts. Unfortunately, it is a moment based on inaccuracies. The most accurate portrayal of adoption I’ve seen? Juno. Why do I know that? Because my story is pretty similar, down to adoptive parents being found in the classifieds.

Here is where Glee has messed up. Some states have waiting periods where a biological parent can revoke their consent and regain custody. In Ohio, where Glee takes place, it is 72 hours. In the Glee universe, over a year has passed. Sorry Quinn, you aren’t getting baby Beth back.

Abby, from NCIS

It is true that it is common practice among television shows to take liberties with reality. However, television shows and movies that sensationalize the phenomenon of birth-parents looking to reclaim their child will undoubtedly cause many to believe that this is a large risk in adoption. If all the legalities are handled properly that doesn’t happen. More likely, is the birth mother changing her mind during pregnancy, though even that risk is not nearly as high as some believe it to be.

Moving on to NCIS. Putting aside that a twenty-something would likely know she was adopted at this point in her life, the whole “a part of me is missing” attitude often seems to be a key issue for pop culture regarding adopted children. While some adoptees may feel this way, it would be wrong to assume they all do. This speaks to a general misunderstanding of the emotional aspect of being adopted.

Every situation is different; I can only speak for my own. At this point I have a spiel when the topic comes up to try to answer all the standard questions:

I have known I was adopted since I was young enough to understand what that meant. No, my younger sisters are not adopted. No, our parents don’t treat us any differently. Yes, I communicate with my birth mother.

Most of the time, that suffices.

At least in my experience, being adopted is not as dramatic as television would make you think. Although anything in popular entertainment should generally be taken with a grain of salt, these misrepresentations bothers me. It causes people to ask if I know my “real” parents, as if the twenty plus years my parents raised me doesn’t mean anything just because we don’t share the same DNA. It leads prospective adoptive parents to turn towards other methods of having a family because they think that, without a biological connection, the child will never be fully “theirs.” When the media starts portraying adoption more accurately, especially domestic adoption, maybe we will be able to have public conversations about what adoption really is.

Samantha is a junior at Barnard and Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing. The title of this piece comes from a children’s book her parents read to her when she was young.

Photos courtesy of Decoupling Blog and Max Updates.

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