Adoption in the Media
In Need of Editing
Adoption’s surreptitious history in the United States has afforded most of us few opportunities to obtain accurate information, and therefore to shape knowledgebased attitudes, laws, and practices, about the process or the tens of millions of children and adults it affects every day. Indeed, the corrosive combination of secrecy, stigma, and shame that has enveloped adoption for generations has led a clear majority of people to assume—to varying degrees, to be sure—that it is a problematical, “second-best” alternative to biological family formation.
Research and experience refute nearly all of the stereotypes that underlie and abet that perception, from the demeaning depiction of birth mothers either as vultures who want to swoop in to “reclaim” their children or as timid creatures who crave anonymity1 to the condescending majority public opinion that adoptive parents somehow settle for lesser families2 to the insidiously undermining view that adopted children are unfortunate, deprived, or impaired, as evidenced by the sad reality that the words “you’re adopted” continue to be used pejoratively in movies, on television, in print, and on playgrounds. But most of us have such limited experience and know so little about the research that the stereotypes—while undeniably abating as adoption has emerged from the shadows during the last few decades—remain extensive and influential.
The ignorance about adoption, and about the broad spectrum of interpersonal, cultural, legal, medical, pedagogical, and societal issues it encompasses, is pervasive for good reason. It is difficult to learn about secrets in day-to-day life, and they are rarely the topics of classroom discussion. Very little (and often nothing) about adoption is routinely taught to social workers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, policy makers, pre-adoptive parents, adoption practitioners, or, most to the point for the purposes of this chapter, journalists. The resulting lack of knowledge is reflected in our laws, policies, and, of course, in print and on the airwaves.