Thursday, August 5, 2010

An Honest Look at Open Adoption in the Documentary "My Flesh and Blood"

"Why do they deserve to be in his life?"  A fellow learner pondered aloud.  I was in a discussion group one day where we were evaluating the documentary "My Flesh and Blood."  The documentary chronicles a brief period in the life of adoptive mother, Susan Tom. 

Susan Tom is the single mother of two biological children, two daughters adopted from Korea who do not have any severe disabilities, and 9 adopted children with a wide range of disabilities and serious medical conditions.  At least two of the children are from Russia and at least two others are involved in domestic open adoptions.  While there are many points within the documentary that could be discussed, it is the open adoptions that I want to draw attention to.  I wanted to share with you a very raw and honest look at open adoption coming from the eyes of average people who are not directly impacted by adoption.

There are two boys, Joe and Anthony, who are involved in open adoptions.  They were briefly chronicled in the documentary.

Joe, who passed away toward the end of the documentary, had Cystic Fibrosis as well as an emotional disorder.  In addition to having 12 adoptive brothers and sisters, Joe has 8 biological brothers and sisters.  Joe was placed with Susan at a young age while his original mother recovered from drug addiction.  As the years passed, they maintained an open relationship and Joe's original mother remarried.  She decided to move away because of the benefits to her new family.  Joe had a need to be loved by her, which is why Susan kept her promise to keep the relationship over.  The clip of Joe's original mother telling him that she is leaving is found here; it is difficult to watch.

Anthony, who passed away a year or two ago during the Extreme Makeover of the Tom's home, had a condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa.  This is where a person's skin literally starts to fall off, leaving painful open sores all over their body.  Anthony's original family was featured at the end of the documentary at his 20th birthday party here, starting at 3:25.

During the discussion of the documentary and of the family, several people wanted to know why the original parents of the two boys were permitted to have open adoptions.  "I don't get it," one woman said.  "They don't do his daily medical care or take care of him, but they get to come to a party and have fun?  How is that fair?"  These individuals, who are not themselves affiliated with adoption, are asking honest questions.  They are not trying to be mean just trying to understand.

It is important to note that no information on how Anthony became adopted by Susan or why his original family couldn't care for him is mentioned in the documentary.  You see a glimpse of his original mother and she appears to be very young, and remember, Anthony is 20 years old himself.  Society seems to tend to associate "Birth Mother" with someone who is poor and unprepared.

Being poor comes with its own stigmas.  Research has shown that perceived class differences can impact how we feel about others and how we respond to them.  For example, women of humble or provocative appearance are less likely to receive help from passersby when in obvious danger than women who are dressed modestly or what one might call with more "class."  Being an original mother in itself may have caused an unintended, but automatic, negative judgement of her.  "Why does she get to be in his life when she doesn't do anything?"

This was a teachable moment.

I was happy that my professor chimed in that openness is often in the best interest of children.  And I agreed.  Too often we as adults and parents focus on the other adults and parents in a situation and think of what's "fair."  But the focus should always be on the children.  Adoption should not be about excluding and punishing an original parent for what they could not or were not given the opportunity to provide but about allowing an original parent to love their child, because the opportunity to receive love from one's original family.  Openness is not about what is "fair" to parents but about what is best for a child.

These are individuals who are learning, not trying to be mean.  But they also represent what other individuals might be thinking who may not ever have the opportunity for someone to offer them a different viewpoint.  These individuals, like you and me, are voters, and can influence legislation, just like you and me, including legislation involving adoption issues.  We fear rejection but it can bring good to speak.  It can make a difference in the lives of others, in the community, in the state, in the country, and in the world.

Watch the Documentary
You can watch the documentary for free on YouTube.  I have provided the first 7 minutes of the documentary in the player below.  There are 10 clips total that you should be able to be taken to on YouTube by clicking on the player. 

Photo credit:  Francesco Marino


Lori said...

Interesting. While I don't necessarily agree with her, especially when she is talking about the boy, Joe's parents, and can see a bit of the superiority (about this or that being appropriate while talking to the social worker), I see this as interesting. I see this as a realistic view point with regard to the lives of children who are disabled in some form. Also, I see the positive in the fact that she didn't take them all as infants and appears to be honest in her love.

May I link this to the Adoption Education Blog?

Anonymous said...

Amanda, I'm keeping my eye on you. You are articulate and clear-headed in your mission to advocate for adoptee rights. Reading your blog has provided me with a different perspective and challenges me to think of adoption in new ways.

I love that you present your arguments with such provocative, yet thoughtful writing. or in old skool terms; You Go Girl!! Hugs.

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Volma said...

I would like to hear more about this subject, I find it very interesting. I just watched "My Flesh and Blood" and know that I have little to no background information into Joe or Anthony's biological families to understand the situations. But in retrospect, I feel that Joe would have been better off not knowing or meeting his bio-mom until he was older, 18 or more. This situation was not beneficial to Joe or to his adopted mom and family due to his many emotional problems. I think his bio-mom contributed (unknowingly) to his mental problems. This is not a one size fits all situation, and shouldn't be granted as such. It depends on many factors and the best interest of the child and his/her adopted family in the long term/or big picture...Unfortunately for him(Joe) he needed much more mental health support than he was getting, less confusing factors like his bio-mom and her new husband. Poor poor Joe, he really haunts me...

Kerridwen said...

I just found this by trying to find more info about Joe. I got really 'attached' to him when I watched the documentary, and as Volma said, he haunts me.. I saw the Extreme Home makeover, and felt so sad that they talked a lot about Anthony, but never about Joe. It was such a sad moment when you see him on his hospital bed, and then you know what happened. He looked really young, too. It was an amazing documentary, even though it was also sad. Anthony was also childlike but he was so sweet...

mapoule said...

"Haunted" is the right word my friends ^^

Unknown said...

After watching flesh & blood I really felt for Joe I think at times his illness & mental health,behavioral issues were not relatively address by the social worker assigned his case.
Maybe his behavioral & mental health issues were caused by the biological mothers drug abuse while she was pregnant it is a well documented fact that illicit drug use while pregnant can cause irreparable damage to an unborn baby well after their born shame on his biological mother.

Kim Queen said...

Responding to Volmer's opinion that Joe shouldn't have had contact with his mother, and not until 18 I disagree.

One, then Joe would have never met his mother, because he died before then, and two , it is an intrinsic and absolute need of his to know his mother. Yes it is difficult, yes it is upsetting, but it is part of his life and who he is and he and a relationship with his mother and a love and a need to love and to be loved.

yes it was upsetting to see how selfish the decisions of the mother and father was, without including him in their decision process. But that is the power of addiction as well, and legally the adopter has all the power , so I am guessing that there was NO choice to take him, until he was 18 and independent. Which was carefully avoided in the documentary. the Legal Elephant in the room.

I think Joe , who did understandably act out, was also made to be the scape goat in the family. I think he was an easy target. While i appreciate that there are not a great number of carers available I don't think that this is the best space for Joe.

I also don't think the whole scenario was fair on Margaret. Time will tell if Margaret come forward to speak about the other dynamics that were going on. Perhaps because the adoptive carer was expected by her own mother to be the carer of her siblings from an early age she thought it was ok to put such duties onto a young girl, but really, it is not. That was a lot of responsibility for a poor girl displaced from her own heritage.

That moment when Margaret is in crisis and saying she has no one to talk to and does not know who she is and is having a melt down. And is shut down and told to speak tomorrow. That is not great parenting and she is not being heard. She needs to know who is and she is in the middle of a situation that would be stressful for anyone, and is not being heard. And having to deal with so much trauma.

It's not ok to be in denial about adoptees needs to know who they are and connect with their own family. Not only KNOW who their family is but to CONNECT and be part of.

I feel there was a lot unsaid in this doco. I also thought it was a bit exploitive of those kids to expose all that, but understand the benefit. I found Susan's was in her heart hostile to the parents while speaking nice in front of them. The whole they are my children and there's the biological parents. Well, they are your children AND they are some someone else's child and one relationship does not diminish the other. I can understand how heartbreaking and harrowing the scenarios are, and it would be easy to become jaded, and i don't want to diminish Susan , but I don't think this attitude is helpful for the children.

I hope Margaret has a happier adult life.