The adoption community is abuzz with discussion about This is Us. As an adoptive mom and birth/first mom, I’m very critical of movies and shows that attempt to tackle the subject of adoption. It’s nearly never done well. This is Us is the exception to the rule.
[Spoiler alert: spoilers for episode 8 and 9 of This is Us are in this post.]
If you’re not watching This is Us you’re missing some of the best television I’ve seen in a long time and the best adoption education I’ve ever seen in mainstream media.
I’m usually far behind the crowd when it comes to watching television, in fact, we don’t have cable and only have Netflix, but something about the trailer for This is Us caught my attention. I searched a bit and found it on NBC.com.
Then I watched the first episode and was hooked. I watched it again with Russ, and it’s become our weekly date.
I’ve never seen a movie or show handle adoption with such insight. When adoption is a theme in a show, I watch with such a critical eye that I tend to make everyone in the room miserable. I expect the writers to be shallow and lopsided in their views, and in nearly all cases, they meet my expectations.
In contrast, with each episode of This is Us, I’m increasingly impressed with the writers’ navigation of the complexities of adoption for the entire triad of birth parent, adoptive parents, and adoptee.
As an adoptive mom, I relate to Rebecca. I understand her love for her children and her strong attachment to her adopted son, Randall. She is fiercely protective of him. She wants to believe that she and her husband, Jack, are “enough” for him. Her one concession is her recognition of his need for positive black role models.
But she can’t bear to meet the greatest need of her son’s heart, even though it is within her power to do so.
Randall wants to know his first father.
This is where the writers rise above the crowd, Rebecca finally admits it’s not her fear that his birth father will be a terrible person or a drug addict that terrifies her, as many adoptive parents tend to claim, but that he might be a wonderful person.
This is what frightens her the most.
If Randall’s first father is wonderful, Randall might love him more, and maybe she will not be needed or wanted.
She is afraid of losing her son whom she loves so much – yet this is exactly what his first father, William, is experiencing and she knows this.
As much as I relate to Rebecca, my strongest sympathies are with William, Randall’s first father.
As I watched episode 9, where Randall wrestles with the knowledge that his mother knew his first father all along, and William desperately wanted a relationship with his son, I began to cry.
The deep grief of being a birth mother, a first mother, bubbled up and flowed out. My son was born in same era as the characters of this show, making this all the more real to me.
While I pleaded for an open, or semi-open adoption (after begging not to have my son taken from me at all), the agency refused. I lived for 16 years not knowing if my son was dead or alive, and it’s only by the grace of God that he found me when he did.
It was truly a nightmare of grief. To have a child disappear from my arms knowing I would probably never see him again was a depth of sorrow I would not wish upon anyone.
I contacted the agency continually over the years, asking for updates, begging them to reach out to his parents and see if he was okay, but they refused.
When my son finally contacted me himself, our communication was cut off again. It is a long, tangled story I don’t feel free to share, but maybe one day I will.
Randall’s story in This is Us illustrates a very real yearning for answers and for connection with a first parent. Not all adoptees experience this, but my son did, he needed to know me, he wanted a relationship with me.
In the last months of his life, we had frequent, sweet communication. Realizing he nearly lost me in the accident was a shock to him and he longed for deeper connection. We were planning a visit in the fall when he died in June 2015.
I see this deep longing for connection in Wogauyu. He talks about his Ethiopian mother and wants to see her. She has our contact information, but we haven’t heard from her in several years. I pray that we will hear from her soon; it would meet a need of his heart.
Eby has a relationship with his sister in Italy. Beza communicates with her family in Ethiopia. We had contact with Kalkidan’s family.
As a birth/first mom, this was essential to me. We could not take another family’s child and cut off all contact. We would not. Open adoption, even across continents, was the only kind of adoption we would consider.
After watching this week’s episode, I’m left with many emotions and thoughts. I would love to hear from you, either here or on my Thankful Moms Facebook page.
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Are you watching This is Us? What do you think?
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