The popular television show, This Is Us, is our 2nd feature in OYFF’s First/Birth Mother Point of View (POV) series. The program includes a birth mother story line and has a wide audience, making it important to review how birth/first mothers are represented in this piece of popular culture.
This Is Us is a drama that premiered on NBC on September 20, 2016. The story follows the Pearson family: father Jack; mother Rebecca and children, Kate, Kevin, and Randall. Through a series of flashbacks and montages throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, the lives of the Pearson clan are shared to learn about each character, their family system, and how that weaves through their present-day lives. Kate and Kevin were originally part of a triplet pregnancy, but the third baby was stillborn. Coincidentally that day, another baby is born to parents who are addicted to drugs. The mother dies and the father takes his newborn to a firehouse in which a fireman eventually brings the abandoned newborn to the hospital. As Jack is grieving the loss of their third baby, he sees the abandoned newborn and was determined that he and Rebecca will go home with three babies after all and they adopt the abandoned baby who will become their son Randall.
Birth/First Mother POV
This Is Us has been one of my favorite shows this television season. Many tears have dropped from my eyes for its endearing and heartbreaking dialogue along with sweet and sad montages set to just the perfect music to stir different emotions.
Viewing the show through my birth mother-lens I experienced numerous reactions to the characters. At times I find my maternal, nurturing-self concerned about Randall, growing up as the only person of color in an all-white household or looking at others in his community wondering if they could possibly be his birth parents. While I have compassion for Rebecca’s unresolved grief over the loss of her biological son, that does not excuse denying young Randall the opportunity to know his birth father William. Rebecca’s claims of wanting to protect Randall are steep with judgment and selfishness.
In regards to the story line, or rather lack of one, about Randall’s birth mother Laurel, leaves me frustrated. For a show that seems to have the desire and heart to capture the complexities of adoption, as usual, the birth mother character is almost nonexistent. To compound Laurel’s nonexistence, it is revealed early in the season that she has died. The rare flashbacks that include Laurel show a beautiful woman who eventually is portrayed as leading William to drug abuse. This unfortunate portrayal only perpetuates stereotypes about birth mothers. Also, so little known about Laurel it is unclear whether she indicated before she died that Randall should be placed for adoption or if the plan was to parent him. As Randall’s biological mother she is an essential part of the story yet so little is known about her.
As with many shows, This Is Us attempts to tackle the struggles of individuals and family systems highlighting topics such as transracial adoption, substance abuse, sibling rivalry, obesity, romantic relationships, etc. but never quite having the opportunity to fully focus on one topic. While not perfect, This Is Us does make, what I believe, is an earnest attempt to bring complexities of humans and relationships into something that can be relatable to a broad audience.
Several episodes in the season could potentially be triggering for a birth mother. It may stir feelings of grief, ambiguous loss, rejection, feelings of inadequacies, frustration, and/or opening wounds of past wrongs in their own experiences with their child/children’s adoptive parent/s, shame, or feelings of being judged or misunderstood by society.
I am curious if season two will uncover more information about Randall’s birth mother as well as dive into the cliffhanger from season one with Randall announcing to his wife that he would like to adopt a baby. Will that perhaps bring in a more developed birth mother storyline to the show?
Remember, if you plan to watch This Is Us, be sure to have a box of tissues by your side.
This Is Us television rating:
Adoption Story Depiction: B
Potential Triggers: A+
Angie Swanson-Kyriaco, Public Education & Communication Committee Chair & Board Member
The movie Lion caught our attention as the perfect vehicle to launch our new Birth/First Mother Point of View (POV) program. Not only has it been nominated for an Oscar, but the narrative centers on the true experience of an adoptee driven by a strong desire to reunite with his first/birth mother.
Plot: Based on a true story, Lion follows Saroo, who in 1986, was a five-year-old child in India of a poor but happy rural family. On a trip with his brother, Saroo soon finds himself alone and trapped in a moving decommissioned passenger train that takes him to Calcutta, 1500 miles away from home. Now totally lost in an alien urban environment and too young to identify either himself or his home to the authorities, Saroo struggles to survive as a street child until he is sent to an orphanage. Soon, Saroo is selected to be adopted by the Brierley family in Tasmania, where he grows up in a loving, prosperous home. However, for all his material good fortune, Saroo finds himself plagued by his memories of his lost family in his adulthood and tries to search for them even as his guilt drives him to hide this quest from his adoptive parents and his girlfriend. Only when he has an epiphany does he realize not only the answers he needs, but also the steadfast love that he has always had with all his loved ones in both worlds. -Written by Kenneth Chisholm
First/Birth Mother’s POV by Emily Brunett:
Adoption is not a common focal point of Oscar-nominated movies. But when it is, the adoption community takes notice.
As a birthmother in a domestic adoption, I am unfamiliar with international adoption issues, which makes it difficult for me to measure the presentation of this story against reality. From my experiences, though, a few points stood out to me.
The story as a whole is very emotional and heartwarming in the end. Both the birthmother and adoptive mother express goodwill and gratitude toward each other.
The adoptive parents are clearly painted as “rescuers.” Perhaps it could be argued that what Saroo needed was more help finding his mother, instead of a one-way trip to a wealthier country with foreign parents. However, the resources available in the late 1980s were much more limited that what’s available today – Saroo relies on Google Earth to find his hometown – so adoption really may have been the best solution for Saroo. Like many adoptions, though, a lingering “what if?” is attached.
Since this movie is an adoption story, some aspects may be triggering to birthmothers. In particular, birthmothers who have been separated from their child/ren for a long period of time may find Saroo’s struggle and eventual reunion with his birthmother difficult to watch.
Also, because the story is told from the adopted child’s point of view, it clearly illustrates a common fear of birthmothers: that the placed child/ren will feel something big is missing because he/she was separated from his/her birth family. Saroo obviously agonizes for a number of years while worrying about his family of origin and searching for them. This might especially be triggering for birthmothers who continue to wonder if they made the right decision for their child/ren, or for birthmothers whose child/ren are somehow suffering after being adopted.
“Lion” movie rating:
Adoption Story Depiction: B+
Potential Triggers: B-
If you are a birth/first mother interested in having your voice heard as a POV Reviewer, please email Jenny Sindel at email@example.com.
The February 2017 newsletter is out! See what we are up to at OYFF!
We know that a major agency has recently closed. We want to assure our community that we are working internally to support our clients. As always, our first response is to ensure that our clients’ needs are being met. We are continuing to communicate with our clients as the situation develops. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Jenny Sindel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click December 2016 Newsletter to hear about our President transition, New Executive Director and Giving Tuesday.
Special thanks to Susan Dusza Guerra Leksander who was the driving force behind this event. She researched the great platform, organized everyone, recorded video clips and continuously updated our community!
November is Adoption Awareness Month. We at OYFF know that the experiences and needs of birth mothers are often not considered or are overlooked when people think of adoption. We believe that bringing awareness and education to the public about the needs and experiences of birth mothers will increase understanding.
The women of OYFF brainstormed different hashtags to use on social media during November and voted on one: #adoptawareness. We are asking all of our members and supporters to use #adoptawareness when posting about birth mother experiences and issues during November. Check out our facebook page: On Your Feet Foundation, California for more updates throughout the month of November.
Thank you to everyone who attended and our wonderful sponsors! We had a wonderful evening! http://onyourfeetca.org/2016-wine-wishes-gala/