By Sunny Reed
With the popularity of This is Us and the New York Times story about the black baby swapped out for a white one, it’s valuable to take a look at adoption’s portrayal in popular media.
In both my work-in-progress and on my blog, I take a retrospective look at the paucity of adoption resources – both professional and general – to paint a bigger picture of what led people to adopt a child outside their race and country. Today’s article focuses on how Russia and China’s portrayals in the media affected an adoptive parent’s decision to adopt.
Framing Adoption:_The Media and Parental Decision Making
Prospective parents perform research during the adoption process, often based on articles released by popular news media outlets. Jacobson revealed prospective parents’ reactions to these articles and how news stories impacted their decision to adopt.
- Russian mass-media stories are portrayed more negatively than Chinese ones
- Russian adoption is reported on more frequently than Chinese
- Negative Chinese adoption stories focused more on logistics than on the child’s potential mental health issues
- Since the prospective parents interviewed for Jacobson’s study were coming to adoption after risky infertility situation, they showed a desire to avoid additional risk
A certain amount of skepticism is healthy when approaching the decision to adopt a child not your own; after all, it is a huge decision, one impacting the life of a child who had no choice. The author found that, regardless of each news article’s overall tone, the general conclusion she made was that adopting a child into a loving home is fine, but prospective parents may be treading on dangerous political ground.
When adoption becomes politicized, there’s a tendency to dehumanize the child. The child is not a political pawn, some poor waif smuggled out of a war-torn country into a loving home. When media articles portray adoption this way, the child’s developing identity is negatively impacted by these prejudices. Not only may the adoptive parents, despite their best efforts, absorb these damaging viewpoints, but inevitably people less emotionally invested in the adoptee will undoubtedly, without any other frame of reference, use these articles as a way to formulate opinions on the topic of adoption.
Adoptive parents reported being influenced by these articles, some mentioning reports that Russian babies have more attachment issues than Chinese led them to adopting a Chinese baby. This is disturbing, because many adoptees are noted to have attachment issues; it’s not a country-based phenomenon. As Jacobson points out, “the majority of adoptees from both China and Russia have experienced institutionalization that can have serious consequences for child outcomes.” Many of us adult intercountry adoptees reading this can attest to this reality.
Other intercountry adoptive parents used the articles they read, as justification against domestic adoption and in preference for intercountry adoption. They would read of stories featuring local biological parents looking for their child and wanting them back. As reported in the research, in their minds as adoptive parents, this would be intolerable as many experienced their own suffering via infertility or stillbirths.
The views expressed in Jacobson’s research reflect the adoptive parent-centric nature of adoption; the adoptive parents consume the media, the adoptive parents make the ultimate decision to adopt. Obviously adoptive parents need some way to inform their decisions, but slightly concerning is that racial features overrode Russian adoption risks. Adoptive parents persisted in Russian adoptions despite warnings, because they were eager to obtain a child bearing a closer racial resemblance to their own. We need to question that decision, because appearance cannot predict a child’s future outcome.
As transracial and intercountry adoptees, it’s our duty to remain alert to these news articles and ensure the mass media fairly portrays our struggles and political representation. If they don’t, it’s our responsibility to cut through the emotionally-driven bias toward adoption by producing articles that provide balanced accounts.