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16 and Pregnant: Lori and Adoption

March 22, 2010

 I have previously written about the show 16 and Pregnant, and what I think it shows about society in general. This show has allowed people to rail against teen pregnancy, citing a need for increases in birth control/sex education/abstinence and so on.

Perhaps this is true. I’m not here to get into the often contentious sex ed debate. For the most part, the girls in these television episodes choose to keep their babies. They often have supporting families, and often even support themselves with the help of their boyfriend. Occasionally a parent will suggest adoption, but it is not something that is taken into serious considering. In Season 1 there was one adoption, Catelynn and Tyler giving up their daughter Carly. For this couple, they knew all along that there child deserved a better life than what they could give them. They were also mature in the face of their situation, acting like more of a parent to their unborn child than their parents were acting towards them, still children themselves, making an impossible decision. However, even watching this, it reaffirmed adoption as the right choice. They were doing the right thing. More teenagers should do this. Now they can go back to living their lives. When Teen Mom started, I was surprised to find the couple back on the show. After all, they gave their baby up. The story is done, what else is there? To me, adoption was the end of the story. I didn’t realise that it could be a beginning. Although Catelynn and Tyler were adamant about their decision, they still had to struggle to come to terms with it. As the said, we are still parents, we’re just not raising our child. That was something profound to me. Catelynn, still having a hard time grieving the loss of her child (which may sound morbid, but I still find to be accurate), attended a retreat for birth mothers which helped her to accept her choice. The story went from adoption being an out, a way to solve a situation (no abortion involved), to a painful gift to another family, the ultimate sacrifice for your child. The realisation is that Catelynn and Tyler are parents, and are responsible caring parents, they gave their child what they could not. Adoption is touted as a painful but ideal situation, the pair get their happy ending when Tyler proposes in the Teen Mom finale.

The decision was more painful in this week’s 16 and Pregnant where we met Lori. She herself was adopted, and knows nothing about her birth mother. She comes from a Catholic family, the first who were shown to be openly and consistently displeased with her pregnancy. Her parents made clear that they did not want her to keep the child, if she decided to raise her baby she would be on her own. Lori’s mother did not allow her friends to throw her a baby shower, saying there is nothing to celebrate about a 16 year old getting pregnant (this was probably the portrayal so far that I think was closest to how my own mother would react). Lori wanted to keep her child. To her this was not just about keeping her baby, but the baby is the only genetic relative that she had. Feeling keenly that her mother gave her away, she doesn’t want to pass that on to her child. Lori hopes that her ex boyfriend Eric will help, as he offers for them to live and raise the baby together, but proves to keep changing his mind. Eventually Lori decides to give the baby up, but this doesn’t come from a heart felt consideration, but from being backed into a corner. Out of all the episodes I have watched, this broke my heart the most. Young girls may not be ideal to raise their babies, but being 16 is not an automatic preclusion from raising them. 

Adoption is far more prevalent in the United States than you might otherwise think, 14,000 babies are adopted domestically each year, 15% of the total adoption numbers. It is no longer primarily teenagers who give their babies up, but women in their 20s who have graduated from high school with other children. Adoption is still not understood completely, in the age of abortion and teen mothers, it seems to be an option that is rarely considered. 14,000 may seem like a lot of children, but it is insignificant compared to the 820,151 abortions that were performed in the US in 2005. Even then, focus is almost always on the adopting parents, blogs such as A Family is Born detail the journey to adopt a baby. The role of the mother is rarely highlighted. Women who feel pressured to give up their children, such as Lori, will struggle with greater feelings of unresolved guilt and grief. By the end of the episode Lori had come to terms with her decision, and arranged an open adoption with great involvement with the adoptive parents, such as choosing the babies name together. Yet research shows that in situations where this contact stops, birth mothers have the highest grief levels. The possibility of contact is what helps birth parents adjust, and in cases such as Lori’s, was the clincher that got her to agree to adoption, as one of her friends who had placed her child for adoption described it, “the best of both worlds”. Yet there is no legislation to help enforce post-adoption contact. The fear that they would one day lose contact with the daughter they gave up haunted Catelynn and Tyler constantly. These people are subject to the desires of the birth parents after making the ultimate sacrifice. In the instance of both of these teens they made the decision for their children, not for them. As both Catelynn and Lori said, if it was about them, they would have raised their children, but their babies deserved more. 

More so than the issue of teen pregnancy, 16 and Pregnant helps in opening eyes and facilitating discussion about adoption. The laws and regulations, and indeed the public mindset, lags behind where it should be at this point in our society. At a point where we can be progressive about ending pregnancies, and supporting teens who have babies, why not when people choose to put their children up for adoption? Here’s hoping MTV can help to begin the discussion.

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