Okay, I finally broke down and watched some 16 and Pregnant. I can’t nurse handsfree, so in a classy twist, I spent some time breastfeeding Joey and watching trainwreck television. I’d seen too much online discussion of it, finally, to resist. And then I, uh, continued on to Teen Mom.
I actually avoided the adoption episodes at first; I had heard some grim things about an adoptee being pressured to place in a grotesque “pay it forward” sort of plan by her parents, and needed to work my way up to that. In fact, I initially found the show perversely reassuring—I’m not such a bad mom by comparison! I feel a lot of guilt, you see, about having Joey sometimes nap in the swing instead of in my arms so that I can get some work done, and agonized for awhile over whether to get a Breastflow bottle so that Mr. Book could occasionally feed him if I was deeply and desperately asleep or out of the house for a couple of hours . . . but that guilt has gotten a lot more manageable after watching young parents going out and leaving the baby behind every night, or propping up bottles in their babies’ mouths, or having screaming fights in front of the infants. Heck, I’m doing fine! That is the most ignoble and least interesting feeling that I could have, probably, but that was my starting point.
It was fascinating to watch most of the moms briefly attempt and then abandon breastfeeding. Since breastfeeding’s downsides are all frontloaded and bottlefeeding’s downsides are more consistent over the long term, it’s easy to see why they tried (it’s free!) and then quickly gave up (it hurts!). Sure, it stops hurting after awhile, but the young mothers still would have had to take care of all the feeding if they continued to breastfeed, and if I recall correctly, none of them had lives that allowed for that (of course they could have mixed breast and bottle, but that’s yet another layer of complication). I’m happy as a clam about nursing my son, but the fact that he refuses to take breastmilk in any other way could present problems in the future—right now, the fact that he gets the most tragic betrayed look on his face if you offer him a bottle or even milk in a tiny spoon is mostly just cute, but if I was trying to finish high school, it would be incredibly hard.
But I really should talk about adoption, right? I’m dragging my feet because the show starts out exploitative, but the adoption stuff takes it in an even creepier direction: If you’re getting paid to be on television while you’re placing your baby for adoption, does that wander into paid placement territory? Does the fact that you have a nationwide audience put pressure on an expectant mother to go through with the placement? I can’t see how it wouldn’t—I have no problem with prebirth matching, but of course the fact that Ruth and Nora were waiting hopefully was a factor pushing me to relinquish. I’ve seen two adoptions in the show so far—Catelynn and Tyler’s and Lori’s—and while the adoption professionals and adoptive parents whom Catelynn and Tyler dealt with got under my skin, Lori’s situation was just heartbreaking. It also bothered me that for appearing on the show, she would receive enough money to move out and support her child, at least for awhile . . . but perhaps she didn’t get a check in time to do so?
I shouldn’t assume that everyone reading has watched this ghastly, exploitative show. Lori is a teen adoptee who wanted very much to keep her baby—at first, the child’s father did as well, but Lori’s adoptive father talked the birth father into adoption. Lori was clear throughout the episode that she didn’t want to place, but in the end told her mother that “You win,” and she relinquished her child. It was gruesome; Lori’s mother refused to let her daughter’s friends throw her a baby shower, and she made it clear that Lori would not be bringing the baby home. It was like something out of the baby scoop era—I know that some young women are still told not to darken their parents’ doorstep again after getting pregnant, but even knowing that, it’s hard to believe. Lori talked sadly about how the baby was her only blood family—I believe she also said her only “real” family, which makes me wonder about how her family thinks about adoption—and then she lost her son.
Catelynn’s situation seems a bit more nuanced to me, in that I think placing may very well have been the right choice for her—but oh, how I wish she’d had a different agency and different adoptive parents! When she mentioned that she was hurt that the aparents wouldn’t tell her her daughter’s full name, it was helpfully explained to her that she needed to understand how hard all this is for the adoptive family. I do not at all want to minimize the struggles of aparents, but I think that a successful adoption involves a leap of faith by all adults involved: the birth parents give up their child and the adoptive parents give their phone number and last name. If Ruth and Nora had been unwilling to tell me their full names before we were officially matched, or the city they lived in, I would have looked elsewhere—but I was a decade older than Catelynn, and able to feel slightly more entitled. Both Lori and Catelynn & Tyler ended up putting names that the adoptive parents picked on the OBC, which I hate. It’s another one of the few areas where I dug in my heels way back when: I told Ruth and Nora that I was going to name him, that I knew they would probably change the name, but I was going to name my son. They suggested that it might be hard for him if they had “taken away” his birth name, and said that they hoped we could all agree on something. I said (much more politely) that I guess that might happen if they changed his name from the one I gave him, but I would certainly understand if they did so. They dropped it, and the lad has a different name than the one he was born with. And that’s okay. Maybe Lori and Catelynn & Tyler loved the names they put onto their kids’ birth certificates, but I’m sure that they aren’t the names they would have given the children if they were thinking of those babies as their own. And that strikes me as sad.
I feel as though I should muster some closing thoughts on the show, but the things that spring to mind are mostly depressing. Watching some of the teenagers bloom into loving and capable moms was strangely intimate—I wish that all these teens could have had planned pregnancies later, of course, as there’s no way that having a baby in high school doesn’t significantly derail your life—but while some of the minor parents were predictably awful at it, others displayed real tenderness and grace, and seeing that felt like a gift that probably shouldn’t be given to a television. I’ll probably keep watching episodes online. I guess I’ll settle for a closing question, something that’s been bothering me since I started watching: Does the mother of the twin girls (I cannot recall her name at the moment) not buckle her girls’ carseats in? It looks as though she just places them on the seat, and they certainly seem to be sliding around back there during the episode . . . it isn’t profound, but it was driving me a bit crazy!