Skip to content

It’s Not Hollywood

January 31, 2010

I’ve now watched every episode made of the new reality TV show Find My Family. (It seems to have disappeared from the web site, so I suspect it has been canceled.)   I’ve traded kvetches with my birth family over it.  My birth brother called it bad art, arguing for better done shows like The Locator. My birth mother shrugged it off as good for somebody, perhaps for those birth mothers who have lived so much of their lives feeling alone in their guilt and shame.  Last month I watched on my computer the only four episodes ever aired.  I watched them in bed, next to my husband, reading his New Yorker magazine and enduring my groans over just how terrible it was.  He would never have been able to make it through a single episode.  I kept watching, though, simultaneously repulsed by the melodrama and the generalizations (“as every adoptee feels….”), and utterly moved.  Each show tapped into some well of emotion deep inside of me, and I found myself crying, connecting, in a way I never cry over or connect to TV.  Books, yes.  TV, no.   It would have been embarrassing had it not felt more real.  Plenty of critics–and average folks, complained about the show.  And for good reason.  In each show, adult adoptees, most of them my age, meet their long-lost birth parents under a tree on top of a hill in California.  It reminded me of the opening scene in Little House on the Prairie, when Laura and her sisters go running down that too-green hill.  Only in Find My Family, they crawl up a desert brown one.  Every episode ended well because that’s the point of such shows.  And that’s what bothered me more than anything, the cut at the end of the hugs, before life really got going.  It’s fascinating, of course, to watch people come together who have been separated.  I’m a sucker for a long-lost reunion.  One of the reasons I dislike the  security set-up at airports these past 10 years or so is that you miss out on a lot of emotional reunions in the gate areas.  I could watch those for hours, imaging stories for the people hugging and crying over one another.  But adoption reunion isn’t like that, at least it isn’t for me, and I imagine it isn’t for most other people, too.  I’m talking about the reunions that actually take place, not the thousands and thousands of them that end in disappointment, sadness, further hurt and rejection.  I’m talking about the “success stories,” when adoptees and their birth families agree to meet, to come together, to create something for which there is no blueprint.  Find My Family is like a wedding without a marriage.  It’s like a marriage without the work.

In the last few days, the marriage has soured.  It feels terrible.  I’m bewildered by how terrible it feels.  And because life is not Hollywood, I have absolutely no idea how to fix it, how to write a less hurtful scene.  A year out, I wonder how many of the reunions on Find My Family bring as much hurt and sadness as mine does right now.

When I began the search for my birth family, my guiding principle was “do no harm.”  Right now, that sentiment, though I stand by it, feels incredibly naive, if not impossible.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. anonymous permalink
    February 18, 2010 12:06 am

    I disagree with you about the expectations of a first reunion. When I found out about my adoptive siblings I sepent the better of the next few months teetering between emotional overdrive and happy anticipation. I thought about what an emotional and wonderful reunion we would have. More than anything, I really wanted to hug my long lost siblings and not let go. Unfortunately, when I met my siblings, the emotional exuberance I felt was not reciprocated. Had I sensed even a hint of any emotion, I probably would have wound up crying. However, I never felt any emotional vibe from my siblings. Rather, there was a pervasive sence of distance, calculation and guarded feelings. It was quite an emotional let-down. Why do people on those television episodes become so emotional? Is it good acting? No, I rather think it is a sence of letting go of worrying about how everything will work out, and just enjoying the blissful joy of the moment. Some people can do that, while others sepnd time trying to analyze and conceptualize. Personally, I say have the big hug and a good cry. Sometimes it is better to accept the moment, rather than figure out how to describe it. Just an afterthought from an afterthought.

    • jes97003 permalink*
      February 18, 2010 1:00 am

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry for what sounds like a crummy reunion with your siblings, or at least one in which your expectations were not met. If the cameras had been rolling during my reunion with my birth brother, and later with my birth parents, it would have made for pretty unexciting TV. I’m not someone who has a good cry in such situations. I’m not overly affectionate with people I’ve just met, even ones with whom I share genes. Yet, the blissful joy I felt when, for example, I met my birth brother….it was intense! It might not have been picturesque enough for Hollywood, but it was an incredibly moving experience, at least for me. I couldn’t stop grinning and staring. Translate that response to TV and I would have come across like that big-eyed monkey Boots on Dora the Explorer. I know those people on Find My Family weren’t just acting. I know their response was real, if edited. But in the four shows I saw, it was the same response, same ending. It didn’t allow for any other possibilities, or even the reality that you describe, the emotional let-down, which I imagine is just as real for a good number of people. Finally, I guess it’s the writer in me, too, who finds incredible value in trying to figure out how to describe the indescribable, especially when it comes to situations that are a blur of emotion. By analyzing it now, I can slow it down, get something of that happy moment back, figure out how we got from there to here, and keep going.

  2. Lois Hinz permalink
    February 1, 2010 1:34 am

    Hi, Jenny!
    I am highly interested in what you have to share, not only because I’ve known and loved your family for over 30 years, but also because of our two adopted daughters. Jane knows her birth family.They located her long ago through MacArthur High School’s annual…Jane was her birth name, too. In fact, one of her birth sisters lives with her now. But there is almost no connection between her birth parents and her. I think the arrangement is mutual. Tina, however, has never given up on the idea that she wants to know her birth mother. She’s 18 now and more determined than ever to track down her roots. DCFS has not been helpful at all, and I’m frankly skeptical about ever getting info from them…and at the same time, terrified that maybe somehow they will eventually come through and give Tina a name and address or number to contact.

    • jes97003 permalink*
      February 2, 2010 2:20 am

      Thanks for your comment, Mrs. Hinz. I think I remember Mom telling me about Jane and her sister. Was Tina’s adoption closed? If so, legally, DCFS is bound not to release information although it would be possible to do a search through other means. I think it’s pretty common for people to hit their teens and really feel an urgency to find a birth family. She’s at an age where she’s trying to figure out who she is. I’m glad I was in my 30s, though. It’s an emotional roller coaster. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle it at 18–but that’s me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: