The case of Jessica DeBoer was played in the media as an adoptive parents' nightmare, a melodrama to rend the heartstrings of anyone who has ever considered adopting a child: a 2 1/2-year-old taken away from the Only Home She Has Ever Known, an adoption come undone because of an unmarried birth mother who lied and a father who suddenly showed up.
As a clincher, we had those AP photos
and film footage of the
child as she was whisked away. (Never mind the possibility that
distress may have been caused by Robeta DeBoer, who, it was
only at the end of the accounts, lunged for Jessica as she was
taken away, in a last-ditch effort to hold on to her.)
Personally, I hate being manipulated.
Whatever happened to giving
the other side, one of the principles of fair and balanced journalism? And by
this, I don't mean burying it
at the bottom of the inverted news pyramid.
When the Supreme Court refused to hear the
case, it should have effectively
put an end to the media hype and public hysteria. The New York Times mentioned that
refusal only in passing in a piece on the opinion of the two justices who dissented from
the majority. (The
opinion, evidently, would have been of no interest to readers.)
a poll of my own, I found that everyone I asked knew Jessica
as the toddler taken from the Only Home She Had Ever Known.
if any, were aware of the facts of this case: of an infertile couple
who clung at all costs to someone else's child despite 2 1/2 years of court orders. Could public opinion, I wonder, be
a reflection of the media's penchant for the catch phrase, the dramatic
footage, the sentimental photo?
the sound bites and snapshots is a tragic human-interest story that has the potential for a happy
ending: Wanting the best thing for her child, a single mother gives her up. Within days,
her situation changes.
Now there is a relationship, a father in the picture; he stands by her; they ask for the
child back, informing the would-be adoptive couple within the month; they get married.
A difficult situation, yes. Some unfortunate
circumstances, yes. Do
the media wish them well?
Roberta DeBoer is praised as the ideal, selfless mother who quits her job to stay home with the child, only to have her taken away, while
Cara Schmidt is blasted as the morally suspect unwed mother who had been willing to give up her baby.
birth mother took action to regain her child, implied an article
in The New Yorker, because she had been brainwashed by an anti-adoption
group. In a public castigation of Cara Schmidt, the "biological"
mother, The Times' editorial page went so far as to invoke the
Biblical story of Solomon's judgment - an interpretation that had the
wise king himself, I am sure, turning in his grave. "Home is where the
heart it, but in this case it's where the biological parents are," snidely intoned a CNN news commentator, juxtaposing images
of love and warmth
and home (the DeBoers) with those of cold science. I guess the media see the
Schmidts' child as merely the incidental union of an ovum and a sperm.
So what does the would-be adoptive couple do?
What would you do?
Judging from media support for the
DeBoers, here is the right way
adoptive couples to behave when a birth mother changes her mind: Try at all costs to hold the
birth parents to the terms of the contract,
to exact your pound of flesh. Arrogantly ignore court rulings and go before the cameras,
never hesitating to teach someone else's child to call you Mommy and Daddy. The longer you keep
her, the more wrenching the image of taking her away. And this self-serving
promoted as children's "rights"?
result is a birth mother's nightmare. On the TV screen, alongside
the poignant footage (which includes a sign with a bleeding heart rent in two, posted by
the DeBoers for the benefit of us TV
there is even a call-in number.
It is hard for me to see what motivates this would-be
adoptive couple. A
belief that they are superior, above the law? A feeling of
entitlement? A sense of being short-changed in an adoption contract no different from a bill of
sale? A belief in their "better" qualifications-
except for the mere matter of biology - to raise a child? But isn't
this moral standard really an economic one? Are we readers and TV viewers really supposed to
think their behavior is what Solomon had in mind when he defined the quality that
characterizes parenthood? Who are these self-appointed shapers of public
the media didn't get it.
behind their arrogance is a need to see mothers who give up children
as different from and less deserving than better-off individuals
like themselves. Perhaps these media spokespersons, now well into their careers, relate
more readily to trendy issues like
or the shortage of adoptable children or even unwed career
who decide to have a go at motherhood than they do to the painful dilemma of a poor parent who
finds herself with a child she cannot
It boils down to this: They simply could not imagine themselves in Cara Schmidt's situation,
but they could easily have been the
is perhaps because of this myopia that the press has been able to ignore
the pain the Schmidts have suffered these 2 1/2 years. But certainly
such self-absorption does not characterize all of us.
the outcome of the case depended a lot more on the workings of blind justice than on
so-called "even-handed" journalism.
In the end, I, for one, unlike those
smug masters of spin, wish the
Schmidt family well.