All I want for Christmas…is a baybee. Or so it seems in Hollywood. Every time one turns around there is another story about a Hollywood star adopting a child, thinking about adopting a child, or being touted for having adopted a child. And if it’s not adoption, it’s surrogacy. It’s starting to look a lot like one would not be remiss to assume that the biological connection between a parent and a child is practically irrelevant among many of those with wealth and privilege. But my question is: Do these adoptions always give a child a better life or a stable two-parent family? Granted, I will concede that these celebrity adoptions do, in the vast majority of cases, give children a more affluent lifestyle than they would have had with their original parents.
One of the earliest celebrity adoptions I remember is that of Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson who adopted a son in 1988. But, unfortunately, being adopted didn’t result in the boy getting a stable home with a mother and father–which I presume is the reason Quinton Reynold’s natural mother gave him up for adoption in the first place. His famous, wealthy and successful adoptive parents divorced, amidst allegations of abuse, when he was only 5 years old. And the couple’s legal battles are still going on, some twenty years later, over financial matters relating to the divorce. Sandra Bullock and Jesse James are another celebrity couple who told the world they were going to become adoptive parents but ended up divorcing before they even brought ‘their’ son home. Ms. Bullock has since become a single parent.
Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise’s first attempt at adoption is another story that has always stuck in my mind. The story goes that the couple were planning to adopt a Florida boy when the press got wind of their plans while they were still in the legal process of adopting. As the result of this so-called ‘press intrusion’, the couple decided to opt out of adopting the boy. Now, if adopted children are supposedly considered family members in the exact same way that biological children are, I don’t see how they could have changed their minds and not finalized the adoption. I mean, I find it hard to believe that the Cruises’, or any other celebrity couple for that matter, would leave a biological child behind in the hospital just because the paparazzi got wind of the birth before the couple was ready to announce it. As we all know, Tom and Nicole did eventually go on to adopt two children. So I guess they were satisfied with how the media handled those adoptions.
Now let’s fast forward a bit to some more recent examples. Actor and frequent Master of Ceremonies, Neil Patrick Harris, was interviewed last year on Barbara Walters’ Ten Most Fascinating People special. He and his partner, David Burtka, are the biological fathers of twins delivered by a surrogate. But Mr. Harris says he has no desire to know which man fathered which child because he loves them both equally. And as we all know, biology doesn’t matter…right? Well, my first thought upon hearing that was, “Don’t you think the children might want to know?” How unfair is it for these two (male) parents to make such a profound decision for the children? I hope that when the children are older they get to decide for themselves what they want to know about their biological parentage, and that their fathers will help them find the answers they seek. The twins will each need a complete medical history and, no matter how much love there is in the family, that is something they can only get from knowing their biological heritage.
Then there is the story of the former The View co-host and Broadway actress, Sherri Shepherd. Ms. Shepherd chose to pursue surrogacy with her then husband, Lamar Sally, assuring the public that the lack of a biological connection to the child would be meaningless to her and that she would absolutely, positively, 100 percent consider herself the child’s mother.** That is, at least until the marriage crumbled, when according to news reports Ms. Shepherd decided to have nothing more to do with this special needs child. Her attorney even issued a statement saying that Ms. Shepherd has no legal relationship to the boy. She does, however, have a very active relationship as a single parent to her biological son with her first husband. Fortunately, the infant delivered by the surrogate is being raised by Sherri’s ex-husband, the boy’s biological father.
There are also of course those celebrity adoptive parents who are most likely well-meaning but who manage to say things that help to promote stereotypes, half-truths and misguided beliefs about adoption. Take actress Sharon Stone, for example. She has commented publicly that she jokes with friends all the time about how adopted kids always end up looking so much like their adoptive parents while biological kids barely resemble their parents at all. Ha! Ha! Ha! Perhaps Ms. Stone needs to take a Biology 101 refresher course. Children are a REPRODUCTION of their biological parents and will look like them and/or other blood relatives. If a child looks like members of his adoptive family, it is coincidence and nothing more. It does help a child feel a sense of belonging when she genuinely looks like her family, but it does no good trying to dismiss the obvious differences between adopted kids and biological kids.
Singer Sheryl Crow is another celebrity who has been outspoken about her experience as an a single adoptive parent. Who can forget her famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) comment that little souls may be born into the wrong family but through the miracle of adoption find their way to where they are meant to be? Hmm. In my humble opinion, what is really happening is a bit of social engineering, based on desperation on the one hand and power and privilege on the other.
Now lest I have given readers the impression I think all celebrity adoptions are bad, let me assure you that is not the case. First of all, I don’t know these people personally and they may very well be wonderful parents. There are even some famous adoptive parents who seem to get it right. Mariska Hargitay had what is sometimes referred to as a ‘failed’ adoption since the natural mother changed her mind about going through with adoption after the birth. Ms. Hargitay may have been disappointed but she did not consider this a failure at all. She understood that a natural mother has the right to her own child and should never feel forced or coerced to give up her child to meet someone else’s needs. Actress and playwright Nia Vardalos adopted a somewhat older child, a four year old girl, who did seem to be truly in need of a home. And another actress adopted three brothers from foster care thus enabling the siblings to stay together.
But there can be no denying that celebrity adoption is not always what it’s cracked up to be. If it were, we would not have these two words forever etched in our collective consciousness…..”Mommie Dearest”.
Love is not enough to overcome a child’s loss of his blood family and in some cases his culture and language too. So I must in good conscience encourage those of means to help a child stay in his or her biological family whenever possible, and instead of trying to get a baybee for Christmas learn to be content with an ugly sweater.
Update: In 2015, the judge in the custody matter between Ms. Sherri Shepherd and Mr. Lamar Sally ruled that Ms. Shepherd is the child’s legal mother and ordered her to pay child support for the boy, Lamar Jr., born via surrogate. Ms. Shepherd had been fighting to prevent her name from being listed on the birth certificate. Her argument was that she and the child’s biological (and legal) father, Lamar Sally, had broken up in May 2014, three months before the boy’s August birth. The judge did not agree. Married biological parents cannot get out of their legal, financial and moral obligations to an unborn child just because they split up before the child is born, and this case should be no different.
I cannot even imagine how painful it will be for little Lamar Jr. when he learns that his ‘mother’ pulled out all the stops to avoid having any legal or emotional relationship with him, especially given that his story has been so public. Fortunately, he will have the love and devotion of his biological father while growing up in the family home in Los Angeles. While it looks like Sherri will be eating her words.
As another year is winding down, let’s try to make 2016 the year we get all the children placed in unnecessary, unethical and illegal adoptions back with their natural parents, where they belong.
Wishing everyone Happy Holidays and a Happy and Healthy New Year!
*N. B. The contents of this post are my opinions based on information from various news stories regarding celebrities and adoption and surrogacy.
**People Magazine, September 29, 2014, pg.31
This post was originally published on December 27, 2014