What is it about being a dedicated career woman and the prospect of adoption that it has suddenly popped up as a major storyline in three primetime programs?
House, 30 Rock and Brothers & Sisters are currently featuring adoption stories: An unmarried hospital administrator, a single head writer of a TV show and a married former communications director for a presidential candidate/senator are waiting for birth mothers to choose their arms as the safe harbor for their newborns. Thus far in the season, two out of the three fictional characters have been rejected by birth mothers who’d initially picked them to raise their unborn babies, and the third was told by an adoption agency coordinator that her intense work schedule was a factor in rejecting her as a prospective adoptive mother. What gives?
On House , the frequent foil for the cantankerous Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), Dr. Lisa Cuddy (played by Lisa Edelstein) has, for several seasons of the award-winning Fox drama endured a long, sad slog through fertility treatments, tried to find a sperm donor, then tried and failed to get pregnant. In this fifth season, Cuddy was thisclose to adopting a baby.
In a recent episode, a young woman named Becca, who got pregnant by mistake, selected Cuddy to adopt her unborn child. Cuddy had impressed her with her smarts, Becca said, with her career and self-assuredness. But Becca changed her mind about the adoption shortly after the baby, which Cuddy named Joy, was born. Despite having told Cuddy in the delivery room, “She’s yours now,” Becca later recanted: “When I saw you hold her and the look on your face, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And that’s when I realized I can’t.” Saying she didn’t “want to be a loser,” Becca said she would raise the baby on her own. It was heartbreaking to watch Cuddy prepping the nursery and painting it a cheerful yellow in one scene, then see her return home with empty arms, the new crib filled with not a baby but a big heap of unopened baby gear.
In ABC’s Brothers & Sisters , Calista Flockhart’s character Kitty Walker has likewise endured fertility treatments and suffered a traumatic miscarriage, all while her new husband, a senator with two children from a previous marriage, made a failed bid for the presidency. Now the couple is in the midst of trying to adopt a baby.
In a November episode, the same thing happened to Kitty that happened to Cuddy: A birth mother first said she wanted to give her baby to Kitty and her husband, Senator Robert McCallister (Rob Lowe), then changed her mind. She had a change of heart because Kitty said she couldn’t comprehend how or why the birth mother, Trish -- a successful surgical intern – would surrender her child. “I’ve always been under the assumption that our birth mother would be some kind of messed up kid,” Kitty said. “But you, see you could do this. Even if you work nonstop, you could hire a nanny . . . I kept thinking about what you said this morning about how your career was your baby. I used to say the same thing and now I’ve changed my mind so I just wanted to make sure you’ve thought this through.”
This offended Trish so much that she decided Kitty wouldn’t be a good match. She said she was going to give her baby to a different family. Echoing the sentiments shared by her fictional counterpart Cuddy on House, Kitty told her husband the reason she grilled Trish was because she wanted to make sure the birth mother’s mind was firmly made up. “I have had my heart broken many times,” Kitty said.
Over on the Tina Fey comedy 30 Rock , Fey plays Liz Lemon, the kooky head writer on an SNL-type sketch show. For the past two seasons, Liz has tried to figure out if she wants to become a mother. After a pregnancy scare last season, her character decided she did indeed want a child and that she’d pursue adoption. However Liz fared poorly when the adoption agency coordinator Bev (Megan Mullally) did a home evaluation, where she peppered Liz with off-beat, 30 Rock-like quips such as, “How often do you entertain gentlemen sex guests?” and “Your work life seems very demanding,” after Liz had said she works 60-80 hours per week.
Still skeptical, the coordinator requested a workplace visit, where Liz’s co-workers told inappropriate anecdotes, one while wearing a hat with the word “Horny” across the front. Oh, and Liz was caught in a lie about the existence of on-set nursery. (There was none.) Even when Bev was knocked unconscious, forgot that she’d already done an evaluation and Liz got a “do-over,” Bev still rejected Liz: “As a single woman with a demanding job, working in such a, well, non-traditional environment, I’m sorry, but you’re not an ideal candidate.” To which Liz replied, “Yes, I work very hard, almost all the time . . . but I feel like my life will open up and make room just the same way my heart will open up and make room when I meet this baby. And yes, this place is not ideal but these weirdos are family to me, so if this job is a deal breaker, then you tear up my application and I will start over someplace else.” Cue the shredder.
Why the sudden negatively-tinged focus on adoption and women with challenging careers? One of my friends suggested that perhaps the high-profile adoptions by celeb moms – Angelina Jolie, Calista Flockhart, Meg Ryan, Madonna and Sheryl Crow – has made adoption a hot topic. Adoption is a choice many people make in order to build their families, however I’m left wondering why these three storylines on popular TV shows have to be such downers, complete with sad, heart rending outcomes. Aren’t there any happy adoption stories they could tell?