Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Predeceased by her adopted son. . . "

Have you heard about the suicide of Marie Osmond's 18-year-old son Michael? Quite a tragedy, and I feel for the family. Nothing could be worse for a mother than surviving her children. In his suicide note, Michael referenced his life-long struggle with depression, a reminder that depression is a potentially fatal illness.

Did you know he was adopted? Though it has been mentioned, there hasn't been a lot of attention to this fact. I got a tweet today that claimed, "1% of the news articles about the Osmond Son's suicide mentions he was adopted & had identity issues w/ loss involved." Wow --only 1%! Quite a statistic, if it could really be proved! In an admittedly cursory search, I found only one article where "Adopted Son" made it into the headline. This article buried the fact in the last paragraph. This article and this article don't mention adoption at all. It certainly is fair to say that adoption hasn't been the focus of any of the reporting.

I'm actually astonished that adoption hasn't played a bigger role in the reporting -- it almost always does. All those obituaries where someone is "survived by his ADOPTED son John Doe." Or Marie Osmond's future obituary, which will assuredly say she is "predeceased by her ADOPTED son." Or those reports that a serial killer is adopted, suggesting that his adoption turned him into a serial killer. And remember back in 2001, the shoot-down of a plane near Colombia suspected of being drug smugglers, but was instead the plane of missionaries, reported as "Missionary Veronica "Roni" Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old adopted daughter, Charity, were both killed. . . ." I remember this one so clearly because it came out shortly before I adopted Zoe.

Adoption activists have campaigned strongly for more responsible reporting concerning adoption. This Adoptive Families guide for media suggests this rule: "As with race or gender, the fact that a person was adopted should be mentioned only if it’s essential to the story." It further advises, "A daughter who joined the family through adoption is—and should be described as—simply a daughter." And this piece, the Art of Obituary Writing, is 6 pages of "best practices" on whether and how and when to mention adoption in an obituary!

I guess I'm belaboring all this to say I should be thrilled that the journalists writing about Michael's suicide are giving nary a mention to the fact that he's adopted.

But oddly enough, I'm not thrilled. And it's hard for me to get a handle on why. I agree that adoption should only be mentioned in a news story when essential -- or at least relevant -- to the story. Maybe I'm being influenced by studies like this, that show adoption as a risk factor in suicide attempts. Maybe adoption is essential to Michael's suicide. But then again, maybe it's not. To suggest that adoption is relevant is to suggest that persons who are adopted are, by reason of adoption, mentally ill. The LAST thing we need to do is pathologize normal reactions of grief and loss that arise in adoption.

But the NEXT to the last thing we need is to allow the media to bury anything adoption-related that interferes with their favorite happy-happy-joy-joy narrative about adoption. I get the feeling with this story that the media is happy to avoid any adoption link, because it would contradict their preferred view of adoption as an unmitigated good. They'd prefer to show pictures of smiling Haitian children joining their new adoptive families in America, than to delve into any of the hard issues in adoption.

Maybe the answer to my dilemma is one of timing -- maybe we don't know enough yet to report that Michael is adopted, and thereby suggest a link between his adoption and his suicide. Maybe we need some serious journalistic treatment here, real investigative reporting to look into the influence of adoption in Michael's life and death. Unfortunately, I'm not really expecting the media to do this. Once the moment passes, and other celebrity news rises to the fore, I doubt we'll hear much more about poor Michael.

So what do you think? Is the media doing the right thing to downplay the fact that Michael was adopted? Is anyone else out there as ambivalent as I am right now?

10 comments:

Wendy said...

I am feeling as you do--on the fence. On the one hand I was glad to know it wasn't the same tired "adopted son" bit, but then when I heard it was suicide and due to depression/identity I thought hey, this is when mentioning and reporting on adoption depression would do some good. I think you are right on in this situation--we are coming off the smiling Haitian children and they don't want to spoil that notion. However, I agree that it could be overreported leading to the idea that all adoptees are mentally ill and ready to end their lives. Fine line to be sure.

Von said...

Good post and I reblogged, hope that's ok...you know where to find me! You've so well brought out all the issues, maybe there are more.

etropic said...

The only place I have seen where it was mentioned that her son was having issues about being adopted was on Larry King Back in2007 when he went into rehab. One of the news outlets actually showed the snip-it of that interview..I believe it was Show Biz Tonight??

suz said...

great post and i agree with you. like you, part of me is happy it wasnt mentioned yet another part of me is unhappy.

sad all around.

and i wonder if they will ever attempt to locate and tell his first mother?

i find it yet another horrible aspect of adoption that mothers are never told that their child is deceaed. i can envision a mother out there, dreaming, waiting, wanting, hoping her child will find her (or she can find him) without the knowledge that he is dead.

makes me very sad.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the first thing I heard about her son's suicide was "her adopted son" from one of the network newscasts. And no other mention of identity issues or anything else, so I felt like they were giving the impression that adoptees are mentally ill.

On the other hand, I can believe that people can be depressed because of adoption and also that depression, especially manic-depression (bipolar disorder) does run in families. My cousin's daughter was adopted domestically (not TRA) and her first mom does have bipolar disorder which hasn't been well controlled by medication; that was her reason for not raising her daughter. Fortunately, my cousin does have very complete medical records for both of her children (open adoptions). I wish all families had medical information for their children.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the first thing I heard about her son's suicide was "her adopted son" from one of the network newscasts. And no other mention of identity issues or anything else, so I felt like they were giving the impression that adoptees are mentally ill.

On the other hand, I can believe that people can be depressed because of adoption and also that depression, especially manic-depression (bipolar disorder) does run in families. My cousin's daughter was adopted domestically (not TRA) and her first mom does have bipolar disorder which hasn't been well controlled by medication; that was her reason for not raising her daughter. Fortunately, my cousin does have very complete medical records for both of her children (open adoptions). I wish all families had medical information for their children.

Addie Pray said...

In this case I would have liked to see at least the more in-depth stories mention that he was adopted. It is part of who he was, it could have contributed to his death. I do think that in this case the topic was avoided, mainly due to the image of his mother.

Think of it this way, if one of Madonna's adopted children meets the same fate as this young man, do you think they will probably mention that they were adopted?

There is a double standard in how adoption is portrayed in news stories, and much of it relies on people's preconceived notions of what adoption is, good or bad.

LisaLew said...

Once I received an Email from an old friend. She referred to Sydney as my "daughter." YES, she put "daughter" in quotation marks! To me that was more telling about her attitude than referring to her as my adopted daughter.

PS I didn't write her back.

Pickel said...

Oh, I had no idea. You're right. the media does need to write about it.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings because I'm not sure there is direct causation. Marie has been divorced twice and suffered serious depression many times. Not sure how present that made her for her 7 children. It must have been hard to been raised with more trauma.