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New TV series shows open adoption from both sides

Last modified: 11/4/2012 8:09:01 AM
Pregnant at 18, a high school dropout, Genavieve Diggs knew she wasn’t equipped to raise a child, but after surrendering her newborn for adoption, she nearly changed her mind.

Under state law in Connecticut, where she lives, Diggs had 30 days to make sure the adoption was what she wanted. Such post-birth waiting periods are common in the patchwork of laws governing adoption around the country, in Diggs’s case an open arrangement where the two dads she had chosen had already agreed to grant her regular visits with her baby girl.

The waiting period nearly melted her resolve.

“The 30 days were just a rollercoaster of emotions,” she said in a recent interview. “I had just had the baby and all my hormones were going crazy. I had to struggle, to tell myself, you know, ‘You can’t take care of a child right now. You’re not ready. You’re not ready emotionally or financially.’”

Diggs poured her sadness, longing and frustration into The Baby Wait, a new, six-part documentary series on Logo that focuses equal attention on agonizing post-birth waiting periods from the perspectives of both biological and adoptive parents.

Mark Krieger and Paul Siebold, the Manhattan couple matched with Diggs, agreed to appear on the show to shed light on same-sex couples who want to adopt. They were in the delivery room when baby Morgan was born and handed over to them first as Diggs lay sadly nearby.

Later, after agreeing to the adoption but still in the 30-day wait, Diggs laments as she shops for baby clothes: “I honestly wish I could just take it back and be her mom.”

“It was a very vulnerable time,” said Siebold, who does public relations for a real estate company in Manhattan. “Genavieve, this is her baby, and she loves Morgan and anything could have really happened at that point. Thank goodness she had a certain amount of time to decide whether she was making the right decision.”

Diggs moved ahead with the adoption after the 30 days passed and sees Morgan regularly. The show premiered with her story and that of Morgan’s two dads on Tuesday, with other segments featuring other same-sex and heterosexual couples. The series, produced by Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley, coincides with a heart-wrenching account of domestic adoption gone wrong in the October issue of Vogue magazine, headlined “The Long Wait.”

New York writer Jennifer Gilmore chronicles her failed attempts to conceive with her husband and their two years of trying to arrange an open adoption, so their baby’s biological parents could be part of their lives. The difference: This story’s ending wasn’t a happy one for the childless couple.

There were false starts with birth moms who chose other families, disappeared or decided to parent their babies after all. And there were many of them, including scammers looking for money. The desperate couple finally agreed to fly to St. Louis soon after a hurried contact with a woman who had just given birth two months prematurely and wanted to arrange an adoption.

Holding the tiny baby hooked to wires and machines in the hospital, Gilmore and her husband, Pedro Barbeito, decided they couldn’t handle the newborn’s special needs and walked away, heartbroken.

“In reality,” Gilmore writes, “there is no fairy tale. There are far fewer babies than those who so badly want them. And adoption, while often the best arrangement possible, is, by its very nature, about loss. Everyone is grieving.”

Karen Vedder knows the loss firsthand. In 1967, at age 24, she surrendered a baby girl for adoption the old fashion way: knocked out cold during the birth, the infant whisked away at the hospital without so much as a chance for her to see or hold her, before Vedder even knew the gender.

Reunited years later with her daughter, after raising four sons – one of whom is Pearl Jam drummer Eddie Vedder – she believes today’s prevalent open adoptions aren’t the perfect answer.

Visitation arrangements often dwell in a gray area legally. If access is cut off or curtailed, it takes mountains of money for birth parents to fight back in court. And pre- and post-adoption counseling provided biological mothers is often skewed to favor surrender, said Vedder, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., and is former president of the advocacy group Concerned United Birthparents.

On TV and in movies, she said, “It just amazes me that we’re always these unsavory people who really don’t deserve to keep our babies. The sympathy is always with the adopting parents. If the mom changes her mind, nobody says, ‘Oh good, that baby’s going to be raised by his or her mommy.’ Everybody feels sorry for the couple that wanted the baby.”

Openness in infant domestic adoption has become the norm, according to a report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. But such arrangements, with contact ranging from cards sent to biological parents once a year to regular visits, are often misunderstood by those outside of the adoption community, the report said.

“In the case of open adoption, I think people might intellectually understand, but this show sheds light on the emotional and experiential level,” said DiSanto, The Baby Wait producer who, with Gateley, is behind such reality hits as Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant.

“This show sort of starts where most other shows would climax, so it starts with the birth and the hand-over, and the fact that that could change,” said DiSanto, himself a parent with his wife through a surrogate mother. “We thought to really tell the story the right way you need to have that parallel path and tell both sides. We look at this as being one way that a modern family is formed.”

On Thursday, Morgan turned 1. Diggs was there for a party planned by Krieger and Siebold. Now 19 and about to earn her GED, she has no regrets but does have tearful moments of loss despite seeing her baby once or twice a month. “I’m in a great place,” she said, explaining that she’s back in touch with Morgan’s biological father, who now also visits the baby but is absent from the show. “It’s an amazing feeling that I still get to be her mother.”


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