Adoption Discrimination: CBS Calls Adoptees “Used Babies”

There has been widespread discussion in the adoption community about an offhand remark from a recent episode of “Rules Of Engagement” on CBS. You can watch the clip here.

One character said, in response to the news that there would be no food at an adoption fair he was planning to attend with his wife:

“A lot of nerve calling it a fair when they’re not offering some sort of meat on a stick.”

His wife says: “…If we get serious about adoption we need these people to like us.”

His response: “If they can’t like me for who I am then I’m not going to buy one of their used babies.” (cue canned laughter)

And that’s just the commercial. I can only imagine how the rest of this adoption-related plot is going to work out.
Okay, yes, this is a comedy. But discrimination against a particular group of people should not be fodder for the laugh track. This is why adoptees and first mothers face discrimination: because people make light of our situations. Losing your family is not funny. Surrendering a child is not funny. (Neither is infertility, for that matter.) There is also something to be said for comedy that isn’t afraid to make a point when a point needs to be made. M*A*S*H comes to mind — comedy combined with serious assessments of the impact of war.
I know a number of adoptive parents who are open-minded, honest, and willing to accept adult adoptee and first mother viewpoints even if those viewpoints make them uncomfortable. In my opinion, these folks totally rock and I wish more adoptive parents were like them. Unfortunately, far too frequently I encounter the other end of the pendulum: adopters with an entitlement mentality, who believe they “deserve” to be parents at all costs, who stick to the stereotypes because anything else interferes with their mental image of themselves as “rescuers.” (Go check out Cricket’s Blog Of Shame list for some nauseating examples.)
To me, this dialogue smacks of that: “Of course we should be fed, if we’re going to an adoption fair! Of course we should be wined and dined and pampered; we’re the paying customers! We expect top-notch service and prime quality merchandise — which we’ll return if it doesn’t match our expectations.” To such people, first mothers are mechanical wombs and adoptees are malleable Barbie dolls who never grow up. Note also the currying of adoption agency favors: Hide your true self, suck up to the agency and maybe you’ll be rewarded with a kid. Sadly accurate.
I don’t care that the dialogue is supposed to reflect the abrasive personality of the particular character who said it. The fact remains, people who don’t have direct connections to adoption (and even some that do) get their ideas about it from TV, movies, and books. Which means that if writers are going to use adoption as a plot point (I’m talking to YOU, Diablo Cody) then they better get their facts straight and realize what an impact their words will have on people for whom adoption is more than just a sitcom.
We also have to consider the impact upon young adoptees, who are at the forefront of adoption discrimination. Many are already ostracized, especially those who are of a different race than their adoptive families. I can tell you how such a remark on a television program would have felt to me when I was a child. In the era of “Diff’rent Strokes,” all adoptees were assumed to be poor kids who were damn lucky to be raised by wealthy whites. I hated the show, hated the assumptions, yet it was the only portrayal of adoptees I knew so I absorbed the stereotypes even as I struggled to find my own identity. Adoptees deserve better, and we as a society know better, thanks to the voices of the many people who write, blog, and otherwise share their viewpoints on this polarizing subject. Yet Hollywood is still stuck repeating the same damn stereotypes with a 21st century facelift. Instead of wealthy white men, we get adoption fairs. Instead of adorable black kids, we get international adoptees, donor conceptions, and donated embryos. Same crap, different era.
The dangers of discrimination arise from stereotypes and assumptions. Adoption agencies are to blame for setting unreasonable expectations in the minds of many prospective adopters. The mass media is also to blame for continuing adoption stereotypes: that adopting is “the same” as giving birth, that adopting a child negates the traumas of infertility, that “good” adoptees don’t ask questions, that “bad” adoptees search, that all first mothers are “whores” who didn’t deserve their children… the list goes on. People still believe this nonsense precisely because it is perpetuated.
What we need is open, honest discussion about adoption: what the stereotypes are, what makes them stereotypes, and how those stereotypes hurt people. Just as we shouldn’t accept discrimination based on race, gender, or sexuality, neither should we accept it based on adoption.
If you want to contact CBS, here is the contact information. It wouldn’t hurt to contact your local CBS affiliate, too.
Ms. Nina Tassler
President, CBS Entertainment
CBS Entertainment
7800 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039-2112


  1. On the other hand, I kinda like the honesty about adoption being about BUYING babies! Used, yeah…as in previously owned! Not your own original creation. Works for me…

    Sorry, but I do not share your feelings of being slighted. I find the truth very refreshing.

  2. You’ve got a point, Mirah. Still, I don’t appreciate being lumped in the same category as an old Datsun or a lumpy sofa. I think it perpetuates the notion of adoptees as being second choice, less than — never good enough.

  3. http://Anonymous says

    I for one was very offended. A child who is relinquished for adoption should not be referred to as a “used baby” in an effort to get a laugh. It is not funny, it is hurtful. I wrote CBS as did numerous others, and none of us have received a reply.

    Triona, thank you for your comments on your Blog, you have great insight, and compassion for the feelings of others. CBS could take some lessons from you.

  4. Thanks, Anonymous. I didn’t receive a reply from CBS either (I sent them a copy of this blog), and I don’t know anyone else who did. Seems CBS is trying to sweep the whole thing under the rug which makes it even more important for us to publicize their poor judgment.

  5. Wow, I totally missed this show…thanks for this thought-provoking post.
    I agree with Mirah that I’d rather see Hollywood smash the stereotypes with some truth, than not talk about adoption at all. At least they are being truthful in their idea of “buying” babies and the mindset of commercialism for what adoption is…and at least it is getting people to talk about the subject.
    BUT you are so right that the stereotypes in adoption are rampant and offensive…adoptees live with them every day. I love how adoption of puppies and highways are equated with humans.

  6. There’s a difference between the truth…..and a version of the truth used as entertainment that’s almost poking fun.

    It’s OK to discuss adoption in serious terms about what it actually is.

    It is not OK to discuss adoption for entertainment where people will snicker at the lives of very real individuals in society. Discussing babies being bought and sold this way does not urge a person to work towards social justice. It insults adopted persons while the viewer chuckles and reaches for a bag of chips.

    I’m as offended as you are Triona, I will be writing them. Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

    Mind if I post a link to this on my blog?

  7. I mean, look at Juno for goodness sakes. The couple offered to PAY Juno to BUY her baby and viewers never raised an eyebrow. There should have been an outrage. Everyone ought to have boycotted the movie. It should have been on the front pages with reporters investigating the topic: “is the Juno account of a couple offering to buy a baby accurate? How many people in real life are doing this?”

    But no one cared. They just reached into their bag of popcorn and went on to the next scene.

    Again, stuff like this only makes it worse for adoptees. It doesn’t do one bit of good.

  8. Peach, I feel the same way about puppies and highways. I understand that some people refer to their rescued pets as “adoptees” and that really ticks me off.

    Amanda, that was my thought too: that serious discussion of adoption is one thing but making light of its fallacies for entertainment value is something else.

    I also think there is a danger that, when the realities of adoption are used for entertainment, people assume “oh, those things only happen on TV” and don’t realize how corrupt adoption is, and how babyselling is a very real problem. Heck, I have a hard time convincing people that I really DON’T have access to my birth certificate–some think I just haven’t tried hard enough! Same with trying to explain that my adoption may not have been entirely above board (gray market). People think I am exaggerating or making it up. I have spoken to people who were literally black market babies and they’ve experienced the same problem. How can we reform adoption if people refuse to admit there are problems in the first place?

    As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if you’re a hotshot Hollywood producer or not, we all have an obligation to our fellow human beings to leave the world a better place than we found it. Exploiting the tragedy of others for entertainment value only makes things worse.

  9. Amanda, forgot to say–yes, absolutely you may link to my blog from yours, which by the way is excellent!

  10. Gawd. “Used babies”? As in what, coming out of somone else’s vagina already? Lmao and sorry to be so crude Tri, but hell, Closed Adoption and the way they treat us is crude, so what the hell right? I don’t watch primetime tv, (too Orwellian Corporate America for me) so I missed this, but I am glad you have outed this stupid comment on your blog. It pretty much proves what we Adoptees have been feeling our entire lives, that we are second class citizens, whose most painful feelings are the butt of jokes whilst the need to know our own Mothers is immaturely and sinisterly mocked.
    I hope you have been doing okay concerning you Mother In Law-hugs Tri.

  11. http://Anonymous says

    I sent my Tassler a piece of my mind.

    A “used baby”? Kind like a used car? F’ing CBS.

  12. Has anyone actually heard from CBS? From what I can tell they are remaining silent on the whole issue.