“Switched at Birth” Takes on Father Rights

Racilous column topper

At the beginning of the summer, “Switched at Birth” started to pop up on my queue again, and I admit I was excited. It has been a sort of guilty pleasure of mine, something I’ve enjoyed since its inception a couple years ago. For those who don’t watch it, it’s the story of two teenage girls who were switched at birth. One, Daphne, grew up with a Latino single mother and grandmother in a lower income part of the city; the other, Bay, grew up with well-off parents. When they were not quite 16 they realized they were not biologically related to their respective parents, found each other and with a lot of struggle found a way to create their own version of family.

From the beginning of the show, I thought the way they were able to delve into the nature and nurture argument we hear so much in the world of adoption was pretty smart. Because of the set-up – two families both wronged by a hospital and two girls that legitimately had two sets of parents – this show more than most seemed to be able to show a child raised by parents not biologically related to them would become a mixture of nature and nurture. It seemed they could push the question of nature versus nurture in a way that may have been less well-received if they approached the subject through adoption.

Recently the show actually did dive into the world of adoption – Bay’s biological father, Angelo found out he had gotten a woman pregnant during a one night stand. The woman, a med student, showed up back in his life to tell him about the baby (she was 8 months pregnant when that happened). Last season she gave birth and even though she knew that Angelo wanted to parent, she left the hospital with the child to relinquish the child for adoption. The reasons were complicated, but for me none were justifiable.

switched

This summer, while Father’s Rights started filling up news coverage with the Baby Veronica case, this show focused on Angelo’s fight to find and bring back his child. After several missteps, he was able to track down the child who was living with a couple a few hours away. Mid-season he and Bay went to visit the couple to try to convince them to give back the child without going to court. The couple said they would fight for their child – a sad testament to the entitlement in adoption. This child was basically stolen from her father, and this couple could only see their own loss if they gave her back (the child was still an infant, only a few months old). And for me the most surprising was that Bay took offense that Angelo wanted to take the couple to court to gain custody. During the visit with the prospective adoptive parents, Bay saw how much love they had for this child, how well they knew this child, and in them she saw her parents, the ones who raised her. Angelo saying he would fight for the right to parent this child to Bay was his asserting that nature was the most important. Looking at this from the birth mother’s perspective, the child – both legally and ethically – belonged with Angelo. He was the father, he was capable of parenting the child safely, and he never relinquished those rights. I was disappointed that a girl raised without the biological connection (and who had a difficult time because of it) wouldn’t acknowledge the importance of that connection for her biological sister.

Angelo did gain custody of his daughter. When he got the child home, he became a full time single father who felt the struggles of single parenting. By the end of the season he chose to relinquish his daughter, place her back with the prospective adoptive parents, but did so in an open adoption where he will see her regularly and have contact.

It was this ending that broke my heart. First, the fact that Bay and Regina (Angelo’s on-again off-again partner and Bay’s biological mother) didn’t step up to help Angelo in raising this child was confounding to me. Bay and Regina knew what they lost when Bay wasn’t given the chance to grow up in Regina’s family, how they could let Angelo and the child feel that loss I don’t understand. Not only did they not step up but time and again they pointed out how loved his daughter would be with the adoptive family. It seems someone who knows what the loss of biology can mean to a child would step up, and not encourage this loss to happen.

The other issue I had is Angelo seemed to think that having an open adoption would fix anything he might lose by relinquishing his child. He seemed to feel that the way he is able to be in Bay and Daphne’s lives as a non-parenting father (at the age of 16 when he came back into their lives) would be the same for an infant. When Angelo entered the Bay’s life, she was a teenager and able to navigate a relationship herself. It is closer to an adoptee entering reunion than it was entering an open adoption with an infant. I know reunion isn’t easy either, but the one major difference is as a biological parent you don’t have to go through the conduit of the adoptive parents to spend time with your child. In open adoption, you watch other parents parent your child, you have to navigate a relationship with people who may have a different parenting philosophy, and it can be difficult. Angelo seemed to treat open adoption as a fix to his problem. I think that is a simplified view of what is a very complicated situation.

I don’t know how this will end, there will be another season and hopefully this storyline will find its own voice, but mostly I hope that they show that open adoption isn’t a bow that you can wrap up life in, it isn’t a solution to the problems. It is a challenge, a difficult path to take which is neither easy nor straightforward.

About the author:
In addition to being a monthly contributor to OAB, you can also find Racilous at her personal blog Adoption in the City. There she writes about her experiences as a birth mother, navigating an open adoption with her son and his family, and how adoption has impacted her.

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9 thoughts on ““Switched at Birth” Takes on Father Rights

  1. I think the reality is that many people first entering into an open adoption relationship have a simplified view of what it will be like. In this sense, I think the show is realistic. Hopefully future episodes will go on to show that it is in fact complex and complicated. Our daughter is six and we have a very open adoption with her birthmom. They now have one-on-one dates each month and they are developing a relationship independent of us, but it is not the same relationship they would have had if she had chosen to parent. Athough we have a very good relationship with our daughter’s birthmom, I’m sure she doesn’t always agree with the decisions we make. She supports those decisions, but I’m sure it isn’t always easy for her to do that.

  2. I haven’t watched this show yet, but I’ve heard bits and pieces. Thank you for the synopsis 🙂 As soon as you got to the part in this post saying he struggled as a single father and then chose to return the child with the adoptive parents, my heart sunk. I stayed on the periphery of the Baby Veronica story, and cringed when the most recent news came out that the bio father chose not to fight. You’re right when you say that adoption isn’t a bow to wrap up life’s problems.
    Great post.

  3. I don’t watch the show, so I can’t comment on how anyone was portrayed. But I can comment on this:
    “and this couple could only see their own loss if they gave her back (the child was still an infant, only a few months old).”
    So because they only had the baby for a few months, they didn’t love her as their own? These people loved their daughter. Legally, she may not have been theirs, but adoptive parents don’t have a switch that is turned off and magically turns on when an adoption is finalized that allows them to love and bond with their child.
    In this context, the APs were probably lied to about the birthfather, told that he didn’t want the baby, maybe that he was a deadbeat, a bad guy… they didn’t know. They spent months loving this baby. To them, she was their daughter, so of course they were going to fight for her.
    It’s not just black and white, not as easy as the evil APs who want to take this child away from her “real” family.
    And why should a man’s adolescent daughter and her mother help parent his other child? I can see why they should offer to baby-sit every once in awhile, maybe deliver a week of cooked dinners, but it’s not their responsibility to “step up” and help him parent. Again, I don’t know how the characters are portrayed on the show, but in real life, I don’t see that happening much.

    • I didn’t intend to comment in any way about the love the couple felt for the baby. I don’t doubt for a moment that they loved her. But she was kidnapped and given to them without consent. Her Dad was wanting to and capable of parenting and there was no question it was in her best interest to be raised by her Father. So no, I don’t really care how much they loved her or what they thought the situation was before, I think as soon as they found out the truth they should have realized it wasn’t about how they felt, it was about what was right for the child. Yes it would be sad for them, yes, they would grieve the loss, but their first concern should have been what was best for the child, and there was no reason that child shouldn’t have been raised by her Father.

      • Haven’t seen the show so I can’t comment on that but I totally agree with your statement about doing what is best for the child but am acutely aware of some grey areas to consider too.

        Our birth mother told us when our daughter was born that she wasn’t sure who the birth father was. Six months later she told me it was one of two guys. 2 months after that she told me that she was almost positive it was a specific guy based on how our daughter looked and that she had finally written him a letter to let him know about having put her daughter up for adoption. From there…nothing. She’s told us that she’s never heard back from him and I have to trust that she did write him. She’s told me his name and yep – I’ve checked FB to see what he looks like and I’m certain it’s him but…what does one do now? Is it my place to contact him – I don’t think so. Do I want to? Yes. Why? Because I feel like he should know this gorgeous little girl! Who facilitates something like this? It’s nuts. Bottom line – I do feel like birth fathers get screwed in the adoption process sometimes.

        You always have such thoughtful posts Racilous 🙂

  4. I love this show so it was exciting to find your post about it here on OAB. It felt like there was so much possibility to explore this adoption storyline in depth, with insights from Bay about how her experience of the switch might inform this situation with Angelo’s new baby. And yet, her response seemed to gloss over all of that and stay on the surface. I was disappointed. And I agree that the open adoption idea at the end of the season was presented as a balm to soothe the entire situation, which we all know isn’t how it works. I will be curious to see how it plays out in the next season. Thanks for a thoughtful post!

    • I completely agree, I so expected Bay to approach this from the vantage point of a girl who was raised in a family with no biological connection and the impact that had on every aspect of her life. Instead she seemed to completely disregard biology which I found so odd.
      I will say that I have really enjoyed the way this show has dealt with many tough issues so I’m hopeful they find a good course with this story line in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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  6. I haven’t watched this show in awhile but may have to start again. I’m writing a paper on father’s rights and it’s so infuriating not only how often father’s are ignored in the adoption process, but also that some states/agencies/attorneys use it as an advertising point. as if getting around the father’s rights is such a great thing you should certainly choose them for all your adoption needs

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