Adoption Diaries, a new original series on WEtv explores the process behind privately held open adoptions. The series, which premiered September 12, showcases the matching process between the couples and expectant mothers who turn to open adoption.
Each episode follows a different story from the beginning stages, as a birth mother is faced with choosing her baby's future family. Throughout the series Dr. Jennifer Bliss (National Associate Counseling Director and Southern California Branch Co-Director at the Independent Adoption Center) works to match the birthmothers with the right families.
Episodes air throughout the day on September 26. Check your local listings for upcoming shows. Dr. Bliss took some time to respond to questions I had about combining open adoption with a reality show format.
Meredith: Were you ever concerned that the content was too personal to film?
Dr. Jennifer Bliss: Respect for the birthmother's comfort level was always the top priority. Filming was a secondary consideration during the whole process. IAC's first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of the adoption and the services we provide. Whatever was caught on camera, great, but it was never to be at the expense of the birthmother or threaten the integrity of the process.
Also, even if the birthmother initially agreed to participate in the show, she knew it was entirely voluntary and that she could change her mind about participating at any time. Throughout the process, on multiple occasions, we did ask birthmothers if they wanted to continue the filming, and reminded them that no one would be upset with them if they decided it wasn't for them.
Additionally, Asylum was extremely clear that if we agreed to do this show, there would be no pressure on the birthmothers to choose to place. From their perspective, it would make for a different story line but one that would be important to tell as well, because it is real. So we made it very clear to the birthmothers that the production company was not invested in a specific outcome. So, if at the hospital she chose to parent, they knew that there still could be an episode if they wanted, and although there would be the normal difficult emotions involved when this happens, the production supported either outcome.
Another important thing to note is that the majority of the options counseling and grief counseling was done off camera. If we were going to participate in the show, it was important for me to ensure that our services were not compromised. In fact, there was a birthmother who was involved in the filming that, through the counseling process, realized that she was not meant to be a birthmom and decided not to move forward. In this case, she was still over two months from her due date, so there wasn't enough story filmed to create an entire episode, but it does lend support to our efforts in taking as much precaution as possible in ensuring that birthmothers received all the supportive services without extra pressure to place. That was actually a necessary component to me feeling comfortable in moving forward in the first place.
Meredith: After screening the first episode, my sense is that you and the producers took great care to respect the individuals. Who had the final say over what went into the show?
Dr. Jennifer Bliss: We had many meetings before anything was decided, and took months to figure out these details. It was paramount to make sure that certain rules were in place to guard against any type of exploitation. I also did not want the presence of the cameras to affect the natural adoption process or the outcome. Accordingly, the birthmothers and adoptive parents (and myself) were given the authority to have the filming to stop at anytime and the camera operators were instructed to follow their lead. It was only because Asylum was so willing to make the appropriate considerations in the best interest of the birthmothers that we decided to move forward. I also want to mention that I was very grateful for the field producers that Asylum hired, Tracy Wares and Candace Boissy...they considered the birthmother's process number one, and the filming secondary.
Meredith: Were individuals compensated? Were adoption services covered?
Dr. Jennifer Bliss: The birthmothers and adoptive parents were not compensated for doing the show. Participation was strictly on a volunteer basis.
Meredith: Were there different lessons you learned from each portion?
Dr. Jennifer Bliss: I learned how extremely crucial it is to be working with field producers you trust. This is my first experience working with any kind of production, let alone something so sensitive. It wasn't until we started the filming process that I realized how much of the filming was going to be done without me present. (It was important for viewers to understand the background stories of the participants, so field producers often visited the birthmothers and adoptive parents).
When I first realized how much filming was going to be done in my absence, I was concerned. I'm very protective over the people I work with, especially the birthmothers, and it made me anxious that I wasn't going to be able to manage the process, and protect my birthmothers and adoptive parents from compromising circumstances. Luckily, the field producers were extremely respectful and never put the production goals over the wellbeing of the participants.