Sunday, November 2, 2008

A PAP on House

I like the TV show House. A lot. It may be my favorite show on television at this point.

So I was distressed, a couple of weeks ago, when I saw that Dr. Lisa Cuddy, the chief of medicine at the hospital on the show, was going to become a single, adoptive parent. The previews for the episode that aired this past week (Tuesday, October 28th) made it clear that Cuddy was getting "her" baby. I was worried.

I just watched the episode from the 28th yesterday. (I teach Tuesday nights, and the week was busy. So I didn't get to watch the recording until then.) I almost didn't watch the show. The adoption stuff that's been happening on another TV show, Heroes, has annoyed me. I wasn't sure I could take it on House as well.

But I watched. And I couldn't help but wonder how adoptive parents might have viewed the episode. There was a lot I disliked. But in the end, I wasn't too bothered. I thought the show handled a lot of things in a rather complex way. But in the end, I think it portrayed Cuddy in a bad light.

That's not a complaint. If anything, I thought it showed some of the entitlement that seems too common among some PAPs.

For instance, the mother was in the hospital, sick. She was due to deliver in a few weeks, but Cuddy had admitted her (yes, the episode was rife with conflicts of interest). At one point, the mother looked sheepishly at Cuddy and asked if she, Cuddy, was mad at her. Cuddy replied, "If you done everything right in your life, I wouldn't be getting a baby."

Here they were showing some of the worst stereo-types of first mothers. (She had been a meth user.) Yet they were also putting some rather insensitive dialogue into the PAP's mouth. Probably both sides could complain. I, as the adoptee, was a little horrified at it all.

It gets worse, of course. The mother has to choose between risking her own life, or delivering the baby early, before it's ready. Cuddy, in a moment that makes the ethicist in me cringe, pleads with her not to deliver the baby, but to continue to risk her own life so that the child has a better chance to survive. Cuddy says, "You have the chance to break the cycle, to do something great for this baby."

Of course, she doesn't mention here that doing something great for the baby means relinquishing her (the baby) to Cuddy. There seems to be no sense that by abdicating responsibility for the child, in giving her away, that she is continuing the cycle of people not taking responsibility for their actions. To truly break the cycle would mean to parent, and work at meeting that obligation.

All told, three-fourths of the way through the episode, I was pretty upset by everything. I like Cuddy's character. So I'm predisposed to root for her. But this was too much. Any respect I had for her had probably melted away within the first ten minutes of the episode. And I just got more and more upset. The only reason I kept watching was because of the other things going on.

But then, right at the end, just before it happened, I realized where they were taking the story. The mother, who had earlier in the episode called herself a loser to explain why she was giving up her child, said she didn't want to be a loser. She wanted to parent. And Cuddy, in a moment of weakness, cravenly pleaded with her not to change her mind, "Becca, please don't do this."

Despite how upset I was with her, I could see Cuddy was shaken, and I found myself feeling a little sorry for her. But I was also cheering the mother's decision. It was going to be hard and a struggle. But she wanted to love her child and do right by her. And I thought, the writing staff of the show did right by us in the end.

It's an odd thing to see a happy ending on a story like that. And I know that it wasn't a happy ending for Cuddy. But it was such a refreshing change to see a more complicated side to adoption portrayed in mainstream media.

So I can keep watching House.

But I still wonder how other PAPs might have viewed that episode.


Michelle said...

Thanks for the write-up, Phil. Was very interesting.

Of course no one ever talks about the child who will be born and how sh/he may feel about being given away, given a new identity, and their original identity locked up.

I also imagined a mother in the hospital with two paps, a doctor, a lawyer and adoption agency staff all working her to surrender her child. The character in this episode seemed to have it easy compared many of child-surremder stories we hear about. But it was interesting how the mother was considering adoption, and no one was giving her the encouragement she needed to parent, rather reinforcing her own insecurities about herself and her potential role as a mother.

phil said...

I agree that the character in this episode didn't get the full treatment.

For me, one of the most upsetting things was the clear conflict of interest. Your doctor is also your PAP??? That was pretty awful.

Michelle said...

Yep, agree. Imagine if a doctor had a patient that had an organ that the doc needed. Would the doctor want the patient to die so she could have that organ? Would she suggest to the patient that if she hadn't become ill then she (the doc) wouldn't be getting that organ?

It's scary, but I've heard stories where the adopter was the doctor or nurse treating the mother. "Ethical" seems to go out the wiondow when adoption is the subject.