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19 Jul 2002 00:00
Once, in the heyday of Hollywood, the evidence of screen success was a soft-top pink Cadillac. Now it is a far smaller—and not necessarily pink—bundle of joy that, like the oversized car, can be easily purchased and driven straight back to the sprawling Los Angeles mansion: an adopted baby.
Recently Angelina Jolie, with her actor husband Billy Bob Thornton (46) by her very beautiful side, was pictured with the nine-month-old baby they had plucked from a life of Asian penury.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jolie, an Oscar-winning actress, had been introduced to the little boy last November in a Cambodian orphanage.
Adoption in the United States is not nearly as strictly regulated as in Britain, for example, and the laws vary from state to state. Although you cannot technically purchase a baby, large amounts of money exchange hands in the form of living costs and expenses. It can cost up to $20000 to adopt a baby, with foreign adoptions even more pricey due to travel costs and reams of paperwork. Also age restrictions and marital status are not taken into account in the US, where you are still permitted to come to a private arrangement with a pregnant woman.
We tend to be cynical about those who can so easily take the waiting out of wanting. We believe their maternal relationship is indelibly tainted by the exchange of dollars. We worry that there is one rule for the rich, another for the not. Pfeiffer and Flockhart didn’t wait for Mr Right before becoming a parent, both adopting while they were single. Nor do these women need to pay attention to nature. Keaton was 50 when she adopted her first child. But why shouldn’t they be applauded for providing such an opportunity for those born underprivileged? And how are we to know what is really going on in what is essentially a very private matter?
One aspect that seems unsettlingly strange is that many of these women, by their own admission, do not need to adopt. Jolie swears fertility problems did not force her to become an off-the-shelf mum. “I never wanted to become pregnant,” she has said. “I have always wanted to adopt.” And when the on-screen Lara Croft and her husband Billy Bob’s eyes fell on their little boy, whom they have called Maddox, they just knew this baby was the one.
This off-the-shelf path to parenthood is radically different from that of a mother emerging battered and bloody from the maternity ward. Mothers who give birth usually have children for no other reason than because they want to. Reproducing your biological self, however beautiful, is very rarely done for reasons of altruism. But foreign adoption can be dressed up as just that—something undertaken not for the would-be parent’s pleasure, but for the good of the abandoned child.
Mia Farrow has taken this role of self-sacrificing Earth mother to extremes. In addition to four birth children, she boasts a 10-strong adopted family from all corners of the globe and with a range of disabilities. In 1973 she adopted a Vietnamese war orphan with asthma. Then came Isaiah, a crack-addicted baby; 12- year-old Tam, who was blind; Gabriel, a paraplegic; and Thaddeus, a polio victim who had been abandoned at a Calcutta railway station. Farrow had suffered from the same disease as a child. “Having polio at nine made me feel like a pariah, which gave me an early sense of responsibility and compassionate empathy. It left me with the desire to relieve suffering,” says Farrow.
In a world where appearance is just about everything, and scratching the surface might reveal a huge void, an adopted child gives a chance to make pampered lives feel meaningful. And while ordinary mothers agonise over their potential parenting skills, there seems little self-doubt among some celebrity mums, who presume they will be as successful at their home job as they are at their day job. “I’ll be a good, fun mother,” says tennis star Martina Navratilova, (45), who recently announced she was ready to become a mother. “The time when I could have my own children has passed. I could adopt a brother and sister or two sisters. There are too many kids out there who want a home.”
But will these children, in the warmth of the Californian sunshine and in the shade of their ultra-comfortable homes, necessarily flourish? The fact is many of these celebrity families wouldn’t get past an initial assessment with adoption agencies in countries such as Britain. Jolie and her former-drug-addict husband have been fighting off rumours that their marriage is over. Jolie is Billy Bob’s fifth wife.
Felicity Collier, chief executive of British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, says of Maddox’s adoption: “This would raise some question marks here. We don’t want children to be exposed to further breakdowns.”
So acquiring a child may be easy for these celebrities, but in the fickle, all too strange world of Hollywood, raising them might be a different matter.
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