If you are not watching the Netflix show, Sweet Magnolias, bless your heart. Or, maybe bless mine, because the second season is full of adoption storylines that are yanking my heart all over the place.
Just a heads up: *Spoilers ahead! If you don’t want to see them, I suggest you stop here.*
Sweet Magnolias is a series about three best friends living their lives in small-town Serenity, South Carolina. Maddie, Helen, and Dana Sue have been best friends since high school. Dana Sue’s story consists of navigating a separation from her husband, Ronnie, running a restaurant in town, and raising a teenage daughter, Annie. Helen, a prominent lawyer in town, has a prominent storyline with her first love, Ryan, and their differences about having children. We also see Helen struggle throughout the show with something else that many hopeful or adoptive parents can relate to: miscarriage and IVF. The other main character, Maddie, is still processing the hurt and disappointment that followed the discovery of her husband’s affair and the subsequent divorce. Her ex, Bill, is also having a child with the woman he had the affair with, so we see a lot of adjustments being made so that Maddie’s children and Noreen’s child can coexist kindly.
Maddie, Helen, and Dana Sue also own a spa in town together where their friend, Trotter, teaches yoga and manages while the girls are out. Trotter and his partner are hoping to adopt, so he asks Helen if she would represent him through that journey. While Trotter initially wants to adopt a baby, he later shares with his partner that he feels that his initial idea wasn’t right and that there are so many children in the foster care system that need adopting. He expresses his wish to adopt an older child, which his partner supports completely. I loved that this scenario played out the way it did because while adoption is generally considered to deal mainly with the adoption of newborn babies, that’s not all it is. There are so many children who need permanent homes and families, and it’s a great option to adopt through the foster care system, or even just to foster in an effort to help provide normalcy, safety, and care for children who need it. This storyline helped highlight that adoption is diverse and that every story is unique.
The second storyline that includes adoption is all centered around Isaac. Isaac showed up in Sweet Magnolias’ first season and works at Dana Sue’s restaurant, Sullivan’s. We learn over the course of the season that Isaac came to Serenity in search of his birth parents. He thinks that Dana Sue is his birth mom, so one night he confronts her with his suspicion. She comforts him by saying while she is not his birth mother, she will help him find out who is. Seeing the support that she gives him is noteworthy to me as an adoptee because finding people who will support or encourage you while you search for your biological roots is rare.
Dana Sue later shares what she found out about Isaac with Maddie and Helen at one of their weekly margarita nights, and they all agree that they need to help him find his birth mother. Helen meets with Isaac, and he ends up sharing that despite his wonderful childhood with his adoptive parents, he had always wondered about and wanted to meet his birth parents. Helen explains how South Carolina is a closed adoption state, so the only information that they can get from the state is redacted, which will not tell them anything beneficial for their search. They could put his name on the Reunion Registry, and should his birth mother have her name on there, they would match and be connected by the state.
There are a couple of things here worth unpacking, such as the truth adoptees everywhere understand: we still love our adoptive parents. Searching for our roots isn’t about looking to replace anyone. There’s an automatic sense of anxiety a lot of adoptees feel when they decide they want to search for their biological families. They know that support of that decision is usually rare and that people can feel hurt or uncomfortable by the fact that someone they love is searching for answers to some old, lingering questions. But the truth really is that it’s about identity and closure, nothing more. Adoptees long to know who they are, and the answers often lie with their biological family.
Isaac is also rightfully emotional about how difficult the process of discovery can be. So many states still regulate adoption records, making it really hard for adoptees to reconnect with their birth parents. Sweet Magnolias illustrates this difficulty beautifully. Historically, adoption has mostly been focused on the adoptive parent so records were sealed up tight to protect information and let the adoptive parents decide how they wanted to raise their adopted child. As times have changed, we see a lot of the adoption community realize that this is wrong and that adoptees should be the focus of the adoption process in many ways. This small but impactful moment in the show shines a light on a very real struggle a lot of adoptees face today.
Pregnant and have questions? We can help answer your questions by telling us what works best for you.
Eventually, a clue in a quote leads Helen and Isaac to the town newspaper. They decide to ask Peggy, a reporter for the paper, if they can look through the archives to help them find Isaac’s birth mom. At that moment, Helen and Peggy know the truth: Peggy is Isaac’s mother. Helen excuses herself so that the newly-reunited mother and son can talk, but Peggy begins to cry and excuses herself without so much as a word, leaving Isaac feeling abandoned yet again. I lost it, y’all. Not only am I an adoptee, but I’m a birth mother as well, and I personally could not imagine walking out of the room after being reunited with the child I gave birth to, even if it was a shocking moment I wasn’t prepared to face. I cannot fathom turning away from my child if they were searching for me and just found me.
But, did I understand why she broke down and couldn’t face the reality of the moment? Yes. Adoption was so taboo at the time that she was pregnant with Isaac; the grief she must have had to bear all of those years alone with no support must’ve been overwhelming, especially as she never expected her son to ever come looking for her. I am sure it was a lot to take in. I don’t agree with how she handled it, but I grieved for her at that moment.
How frustrating it must have been when yet again, he is met with heartache and disappointment. How jarring that must have felt to have his hopes dashed as Peggy walked out the door. It just isn’t fair that he was met with that reaction.
Thankfully, Peggy processes everything and apologizes to Isaac. While things seem to work out, at least in this season, there was so much to unpack about adoptee feelings, birth parents, and adoption as a whole. There are things that missed the mark, but overall, I thought that Sweet Magnolias did a good job highlighting some very big ideas about adoption.