“Grey’s Anatomy” has depicted many different adoption storylines over the years. The ABC primetime series wrapped up its 15th season this past May. Many fans are looking forward to more heart-wrenching drama in September, especially after learning about Jo Karev’s birth family history and seeing the impact it had on her life.
Dr. Jo Karev (Camilla Luddington) – formerly Jo Wilson – is a surgical innovation fellow at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. In an earlier season, she revealed that she was left at a fire station (a “safe haven”) when she was just two weeks old. She was bounced around different foster homes until she turned 16 and “took matters into her own hands,” choosing to live out of her car behind her high school. Yet still, she persevered. She worked hard and studied at Ivy League schools, to eventually become a successful doctor in Seattle.
Yet as many fans know, Jo’s journey has never been easy. In addition to living out of her car and supporting herself financially, she was also victim of domestic violence in an abusive relationship, changed her name as a result of it, and struggled with her identity for many years. We were hopeful when, in the final episodes of season 15, Jo expressed a desire to seek out her biological family.
This decision comes after she and her husband, Alex (Justin Chambers), start talking about growing their own family. At first, viewers are led to believe that Jo is wary about becoming a parent. She later reveals to Alex that there is more to it. She is nervous about her mysterious family history. She worries what “genetic lemon”-like DNA may be lurking, and that she will pass it on to their future baby.
To help ease her fears, Jo orders a DNA test kit, much like those offered through Ancestry.com or 23andMe. The testing reveals that she has struck the “DNA lottery,” as her co-worker describes it. She has no predisposition for Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, or Parkinson’s disease. She also learns that she has a first cousin named Martha Tomlinson. It is through this connection that she decides to track down her birth mother. However, this is where things start to get overwhelming. Jo decides to track down her birth mother online, via social media and other outlets, rather than seeking professional advice.
Through an online search and the help of a co-worker, Jo discovers her birth mother’s name – Vicki Ann Rudin. Vicki is a successful woman with a beautiful home and family in Pittsburgh. Jo finds out her address and shows up on her doorstep (unannounced) not long after.
When Jo goes to the door of her birth mother’s house to meet her, Vicki whispers that the two cannot continue the conversation at the house. They go to a diner, where Vicki explains that Jo’s birth was kept secret, because she was conceived as a result of rape.
Vicki thought she could raise Jo on her own, but the trauma from Jo’s father stayed with her. Vicki defends her decision to drop Jo off at a local fire station, explaining that she was “not in her right mind” at the time. Though she appears sorry for the life that Jo had as a result, she pulls away when Jo tries to hold her hand, because Vicki explains, that Jo has her father’s eyes. Jo leaves the diner. This is not the storybook ending she had imagined.
The circumstances surrounding Jo’s conception and birth are heartbreaking. It is clear from the emotional scenes between the two women that Vicki’s decision to carry her child to term, and then leave her baby at a fire station, was extremely difficult. She never fully healed from the sexual assault, and the birth made her emotional trauma even more challenging. Jo is now left to deal with all of this information on her own without professional help.
What We Can Learn from Jo’s Adoption Story & Search for Her Birth Mom
There are two core lessons that can be taken away from Jo’s adoption story.
For women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and unsure of what to do, baby safe havens are an option for you. However, they are not the only option. In this situation, which can feel like a complete crisis, there are resources available to help you through this crisis even if you have already given birth. You can always contact an adoption agency to talk with a counselor about your options and privately make an adoption plan for your baby, while pregnant or from your delivery room.
Had Vicki chosen to reach out to an adoption agency during pregnancy, or even after giving birth, she would have received some much-needed counseling and support. Private adoption agencies offer ongoing counseling for women in situations just like these. In addition to emotional support, an agency can handle all the legal and financial aspects of birth and adoption process, including uninsured medical care.
If Vicki were to have gone to an adoption agency, she also could have chosen a family to raise her baby. Or – if it was too difficult – she might have had a trustworthy counselor make this choice. This would ensure that her baby grows up in a safe and stable home, with a loving family, rather than bouncing around in the foster care system where Jo felt she never belonged. Years later, Jo could have contacted her adoption agency and potentially learned about her birth mother’s medical history (and other important information) that way, instead of searching for her birth mother. She would have always had this vital important information and many of her questions answered.
Vicki might have kept her adoption plan closed as well, meaning she would have stayed anonymous. She could have placed a “no contact” request on her file, keeping her story and identity private and avoiding the heartbreaking confrontation that took place. Jo imagined a warm and loving reunion with her birth mother. Instead, she was shocked and saddened to learn that her life was born from violence and pain.
This brings us to the second lesson learned: Jo’s method of searching for her birth mother was not the best avenue to find her. At Adoptions With Love, we strongly discourage contacting biological family (for the first time) on Facebook . social media or knocking on their door. The internet is fast and searches take place very quickly, before one has time to really think things through. Jo got her birth mother’s information and right away, jumped on a plane. She did not have the real opportunity for self-reflection, conversation, or counseling beforehand. Has she sought out counseling, she might have been more prepared for what could happen in this journey.
The fact is, in many adoption searches, the person being sought is not expecting to be found. By having counseling prior to meeting her birth mother in person, Jo would have been able to properly prepare for all potential reactions or outcomes – including rejection and denial. She would have been able to set expectations ahead of time, as well, which would help alleviate the incredible pain she felt at the end of season 15.
In AWL’s 33 years of experience, we have found that the most lasting, successful relationships start with premeditated, mediated contact between all parties. Adoptees can conduct positive adoption searches, with the help of a professional, and have positive reunion experiences as a result – because everyone involved is prepared for it ahead of time.
Adoptions With Love’s professionals assist children, families, and birth parents as they seek more information about their adoption stories and search and reunion. To learn about our counseling and search services, please do not hesitate to reach out. You may call us toll-free at 1-800-722-7731 or text us confidentially at 617-777-0072 to find out how we can help you navigate through this process. You may also download our eBook below to learn more about social media adoption searches, as well as the proper way to search for biological family members.
We will all stay tuned for Season 16 of “Grey’s Anatomy” that premieres Thursday, September 26 on ABC.