Ally McBeal's trophy baby

Posted: Feb 02, 2001 12:00 AM
In the 1990s, the Oxford English Dictionary added "trophy wife" to its official lexicon. The term refers to "a wife regarded as a status symbol for a usually older man." It won't be long before "trophy wife" spawns a new linguistic offspring: "Trophy baby" -- a newborn child regarded as a status symbol for a usually young, single and wealthy Hollywood starlet. The latest such acquisition is a 1-month-old boy named Liam, adopted at birth by "Ally McBeal" star Calista Flockhart on New Year's Day. I spotted a picture of the pair in a celebrity magazine last week. Liam looks healthy and cherubic, but Flockhart looks thinner than a crib rail and whiter than a freshly bleached burp cloth. Mama Flockhart's bony wrists appear ready to snap as she hoists the baby's car seat. The bags under her eyes look like they weigh more than little Liam. There is no question that Flockhart, unmarried and unattached, possesses the hefty income to support a child. She makes millions of dollars a year and owns a four-bedroom, Cape Cod-style home in Los Angeles. But money does not a good mother make. The issue isn't whether Flockhart can afford baby Liam, but whether baby Liam can afford a lone parent whose health and judgment seem so alarmingly feeble. The larger question is whether we as a society can afford to encourage such photo-op adoptions as normal and acceptable. "I'm completely enchanted and awestruck," Flockhart said in a press release after Liam's birth. Let's hope she's not too overwhelmed. Taking good care of a newborn requires the stamina of a triathlete. But less than a month ago, Flockhart was admitted to a local hospital after collapsing on the set of her hit show. She received intravenous fluids and treatment for exhaustion. Flockhart's publicist blamed the breakdown on her famed workaholism -- she puts in 17-hour days, three to five days a week. The latest collapse adds to long-held public suspicion that the 5-foot-5-and-1/2-inch, 100-pound waif suffers from an eating disorder. "Am I anorexic?" Flockhart asked in an interview defending herself. "I guess my answer would have to be no." She "guesses"? After past physical collapses, Flockhart reportedly explained that she simply "forgot" to eat. Which begs an obvious question: If this woman can't remember to take care of herself, how fit is she to take in a newborn? "There are many different ways to be a family," Flockhart told USA Today. "I think being a parent, no matter how you do it, is challenging and wonderful." It does matter how you do it. It matters that Flockhart will be dumping her adopted baby in a day-care trailer on her Hollywood set for 17 hours a day while she works until she drops. It matters that she selfishly chose not to provide her son a father figure. It matters that there are thousands of married couples waiting to adopt -- couples who, unlike Flockhart, are willing to make personal and professional sacrifices to give children the time, attention, stability and security they deserve. Flockhart is only the latest in a series of unmarried actresses, including Rosie O'Donnell and Diane Keaton, who are adopting children. It has become such a fad in Hollywood that one agent told a Los Angeles magazine writer: "Babies are the BMWs of the '90s." The article boasts that the "concept of the traditional mom-and-dad-and-child nuclear family as a representative norm has been blown to bits, and some of our most popular faces are helping deconstruct the paradigm." Now that no family arrangement is better than any other, why not accept lonely single starlets who want to role-play parents? Because moral relativism and make-believe mommyhood have dire consequences. Babies should not be exploited as trendy accessories, draped across an actress's shoulder like last year's pashmina shawl. These are real lives, not stage props. What will happen when Flockhart tires of her trophy baby and realizes she can't just park him on the mantel next to her Golden Globe award?