It's been a bit of an adoption carnival at Dawn's this week. One of the things Dawn herself mentioned that got my attention was that when someone wants to research adoption from the crisis pregnancy end of things, there is a dearth of unbiased information available. It's really true. It's been bugging me a lot lately that there is no adoption equivalent to the kind of counseling they offer at abortion clinics for women who are considering abortions. That is, there is no truly disinterested party whose job it exclusively is to talk a woman through her options, her feelings, her values and support her process and decision-making. Even when adoption agencies offer terrific counseling, it's still and adoption agency, bottom line. Adoption agencies keep their lights on at least partly by completing adoptions. Adoptive parents are paying most of those bills. (This is not true of women's health clinics that perform abortions. Abortions don't pay their bills.)
So I've decided that this year, on Nat's birthday, in honor of Mama Rose (Nat's first-, or birth-, or natural-, or biological- or just "mother"), I want to add my google power to the cause of offering any women out there who may be considering placing their babies in adoptive homes a different point of view.
I'm not unbiased. But my bias is somewhat unusual. I am an adoptive mother of two beautiful, fabulous, deeply loved children whose mothers placed them with my partner and me shortly after birth in the expectation of open adoptions. So far, we have held up our end (and then some) of the openness agreements we made with these women. I am not anti-adoption. I think adoption, though always laced with at least some loss and sorrow, can be a wonderful thing and I believe deeply in the idea of people making family without regard to blood ties.
That said, if either of my daughters found themselves in a crisis pregnancy they wanted to carry to term, I would move heaven and earth to make sure that the only adoption that happened would be a family adoption in which my partner and I adopted the baby and kept it within the care of the immediate family.
I feel this way for several reasons:
1) Every adoption professional I've ever met--many of them very good, ethical people--has been on "side" of prospective adoptive parents. Even folks who treat pregnant women well and help them in all kinds of great ways identify themselves with prospective adoptive parents. I am not suggesting this is universally true. But it is overwhelmingly true, given how many of these folks I've dealt with over the past four years in obtaining a foster license and adopting two children.
2) Most of the time, open adoption agreements are not legally binding. This means that an adoptive family can promise a pregnant woman anything, then once the adoption is final, they can disappear at will. Few pregnant women go into making an adoption plan fully informed of their rights and the true loss of those rights after the adoption is final. (Usually, once an adoption is final, the mother who gave birth to the baby has no rights at all.)
3) Relinquishing a child for adoption causes grief and suffering to the mother. This grief and suffering tends to be underplayed by most adoption professionals. Prospective adoptive parents are often told that birth mothers "forget" and/or "move on" and have better lives after the adoption. Worse, sometimes we're told that birth mothers are/were unworthy of their children and it doesn't matter how they feel. We are encouraged to believe that we are saving a baby from a terrible life by adopting her.
I would not want my daughters put into these kinds of situations or characterized in these ways.
Being single, young (a "teen mom") or poor are not good enough reasons alone to relinquish a baby to adoption. It is very important that anyone considering adoption for a baby she is carrying or parenting read about what others in her position have experienced and what they advise. Here are a few places to look for information outside the adoption industry:
Here is a link to an organization for adult adoptees pressing for their rights to know where they came from:
You might also like to read The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler. It's about what it was like to relinquish a baby for adoption in the 50s and 60's.
Here's a video on YouTube of some birthmothers discussing their experiences.
If you are pregnant and considering adoption, please be sure to do a few things to protect yourself:
1) Make sure you have the full legal story about exactly what your rights are in the state in which you live. How soon are you allowed to sign a relinquishment of your baby? Do you have any right to change your mind once that relinquishment is signed? If you have made an agreement for an open adoption, is this agreement enforceable by law in your state? How will it be enforced if necessary? If you can possibly afford it, hire your own lawyer to represent you in the adoption process. An adoption attorney hired by an adoptive couple works for them and their interests, not you. BEING A MINOR DOES NOT TAKE AWAY YOUR RIGHT TO YOUR BABY.
2) Find out what kinds of benefits you are eligible for as a mother of low income. You may be able to afford more than you realize.
3) Read about and talk to other mothers who have gone through what you are going through and listen to what adoptees say about their experience of being adopted.
4) Realize that no matter what you plan to do, as long as you are pregnant and before you sign a relinquishment your baby is your baby and you are a mother, with all the rights of a mother. You get to decide who can or can't be with you at your baby's birth. You get to put the name on your baby's birth certificate. You get to decide whether you will sign anything or not, no matter what you told anyone before the birth and no matter if someone has helped pay your expenses before or at the birth.
Adoption is sometimes necessary or the best possible option for a mother and her baby. Plenty of adoptees grow up happy and healthy and well adjusted. Plenty of birthmothers believe they did the right thing, even if it is painful. But this is NOT the only story and it is never simple for anyone. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
A Few PSes:
1. Please check the comments to this post below. Many readers have additional resources linked there.
2. For more on my own experience of and feelings about adoption, click "Adoption" under the categories list at right, or click here.
3. In retrospect, this post was also about my long-brewing annoyance at the movie Juno and how it seems to make adoption--from a birth mother's perspective--look hip, easy--almost fun--and erases much of adoption's complexity and pain. For my review of Juno, see this post.