I was thinking about this issue this morning, and it occurred to me that there may be an analogy to the demand by the adoption industry and its supporters — but others as well including even many adoption-reform organizations — that natural mothers must accept the title (and status) of being nothing more than incubators (a.k.a. “birthmothers).
That analogy would be if everyone who is adopted must always live be referred to as an “adopted child” or “adopted baby” or “infant who was adopted” and may never call themselves an “adoptee” or adopted person” or “adopted adult.” That they will always be perpetual children and be called that, no matter what their personal preference.
Some adoptees of course may be okay with being called a ‘baby” or “child” for the rest of their lives, finding it “endearing” or “special” — the same way that some CUB members I have spoken to say that ‘birthmother” is “endearing” or “special.” Some mothers may insist that calling the child they lost to adoption “their baby” all his/her life is “endearing” and want to call all adopted persons “babies” — the same as some adoptees say that the term “birth mother’ is a special and endearing term for their own natural mother and want to call the rest of us that as well.
We know that the adoption industry and its customers want to treat adoptees as if they were children with no power and no voice. WE also know that this same people and its customers want to designated all natural mothers as being nothing more than breeders with no power and no voice. But adopted persons do not want to be classified as perpetual infants and natural mothers do not want to be classified as being breeders.
Some adopted persons have protested about being called “babies” in online support groups. I understand their point of view entirely, and I would never belittle an adopted person this way. I did not reunite with my “baby.” I reunited with my adult son. Society in general, and anyone who personally knows an adopted person, must cease treating adult adoptees as if they were still children.
So, my thoughts on this are that just as adult adopted persons are not perpetual children or babies, never to grow up; natural mothers are not “birth-mothers,” never to be considered to be mothers. We all deserve some mutual respect.
As most of my regular readers know, I refer to myself as a mother, or in relation to adoption, as being the natural mother of an adoptee (or natural mother, for short). I reject the term “birthmother” to refer to myself, and “Birthmothers as Incubators,” explains the reason for this in more detail.
But the term natural mother may not be one which is familiar to you. Let me explain a bit about it.
What is the origin of the term natural mother? Before the term birthmother was invented, the term natural mother was used throughout adoption-related literature. It was in the first modern child adoption law (Massachusetts, 1851) and is still in the laws of several states including California, Florida, Virginia, and Texas.
Some say the term natural parent means that the adoptive parents must therefore be unnatural. I call this “playing the opposites game.” By this reasoning, the opposite of birth parent is death parent. Obviously, forming a false black and white dichotomy is no reason to reject the term “natural mother.” (That is, unless you have adopted a child and really do enjoy being called a “death parent”… )
Instead, more accurately, the adjective “socially-created” contrasts with “natural.” Calling someone a natural mother refers to motherhood by the laws of Nature, while the adoptive mother is a mother by the modern legal and social process of child adoption. It respects the reality that legal child adoption did not exist prior to 1851 (see “Why Adoption Is How it Is”).
Choosing to use the term natural mother to describe one’s self is a way of saying, “I am a mother, too. I never ceased having a mother’s love for my lost child.” In using the term natural mother for her instead of birthmother, others are saying to her, “I respect you as a mother; you are not an incubator.”
Reclaiming the term natural mother—honouring ourselves and each other as being mothers and refusing to be defined/dehumanized as being walking incubators—is an empowering way to reclaim our dignity, pride, and humanity. And as Wade (1997, pp. 23-24) states, “resistance to violence and oppression is both a symptom of health and health-inducing.”
- Wade, Allan. 1997. ”Small Acts of Living: Everyday Resistance to Violence and Other Forms of Oppression ” Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy 19:23–40. doi: 10.1023/A:1026154215299
The fantastic video “Out Of The Fog: Mothers Speak About Adoption” by producer/director Suzie Kidnap has been released on Youtube. I strongly recommend it. This is a landmark video about the natural mother’s experience.
Update on September 22: A week ago I posted a proposed definition of adoption coercion. Thank you so much for all who gave feedback. This below is the revised definition, based on your feedback:
“ Adoption coercion is any form of overt or covert pressure, manipulation, convincing, force, fraud, human rights violation, or withholding of services that results in a woman surrendering a baby for adoption.
“ It includes any practice specifically designed and intended to ensure or significantly increase the odds that a mother will surrender her baby for adoption. It also includes any practice designed to restrict or remove a mother’s freedom of choice by the use of influence, persuasion, fraud, or duress. A coerced ‘choice’ is not a ‘choice’ at all. There is no ‘decision’ where there is coercion.
“ Perpetrators of adoption coercion may include anyone in a position of trust, authority, or relative power in relation to the mother. Examples are: adoption industry employees, hospital staff, medical professionals, prospective adopters, social workers, government social policy makers, the mother’s own parents, clergy and nuns, etc.”
Again, what do you think?
You may also be interested in reading these related posts where I elaborate more on specific coercion practices:
- Adoption Practice: “What is Coercion?”
- Adoption Coercion in Black and White
- Adoption: “Studies on How to Take Babies”
- Adoption: Getting more babies to market
And the “Coercion Checklist for Mothers” on the Origins Canada site.
Think adoption is a non-profit service for children? Think again. If it was so charitable, it would be provided as a public service with no money changing hands.
Instead, adoption is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Each transaction, each time money is given to an agency in exchange for an infant, a profit has been made, a human being has been bought. And, usually by people who would recoil at the concept of human trafficking. But if you can dress it up in euphemisms of “adoption services” and “adoption situations,” you can get away with treating babies as commodities.
Here are examples of price-lists for babies. These are screen-captures of actual pages from business websites. I am leaving out the business names to avoid legal hassles. But just google “adoption situations” to find these and many more.
(Click on graphic to see full-sized image.)
And, gee, this one below even offers a great discount for African American babies — only $17,000! These prices are not based on the needs of children — they are based on market demand.
Want to compare how much profit is being made by these businesses? It cost me all of $200 to adopt-back my son. This is because there was no business needing to make a profit on it. Only the court paperwork.
In most other nations, it is illegal to sell children, it is considered to be human trafficking. In Canada and the U.S., however, it is just considered to be business. See Gerow’s article “Infant Adoption is Big Business in America” (PDF) for a good analysis of why this unregulated industry exists.
The United Nations has also expressed concern:
“During the course of 2002, the Special Rapporteur received many complaints relating to allegedly fraudulent adoption practices. Where such practices have the effect that the child becomes the object of a commercial transaction, the Special Rapporteur, like his predecessor, considers that such cases fall within the “sale” element of his mandate. The Special Rapporteur was shocked to learn of the plethora of human rights abuses which appear to permeate the adoption systems of many countries. The Special Rapporteur considers that the best environment for most children to grow up in is within a family, and the adoption by a parent or parents of a child who does not have a family able to look after him or her is a commendable and noble action. Regrettably, in many cases the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing needy parents with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenue each year, seeking babies for adoption and charging prospective parents enormous fees to process the paperwork.” – from “Rights of the Child: Report submitted by Mr. Juan Miguel Petit, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/92.
Want to do something about it? Write to your legislator and let them know that this is human trafficking and you are offended and appalled by it. Ask them to pass laws to take the profit out of adoption, to prevent situations where money needs to change hands in order to provide a new home for a child. Ask them to pass laws to protect unwed and new mothers from reproductive exploitation. And, if you are seeking to adopt, refuse to patronize these businesses. Instead, look at alternatives where you are not paying in order to obtain a child.
This post was inspired by the article “Adoption as a Feminist Issue,” and is expanded from a comment I posted there.
The awareness of adoption as a feminist issue, as a women’s issue, goes back decades. Feminism as a movement is concerned about the exploitation and oppression of women. It speaks out against the violence and abuses which are perpetrated against women because they are women. Reproductive exploitation is thus a feminist issue. And reproductive exploitation is the basis of the adoption industry.
In her landmark book Death by Adoption (Cicada Press, 1979) feminist policy analyst Joss Shawyer states:
“Adoption is a violent act, a political act of aggression towards a woman who has supposedly offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality, and therefore not keeping it for trading purposes through traditional marriage. The crime is a grave one, for she threatens the very fabric of our society. The penalty is severe. She is stripped of her child by a variety of subtle and not so subtle manoeuvres and then brutally abandoned.”
(I would also like to recommend Shawyer’s article “Adoption ‘Choice’ is a Feminist Issue.”)
And, in 1986, Celeste Newbough wrote the landmark article “Adoption, Surrogate Motherhood and Reproductive Exploitation” in the feminist quarterly Matrix: for She of the New Aeon.
Shawyer’s quote, to me, sums up adoption. Along with the statistics that show that the majority of women who surrender babies to adoption do so against their will. These are babies they love and want to keep, but there is a thriving industry that currently sells newborns for $25,000 and more. See some sample price-lists for newborns. Just google “adoption situations” to find many more.
In most other nations, it is illegal to sell children, it is considered to be human trafficking. In Canada and the U.S., however, it is just considered to be business. See Gerow’s article “Infant Adoption is Big Business in America” (PDF) for a good analysis of why this unregulated industry exists. It is easy to exploit a woman if you deny her the supports she needs in order to keep her baby, and then convince her that she is undeserving of her child and that surrender is “heroic, noble, and selfless.” It is even easier if you get her to meet people who are eager to adopt her child, who she may then “fall in love with,” and who she then won’t be able to bear to disappoint by “changing her mind” and keeping her baby. Coercion takes many forms.
How is it not a feminist issue when women are being harvested for their babies, due to combination of a lack of legal protections and an enduring stigma against “un-manned mothers” (or now, “teen mothers” who are now the new “undeserving mothers,” striking fear into the hearts of the populace). Pregnancy and childbirth is an experience unique to women, it is part of their innate biology, a natural process that defines womanhood. When governments violate human rights by withholding the support necessary for a mother to keep her baby, this is blatant sexism and in effect punishes her for being a woman.
Let’s look an example illustrating the sexist double-standard. Men are not punished for fulfilling their reproductive imperative. Men don’t have body parts amputated off by agencies in retaliation for impregnating a woman (another natural act that is specific to their sex) — so why are women’s babies taken away from them (or women being manipulated into surrender (“choosing adoption”) by the NCFA’s “adoption is the loving option” crap), a traumatic act that feels like an emotional and physical amputation, if they get pregnant at a time that “violates” the artificial mores of society, who has “offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality…”?
A friend of mine, Karen Wilson Buterbaugh, who lost her baby to coerced surrender during the Baby Scoop Era, approached N.O.W. for their support. They refused to talk to her, and a woman there implied that it was because many in N.O.W. are adopters:
” When I was working in Washington, D.C., I called the N.O.W. office to schedule an appointment to speak with a representative. I wanted to discuss the issue of adoption surrender, especially during the Baby Scoop Era, being a major feminist issue. I wanted to see what they thought of this and if they were aware of the fact that so many babies were removed during that time from mother, mostly under age 21, who wished to parent their baby but were denied that right by social workers practicing in adoption, many of whom worked at maternity homes around the country such as the Florence Crittentons and Salvation Armies.
” I arrived and was told to wait. I waited and waited. An hour later I asked how much longer it would be. I was then told that I would not be seen. I asked why. She said she didn’t know but that no one wished to speak to me. I left and walked down the stairs to the lobby of the building. A woman approached me saying that she had overheard why I was there. She said, ‘Don’t you know that the women of N.O.W. adopt?’ I admit that I was startled at this as I had not considered that to be a factor!
” She then said, ‘Don’t tell anyone but here is the email address for the current President of N.O.W.’ (whose name I do not recall at this time). This would have been approximately 1997 or 1998. I thanked her for her flagging me down and for the information she shared with me. When I arrived back at work, I composed an email to the President of N.O.W. and sent it. Not hearing back, I sent it again,. I never received a reply. Not even a response saying she had received my emails or even saying she wasn’t interested in speaking to me or even defending adoptions. (My concern was specifically infant adoptions.)
” That experience was certainly a rude awakening to the fact that NO ONE cared, not even other females, about babies being removed from unprotected single mothers. “
So, mothers who have lost children to adoption have no advocates to speak for them and no support from the feminist community. I would like to call out to all feminists to help change this.
[Update of July 2012] This post was originally published a year ago, to announce that the Facebook group that was formerly called “Adopting-Back Our Children” changed its name and expanded its focus to become “Adopting-Back Our Children / Adoptees Terminating Adoptions.” As the Facebook group and the accompanying website have both grown and changed over the past year, it is time for an update.
This group has a history dating back to 2002, when it was an MSN Group of the same (old) name hosted by a natural mother named Scarlett West and myself. When MSN shut down its groups, we moved onto Facebook to continue there. I fell out of touch with Scarlett. Once she had adopted back both her stolen twin daughters, I think she was able to finally able to put adoption entirely behind her and focus on the rest of her life. Her family has been healed from adoption separation, and her daughters are back home with their mother again, healing from the abuse they suffered at the hands of a racist, unbalanced woman who should never have been allowed to adopt.
Anyway, back to the topic of the group. For years, the group and the site focused on the legal process of adopting-back, which of course has always been the “second-best” option, because the very best option would be for all adoptees to be able to terminate their own adoptions as they saw fit. But, we were unable to gather much information about this being done — until an adoptee joined our Facebook group and told us all about how she was able to legally terminate her own adoption via a Private Members Bill in Alberta.
So we found out that terminating an adoption is not only possible, but it has been done with some frequency in Alberta. One of these Acts was passed fairly recently in fact, in 2009, the Beverly Anne Cormier Adoption Termination Act. This excerpt from the Standing Committee on Private Bills proceedings gives some details of why a private members bill was used:
“Ms Dean: Certainly, Mr. Chair. As all committee members are aware, a private bill seeks something that’s not available through the general public law. Bill Pr. 1 is seeking the termination of an adoption order because, basically, the petitioner is unable to get recourse in any other way. A person is unable to set aside an adoption order after one year unless it has been procured by fraud. Now, that’s not the case here. There’s been no fraud, so this is the appropriate tool by which one goes about terminating an adoption of this type. It’s a fairly rare type of bill, but these have come before the Assembly before. The most recent one was in 1998.”
Other adoption termination acts have included:
- Tanya Marie Bryant Adoption Termination Act (1998)
- Kenneth Garnet McKay Adoption Termination Act (1997)
- Satnam Parmar Adoption Termination Act (1990)
- David Michael Skakun Adoption Termination Act (1985)
- Dino Alberto Knott Adoption Termination Act (1984)
- Keith Dial Adoption Termination Act (1980)
In addition, Mike Chalek was able to get his adoption terminated in a Florida court. , which provides a different means that adoptees can try. The problem in Mike’s case is that it took the proof of fraud for the judge to grant the petition. It is uncertain what type of proof other judges may deem to be “sufficient grounds.” Also published this year was an E-How article, “How to Nullify an Adoption for an Adult.” I do not know if this article is actually based on real experiences or not, or is (as many E-How articles appear to be) just a “spam page” having the sole purpose of displaying a profuse amount of advertising.
But I cannot think of why anyone would deny that all adoptees should have the option to choose whether they want to remain adopted or not. If they were adopted as an infant or young child, no-one asked them if they wanted to be grafted into a family of genetic strangers. Some adoptees may choose the termination route, and some may be be perfectly happy with how things worked out in their adoptive families. But all adoptees should be able to make that decision, unilaterally, of their own choosing.