Month: February 2009

February 20, 1980

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… a seventeen year old with no-one to talk to and no-one who would listen to me.

… parents are 62 and 61 years old … small town Prairie mentality and Fundamentalist beliefs.

… internment in a wage home once I began “showing,” hiding my growing belly to protect my parents from the shame of “what would the neighbours and relatives say?”

… being shamed by my parents into wearing my grandma’s wedding ring to hide my shameful “unwed” status from the world.

… a week of false labour.

… my parents dropping me off at the hospital slightly past midnight, and the nurses telling them to leave. Being put on a gurney and given a sleeping pill to sleep, then put into a closet for the night. Lights on. The pain was strong and the sleeping pill did nothing for me. Awake all night. Alone.

… strapped down to a bed with a fetal monitor wrapped around my stomach. Another one screwed into his scalp.

… my mother coming in the afternoon to sit with me, acting ashamed, never showing concern or affection.

… screaming in pain … and being told by nurses to shut up.

… nauseated and disoriented from the straight Demerol injections that did nothing for the pain

… a doctor telling the intern that he had given me too much Demerol.

… 18 hours of labour with no food or water

… wheeled down the hallway

… climbing  onto the narrow delivery table,  as flat as an ironing board, my arms strapped down with leather straps, feet up in stirrups.

… trying to push out a baby  against gravity, not having slept for 36 hours … not having eaten for 24 hours … overwhelming pain.

… episiotomy sliced down with a deep 4-inch-long cut, without anaesthesia … sewn up again without adequate anaesthesia.  Permanent nerve damage.

… sheet put up in front of my face to prevent me from seeing him as he was born and whisked from the room, abducted.

… given a shot and waking up 18 hours later in a ward far far from the maternity ward and nursery, other end of the hospital, different floor.

… a huge huge sense of loss.

… my breasts bound up to prevent lactation.

… unable to walk for 2 days after.

… not allowed to see or hold my baby. Never being told I had the right to. No lawyers to explain to me that i had *any* rights at all. No nurse brought him to me

… finally allowed to look at him for about 5 minutes  in the nursery several days later, watched over by hawk-like nurses to prevent me from picking him up. I was not welcome there.  Seeing him confirmed for me what I already knew: that I loved him beyond all measure. I wanted to keep him.

….  a woman who had surrendered a baby 2 months prior being sent in to convince me to “do the right thing.”

… forbidden by parents from taking my baby home.

… never told about welfare or any other way to keep him.  At age 17 from a small farming town and a sheltered upbringing, I had no idea even what ‘welfare’ was.

… the social wrecker telling  me to sign or he’d be in foster care until I ‘decided’ to. Telling me that the children of unwed mothers grow up to be criminals.  Lying to me that I would “move on.” No informed consent, no other options, no choice.

I wanted to keep my baby. I was capable. I was never given the chance or the choice.

This is adoption. This was coercion.  I was nothing more than a convenient uterus to them, to take away another baby for adoption.This was done to thousands of unwed mothers across Canada for thirty years, until about 1988. There is nothing “voluntary” about “voluntary surrender.” A coerced “decision” is not a decision at all.


Reproductive Exploitation

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I am pleased to announce that this essay is being reprinted in the latest edition of “Opposing Viewpoints: Adoption

Reproductive Exploitation
By Jess DelBalzo and Bryony Lake

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood depicted a futuristic society in which fertile young women were held captive and used to bear children for sterile, upper-class wives. The scenario sounds extreme, but sadly, it is not as fictional as one might hope. Vulnerable young women fall victim to reproductive exploitation every day, even in our industrialized North American world.

Exploitation commonly occurs when a powerless group of individuals possesses something that other, more powerful individuals covet. It is nearly unavoidable in a capitalist society, where financial success is often achieved at the expense of innocent men, women, and children.

The exploitation of women, specifically, is not a foreign concept to most of us. For decades, human rights activists have rallied against deplorable working conditions, child prostitution, sexual slavery, and other devastating practices that abuse disadvantaged members of society. Why, then, has reproductive exploitation
been ignored?

In its most common form, reproductive exploitation is used as a tool of the billion-dollar adoption industry. Well-protected by donations from satisfied adopters, large payments from would-be adopters, and of course the religious and fundamentalist organizations that promote the industry, few people have the opportunity to understand adoption for the business it is.

Advertised as an alternative for infertile couples who desperately want to be “parents,” demand for children (and mothers to birth them) is high. Finding pregnant women who are eager to hand their newborn babies over to strangers is next to impossible, and so adoption workers have taken to using coercive tactics against young, poor, and otherwise vulnerable expectant mothers. These mothers-to-be are told that they are selfish if they express the natural desire to keep their children, told that they will quickly get on with their lives and bear other children when they are older/wealthier/married, told that there is no other option available to them. They are not informed of the devastating effect adoption often has on children, nor are they told of the damage adoption
will likely inflict on their own psyches. Adoption workers do not care about
the well-being of mothers or children, though they may put on a good act to
convince expectant parents that their motives are pure. They care about profits,
about the image their business is presenting to powerful, potential customers.
And there you have it: reproductive exploitation.

Consider how easily the following quotes about sexual exploitation can be altered to reflect the tactics of the adoption industry:


“Have you ever heard a child say, “When I grow up, I want to be a prostitute?” For children and youth, working the streets is not a choice. Their lack of life experience and naivety about where the road to the street leads precludes their ability to make a conscious, informed choice.”

Now, slightly re-worded:

“Have you ever heard a little girl say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a birthmother?’ For children and youth, surrendering a baby to adoption is not a choice. Their lack of life experience and naivety about the pregnancy/motherhood continuum precludes their ability to make conscious, informed choice.”

And from

“A sexually exploited youth is someone who is under the age of 18, who
has been manipulated or forced into prostitution through perceived affection and belonging, and in return receives drugs, narcotics, money, food and/or shelter.”

With a bit of re-wording:

“A reproductively-exploited youth is someone who is under the age of 18, who has been manipulated or forced into surrendering her baby through perceived affection, approval, and promises that the well-being of her baby depends on the baby being turned over to unrelated strangers at birth; and in return receives coverage of medical expenses, shelter, and promises that she can return to pre-pregnant life and will “get over it.'”

Of course, reproductive exploitation is not limited to women under the age of 18. Older women are equally at risk, especially when they are poor, unmarried and/or emotionally vulnerable. Just as older women can be sexually exploited, they too can be taken advantage of for their fertility.

Though reproductive exploitation has yet to be acknowledged in mainstream society, its existence cannot be denied. Millions of women have been exploited for their fertility in the past 50 years, and millions more will fall prey to such exploitation if measures are not taken to protect them.

As a society, we cannot ethically work to prevent sexual exploitation while allowing women to be exploited by another, equally violent industry. Fertile women who do not wish to become pregnant must be granted access to accurate information about sexual issues, pregnancy, and birth control, as well as access to contraceptives. Women who become pregnant either by choice or by chance must be treated with respect regardless of their age, financial situation, or marital status. They must be informed of their rights and given access to all available resources to help them raise their children. They must be armed with information about any decision they make. And above all, they must not be coerced, lied to, or shamed into believing that adoption is their only option. These protections against reproductive exploitation must be made into law.

Now-powerless fertile women will be empowered. Their children will be treated as human beings, rather than as “product” to be sold. The only loser will be the adoption industry – and when you look at it that way, everyone wins.

“In order to drive a car you must be of a certain age, to drink you must be a certain age, to have your own credit card or even your own bank account without parent signatures you must be a certain age, in order to join the army you must be of a certain age – yet government allows very young vulnerable single mothers to sign a legally-binding document handing over their own flesh-and-blood, another human life, to complete strangers.” – Claudia Ganzon, natural mom searching for the daughter she was separated from in 1982.

Copyright 2003 © Jess DelBalzo and Bryony Lake