Month: July 2009

Separated by adoption reality: the adoptive parent experience

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Today, I had a conversation with a woman (whom I will call Helen) who had adopted a newborn 19 years ago. This child had behavioural problems while growing up, and the parents despaired. Eventually, the adoptive parents contacted the natural mother (“birthmother”) with hopes that the daughter would be “fixed” by some form of contact, and a reunion happened when the girl was 16.

And then, when the daughter was 18, she moved back in to live with her natural mother and full brother.

Helen is in shock. No-one had warned her that this would happen. I won’t elaborate on the contents of our conversation, as I respect her confidentiality, but it was clear that the agency she had obtained this baby from had not told her that the child could ever do this. In essence, this family was put together by the adoption industry, and then separated by adoption reality.

There is a sales-pitch that the industry promotes and tells to people hoping to adopt, manipulating them so that they will indeed hand over money ($25,000 or more in the current market) for that “perfect baby.” This is a brief sampling of what this sales-pitch can consists of:

  1. All families, both adoptive and natural, are the same.
  2. Your adopted child is now “As if born to” you, emotionally and socially. The amended birth certificate will say that you gave birth, so act as though you did. You are now the only mother.
  3. The child needs only you and not the love of their “birth parents.”
  4. Environment is everything – the child is a blank slate (“tabula rasa”). Personality is at least 80% due to environment.
  5. Rest assured that the “birth family” can never search for the child because records are sealed tight to protect you in most states and provinces.
  6. The natural mom is just an incubator, a “birthmother,” a “gene donor,” and her only purpose was to gestate that child. Her motherhood ended with the cutting of the umbilical cord.
  7. This child is unwanted, and the “birthmother” will never return or want her back.
  8. If loved enough, this child will never want to search.
  9. Adoptees will never feel hurt from being surrendered or taken. If they do have questions, love from adoptive parents will solve everything.
  10. “Adjusted” adoptees do not search, and those who do only want medical and historical information. Reunion entails a one-time meeting and then both parties separate.
  11. “The Primal Wound” is a complete myth. No adoptee faces it.
  12. This is a lifetime guarantee.

Even the loaded term “birthmother” primes the adoptive parents to believe that the natural mother is only a past and irrelevant part of the adoptee’s past, her entire role consisting of having given birth, as irrelevant to an older adoptee as a baby bottle would be. Or, as it was told to me by the man who had adopted my son:  “R— has only one mother, K—, and one father, me.”

So, this woman, like millions of people who have adopted, believed the word of the agency. After all, they’re supposed to be “adoption professionals,” right?

While I was talking to Helen, I began thinking about my son and the people who had adopted him. For those readers new to our story: I found him in 1999. We reunited in 2000. He moved back with me on New Year Day of 2003. I adopted him back in 2007.  He is now, in his eyes, a former adoptee. His former adoptive parents deny that I am related as “family” to him. “R— is a member of this family and shall not be shared in any way, shape or form” were their words to me in their 2001 attempt to forcibly end his reunion with me, to define me as being unrelated, a complete stranger, not-family.

They too believe(d) the adoption industry myths, the “sales pitch,” and it lead to them trying to control him and end our reunion. One more adoptee gets hurt, caught up in an agency promise of a “lifetime guarantee.” And the agency gets off scot-free. Agencies should be sued for false advertising.

I wonder if Helen’s adopted daughter will return to her entirely, will be adopted-back by her natural family, will maintain family connections with both families, or do none of the above? There is no predicting.

But agencies must stop promising adoptive parents that the baby they adopt is “as if born to” them. There is nothing preventing an adoptee, even one raised in a “good home” from feeling the strength of the blood-bond and returning once more to their natural family, whether it would be to build a family of 4 equal parents (2 natural, 2 adoptive) or to return exclusively to their natural parents. But would adoptive parents pay the same “big bucks” for a child who may only be “theirs” for 18 years? You make more money if you can sell an unrealistic, impossible-to-guarantee myth.


“Birthmothers” as Incubators

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(Originally posted as a page on Facebook, I wanted to share it with my blog readers here as well.)

Before the term ‘birthmother” was coined, a mother who had given birth to a child was called that child’s natural mother. It was accepted that the mother was a mother by the laws of nature. The myth that adoption was any sort of “ancient” or “natural” act was not as prevalent as today. The truth, that child adoption is a modern legal convention invented in 1851, was not hidden or forgotten. It was accepted that mothers who had lost children to adoption still had an emotional, familial, and social connection to that child and there was no attempt to hide this fact.

The term ‘birthmother” is part of the “Respectful Adoption Language’ terminology set that was invented by the adoption industry in the mid 1970s. It may have been “coined” in 1956 by adoptive parent and adoption promoter Pearl S. Buck, but it was further developed and formally defined by adoptive parent and baby broker Marietta Spencer with the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota. And its meaning is clear: that we are no longer mothers (emotionally, socially, or legally) to the children we surrendered for adoption. That the sole parent and mother of our lost child is the woman who adopted our baby.

Spencer (1979) defines a birth parent as being a “non-parent” by use of  numerous examples in her article which validate the sole parenthood of adoptive parents after the adoption of a child, implying that no emotional or familial connection remains between members of the pre-existing family.

“For biological parents, a clear semantic separation … may be helpful in grasping the important fact that their child will no longer be occupying a role of family membership in the kinship group … appropriate language stresses the severance of both moral and legal obligations and emphasizes that there can be no social or emotional role expectations” (Spencer, 1979, p. 456)

Spencer (1980) goes on to state,

“An adoptive mother becomes the child’s parent through the transfer of parental rights.  Although she can never become the child’s birth or biological parent, socially, functionally, and finally she does the permanent mothering of the child.  In terms of the time continuum, she is the successor to the biological mother (p. 27).

Granting sole motherhood to the adoptive mother as the child’s only female parent (in the case of opposite-sex parents adopting)  eliminates the original mother from any claim, either singular or joint, to this title.

Those who raise and nurture a child are his parents:  his mother, father…” (Johnston, 2004)

So there is a “role expectation” placed upon us by the adoption agencies, adoption lawyers and other baby brokers (businesses and agencies that provide babies to prospective adopters for a price). No grief, no pain, no loss — nothing “lasting” anyway. Adoption loss as a one-time event, not a traumatic loss that continues on and on for the entire life of the mother and child.

Being “birthmothers,” we’re not supposed to have any feelings for, or emotional connection with, the children whom we lost to adoption.

“… those women who gave into the pressures suffer in a way the others will (mercifully) never know. For the saddest and most horrifying aspect of adoption is the amount of emotional damage inflicted upon the natural mother. To call her the ‘birth mother’ instead of the ‘natural mother’ allows her only the physical birth and denies her those feelings she wasn’t supposed to have.” — Death by Adoption, Joss Shawyer, Cicada Press (1979), page 62.

I always loved the son I was forced to surrender for adoption. I never wanted to lose him. I never “chose” the adoption “option” because I was given no chance of choosing — to have such a choice, a mother needs to recover from birth first with her baby PLUS have access to the resources she requires in order to raise her baby in a safe, secure, and healthy environment (which is her basic human right). If I were to call myself a “birthmother,” I would be denying that I had any feelings for him after his birth. I would be denying that we are related as family. I would be diminishing my role in his life to being only that of a willing gestator. In fact, Spencer also provides the terms “gestational parent,” “prenatal parent,” and “biological stranger” as synonyms for the term ‘birthmother.”

Am I a “birthmother”? No, because I am still a mother to the son I lost to adoption. It’s as simple as that.


  • Johnston, P. I. (2004).  Speaking positively: Using respectful adoption language.  Indianapolis, IN:  Perspectives Press.
  • Spencer, M. (1979). The terminology of adoption. Child Welfare, 58(7), 451-459.
  • Spencer, M. (1980).  Understanding adoption as a family building option. Boulder, CO:  Adoption Builds Families.

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