Month: September 2009

“Sorry, Mrs. Smith …” – Postscript

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It has been truly interesting to read the response to the latest blog post, “Sorry, Mrs. Smith, your baby has to be adopted”.    We thank everyone who has participated in the discussion, and everyone who has re-posted the link for others to read this story.  Your comments on this blog, on Cafemom, and on Facebook have been read*.

Later this week there will be a follow-up post to “Sorry, Mrs. Smith,” providing some of the background behind the story,  and perhaps discussing the responses. Until then, please keep spreading the link and talking about it.

One thing that I want to clarify again:   Yes,  the adoptee in this story is real.  Details were changed to protect her identity and those of her family members, both natural and adoptive.  Yes, she is indeed aware of the blog post:  I would not have posted it without her permission.   I am also deeply indebted to her for her help in the composition of this story.

* If there are other public places of discussion that I have missed, please let me know.

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Adoption Coercion in Black and White

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The statistics are in: Few natural mothers (“birthmothers”) who “voluntarily” surrendered a baby to adoption over the last 50 years did so (or are doing so) as an act of free will. Very few were allowed to recover first from birth, unpressured by social workers, lawyers, family members, or people hoping to adopt. Few were provided with all the resources they required in order to keep their babies (unless, as Solinger (2000) pointed out, they were African American and their babies were not in demand on the adoption market). Few in “open adoptions” are not pushed into “pre-birth matching” which automatically puts a mother into a position where emotional coercion may freely occur, where she is unprotected from it.

I feel that coercion really is black and white: The decision whether or not to surrender is so monumental and life-changing, and the bond between mother and child so important, that the dynamics that go into the separation of mother and child must be carefully examined.

“Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.” — Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Given the immense financial and social power of the adoption industry and the many years and thousands of dollars that have been expended on finding out ways to get more mothers to surrender their babies — given the power differential between the industry and a vulnerable (e.g., young, poor, unsupported, or unmarried) mother — the position must be taken that a mother’s decision regarding the surrender of her child must be freely made, fully-informed, and non-coerced in order to be a decision or “choice” at all. It is black and white. There are no grey areas.

Analysts of sexualized violence against women and children now agree that coerced sexual intercourse is not sex, it is rape. Unless there is a clear “yes,” ethically it is “no.” “Anything other than Yes means No” is the new phrase that defines rape and other types of sexualized violence. There is a new recognition of coerced sex as being violence, when a woman or child is pressured into saying “yes” to intercourse or a sexual act when she does not want to. Forced or coerced sex is always rape.

“An emerging factor from this research was the striking similarity of feelings associated with sexual abuse and relinquishment.” – Logan (1996), p. 619.

Just as with the trauma that is known to result from forced sexualized violence, and the recognition that this crime is has major consequences, in the same way the mother-child bond is also of equal importance. Just as a woman’s body is to be protected from violation, the relationship between a mother and her newborn is sacred and needs to be considered equally important and protected from violation.

Given the importance of her relationship with her child and the tremendous potential lifelong consequences of separation for both mother and child, a true “decision” or “choice” only exists when a mother (1) is free of any emotional, psychological, social or financial coercion, (2) has been provided with all the facts regarding the emotional and psychological consequences of surrender, (3) has been given enough time to recover from the birth to make an informed decision, and (4) when her human rights have not been violated.

Just as rape is rape and “anything other than YES means NO,” a mother who “make an adoption plan” resigned to the idea that no other viable options exist, or whose ability to make that decision post-birth and post-recovery has been compromised or negated, is not making a decision.

When others have orchestrated and influenced the act of separation to increase the chance or ensure that she surrenders her baby, coercion has occurred. Particularly if these others have a vested interest in seeing this mother surrender:

  • They may be adoption agency or maternity staff whose agencies or organizations depend on the revenue from brokering babies in order to remain open, whose paycheques depend on a certain number of surrenders per year. No surrenders = agency bankruptcy. (This is the main reason why open adoption was developed.)
  • They may be people eagerly hoping to adopt her baby.
  • They may be priests or nuns who feel that they are carrying out the will of God in ensure that an infant “born in sin” is “redeemed” by being adopted into a “good Christian family.”
  • They may be the mother’s own parents, who want the “shame” of a “bastard grandchild” to be removed from the family ASAP (“What would the neighbours think?!”).
  • They may even be “birthmothers” themselves, recently surrendered, who seek emotional justification of their loss by convincing other mothers to surrender their babies.

Coercion includes the emotional coercion that comes with having potential adopters involved in a mother’s life during pregnancy or birth. She is left with no way to make that choice without their presence, their affluence, their desire, their childlessness, their need, influencing her. A freely-made decision, or choice, in this situation is thus impossible.

“Almost everyone believes that on some level, [mothers] made a choice to give their babies away. Here, I argue that adoption is rarely about mothers’ choices; it is, instead, about the abject choicelessness of some resourceless women.” (Solinger, 2001, pp. 55‑56)

Coercion comes in many many forms. But what is definitive is that once a mother’s decision whether or not to surrender has been affected by coercion, it is no longer a freely-made choice. There is thus no decision. We can see how many years of adoption industry research on how to get more mothers to surrender and acceptance of this pressure, has ensured that those natural mothers (“birth mothers”) who have actually “chosen adoption” are few and far between.

Whenever a mother surrenders her baby because it is “of last resort” and she feel she has no other choices, no other viable options, then there is no choice at all. It is not a “choice” if there is only one option, if a mother feels she has no right or no ability to say “No!,” has expressed that she wants to keep her baby but no-one is listening, or has been silenced.

No decision = no guilt = no self-blame. A mother can hold the truth in her heart: I was not responsible for what was done to me that resulted in me feeling I had no choice.

~ ~ ~

In contrast, what a non-coerced surrender look like? Picture this scenario:

A mother is pregnant and gives birth. Throughout her pregnancy and aftrwards, she has access to all the resources she requires in order to be a parent. Her child will not suffer and poverty will not be a stressor. She recovers from birth with her baby, breastfeeding that child, taking her baby home, caring for her child, receiving the support and love of her family. Weeks pass, and she has recovered from the birth. The mother finds she does not love or want her baby. She goes to a counsellor provided for free by a provincial government Ministry (such as the Ministry for Children and Family Development here in B.C.) or child welfare agency whose paycheque or funding does not rely on some PAP’s “adoption fees.” No money changes hands in exchange for a baby. The counsellor explains the risks of PTSD, unresolved grief and loss, major depression, anxiety disorders, relationship difficulties, parenting difficulties, and secondary infertility. The counsellor explains the emotional, social, legal and developmental difficulties faced by adoptees. A government-appointed lawyer, again whose income does not depend on the surrender, explains the legalities of adoption, especially that open adoptions are not enforceable and her baby’s birth records will be changed. The mother signs surrender papers but receive more counselling. She has a month in which she can revoke her consent. After that month, her baby is in the custody of the province. A government social worker, protecting the right of the child to his family and heritage, examines the possibility of kinship care. If this is not possible, the mother begins interviewing prospective adoptive parents presented to her by the social worker, eventually choosing which set will adopt her baby. Case closed.

Mothers are protected by the same system that is in place in Australia. No adoptive parents have influenced her decision with a “pre-birth match,” financial coercion has not played a role, and adoption is used for its true purpose: to find a home for an unloved and unwanted child.

References:

  • Gerow, D. (2002). Infant adoption is big business in America. Retrieved November 23, 2006 from http://www.originscanada.org/infant.pdf.
  • Logan, J. (1996). Birth mothers and their mental health: Uncharted territory. British Journal of Social Work, 26(5), 609-625.
  • Solinger, R. (2000). Wake up little Susie: Single pregnancy and race before Roe v. Wade. New York: Routledge.
  • Solinger, R. (2001). Beggars and choosers – How the politics of choice shapes adoption, abortion, and welfare in the United States. New York: Hill & Wang.

Jaycee Dugard … a DIY adoption

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Recently, the world recoiled in shock when a young woman named Jaycee Dugard, age 29, was rescued from a filthy back yard where she was held captive for 18 years, imprisoned by a convicted sex offender, and forced to bear two of his children.

When the story broke, all I could think (and feel) besides relief that Jaycee had been found, was: I know exactly how her mother feels. That crushing feeling of hopelessness, a soul-destroying grief that has no end and no resolution, a feeling of being entirely helpless when you cannot find your child — even to find out if they are alive or dead — and no-one can help you. Physically and emotionally, reading her story, I felt an a echo of the long years of living these emotions.

The world sympathized with her parents — even more when it was revealed that Jaycee had bonded with her abductors and had even worked for them. She was introduced by her abductor as “his daughter,” and he even stated that she was part of his family and that her story of abduction was even “heartwarming.”

The abduction also destroyed Terry’s life. Carl said that every year after Jaycee was taken, she would stay away from work on the anniversary of the kidnapping and spend the day at home, in tears.”

Jaycee was kidnapped at age 11, before she could give any consent to leaving her family (much like an infant taken for adoption), and before she could speak out to anyone against it (ditto). No minor can make this type of decision.

Eighteen years … not much shorter than the 20 years I remained in limbo, not knowing where my son was, if he was alive or dead.

Not that I didn’t try finding him, as as Jaycee’s parents must have. I scoured major B.C. newspapers, searching for “birth” announcements that may have been placed by people adopting. I found an adoption reunion registry, which I applied to in hopes that the people who had adopted him would have a heart and conscience and also apply while he was still a minor — I could not imagine anyone would intentionally or even inadvertently be so heartless as to put me through that torture willingly. I placed “happy birthday” greetings in newspapers, hoping he or his adoptive family would see them and contact me. When he was about 9, I spent several hundred dollars on a retainer for a private investigator … who found nothing. I studied the faces of every male child I saw who would be of his age, throughout the years. He was never absent from my mind — not a day went past without him being in my thoughts. How could it be otherwise?

I am certain that Jaycee’s parents felt exactly the same way. Except they had police to help them … not that it helped much.

So, tell me … why is our loss considered any less — any less tragic, any less traumatic, any less involuntary — than the loss experienced by Jaycee’s parents? Why are we expected to shut up about it? Why are we written off as nothing more than an incubators? Why do people willingly and happily adopt the babies of women who have had just as much choice as Jaycee’s mother, Terry? I am certain that these same people would feel for Terry, and meanwhile tell me that I have no right to talk

Why is the pain considered to be any less?

[Mr Garrido] told us up-front he works with his daughter.”

Jaycee Dugard was abducted, and then treated as both a sex slave and an adopted daughter by her abductors. Let’s call it what it is: A do-it-yourself adoption. And when there is no choice on the part of the mother, how is either situation anything less than abduction?

“(281) Abduction of Person Under Fourteen – Every one who, not being the parent … unlawfully takes, entices away, conceals, detains, receives or harbours that person with intent to deprive a parent … of the possession of that person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.” – Criminal Code of Canada

ETA: A person who had adopted made the comment on another blog, “Regardless, signing ‘sealed the deal’.” Well, in B.C., I have heard many stories first-hand of what was done to single mothers who refused to sign while “customers” waited. Their babies were put into foster homes, and government social workers then went to court to terminate the mother’s rights on grounds that her baby’s best interest was to be with a married, stable, 2-parent family. Also, 3 months of your baby in a foster home you cannot find, and your rights could be automatically terminated on grounds of “abandonment.” Signatures were moot, especially when given while one is medicated to the gills. If one level of coercion did not work, a stronger level was applied until it did.

Taking babies right at birth while the mother was medicated and tied down was abduction. This happened across Canada.