Unfortunately, due to it increasing the chance that a mother will surrender her baby*, the practice has grown in North America to allow prospective adoptive parents to track down and try to convince expectant mothers (whom they call ‘birthmothers”) to give up their babies.
Or, at least that is what it looks like. A “Dear Birthmother” letter could be seen as saying “Choose us over other people hoping to adopt!“, but, unfortunately, first and foremost the message it gives is “Choose us over yourself! We are better for your baby than YOU are! See how loving and perfect we are? We have everything your baby needs.” Whether the prospective adoptive parents mean to give this message or not, it is there.
So, unfortunately, the whole issue of “profiles” and “dear birthmother letters” is rife with ethical land mines
An expectant mother who is considering adoption and is feeling very emotionally insecure, inadequate, and scared may — instead of getting support and counselling to help her overcome these problems — may see the prospective adoptive couple’s “Profile” and think “Wow, they’d be better parents than i would.” or “My baby doesn’t deserve me, he deserves a family like this.” or “They want a baby so badly, I shouldn’t be selfish.” So, reading “dear birthmother” letters and seeing profiles combined with raging pregnancy hormones can actually influence a mother’s decision regarding adoption. This is where it gets ethically sticky.
Plus, can the mother really recover from birth first before deciding on adoption if she has formed a loving bond with people hoping to adopt her child?
Paul Meding, a Columbia attorney who has been taking adoption cases for 12 years, works as a medium to match birth mothers with adoptive parents. For Meding, this process has been successful. “In my opinion, when the birth mother has more input and can see first hand how important the adoption is to the family, it is more difficult for her to back out and disappoint them.” (“Open Doors,” The Columbia Star, April 29, 2005)
I think that these are questions to be considered by anyone who is hoping to adopt, plus by natural mothers who found that this tactic worked on them to get them to surrender their babies. (Would you have surrendered if the alternative was a closed adoption? If not, then you were coerced by adoptive parents using this practice).
Another reason why this is ethically problematic is that women most often surrender babies to adoption because of lack of support, resources, finances, etc. A woman is hence being made vulnerable to exploitation because society and government has put her into a position where she can be exploited, removing protections (such as human rights in the form of a guaranteed income sufficient for her to raise her baby) that would protect her from predation.
To try to find a woman who is in a vulnerable position, so you can obtain her baby from her, is reproductive exploitation, and the people committing it are, by definition, reproductive predators. This is why prospective adoptive parents are handing out “adoption networking cards” at teen activity centres, in Walmart, to high school guidance counsellors, in poor areas of town, to pregnant waitresses — women who look vulnerable due to youth or possible financial stress. This unfortunately resembles to some degree what sexual predators do to find vulnerable women and youth to exploit. Removing power and protection from socially vulnerable groups leaves them open to being exploited by those with more power, money, and social status. No-one wants to be a predator, but many prospective adoptive parents blunder into this practice without realizing what they are doing.
There are many reasons why women surrender their babies for adoption, but some of them involve influence or pressure from other people, even adoptive parents who have NO idea that they are affecting a mothers’ decision (i.e. coercion), or that reproductive exploitation is what they are engaging in.
Fuelling this is desperation: Unfortunately, as we all know, adoption is market driven. There is a huge demand for babies:
“For every healthy newborn available, there are now almost forty potential parents searching.” – (“Love for Sale” Adoptive Families Magazine, 2000).
But I encourage all adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents to get educated about this issue, so they have enough information that, if practising this type of coercion falls outside their ethical framework (and it should — do you really want in on your conscience that you made a mother give up her baby?), they know how to avoid it.
- Open Adoption: They knew it would work
- Adoption: Getting more babies to market
- Adoption: Women’s Rights. Reproductive Rights. Human Rights
- Adoption Coercion in Black and White
- Adoption practice: “What is coercion?”
- “Adoption Books, Letters, Promises: Why Solicitation To Obtain Babies for Adoption Must Be Outlawed“
*Meeting prospective adopters increases surrender rates (Chippendale-Bakker & Foster, 1996) and prevents mothers from “changing their minds” (Caragata, 1999). Choosing them increases surrender rates (Barth, 1987; Chippendale-Bakker & Foster, 1996).The infant going directly from the hospital to the adoptive parents increases surrender rates (Barth, 1987)
Also see this follow-up post: “More on Pre-birth Matching: Assumptions Some People Make”