Adoption and Feminism

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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.


3 thoughts on “Adoption and Feminism

    Dana said:
    December 22, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Hi, I’m just now reading this. I consider myself a feminist although I am not affiliated with any group. I have also lost a child to adoption, though it was not infant adoption. And I absolutely agree with you that it’s reproductive exploitation. Even in my case, which was more complicated than the typical infant adoption situation, it turned out that was the reason for my and my son’s suffering.

    In my case I had put my husband in jail and his mother positioned herself to “help” me by taking care of my son til I got back on my feet, then as soon as she got him home she petitioned for custody. It was then presented to me that if my husband and I divorced while she had Sean, the court would make both me and my ex pay child support, something neither of us was in a position to do, and my MIL and her husband (my ex’s stepfather) both ran businesses and were not lacking for resources. Basically I was threatened with financial hardship and possibly jail time, just because I couldn’t afford a lawyer to get my son back in an interstate custody dispute.

    The adoption was final in 2000. Four and a half years later my ex-MIL, exhausted from a long road trip, let it spill that she and my ex’s stepfather had tried for many years to conceive a child between them and had accomplished at least one pregnancy but had lost the pregnancy.

    It didn’t sink in for me even then–but in the past year it’s finally clicked. THAT was why she kept my son. It was her one chance to raise a child with her husband and, as a bonus, since Sean was family, she wouldn’t have to go through an agency or get a home study or anything. States typically treat grandparent adoptions differently than stranger adoptions.

    I got screwed just so she could play house, basically.

    And of course no one, not even most other feminists, sees anything wrong with this. It blows my mind.

    SS said:
    December 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I know this was posted awhile ago, but things have yet to change and feminism is VERY limited in its scope of “reproductive justice”. All it actually is is the right to birth control and abortions- feminism as a whole does not care beyond that.

    Feminism does not care about the forced sterilization of people of color, transgender people, people with disabilities, or others. Feminism does not care that “undesirable” people have a higher rate of having their babies/children taken from their care under suspicious reasons. Feminism does not care that our society is set up to continue justifying taking children from their natural parents- refusing help to poor people because it’s so much more profitable to steal their babies than to preserve families. Feminism does not care that resources are not put towards improving the foster system so that kids who have to be taken from their natural family are in a better situation and get the care they need, eliminating the “Well, would you rather those kids rot in an orphanage?” argument for adoption.

    Individual feminists do (although I question how many, they seem to be a small, but hopefully growing, minority) but as a whole, feminism does not. I fully agree with you- this needs to change.

    And, yes, I believe it IS in part because of the number of adoptive parents, and the focus on adoptive parents within our culture and, in turn, feminism. Adoptive parents are privileged and powerful- they have the money to pay what would be two years’ salary for many just to get an adopted child. They raise their voices over their own children’s, even when those children grow up to be adult adoptees. They make it clear over and over and over again that if their children’s needs inconvenience them, they will ignore those needs. They paint a picture of natural parents as drug addicted, lazy, unfit parents so that they can justify having taken the children. They insist that babies NEED two white, Christian, middle class parents despite all the people who did not have that and thrived.

    The heartbreak of infertile couples becomes more important than the heartbreak of natural parents who get their baby taken from them.

    (Again- this is an overall. There are individual adoptive parents that are better and I hope that more are working towards doing what their children need. But look at how many parents go to international adoption in part so that they don’t have to deal with natural family.)

    There are situations where the natural parent/s are close friends to the adoptive parents, and it’s my understanding that the adoption fees are very close to what it cost you to adopt-back your baby. I know people on welfare who have adopted babies/children from within their families or circles of friends. That is what adoption should look like- a small court fee, emphasis on keeping the baby within the same community, not tens of thousands of dollars. The exception should ONLY be when the parent/s are losing the child due to abuse, not when the parent/s are only losing the child due to poverty or disability or whatever else.

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