I read a post today on proving one’s love to the child one lost to adoption. Suz describes how some natural moms have approaches to reunion — to try to show their love to their found child — that don’t work at all and in many cases can actually do damage to any post-reunion relationship. Some of these approaches that Suz describes include smothering our children with love or presents, acting like a doormat, and having a double-standard such that we will put up with being treated badly in ways we would never dream of treating another person. I would also lob in there: “letting the adoptee make ALL the decisions.”
I have a theory, based on what I have heard many natural mothers state in support groups, and what I read in their blogs: Many of these unhealthy approaches to reunion are based on guilt.
If a mother is to want a healthy reunion, then perhaps part of the preparation is to work on any guilt, shame, or self-blame she may be feeling regarding the surrender/loss of her baby. As long as she has no idea about the dynamics of coercion, she may always carry a ball-and-chain of guilt and self-blame that will damage her chance of a healthy post-reunion relationship.
That is a whole huge issue: Why do mothers blame themselves? Why do they take this burden onto their shoulders instead of placing it firmly at the feet of the baby brokers? And if you surrendered a baby for adoption post-1955, and still blame yourself, you may wish to look into what systemic methods were used on you to “persuade” you to surrender your baby.
Many mothers are reconsidering the idea that they “had a choice.” Especially in light of information found by mothers who have turned the tables, putting the adoption industry under a microscope in the same way that they studied us to find out how to get us to surrender our babies. Perhaps in the majority of cases, surrender was not by choice. Read the stories of other mothers who may have experienced the same thing.
Read up on some things that adoption industry “professionals” did and said to us to get us to surrender our babies, and remember that a coerced decision is not a decision at all. After women began keeping their babies post-BSE and agencies were faced with going out of business, they even engaged in research to ensure that open adoption would get more mothers to surrender their babies. Other research was aimed at getting teen mothers to surrender.
Ask yourself: Did you love your baby and want to keep him/her? If so, then somehow, something was done to you to ensure that this was not going to happen. And it was NOT your fault. Check out how social workers even in the 1950s thought they could “play God” with us. And, did you know that it was because white babies were “marketable” that they only pressured white mothers to surrender, not African-American mothers? If not, check out Solinger’s book “Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade.”
“By the early 1940’s, social workers became convinced that adoption was preferable to”keeping mother and child together” . . . Rejecting the idea that all women who had borne children were suitable mothers, social workers maintained that they must individualize each case . . . and decide which women should or should not put their infants up for adoption.” And Sin No More: Social Policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleaveland 1855 to 1990, by Marian J. Morton, Historian, 1993 (quote from the BSERI website)
“An agency has a responsibility of pointing out to the unmarried mother the extreme difficulty, if not the impossibility, if she remains unmarried, of raising her child successfully in our culture without damage to the child and to herself …. The concept that the unmarried mother and her child constitute a family is to me unsupportable. There is no family in any real sense of the word.” – Principles, Values, and Assumptions Underlying Adoption Practice, by Joseph H. Reid, 1956 Nation Convention for Social Work (quote from the BSERI website)
We need not feel guilt.
We need not take the blame.
We loved our children and wanted to keep them.
We had no choice.
The blame is with the baby brokers, not with us.
Once we shed this guilt and stop blaming ourselves for being pressured to surrender our babies (and if you don’t believe that a pregnant/birthing woman is seriously affected by hormones in such a way that she’s left vulnerable to coercion, then you have never given birth) then we can work on a reunion that won’t consist of years of hopelessly trying to “prove” our love for our children.
And as long as we continue to feel guilt and take the blame for having “given away” our babies, we cannot expect those rejected children to believe that we love them. People do NOT give away those they love (See “Andy and Marcie” for an allegory about this). The fact is that 99% of us did not “give away” our children — but our children will not believe this as long as we feel guilt or act as though we did (example: did you apologize to your child for not keeping them?)
Shed the self-blame and the guilt, for your own sake, not only in reunion but to be free to live to the fullest in other parts of your life as well. Do not blame yourself or feel you have to “make up for” something you had no control over at the time, no way to prevent. You do not need to bear that burden. You do not deserve to carry that pain.
Open adoption is the norm these days, contrasting with the closed adoptions of the Baby Scoop Era, which may have ended in the mid-1970s in the United States but continued far longer in Canada. I knew single moms in the mid-1980s whose babies were still being taken at birth with the mother not being allowed to see or touch her baby. It was done to me in fact in 1980.
So, why did open adoption begin? Frankly, it began because mothers had begun keeping their babies, finding parental support and access to financial assistance that did not exist in the Baby Scoop Era when shamed parents shipped their daughters off to maternity facilities and “wage home” to return as “born again virgins.” Agencies faced the prospect of going out of business unless they found a new way to persuade moms to surrender their newborns. Research was done, and open adoption was found to be the key.
Examples are below, but the data is far more extensive and other articles examine the exact statistical affect of various open adoption practices such as meeting prospective adopters before the birth vs. after the birth, the baby going home with them from the hospital, pre-birth consents signed, etc.
This raises a huge ethical issue that is not being discussed in adoption literature. If a mother’s decision about surrendering her baby is being influenced by practices carefully researched and applied to increase the odds she will surrender increase, is it really a freely-made decision at all? Especially if she is kept unaware of this manipulation? In effect, is any open adoption truly ethical as this practice was designed to obtain babies for the market, to keep agencies in business, and to exploit the vulnerability of poor, single, or young mothers?
This, to me, is a most insidious form of coercion.
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1976 — The Research Begins …
“Recently one of the authors met with a [focus group] of young unwed mothers … the women talked about their struggles, frustration and feelings of bitterness and anger. They regretted their inability to offer their children the kinds of loving care they had expected to give them. Regarding adoption, the women felt that although they were failing to provide adequately, they could not face the possibility of a final and total separation from their infants .. When they were asked about how they would feel about open adoption, thier attititudes were totally different: They thought they could face and even welcome adoption for their children if they could meet the adoptive parents, help in the separation and move ot a new home, and the maintain some contact with the child.” (Baran, Pannor, & Sorosky, 1976, pp. 98-99)
Note: This was the study that started it all: the first research deliberately done to find out how to separate more mothers from their children.” Yngvasson (1997) says about this article:
“[Open adoption] was proposed by Baran and her colleagues as a way of encouraging unmarried women (and specifically unmarried white women) to relinquish their babies for adoption at a time when they were increasingly choosing to raise them alone”
1987 — Studies continue …
“Adoption practices are changing partly in response to the falling relinquishment rate” (Barth, 1987, p. 323). [Note: open adoption being offered to counter-act mothers keeping their babies]
“Taken together, these studies suggest that more vigorous and frequent presentations of adoption options and the possible benefits of relinquishment outweight the possible risks to the practitioner-client relationship.” (Barth, 1987, p. 331)
1990 … a study of 105 white and African-American “keepers” and “releasers” and their mothers, their attitudes toward adoption practices.
“A review of the responses … indicated that the major issue for the adolescent keeper and her mother was the extent to which the birth mother would have information about the baby as it grows up. Thus, there was clear rejection of the idea of not knowing how the baby was doing as it grew up. There was clear support for choosing the actual famiy who gest the baby, for finding out how the baby is doing now and then, for meeting three families and knowng for sure that one of them will get the baby, and for seeing the baby as it grows up …. Movement to a more open procedure, which provides the birth mothers more choice and more information about the fate of her baby might, indeed, increase the consideration of adoption by pregnancy adolescents.” (Kallen et al., 1990, p. 315).
“Of course, the mere availability of open procedures will not be sufficient. Family professionals must take advantage of the opportunity to provide information, guidance, and counselling in support of open adoption.” (Kallen et al., 1990, p. 316).
1991 — Promote it as a way to get more babies to market…
“In a very general way, openness benefits prospective parents because it may increase the pool of adoptable infants. For biological parents to have some continuing knowledge about their relinquished child may help them to choose adoption as an option (Barth, 1987), thus increasing the number of children available and decreasing the wait for an adoptable child.” (Berry, 1991, p. 638)
“Cocozzelli (1989) warns that the potential benefits of open adoption may persuade some adolescent mothers to relinquish a child who would not otherwise have done so. Those mothers who relinquish in the expectation of continued contact may risk prolonged uncertainty and grief.” (Berry, 1991, p. 641)
“A ‘confidential’ adoption … may be a factor in the number of young women who choose to keep their babies. … Rather, we must be concerned to the extent that the cost of losing contact with the infant effects a rejection of adoption as a pregnancy outcome.” (Caragata, 1999, p. 116)
“As many young women who choose to place thier baby change their minds following the birth, factors such as having met with the adoptive parents could affect these decisions.” (Caragata, 1999, p. 117)
And here is the evidence, in practice, a newspaper article quoting an adoption lawyer (a.k.a. baby broker) who finds this to be a successful way to coerce mothers into surrendering their infants:
” The open adoption process often begins with an adoption attorney. 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)
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References plus related articles:
Purple indicates actual research studies conducted on whether open adoption would work to get more babies surrendered:
- Baran, A., Pannor, R., & Sorosky, A. (1976). Open adoption. Social Work, 21, 97-100
- Barth, R. (1987). Adolescent Mothers Beliefs about Open Adoption. Social Casework, 68, 323-331
- Berry, M. (1991) “The Effects of Open Adoption on biological and Adoptive Parents and the Children: The Arguments and the Evidence”. Child Welfare, 70, 637-51.
- Berry, M. (1993). Risks and benefits of open adoption. Adoption, 3(1), 125-138.
- Caragata, L. (1999). “The construction of teen parenting and decline of adoption”, in James Wong and David Checkland (eds) Teen Pregnancy and Parenting: Social and Ethical Issues, University of Toronto Press, Ontario: Toronto.
- Cocozelli, C. (1989). Predicting the decision of biological mothers to retain or relinquish their babies for adoption: Implications for open placement. Child Welfare, 68, 33-44.
- Daly, K. (1994). Adolescent perceptions of adoption: Implications for resolving an unplanned pregnancy. Youth and Society, 25(3), 330-350.
- Kallen, D. J., Griffore, R. J., Popovich, S. & Powell, V. (1990). Adolescent mothers and their mothers view adoption. Family Relations, 30, 313-316.
- Sobol, M. & Daly, K. (1992). The adoption alternative for pregnant adolescents: Decision making, consequences, and policy implications. Journal of Social Issues, 48(3), 143-161.
- Yngvesson, B. (1997). “Negotiating motherhood: Identity and difference in “open” adoptions.” Law and Society Review, 31(1), 31-80.
Shortlink to this post http://wp.me/p9tLn-n
(For those who have been touched by adoption (with a blow-torch), this story is pretty self-evident. For those with no experience or connection to adoption: this is an allegory about adoption, and mothers being convinced by agency workers that if they really loved their babies, they’d surrender them, that adoption is “the loving option,” and how it just does not make sense.)
Andy and Marcie: A Story
Andy met Marcie one afternoon over at Jim’s place. Jim had hosted a barbeque for his friends, and Marcie was the best friend of Jim’s sister Carla. Andy and Marcie immediately hit it off. Both were shy at first, and the conversation stumbled at times, but they laughed and joked together and felt comfortable in one another’s presence. They soon found that they had lots in common. They both loved the same sports (kayaking and hiking), going to hear the local symphony (both were season subscribers), and hated sushi.
After Jim’s party, it was a couple of weeks before either got the nerve to phone the other one up. It was actually Marcie who did, inviting Andy out to the symphony with her that Saturday — there was a special guest conductor in from Chicago. The evening went perfectly, and they went out for chocolate cake and coffee afterwards at the Mocha House Cafe, laughing and talking.
One date led to another, and soon both Andy and Marcie knew that they had never felt so close to another person, so comfortable, so “right.” They both accepted each other’s “faults” with good humour, had lots of fun together with family and friends, and found that not only was there romance but both became good friends. It wasn’t long until they moved in together and discussed commitment.
All seemed very natural, and all their friends were delighted for them. Everyone figured that Andy and Marcie were the perfect pair and would soon get married. In fact, Carla began to drop hints to her friend about being her maid of honour.
Nine months into their relationship though, after many days of joy together, Andy dropped a bombshell. With tears in his eyes, he told Marcie the news. He loved her so much that he had to leave her and he was moving out. Her faced turned white with shock, and she sat down on their couch in total numbness. This was not at all what she was expecting. When through her wracking sobs she asked him why, why she was losing the man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with” He replied with a choking voice that he was not good enough for her and the best thing he could do, the “loving option,” was to allow her to go to another man. No matter what she asked, that is what it came down to: “I am doing this out of love for you.”
As Andy walked out with his suitcase, he told Marcie the name of an intermediary who would pass on messages to him from her. He said that he still loved her and always would. But, he was firm that his counsellor said he had to “move on with his life” and “act like he had never met her.”
Marcie sat back. Did it make sense to love someone so much you had to leave them? When you could have spent your life together and everything was going so well? It was obvious to her: Andy did not love her at all, and this was just an excuse. Unloved, unwanted, she sat back in the apartment that felt so empty, and she cried.
Copyright 2008. Contact the author for permission to reprint.
I went through my articles and journal entries last night, to see what would be appropriate to start with for this blog. I looked at articles on helping moms keep their babies, on coercion, on teen pregnancy, on reunion, on language … and they all appeared to be the second chapter in a book. The introduction and chapter 1 was necessary first. What was my personal experience with the social construct called “adoption”? What led to my opinions today?
Personally, I believe that my writing on these topics should not in any way be read in light of my personal experience — but it is a fact that my experience is what led me to examine these topics. It is not because of them that I hold the views I do, because I know that there are people who were adopted, people who have adopted, and people with no experience with adoption who also hold these opinions and agree with me. But I also think that it is necessary to (1) let the reader know a bit about me, as this is a blog and people like to know a bit about the writer, and (2) show you what experiences led me to this position of reflection, analysis, and critique of current and past adoption practice.
I would like your feedback of course — do you want to hear the tale of how my baby and I were separated by adoption 28 years ago? Or is this information irrelevant? I leave it up to you.
Well, I guess you found this little blog. It is not my intention to write it to try to entertain, shock, or otherwise get you to come back to see the latest in hip news, rave reviews, or celebrity gossip (I’ll leave that to Perez Hilton to keep you satisfied).
Instead, if you frequent this site, you’ll be reading the writings of a mother and policy analyst, one who has analyzed her own experiences and those of other mothers who have experienced a unique form of violence. I will be posting articles that I have written in the past, and new articles as they develop in the future.
What you will find are analyses of such topics as the adoption industry, reproductive exploitation, and the abuse of vulnerable mothers. As well as my own personal experiences, and quotes from my favourite authors.
My name? How about just “Cedar’ for now.