I was thinking about this issue this morning, and it occurred to me that there may be an analogy to the demand by the adoption industry and its supporters — but others as well including even many adoption-reform organizations — that natural mothers must accept the title (and status) of being nothing more than incubators (a.k.a. “birthmothers).
That analogy would be if everyone who is adopted must always live be referred to as an “adopted child” or “adopted baby” or “infant who was adopted” and may never call themselves an “adoptee” or adopted person” or “adopted adult.” That they will always be perpetual children and be called that, no matter what their personal preference.
Some adoptees of course may be okay with being called a ‘baby” or “child” for the rest of their lives, finding it “endearing” or “special” — the same way that some CUB members I have spoken to say that ‘birthmother” is “endearing” or “special.” Some mothers may insist that calling the child they lost to adoption “their baby” all his/her life is “endearing” and want to call all adopted persons “babies” — the same as some adoptees say that the term “birth mother’ is a special and endearing term for their own natural mother and want to call the rest of us that as well.
We know that the adoption industry and its customers want to treat adoptees as if they were children with no power and no voice. WE also know that this same people and its customers want to designated all natural mothers as being nothing more than breeders with no power and no voice. But adopted persons do not want to be classified as perpetual infants and natural mothers do not want to be classified as being breeders.
Some adopted persons have protested about being called “babies” in online support groups. I understand their point of view entirely, and I would never belittle an adopted person this way. I did not reunite with my “baby.” I reunited with my adult son. Society in general, and anyone who personally knows an adopted person, must cease treating adult adoptees as if they were still children.
So, my thoughts on this are that just as adult adopted persons are not perpetual children or babies, never to grow up; natural mothers are not “birth-mothers,” never to be considered to be mothers. We all deserve some mutual respect.
As most of my regular readers know, I refer to myself as a mother, or in relation to adoption, as being the natural mother of an adoptee (or natural mother, for short). I reject the term “birthmother” to refer to myself, and “Birthmothers as Incubators,” explains the reason for this in more detail.
But the term natural mother may not be one which is familiar to you. Let me explain a bit about it.
What is the origin of the term natural mother? Before the term birthmother was invented, the term natural mother was used throughout adoption-related literature. It was in the first modern child adoption law (Massachusetts, 1851) and is still in the laws of several states including California, Florida, Virginia, and Texas.
Some say the term natural parent means that the adoptive parents must therefore be unnatural. I call this “playing the opposites game.” By this reasoning, the opposite of birth parent is death parent. Obviously, forming a false black and white dichotomy is no reason to reject the term “natural mother.” (That is, unless you have adopted a child and really do enjoy being called a “death parent”… )
Instead, more accurately, the adjective “socially-created” contrasts with “natural.” Calling someone a natural mother refers to motherhood by the laws of Nature, while the adoptive mother is a mother by the modern legal and social process of child adoption. It respects the reality that legal child adoption did not exist prior to 1851 (see “Why Adoption Is How it Is”).
Choosing to use the term natural mother to describe one’s self is a way of saying, “I am a mother, too. I never ceased having a mother’s love for my lost child.” In using the term natural mother for her instead of birthmother, others are saying to her, “I respect you as a mother; you are not an incubator.”
Reclaiming the term natural mother—honouring ourselves and each other as being mothers and refusing to be defined/dehumanized as being walking incubators—is an empowering way to reclaim our dignity, pride, and humanity. And as Wade (1997, pp. 23-24) states, “resistance to violence and oppression is both a symptom of health and health-inducing.”
- Wade, Allan. 1997. ”Small Acts of Living: Everyday Resistance to Violence and Other Forms of Oppression ” Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy 19:23–40. doi: 10.1023/A:1026154215299
Being related to someone, having that natural connection of a mother giving birth to you and this event of creation and nurturance being your connection to the human race through millions of years of evolution, having the innate and emotional blood-bond and instinctive mother-child bond and biological/genetic connection to a family, to mother and father, is highly important in the rest of society. EVERYWHERE other than adoption.
In legal child adoption, invented only in 1851 as a social experiment, it is dismissed.
It shows how we in modern society put adoption upon a pedestal, one built on artificial and discredited notions such that infants are “blank slates” and that “environment is everything.”
In the rest of society, outside the adoption realm, being actually related to someone IS important. If it were not so, then women giving birth in hospitals would not care which baby they brought home with them. Push out a baby, then choose whichever one you want to take home with you. Or, be handed the “next one up in the rotation.” And why on earth should it matter? Why in heaven’s name would it matter? If we were to use the make-believe logic of adoption, it wouldn’t matter. But we all know it does.
I think that adoption as an institution is based on lies, fabrications, and the financial/social power and emotional “needs” of those who can afford to buy a baby. Reality has nothing to do with it. Instead, we are pressured believe that parents are replaceable and interchangeable, that children will “get over it,” that natural mothers are nothing more than heartless abandoners and willing incubators.
None of this is the truth, but it is a direct result of the legal principles underlying the first child adoption act, passed in 1851 and copied throughout the Western world. Terminate all parental rights AND all filiation. Permanently and without revoke. That is what differentiated this law from ALL others that preceded it. As long as adoption exists, it will be based on these lies, and will assume that biological connections, relatedness, are irrelevant.
My previous post on pre-birth matching was inspired by a question asked in a forum that is supposedly to support everyone who has been touched/torched by adoption.
I received a response from another member of this group, who had adopted, and she displayed some assumptions in her response that are very common in society. I am glad she responded as she did, so that maybe another point of view could be provided, by a mother who has actually been there and has lost a baby against her will.
This is what this woman who had adopted said:
“Obviously, for an expectant mother to see these profiles, they must be looking for families to adopt their babies. I’m not sure – what do you think would be a better thing for an expectant mother who thinks she wants to place her baby to do? We don’t want her to leave the baby on a doorstep. So what should she do, if we lived in a world where no one wrote ‘dear birth mother’ letters?”
Reading this, the first question that came to my mind is: No it is NOT obvious. Why do people think that a mother looking at prospective adopters’ profiles is REALLY, concretely, at the stage of looking for a family to adopt here baby? Is this expectant mother really 100% at that point yet and never going back to the question “Should I, can I, keep my baby?”?
So this, the rest of my post here, is my response to her:
Actually, I think that it’s possible that for many mothers, they are not looking for a family to adopt their babies, they are still deciding “Should I surrender or keep my baby?” The mother is still making up her mind, and these profiles can influence this decision.
I know mothers who read these online profiles during their pregnancies and it made them feel they had no right to keep their babies, that they would be selfish and greedy and “unchristian,” as they are made to feel that there are these wonderful people out there who deserved to be parents much more than the mothers did. It was one more nail in their coffin of insecurity and lack of self-esteem. Worse yet if an adoption agency is coaching them that parenthood would be too much of a struggle for them and that their babies “deserve more.”
If you are a woman who has given birth, a mother, you know the emotional changes that come with late pregnancy, labour, and birth. This can be a shock to new moms, how much they may want their babies once their babies are in their arms. And many moms separated from children by adoption feel, from experience, that the final decision about this should (or must) be made post-birth once the mother has her baby in her arms and knows her emotions, preferably given a few weeks so she can recover from birth first.
Viewing profiles of course leads to forming a relationship with someone hoping to adopt — later on — BUT how much pressure does this relationship put on her to “not change her mind” and cause a “failed adoption” — in many cases, lots. (i.e.
“Paul Meding, a Columbia attorney who has been taking adoption cases for 12 years [says] “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)”.
What Meding talks about here is also called “emotional coercion.”
So, another person who had adopted responded and asked me what an mother should do instead (i guess, instead of boarding the adoption bandwagon while her child is not yet born). I responded:
I think that the supports are in place already that expectant mothers can obtain necessary prebirth and post-birth counselling and get care and resources such that she can make this decision once recovered from birth, without the decision being influenced by relationships with or expectations from people hoping to adopt.
A good example is South Australia: Adoption offices are ready with substitute care for the baby if the mother wants this while the mother makes up her mind, and she is encouraged to have visits, given parenting mentorship, and to bring her baby home overnight. Various public service agencies have programs providing this type of “cradle care” already in place. After the mom recovers from birth, then an adoption agency (or child welfare office) can provide her with profiles of couples she can interview and choose, *if* she then finds first-hand that she doesn’t want [to raise] her baby. I corresponded with adoption workers in the state of South Australia, who confirmed this information. Evelyn Robinson also has written about it, and she can be contacted through Clova Publications at http://www.clovapublications.com. In Australia, an adoption workers’ paycheque does not depend on the sales she or her agency makes per year, on how many babies they can broker for $25,000 and up.
There is no reason to fear that children will be “left on doorsteps” if there is no pre-birth matching. And there is no need for mothers to be pressured to make decisions about adoption pre-birth, or even soon post-birth. Pre-birth matching is just another tactic that agencies use in order to obtain more babies for the market.
I seriously do not think that any person who adopts can claim that the mother was not coerced, if they have engaged in pre-birth or even pre-surrender matching. How can they guarantee that they did not affect the mother’s decision? Do they even care how they obtained the baby? Several people in the same group, when asked, said that they felt that the mother’s reasons for surrendering “were her own,” indicating that they did not care if she was coerced or not, or whether they themselves had pers0nally engaged in coercion. I find this to be very sad that anyone would s0 blinded by “baby hunger” that they would put this ahead of having ethics, did not care how or why that baby was being surrendered for adoption.
Shortlink to this post: http://wp.me/p9tLn-if
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”
I have to admit, I feel very uncomfortable with the word “bastard.” Mainly because it originated as a derogatory term used for children born out of wedlock and I feel strongly that any form of discrimination against a person due to their circumstances of birth is reprehensible. Even if the term “bastard” has come to mean “jerk” or “impolite/rude/inconsiderate [male] person” — or even sometimes serving as a humorous term of endearment/admiration for someone who has managed to come out ahead of the game (“Hey, you know Bob? He won the lottery last week — that bastard!”) — I still refrain from using it even in casual conversation. And if I do “slip up” and say it, I feel a small pang of something (guilt?).
Having said, that, I have a huge amount of respect for adoptees such members of Bastard Nation, and bloggers such as Bastardette and Bastard Granny Annie and Ungrateful Little Bastard, for proudly taking ownership of the term and using it for their own purposes, and in doing so are removing some of the stigma from it. Good for them!
But this post is not about the term, it is about the stigma that is still attached to the birth of children outside of marriage. You can see this in figures quoted in newspapers, about how it is a measurement of the “social ills” in society. You can hear it in the derogatory words thrown at single, young mothers on buses, at least where I live. And the “campaign against teen pregnancy” that assumes that all young mothers are not only irresponsible monsters but are unwed.
I personally knew the shock when I met a woman in 1990 who had also given birth at age 17 in Canada, but had been allowed to keep her baby — the hospital did not abduct her baby at birth — the difference was that she was married!!
… And having to wear my grandma’s wedding ring whenever I left the wage home to go anywhere.
… and when I found out 24 years after the fact that my father had phoned my son’s father around the time of the birth of my son and asked him if he would do the right thing and marry me (Grandma Maxwell told my son about this one). I guess, that was the condition on which they would allow me to keep my baby.
… and being a single mother giving birth in a hospital in many places in Canada will still prompt a social worker visit while you are still in hospital, questioning your motherhood and your right to raise your baby, giving you adoption pamphlets and asking “How do you intend to support this child?”
But getting back to the stigma that in many places still surrounds having a baby outside of marriage, it is interesting about the double-standard that surrounds adoption.
Question: Given that it is such a social crime to give birth to a baby outside of marriage that the child is termed a “bastard”: What about a child who was born to a married couple, surrendered (perhaps due to poverty — this is happening all the time) then adopted by a single person (male or female)? That person was not born “illegitimate. ” The modern child adoption system that was invented in 1851 makes a child “As If Born To” the person who has adopted them. So, does that child become “illegitimate,” and hence a “bastard”? If not, then why not?
Only in adoption is there a paradox that a single mother “deserves” to adopt a child — but a child *born* outside of marriage is “illegitimate” and the mother is deemed not to deserve her own child.
Why is it is okay to adopt as a single mother, BUT if you dare to give birth to a child outside of marriage, that child is called a “bastard” and the mother vilified??? The woman who adopts is put onto a pedestal while the mother who has given birth is considered by the same people to be inherently irresponsible and potentially unfit? Being unwed is still considered to be “just reason” to surrender a child, or imply to a mother that she should surrender her child (“Have you considered adoption?”). Books on “how to adopt” advise prospective adopters to, in public places, approach pregnant women who do not have wedding rings, to hand them “adoption cards.” To imply that the people who want to adopt deserve her baby more than she does.
An interesting double standard.
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Postscript: I want to recommend a related blog post, about how some mothers are condemned while others are honoured: “The Right Kind of Mother: Intersections of Race and Class and Choice“