An analysis of what is REALLY behind “Dear Birthmother Letters”
We want you to give us your baby. We know that by meeting us and seeing just how perfect we would be for your child, you will gladly do this.
Why do we know this?
Because you are young, vulnerable, and don’t feel confident about your ability to be a mother. We know that we will appear mature, confident, capable, and will make you feel like we could take care of your baby better than you can. We may even remind you of your own parents.
Because we know that the reason you are considering adoption is out of fear and guilt. Guilt that you have disappointed your parents by irresponsibly getting pregnant. Fear because you do not know what to do and you don’t know if you’ll be a good parent or not. We can take advantage of your fear and your guilt, and we don’t have any qualms about doing it.
We know that research shows that mothers who “meet” and “choose” prospective adopters during their pregnancies will give up their babies out of guilt and obligation. Especially if we are in the delivery room with you, or “bonding with” OUR newborn in the hospital with our family and friends congratulating us. How would you DARE think of keeping our darling newborn from us? Giving us a “failed adoption” by “not carrying through with your adoption plan.” We are scared that if you take your baby home first before deciding, that you likely wouldn’t give her to us, so our agency’s “birthmother counsellor” will ensure that won’t happen.
We know that if we befriend you while you’re still pregnant, you won’t have a choice. In fact, we’re happy to take that choice (and all choice) away from you, because we are desperate and we know we deserve your baby more than you do. After all, we’ve paid thousands to the agency – you just had a broken condom.
We also know that our promises of open adoption will sounds great, and the same pregnancy hormones that make you feel trusting of others and insecure about yourself will make you believe us, and WANT to believe us. And we also know that these promises have NO basis in law, that we can close the adoption any time we want. And we will close it, especially if it looks like OUR baby loves you when you visit (as many adopted children do with their natural mothers). We’ll just crush that pesky blood-bond by stopping those upsetting visits. They will only “confuse” our child.
If need be, we can get you a counsellor at an adoption agency. We know that the more visits you have with agency staff, the more likely you will be to surrender your baby. They will have lots of time to work on you and convince you how expensive and difficult it would be to raise a child at your age. Can you actually afford it? Like any other luxury commodity, only the rich should be allowed to obtain (and keep) a child. Poor? Too bad. You should have kept your legs crossed.
We promise we will treat you like a queen while you are gestating our baby, while we are “Paper Pregnant” and counting down the days until we get our freshly made bundle of joy from you. We’ll praise you and call you things like our “heaven sent angel” and “God’s gift” to boost your ego and make you feel valued and incredible and loved during your pregnancy — the love and support that your parents and those around you don’t show.
We’ll even give you flowers and a “birthmother gift” when you hand over OUR baby to us — a reasonable exchange, right? If you’re lucky, the hospital will give you a teddy bear to take home with you – standard practice now, right?
And of course we or our paid agency worker will be right there with you in the delivery room, to make certain you don’t try to “bond” with our baby. We’re paying too much money to the agency/lawyer/facilitator for this baby to allow THAT to happen.
Speaking of money, we offer to pay your medical and hospital expenses. This will make you feel like you “owe” us that baby.
But frankly we don’t care what we do to you — how we will manipulate you, exploit you, and then cast you aside like a used container (and that’s what you are, right?) — because we’ll be better parents than you will ever be. That’s why we’re writing you this letter: We know we deserve that baby more than you do. We pay more in taxes than you earn in a year (but we’re sure looking forward to that $10,000 adoption income-tax credit that we’ll get!).
Contact us at our 1-800 number, and check out our “profile page” to see how good-looking we are and how confidant and mature we look compared to you.
Two “Waiting Parents”
Praying that God will bring us Our Little Angel
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”
Child adoption, as it currently exists in Western law, was first created in an 1851 statute in the state of Massachusetts to deal primarily with the social welfare problem of poverty and “unwanted and unloved children.” At the time, social welfare reformists were looking for a solution to the problem of poverty: work-houses, orphans on the street who were in danger of exploitation, and rapid population growth in-part due to birth control prohibitions and legalized marital rape.
“Its illegitimate origins, its birth in the workhouse, so to speak, has been another adoption secret and is usually omitted from official genealogies of adoption” (O’ Shaughnessy, pp. 68-69).
Child adoption was considered a “progressive” social policy at the time, and other states and countries (the U.K., Australia, Canada, etc.) soon passed their own similar laws. By the 1930s, almost every Western jurisdiction had some form of adoption law.
That child adoption is a modern invention is often a surprise to people who believe that it has existed since time immemorial. The fact, however, is that it was relatively rare and legally limited throughout history, and while it has been common practice throughout history for children to be fostered, legal adoption in most nations and situations was usually reserved for adult males to adopt other adult males for inheritance purposes.
As opposed to fostering or legal guardianship, adoption involves a complete legal severing of all legally recognized family relationships (“filiation”), inheritance rights, and parental rights. Before the 20th century, with high child mortality rates being the norm worldwide, adopting an adult to be a legal heir was a much surer bet.
One example of this distinction between fostering and adoption is the case of Moses in Jewish and Christian religious tradition, for whom a strong argument can be made that he was fostered, not adopted. At no time were his birth records changed to indicate that an Egyptian princess was the mother who had given birth to him, nor were his legal ties and legal family relationship with his Hebrew family severed. Aaron remained recognized as his brother, and Jochebed as his mother..
There was also little demand for adoption prior to WWII, as the historical norm up until the 20th century was for women to marry in their middle to late teens and began their reproductive careers long before the progressive and inevitable decline in fertility due to age. Thus, the late 20th century “infertility epidemic” did not exist.
Adoption laws since then have not changed significantly since they began a century and a half ago, other than to close and seal original birth records in most jurisdictions and issue new official birth records falsely stating that the adoptive parents gave birth to the child (beginning in the 1920s and going onwards). Other minor changes have included gradual elimination of inheritance rights from natural parents, modifications to the legal process of surrender, and a few jurisdictions that have re-opened their records again under highly restrictive circumstances. None of these changes affected or questioned the underlying assumptions on which adoption was founded.
But adoption as a legal and social institute assumes that the child is unloved and unwanted, or that the parent is devastatingly unfit. That’s the social problem adoption was created to address. No matter how one fancies it up, this is the reason behind it. Find a home for an unloved and unwanted child.
And adoption would likely have stayed this way except that after WWII, the interest in adopting newborns grew. In part because the emergence of social work as a profession defined unwed mothers as neurotics who could be “cured” with separation from their babies, and defined the unhappiness and “empty homes” of childless couples as an equally important social problem to address. Add to this mix the rise of J. B. Watson’s behaviorist psychology (“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select … regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.“) which left the former universal belief in “bad blood” in the dust, and a market demand for newborns emerged.
And on it went. But adoption laws still assume that the mother and father do not love or want their baby. Read almost any state or provincial adoption statute and it is evident that the law is built upon the assumption of complete legal and emotional cut-off from the original family. The complete absence of the natural family from legal statutes after the surrender has taken place reflects the assumption that this family has no continuing interest in the welfare of their lost child. The loving mother’s interest in the continuing welfare of her child, her love for her child, and the mother-child bond forged during nine months in the womb, are all assumed to not exist.
And, tragically, moms who love and want their babies, and assume that a continuing connection will be guaranteed through open adoption (as the industry began to promised them as it worked to persuade more moms to hand over their babies), get caught in the middle. Those who buy the promotional hype that “Adoption is the Loving Option” and surrender their babies on this assumption find out the hard way to their surprise that they are suddenly judged by both the law and by society to be “heartless abandoners,“as one adoptee so eloquently put it.
Is it any wonder that many (most?) adoptees feel abandoned and/or rejected on some level?
One hundred and fifty seven years of continuity in adoption law is not going to change any time soon. Especially because the underlying legal principle that adoption was founded on (child abandonment) is never questioned by politicians or society in general. And especially as adoption is now used by child protection departments to “save” children from parents who have been judged unfit and abusive in a court of law.
It is a tragedy that we who are natural mothers of adopted children got caught in this trap, of believing what we were told by adoption industry workers: that adoption was what it wasn’t (loving) and would provide what it legally can’t guarantee (a lifetime of happiness for our child and a continuing connection with us). We were sold a bill of goods. Adoption was created to provide homes for “children with no parents,” abandoned children, and unwanted children. In essence, it is a form of legalized abandonment. No matter how you dress it up, this fact will always remain.
But if you are an 18 year old mother, lying there in your hospital bed with your precious and much-loved baby in your arms, the facilitator and the “waiting parents” standing there wanting you to hurry up and sign the papers, has anyone told you any of this? You are but one signature away from signing into a system that assumes your baby is unloved, unwanted, and to being willingly abandoned into another family’s hands.
- Brace, Charles Loring. (1872). “The Life of the Street Rat,s” an excerpt from The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years’ Work Among Them.
- O’ Shaughnessy, T. (1999). Adoption, Social Work and Social Theory : Making the Connections. Ashgate Publishing, Limited, ISBN 1-85628-883-8.
- Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (Nov. 2006). “Aging and Infertility.” Fertility and Sterility, Vol 86, Supplement 4.
- Samuels, Elizabeth J. (2001). “The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry Into the History of Adult Adoptee Access to Birth Records” Rutgers Law Review #367.
- Solinger, R. (2000). Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade. New York: Routledge. ISBN: 0-41592-676-9.
Copyright 2009 Cedar Bradley. All rights reserved.
We all know about the horrors of the Baby Scoop Era, where if you were a white woman (not a black woman, because there was no market for black babies) with no family support, you were often herded into surrendering your baby for adoption.
” … Black single mothers were expected to keep their babies as most unwed mothers, black and white, had done throughout American history. Unmarried white mothers, for the first time in American history, were expected to put their babies up for adoption. …” (Solinger, p. 149)
But what is little known is that at the end of the BSE, the dropping number of babies being surrendered led to a panic in the adoption industry. The growing number of abortions post Roe-v-Wade led to conservative governments reacting with alarm. These forces together led to a well-funded campaign to get more babies to market. Yes, literally. Much federal funding went into research on how to accomplish this (and still does). I discussed some of the resulting research on open adoption in an earlier post, “Open Adoption: They Knew it Would Work,” but there was a second prong to this pro-adoption initiative as well: curing the “social ill” of single and young parenting.
Natural mothers from the BSE never stood a chance. But the adoption industry during the BSE relied on overt coercion to get the product to market. As the supply of “product” dried up, the industry became more sophisticated. They researched how to get more mothers to surrender. Mothers who were forced to surrender during the BSE have solid claims to injustice. But mothers who surrendered after the BSE often did so because of research on how to get them to surrrender. Like the mothers of the BSE, most of these mothers also did not stand a chance.
These quotes are from some articles published by those researchers, explaining *why* they were doing the research on how to obtain more babies for adoption:
“It is the intent of the current administration to promote adoption among adolescent mothers. This intent comes at a time when many adolescent mothers are choosing to raise their babies born out of wedlock, a trend that has increased during the last decade.” (Resnick, 1984)
“It maybe that open adoption policies … can result in greater consideration of adoption by some adolescents who currently keep and raise their babies.” (Kallen, Griffore, Popovich, & Powell, 1990)
“… it is important to continue to achieve higher adoption rates among teenage parents …” (Hanson, 1990, pp. 639-40)
“For many reasons, there is an urgency in convincing pregnant adolescents to place their babies for adoption.” (Hanson, 1990, p. 640)
“By being able to point out strengths and weaknesses, and applying grounded intervention strategies, we may be able to effect higher adoption rates for adolescents who give birth” (Hanson, 1990, p. 641)
“The multifaceted problems associated with teenage pregnancy and parenting have become an agenda item for federal, state, and community action, resulting in a growing number of research and service initiatives …One recent federal strategy has been to advocate adoption as an alterative to either abortion or child rearing for young adolescents.” (Resnick, Blum, Bose, Smith & Toogood, 1990)
“It is reasonable to expect that a number of the difficulties associated with adolescent childbearing would be ameliorated if a child were released for adoption.” (Donnelly and Voydanoff, 1991, p. 414)
“The decision to release is one way of reducing the many social and economic problems associated with adolescent parenthood” (Donnelly and Voydanoff, 1991, p. 410)
“The Omnibus Budge Reconcilation Act (1981) and supporting research grants (Federal Register, 1982, 1983) have been directed toward furthering adoption as an alternative to abortion.” – (Sobol & Daly, 1992)
“Both private organizations and the federal government have promoted adoption as an alternative to abortion. When an unwanted or mistimed pregnancy occurs, adoption may serve the interests of the child, the biological mother, and the adoptive family” (Bachrach, Stolley, & London, 1992, p. 27)
“There is a strong interest in programs that encourage adoption as a preferred resolution for both mother and infant. …Because placement for adoption is typically an unusual choice for a pregnant adolescent, the development of efficacious programs to promote the adoption choice necessarily depends on expanded knowledge of the predictors of placement and the processes involved in the decision to place or parent.” (Dworkin, Harding & Schreiber, 1993, p. 76)
“… pregnant young women with no prior exposure may be less likely to choose adoption because they never consider the option for themselves, rather than because they consider and reject it based on their attitudes. This line of reasoning suggests that some form of adoption socialization may be necessary … Considering that most young women will not receive the prior personal exposure in their childhood families, a suitable alternative may be pregnancy-resolution counseling. Providing young women access to peers who have chosen adoption may be one way of achieving this goal.” (Namerow, Kalmuss, Cushman, 1993)
“Our results indicate that it would be in the best interests of these women for pregnancy counsellors to fully and fairly discuss the adoption option.”(Namerow, Kalmuss, & Cushman, 1997)
” … the results will assist helping professionals increase the frequency with which they encourage thoughtful consideration of adoption” [by unmarried mothers] (Custer, 1993)
“… a fair consideration of adoption is often overlooked in pregnancy counselling” (Leon, 1999)
“Since adoption can solve both personal and societal problems, it is important to identify salient variables related to the perceptions of pregnant adolescents while in the process of deciding to keep or place their baby (Moore and Davidson, 2002, p. 29)
“… In promoting research-based, empirically-validated adoption education as a priority in the lives of young female and male adolescents, professionals have the potential to effect change in the social, economic, and intellectual fabric of our time. (Ibid, p. 39)
Given this research and the momentum behind it, does anyone really, truly, still believe that there is a level playing field for any young expectant mother who is considering adoption? Does anyone really believe that she is making a totally informed decision with complete freedom of choice?
Bachrach, C., Stolley, K., & London, K. (1992). Relinquishment of premarital births: Evidence from national survey data. Family Planning Perspectives, 24, 27-48.
Custer, M. (1993). Adoption as an option for unmarried pregnant teens. Adolescence, 28, 891-902.
Donnelly, B., & Voydanoff, P. (1991). Factors associated with releasing for adoption among adolescent mothers. Family Relations, 40(4), 404-410.
Dworkin, R., Harding, J., & Schreiber, N. (1993). Parenting or placing: Decision making by pregnant teens. Youth and Society, 25, 75-92.
Hanson, R. (1990). Initial parenting attitudes of pregnant adolescents and a comparison decision about adoption. Adolescence, 25, 629-43.
Kallen, D. J., Griffore, R. J., Popovich, S., & Powell, V. (1990). Adolescent mothers and their mothers view adoption. Family Relations, 30, 331-316.
Leon. I. G. (1999). The role of the obstetric caregiver in adoption. Primary Care Update for Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 6(4), 125-131.
Moore, N., & Davidson, J. K. (2002). A profile of adoption placers: Perceptions of pregnant teens during the decision-making process. Adoption Quarterly, 6(2), 29-41.
Namerow, P. B., Kalmuss, D., & Cushman, L. F. (1993). The determinants of young women’s pregnancy-resolution choices. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 3(2), 193-215.
Resnick, M. (1984). Studying adolescent mothers’ decision making about adoption and parenting. Social Work, 29, 5-10.
Resnick, M., Blum, R., Bose, J., Smith, M., & Toogood, R. (1990). Characteristics of unmarried adolescent mothers: Determinants of child rearing versus adoption. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 60(4), 577-584.
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.
Solinger, R. (2000). Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade. (p. 149)
Shortlink to this post http://wp.me/p9tLn-3p
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.
~ ~ ~
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.
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