Sometimes my blog posts are inspired by conversations which occur on message boards, and this is one of them. So, it is very possible that you have read the original conversation where this took place, and if so, then I apologize for the repetition.
This came from an online conversation about a recent “birthmother petition,” where an organization is requesting the signatures of natural mothers to support adoptee-rights. Now, I believe wholeheartedly in open records, and that EVERYONE has the right to their original birth records, their family history, and the right to make contact with their lost family members if they choose (this means both ways!) … BUT, I also do not believe that it is the right thing to do to objectify a group of people in order to further the rights of a separate group, at the expense of the first.
So, in this conversation about this petition, several natural mothers such as myself stated that we would not be signing it. Not that we do not support adoptee rights (we wholeheartedly DO! and the women discussing this have spent years of their lives actively working for open records), but because: (1) being mothers still, we are not “birthmothers;” (2) we find it offensive, dehumanizing, and objectifying to be defined and labelled as “incubators;” and (3) we feel that the organization which sponsored this petition could just as easily have used the term which respects us: “natural mother.” Even if it used both terms, that at least would show respect for all of us, those natural mothers who respect themselves as being mothers, and those who accept the adoption industry’s statement that we are no longer mothers.
So, this is my response to the person who defended the use of the term “birth mother” in the petition. I sincerely respect her an an open records advocate, but I do feel that even if she does not feel that her own natural mother is a mother to her, that is her personal choice in her life, but it does not mean that this can be generalized to cover other mothers-of-adoption-loss without our consent. And I do not give consent to be dehumanized.
” I am sorry to hear, xxxxxx, that your natural mother is nothing more than an incubator to you (yes, this is what she is reduced to if your adoptive mother is awarded the status of being your sole mother, it means that her only relevance/action as a mother in you life was to gestate and push you out), but the word dehumanizes and objectifies women as being nothing more than convenient uteri. Legislators also recognize and understand the term natural mother. They have for ages, as much currently-in-effect state and provincial legislation still uses that term.
” I disagree with you that it is necessary to use this term with politicians. I have been involved in open records campaigns in 3 provinces, actively writing to politicians, creating websites that promote open records, and sending out bulletins to members of nonprofit organizations I belonged to in order to publicize open records campaigns and get members in involved in open records. I have never yet had to use the term ‘birthmother’ in any of these actions.
” People have the right to not be objectified. The ‘birth terms’ objectify women. They were invented and defined by the adoption industry, which treated and treats us as livestock anyway:
‘… the tendency growing out of the demand for babies is to regard unmarried mothers as breeding machines…(by people intent) upon securing babies for quick adoptions.’ – Leontine Young, ‘Is Money Our Trouble?’ (paper presented at the Nationa…l Conference of Social Workers, Cleveland, 1953)
” And, if one reduces a human being to an object, one can then treat them as voiceless, with rights, in need of protecting. The term ‘birthmother’ actually plays into supporting closed records legislation by defining us as having NO continuing love or connection with our lost child, and thus no interest in ‘reunion’ or being ‘found.’ And reunion IS the elephant on the dining room table when it comes to ‘adoptee rights’ and ‘open records.’
” I have the right not to be defined as an non-mother, an incubator, etc. So do all other MOTHERS who have lost children to adoption. Thus the term natural mother, which recognizes and respects our continuing motherhood, is the one which is not derogatory or denigrating to us. Or you can call us mothers, or mothers of adoption loss. Or mothers separated from a child by adoption.
” What is a natural mother? I am a mother by the laws of nature. The adoptive mother is the mother who was created by the laws of modern human society, pursuant to laws which began with the first child adoption law, invented in 1851 in Massachusetts. So, natural and socially-created. But the continuing love and blood-bond I have with my child, our sharing of genes, that I created him through the processes of Nature, all count towards me being a mother. (He also calls me Mom and I have adopted him back, but these are moot points). If laws and social-worker-procedures and the adoption industry had not been created to rip us apart, we would still have been together. My love for him never died, my connection with him that is just as strong as my connection and love for my other children. This is NOT saying that adoptive parents are unnatural. It is not a game of ‘Opposites,’ because if you say that this makes adoptive parents ‘unnatural’ then in the ‘Opposites Game’ the term ‘birthmother’ makes them into ‘deathmothers.’“
Sometimes I feel that i beat this topic to death, and you, dear readers, are likely sick of hearing it. But why ask for my support in a way that treats me as less-than-human, that assumes that I do not have or want a family relationship with my son? The issue this time is that we, as natural mothers, are being asked to further the interests of another group while ignoring our own interests (e.g. open records for natural parents as well), but we’re being asked as “incubators” do to so.
Meanwhile, please sign this petition, which has been active and on in the internet since 2000:
In Canada, our situation is so very sad. We are in the middle of an election, and if you look at the party leaders, the selection is pitiful. No women, no persons of colour, no-one under the age of “Seniors Day at Zellers.” In essence, no-one to represent the interests of women, the young, or the disenfranchised.
I feel like we’re in a time-warp. Nothing has changed. Like I stated in 2008, all we can choose from are Old Rich White Men.
So the sorry fact is that, even if your party’s platform pretends to pay attention to you, you can be certain that the corporate culture in Ottawa will not even know you exist. Even the women who are elected to Parliament end up finding out that they have to obey the rules of the “Old Rich White Boys’ Club.”
“Ottawa is old, white and male” — John Ibbitson, in “Five reasons Ottawa is turning you off” (Globe and Mail)
And, I know my readers will remind me about the Green Party leader, Elizabeth May. But what does it say about Canada that the only female leader is heading up a party that stands no chance of being elected under our current “First Past the Post” system?
No wonder there is no support for young, single, poor mothers to keep their children. The life experiences of the people whom our political parties nominate for leadership do not reflect their experiences, values, beliefs, or struggles.
I can give you a clear picture of this: A young First Nations woman I know well, struggling to raise three children on welfare, has bills this April of $740 not including groceries. Her total income is $600. She is already in subsidized housing. Child support? What’s that? She has to call the father of her children every month to try to hound him to pay up. If she makes even a little bit of money, the welfare office takes it away. The stress of trying to figure out how to afford to feed her children, how to pay her bills, and how to get herself out of the crushing student debt she is in (the college she had enrolled in went bankrupt so she ended up with a staggering debt and no diploma. She is overwhelmed with “How do I get the money to feed my children?” and this constant stress is on her mind even when her daughter is demanding attention — how can you focus on two critical things at once? Her stress is harming her health and she already has chronic neck pain. Working? How do you afford daycare for three children? She already has lost children to adoption due to poverty alone. Canada is still forcing women to surrender their babies and children due to poverty. Is this not systemic financial coercion?
But is there anyone who cares? Obviously not. And nothing will change as long as our only choices for political leadership are old rich White men.
This page contains an example of open records legislation that can be used by open records action groups to propose legislative change. It is non-discriminatory in that it open records to both adoptees and natural parents, and also recognizes that family includes siblings and grandparents who may also wish to search. It recognizes that — yes, adoptees have rights to know their original identities — but also that recognizes people do request records, at least here in Canada, because it is the only way to be able to find your lost family member unless they have registered with a search registry. Search and reunion is recognized in these type of open records campaigns, frankly addressed, and hence anti-open-records lobbyists cannot bring up the topic of reunion as a “cheap shot,” using it as scare-mongering.
Both Canadian and U.S. adoption laws are handled on the provincial/state level, and all of these laws are based on the same original law (Massachusetts 1951), legal principles, and social pressures (e.g. records closing to “protect” adoptive families from the natural parents). In Canada, each piece of existing provincial law has a name and collectively they are usually referred to as the acts and regulations, the laws and regulations, or the statutes of each province (with the exception of the Quebec civil code). In the U.S., the compiled laws are known as state codes and each code has a title, chapter, and section. As examples, here are links to see Ontario statutes and regulations and the California State Code.
To see the laws or your state or province, google “state code” or “provincial law” for your jurisdiction.
This model legislation provided below is based on B.C.’s current open records legislation (Sections 63 to 67 of British Columbia’s Adoption Act), but eliminating the appalling disclosure and contact veto provisions and instead including a contact preference provision from Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.
British Columbia was the first province in Canada to open its records, which it did in 1995 with the Adoption Act (Bill 51). Alberta obtained open records in 2003 via Section 74 of the Child Welfare Amendment Act (Bill 9) , which modified the old Child Welfare Act.
This model legislation, below, is also the type of legislation that does not change existing flawed legislation by “nickel-and-diming” it to death. Instead, it is meant to be passed as a bill to replace old legislation (as was done in B.C.) and any bill would begin with a clause to repeal the old legislation. Sometimes you need a fresh start.
In the following example, replace the phrase “Director of Vital Statistics” with the name of the office or official in your state or province who takes care of maintaining all state/provincial birth, death, marriage, and adoption registrations. Replace the phrase “Vital Statistics Act” with the name of the statute, legislation, code, etc. which authorizes your state or provincial government to collect and maintain this information.
Sample Open Records Legislation:
Section 1 – Disclosure to adopted person 18 or over:
(1) An adopted person 18 years of age or over may apply to the [Director of Vital Statistics] for copies of the following:
(a) the original birth registration,
(b) the amended birth registration that was substituted for the adopted person’s original birth registration, and
(c) the adoption order.
(2) When an applicant complies with Section 3, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must give the applicant a copy of the requested records.
Section 2 – Disclosure to natural parent or natural family member when adopted person is 18 or over
(1) If an adopted person is 18 years of age or over, a natural parent named on the adopted person’s original birth registration may apply to the [Director of Vital Statistics] for a copy of one or more of the following:
(a) the original birth registration,
(b) the amended birth registration that was substituted for the adopted person’s original birth registration, and
(c) the adoption order.
(2) When an applicant complies with Section 3, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must give the applicant a copy of the requested records
(3) Before giving the applicant a copy of the requested record, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must delete the adoptive parents’ identifying information.
(4) Other natural family members (grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, etc.) may also apply upon presentation of the death certificate of the natural parent
Section 3 – Applicant must comply with [Vital Statistics Act]
A person who applies to the [Director of Vital Statistics] under this Part must:
(a) supply any proof of identity required by that director, and
(b) if the application is for a copy of a record, pay the required fee.
Section 4 – Contact Preference
(1) An adopted person, a natural parent or any other person whose personal information may be in orders, certificates or documents may register a contact preference with the [Director of Vital Statistics] that indicates the person’s preferences concerning contact with a person who makes a request under Sections 1 or 2.
(2) The [Director of Vital Statistics] shall advise a person making a request under Sections 1 or 2 of any contact preference registered with respect to the requested information.
Recent Related Blog posts from Other Natural Mothers:
“Unsealed with a K.I.S.S.”
“Hey Wait a Minute…”
“What Does Adoption Reform Activism Look Like?”
Hi! I haven’t written any posts lately, and I apologize to my readers for the delay. I’m spending every spare waking moment finishing off a large report for the clinic I volunteer for, as the final requirement for my practicum work term there. And, following “Cedar’s Third Law” (or “Cedar’s First Law of Project Management”:) “Every project will take twice as long as you originally estimate.” And, indeed, this one has. So, wish me luck. The finish line for my Masters degree is finally in sight … !
Meanwhile, as most of you know, I am a support and advocate for young mothers. I want to share these two sites with you:
Promoting Respect for Young Mothers at http://prymface.yolasite.com
and Moms and Mentors Society at http://www.momsandmentors.ca
Maureen Hobbs, who coordinators Moms and Mentors, wrote an excellent Masters’ thesis for her Nursing degree, written on how support for young mother can make so much difference for them. (Frankly, this support is something that older mothers take for granted!). On a discouraging note, I heard from another mother in Vancouver who spoke with the coordinator or a support group for young mothers — she said that young mothers are still openly insulted to their faces and yelled at on Public transit in Vancouver — there is still a huge amount of stigma against a woman having a child during the first half of her most fertile years, the time when Nature intends us to give birth.
This is a post about human rights. Rights that we all enjoy because, well, we are human beings and not tadpoles, buttercups, or granite slabs. We are born human, and in a special position in the world even if we share most of our DNA with a host of other similar creatures.
Humans have the ability to commit both magnificent acts of good and terrible acts of evil. In the mid-20th century, the world was recovering from a horrific world war and related events of genocide and destruction, which had ripped apart families and left much death and suffering in their wake.
A coalition of “civilized” nations swore that this evil should never happen again, and worked to create what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations ion December 10, 1948.
Included in the Universal Declaration are rights that are belong inherently to all living human beings. They include rights to dignity and equality, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to equal protection of the law. Also included in the Universal Declaration are rights that protect even the most vulnerable of our citizens from systemic cruelty and exploitation. Rights that our governments try to conveniently forget.
A mother and her child together are one of the most precious and yet are often the most vulnerable families in any society. Vulnerable, that is, because in some cultures, they are rendered without protection from external forces that work to separate them. In many patriarchal nations, a mother is often only certain that she will be able to keep her baby if: (1) she is married and thus financially/socially protected by a man, or (2) she has sufficient status in the employment market such that she can independently support her baby by herself.
Men and women are equal, but due to biology they are very different, an example being when two people of the opposite sex make love. The man can walk away from his responsibility for any resulting child — he may not even know he is a father. The woman cannot walk away. She must deal with the consequences in a directly personal way. During her pregnancy, social sanctions limit not only her options, but stigmatize her into solutions that society either provides or withholds from her. A baby is a part of her body for nine months, and that experience is one she can never walk away from.
To be a woman means the inherent capability (or implied capacity) to create and give birth to a child.
“Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone
Human rights factor into the experience of every woman who becomes pregnant. Firstly, human rights are universal, guaranteed to all human beings. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration states:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Article 16 states:
“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” A mother and her child together is a family. There can be no doubt, and no argument, about this. They thus have the right to protection by society and the state.
But perhaps most explicit is Article 25, which states:
“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. 2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
This explicitly provides every family — every mother and her child — with the support and means required to keep them together, as a basic human right. It also means that women have the right to social protection, the right to keep their children, without having to be the “social property” of a man (did you know that until very recently, in many areas the birth certificates of the children of unmarried mothers were stamped “Illegitimate”?). It means that marriage is not required to “legitimize” a woman fulfilling the natural function of her body, a natural function of being a woman: giving birth to her child. Marriage or at least a long-term parental commitment from both partners is indeed the ideal situation, but for many mothers it is just not feasible or possible.
This Declaration agreed to in 1948 protects all mothers and their children. It provides mothers with rights such that no mother need be forced by poverty, coercion, or social pressure to surrender her baby for adoption. Every mother has the right to protection and social support for herself and her child as a family unit such that horrific trauma of surrender, the coerced separation from her infant, is not inflicted upon her.
“Almost everyone believes that on some level, [mothers] made a choice to give their babies away. Here, I argue that adoption is rarely about mothers’ choices; it is, instead, about the abject choicelessness of some resourceless women.” (Solinger, 2001).
It is clear that if the basic human rights of ALL mothers were respected, protected, and codified into the laws of each nation, that there would be far fewer unnecessary adoptions. Fewer families would be destroyed, fewer mothers would be forced to surrender their beloved infants, and the world would be a far more ethical and safe place for mothers who are giving birth — mothers left vulnerable to the adoption industry because their human rights have been violated.
* * *
- “Elizabeth Stone Quotes” at http://thinkexist.com/quotes/elizabeth_stone
- Solinger, R. (2001). Beggars and choosers – How the politics of choice shapes adoption, abortion, and welfare in the United States. New York: Hill & Wang.
Shortlink to this post: http://wp.me/p9tLn-ei
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.