Update on September 22: A week ago I posted a proposed definition of adoption coercion. Thank you so much for all who gave feedback. This below is the revised definition, based on your feedback:
“ Adoption coercion is any form of overt or covert pressure, manipulation, convincing, force, fraud, human rights violation, or withholding of services that results in a woman surrendering a baby for adoption.
“ It includes any practice specifically designed and intended to ensure or significantly increase the odds that a mother will surrender her baby for adoption. It also includes any practice designed to restrict or remove a mother’s freedom of choice by the use of influence, persuasion, fraud, or duress. A coerced ‘choice’ is not a ‘choice’ at all. There is no ‘decision’ where there is coercion.
“ Perpetrators of adoption coercion may include anyone in a position of trust, authority, or relative power in relation to the mother. Examples are: adoption industry employees, hospital staff, medical professionals, prospective adopters, social workers, government social policy makers, the mother’s own parents, clergy and nuns, etc.”
Again, what do you think?
You may also be interested in reading these related posts where I elaborate more on specific coercion practices:
- Adoption Practice: “What is Coercion?”
- Adoption Coercion in Black and White
- Adoption: “Studies on How to Take Babies”
- Adoption: Getting more babies to market
And the “Coercion Checklist for Mothers” on the Origins Canada site.
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.
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.
I recently responded on another blog to a mother (I consider her to be a mother, but she calls herself a “birthmother” i.e. a non-mother) who expressed that the loss of her two children to adoption had brought guilt, grief and self hatred to her — and yet she was convinced it was her choice and she was not “bitter*” about adoption.
As she spoke about pain, guilt, grief, self hatred and tears — my heart went out to her, as those are the same words of many mothers who were forced to surrender against their will, yet who considered it to be a “choice” that they willingly and happily made.
My sincere belief is that the concept of “choice” is one that a mother internalizes from being given repeated social messages about adoption, social attitudes, and the refusal of Western culture to even consider the possibility of coerced surrender. Why? Because the dominant discourse about adoption is controlled by the adoption industry and it’s customers. And, the repeated message in this discourse as unquestioningly accepted by society is that women choose to give away unwanted babies, right? Half-right. Adoption WAS created to find new homes for orphans and unwanted children. However, exceedingly rarely were our children even unwanted, As we held them in our arms, or saw them after their birth, and fell in love with them — how many of us actually emphatically phoned up the adoption agency weeks after birth to demand “Take away this bastard — I feel nothing for her! I have no interest in keeping her!” You see, that is the situation that adoption is actually intended for.
The mother-child bond and relationship is so important that there are recognized rights that all mothers inherently possess, for the sole reason that we are human beings. One of these is the right to all the support you need in order to raise your child without fear of an “unstable life’ (i.e. missing support system). Check out Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Coercion takes many forms: It can take the form of agencies, family members, clergy, hospital staff, etc. pressuring the mother to surrender her baby or telling her that adoption is a fantastic option (making her feel she would be selfish for wanting to keep her baby). It can take the form of carefully-researched methods being applied to mothers to increase the chance they will surrender. It can also be systemic financial coercion when governments withhold vital financial support from mothers which leave them in fear of dire poverty with no guaranteed income, housing, etc. The latter is, yes, intentional, and according to adoption researcher Reuben Pannor is the leading cause of surrender. It is also preventable. Why does Australia have a mere handful of surrenders each year while the U.S. has tens of thousands? Because Australia protects mothers against ALL these types of coercion.
There is a checklist of common coercion methods here, but human rights violations including poverty also count as coercion. So does open adoption practices where mothers meet or “bond with” adopters prior to birth or prior to signing surrender documents. That has a huge risk of emotional coercion. And again, a coerced surrender is not a “choice’ at all. The choice of adoption not only must involve (1) informed consent (obtainable only once the mother has taken home her baby and found out first-hand what she will be sacrificing and with having been given full disclosure regarding the psychological risks (unresolved grief and loss, depression, PTSD, secondary infertility, future relatioship and parenting difficulties) but (2) as it is such an important decision also must be freedom of any form of coercion as this nullified freedom of choice.
Ignoring the fact that abortion and adoption are NOT related events in the slightest, the fact that this mother states regarding surrender that she “did not want to do it” and yet considers it to be a “choice,” is a huge contradiction. Only in adoption is the phrase “forced to choose” considered logical.
Let’s follow the logic: You wanted to keep your baby, you did not want to surrender: So what made you do it? Something made you surrender against you will. That “something” is called coercion. A coerced “choice” is not a choice at all, the coercion by the fact of existing has eliminated all freedom of choice. So, in essence, you did not “choose” to surrender your babies.
That’s why i’m saying that mothers who love their babies don’t “choose” to surrender them. Adoption was created in 1851 as a disposal mechanism for unloved and unwanted children, not for children were were loved and wanted. It’s the rise of the adoption industry, convincing mothers to surrender babies, that has made it into such.
You had the right to keep your baby. Your babies had the right to the support they needed in order to keep YOU.
Post-script: I have also realized that although the grief from the loss of my son has been crippling, I have never felt guilt, regret, anger at myself, or self-hatred from it. I think that this freedom has come with knowing that it was not my ‘decision’ as I had never been given a choice. A coerced ‘choice’ is not a choice at all. No decision can be made when there is only one viable option given. I wish that every women who has unwillingly surrendered a child they loved to adoption could also be free from these emotions.
* I am not “bitter.” Never have been. “Bitter” is a derogatory term used by society to describe someone they considered to be unjustifiably angry at themselves or because they did or did not do something. On so many levels this is just totally unapplicable to how many natural mothers feel: justifiably angry at the adoption industry for taking their babies via coercive adoption practices and working to end unnecessary adoptions and coercive adoption practices. If it were not for righteous anger at injustice, civil rights, human rights, campaigns against genocide, and the vote for women would not exist.
Shortlink to this post: http://wp.me/p9tLn-f0
An new initiative by the Chinese government to try to find the homes of stolen and trafficked children was in the news this week (see “Chinese crackdown nets thousands of ‘stolen’ children“). The news is about the creation of a website, named “Baby Look For Home.” You can find it at http://www.mps.gov.cn/n16/n983040/n1928424/index.html.
As the newpaper article states:
“Many, if not most cases are not formally listed because local police are unwilling or unable to investigate crimes that usually involve crossing provincial borders. As well, many of the parents think police might be complicit in the kidnappings. It is a lucrative business that can net about $4,000 for each boy sold and about $1,000 per girl… The abducted children are mostly boys and are sold to families who want a son. The girls are often sold into marriage or to agencies that arrange foreign adoptions.”
The sale of children within China has made the news as far back as 2001 (see “China’s Baby Traffickers“) and kidnapping since 2006 (see “Stealing Babies for Adoption“) Despite this sordid history,China is lauded as having an “ethical” international adoption system that prospective adopters can have confidence in:
“For a family looking to adopt from the most ethical country, China is the best choice. They are highly regulated and have increasingly good orphanage conditions” (Thome, 2007)
But, given China’s history of not enforcing laws against the sale of children within China, how is any Westerner able to guarantee that the child they are adopting from China is not stolen? From the above quote, it appears that little girls in China, those same girls that are supposedly abandoned, are selling for up to $1000: not exactly a price that would be charged if there were a surplus of “product” on the market.
But agencies and orphanages stand to make a lot of money on each transaction, so unfortunately they have a financial incentive to hide this information from “clients.” (Perhap more “ethical” adoptions ( an oxymoron?) will only occur once no-one’s paycheque depends upon the transaction being made, where there is no financial incentive to kidnap, abduct, or coerce.)
“Mr. Peng … said some of the girls were sold to orphanages. They … often end up in the United States or Europe after adoptive parents pay fees to orphanages that average $5,000.” (New York Times, April 4, 2009).
Anyway, I wonder if this new website may be able to serve those who have adopted a child from China and wonder if that child has been abducted? Many people adopted children from China, trusting in the assurances of baby brokers whom they now realize may have been lying or omitting the truth, and some of them now want to search, to find their child’s natural parents and discover if that child really was abandoned, or whether the child was kidnapped or the parents were coerced to surrender. Maybe a photo-listing of that child on “Baby Look for Home” may be at least provide a small chance of finding the child’s natural parents and the truth? I wonder if the Chinese government would cooperate?
There is a huge disconnect in public discourse related to the subject of adoption. I believe that this disconnect is directly related to the fact that the dominant voices that “own” the conversation about adoption do not include the voice of the natural mother, when women are kept silenced and invisible in shame and blame for a traumatic event that often they had no control over. The dominant voices belong to others, and others often attempt to speak for us.
A small example of an event illustrating the unintentional but systemic marginalization of the voices of natural mothers (and adoptees) is provided by Lorraine Dusky, in her excellent article on mothers in Korea, who describes a personal experience of marginalization at a conference.
About the program for creative works, primarily attended by adoptees and natural mothers:
the program … was scheduled late in the evening and held in one of the more distant buildings… the only people who were present were a handful of adoptees, their friends and partners, and ALL the birth mothers … the overwhelming participation [at the conference] was of adoptive-mother-academics
And about the conference in-general:
… Everyone was at least marginally polite, but I did feel like a stranger in a strange land there. The academics did not seek me out. I was more of a…um, pariah.
It is no social coincidence that the main body of “academics” at the conference were primarily adoptive mothers — adoption is more popular and accessible among the more educated and “monied” classes in our society, and, on the other hand, mothers are often pressured by poverty to surrender babies. As well, a career in academia can often entail putting off reproduction until fertility is no longer assured.
This experience will sound familiar to those whose voices are marginalized and disenfranchised, whose voice is not heard in the “dominant discourse.”
And the dominant discourse surrounding adoption (and of course its underlying paradigm) involves the repetition and acceptance of the theme of “abandonment.”
The main focus of Lorraine’s article is about a recently published article about mothers being forced and coerced by lack of resources and social pressure to surrender their babies for adoption. Sounds familiar? Happened to thousands if not millions of mothers in Canada United States, Australia, the U.K., for decades. It was called the Baby Scoop Era. But this latest story is focused on Korea: “Group Resists Korean Stigma for Unwed Mothers,” where the Baby Scoop Era obviously has not ended. This is tragic, because this systemic coercion of mothers in Korea was also pointed out 21 years ago, in the article “Babies for Sale”(Progressive, 1988, see footnote). Has no-one been listening for the past two decades?
With “Western” governments and society finally acknowledging their human rights responsibilities and providing at least token support and resources to mothers, the demand for babies has moved overseas to other nations where mothers are still vulnerable, where women are still second-class citizens, and human rights abuses and acts of reproductive exploitation go unnoticed and unchallenged. Similar to the Baby Scoop Era in Western nations, adoption serves in placed such as Korea as a “social safety valve” to remove the children of single mothers and provide them to strangers who are judged to be “more deserving” of their babies than they are. I know this feeling all too well — others were judged by society, Victoria General Hospital, and the government
social wrecker adoption worker to be “more deserving of, more entitled to” my own beloved baby.
The disconnect? The dominant discourse surrounding babies for adoption focuses on “abandonment,” exemplified by article such as this one, “South Korea’s troubled export: babies for adoption“:
Thousands of babies are still abandoned every year due to divorce, economic hardship and the difficulty of raising children in a society that sometimes looks on single mothers with scorn.
Now, I would state that a mother who surrenders her baby under pressure is not “abandoning” her baby. Abandonment has many implications: that the parent is performing the act out of genuine free will, that the fate of their child (life, death, injury) is of no concern for them, the child is rejected and unwanted, and is being “disposed of” like some inconvenient garbage. The parent can freely be reviled and considered to be some sort of inhuman monster — after all, what kind of loving parent would abandon their child? Society justifiably considers child abandonment to be a crime. Is it surprising that reading this phrase in her adoption paperwork would be upsetting to the adoptee involved?
“For reasons of their own they abandoned the baby…”
But are these the words of a mother who has abandoned her baby?
“I need to see him, and that I wasn’t the one who sent him away … I lost everything when I lost my child.”
These are the words of the Korean mother in the trailer for the film Resiliance. Exiled from her baby, can anyone truly believe that she “abandoned” him?
As a mother who also lost her beloved newborn baby to adoption, I know what she and other exiled mothers must have experienced, the extreme pain they must feel and likely must still be feeling. A mother who “abandons” her baby feels none of this. I do wonder: Would these heartless people actually think that I also had abandoned my baby?
…. a delivery table as flat as an ironing board, my arms strapped down to the sides, feet up in stirrups … a sheet put up in front of my face to prevent me from seeing him. they whisked him away as soon as the cord was cut … not allowed to see or hold my baby. Never told I had any rights …
“After delivery at a hospital, the baby is taken from the mother …”(from “Babies for Sale“)
“Myung-ja Noh had no choice in giving up her baby for adoption. Her relatives took her baby to a hospital, which then contacted an adoption agency that came and took the baby away.”
How different is this, in Korea, from what was done to mothers here in North America? How it is “abandonment” when a mother’s baby is taken from her, when resources and support are withheld? When her voice is silenced under oppression from those who have the power to take away her baby and withhold it from her? When someone listens to the voices of Korean mothers, it is not abandonment that is spoken of, it is trauma:
“She initially made contact with over 30 different birth mothers, interviewed six and planned to include three in her documentary. She said that the unifying thread between all the mothers is the devastating impact it has had on their lives.”
On a personal note, is “abandonment” also the rationale that the people who adopted my baby used, in order to feel entitled to “claim” him as their own? Was this the justification they used In order to lay down the law post-reunion that they were his only family, his sole mother and father? Is the assumption of “abandonment” the underlying theme that can be used in order to dismiss the enduring love a natural mother may have for her lost child?
The next time you hear of a baby being “abandoned” and adopted — even if it is in another nation, another culture — consider what this says about the natural mother of that baby. Think about what happened to her. Did she really “abandon” her baby? Or was she forced to surrender her baby by lack of resources? By her family? By a hospital or an adoption agency? Read this article about single mothers in Korea. Read Mei-Ling’s story of how her parents were forced to surrender her in order to save her life. Read about the crimes committed in the name of “international adoption.” Do you still consider her to be a “heartless abandoner”?
If the voices of natural mothers were actually heard and listened to, instead of marginalized and dismissed, if our experience of the (often violent and traumatic) loss of our babies were acknowledged, would the word “abandoned” be applied to readily, be so much a part of the dominant theme of adoption? The disconnect between the dominant theme, of “child abandonment,” and the experience of the natural mother who has no choice, should be recognized, explored, and eliminated in the adoption discourse.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt from “Babies For Sale,” exposing blatant coercion of unwed mothers in Korea:
“‘According to the questionnaire that we distribute at the orientation interview, 90 percent want to keep the babies, says Kim Yongsook, the director of Ae Ran Won. But after counseling, maybe 10 per cent will keep them. We suggest that it’s not a good idea to keep the baby’…. After delivery at a hospital, the baby is taken from the mother.. ” (“Babies for sale. South Koreans make them, Americans buy them,” 1988)