A literature review was recently done on a collection of peer-reviewed journal articles on natural mothers published between 1978 and 2008. The results of this literature review were published as part of a masters thesis on trauma and are reprinted here with permission of the author.
In this literature review, 98 articles were identified, and 91 of them obtained. The author did a thematic analysis of the articles, using grounded theory to identify the themes present in these articles. Nine themes were identified, including search and reunion, the surrender experience, open adoption relationships, and advice for professionals. But there were two main themes in this literature that were found to be above and beyond all others in terms of frequency. I am going to quote directly from the thesis:
” There were found to be two main themes in literature on natural mothers. These can be viewed as two “streams” of research, as the articles within a stream mainly refer to other work and prior research within that one stream. The first stream (43 articles) examines the consequences of surrender on the mother. The second stream (32 articles) examines factors that may predict and/or influence rates of surrender, often stating with concern that surrender rates have declined significantly and should be increased. The latter stream contains three main sub-themes: factors (socio-demographic, educational, attitudinal, familial, or economic) that distinguish mothers who surrender their babies from mothers who keep their babies, surveys to determine what would encourage expectant mothers to consider adoption, and comparisons of differing agency practices and their effects on surrender rates.”
Let’s come to the point and put it into more concrete terms: These 32 articles are on how to take babies.
The author of this thesis provides a list of some of these articles (below, reprinted with permission). So, seeing these, how can anyone believe that a “decision” about adoption is free from influence, coercion, or manipulation? When agencies have 30 years worth of research on how to increase the likelihood a mother will surrender her child, is she really making an informed decision completely of her own free will?
|Bachrach, Stolley, & London (1992)||Analysis – how demographic/economic/social trends affect and predict future surrender rates, plus factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Baran, Pannor, & Sorosky (1976)||Results from a focus group on how to increase adoption: Open adoption can persuade single mothers to surrender.|
|Barth (1987)||Research on adolescent girls and mothers: how to make adoption more appealing. Recommends open adoption as a way to encourage more adolescent mothers to surrender.|
|Berry (1991, 1993)||Study on effects of open adoption on family members and relationships. Suggests that open adoption can benefit adoptive parents by enticing more mothers to surrender.|
|Caragata (1999)||Examines teen pregnancy as an economic problem.’ Suggests open adoption to entice more mothers to surrender, that adoption should be “restructured,” and that meeting with prospective adopters might prevent a mother from “changing her mind”|
|Chippendale-Bakker & Foster (1996)||Studies of what demographic/economic/social factors distinguish mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Cocozelli (1989)||Research – what situational variables predict surrender rates. plus factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t (life plans, social worker visits, sign consent before delivery)|
|Custer (1993)||Research on influencing attitudes, beliefs and decision-making about adoption among pregnant adolescents. Found that deterrents to surrender include: fear of harm to baby, social disapproval, feeling that it shows lack of responsibility, lack of knowledge of benefits, “failure of professionals to actively initiate discussion of adoption with clients,” and anticipated psychological discomfort. Suggests that these issues be actively addressed in “social programs and political interventions.”|
|Daly (1994)||Research on adolescents to find out what keeps them from considering adoption. Recommends agencies do educational and public relations programs to explain the benefits of adoption, promote open adoption, and conduct face-to-face outreach programs to adolescents.|
|Donnelly & Voydanoff (1991)||Research on pregnant adolescents and new mothers: attitudes, demographics, relationships, experiences, and perceptions of early pregnancy distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t. Suggests programs to present benefits and “promote positive attitudes towards adoption” as those who surrender have more positive attitudes than those who don’t.|
|Dworkin, Harding, & Schreiber (1993)||Research on pregnant adolescents, regarding how adoption knowledge, social/psychological functioning, familial influences (grandmother and father of baby), and demographics correlate with surrender rates.|
|Geber & Resnick (1988)||Research on family functioning, cohesion and adaptability differences between parenters vs. surrenderers using “FACES II” questionnaire.|
|Hanson (1990)||Research on factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t, to recommend early intervention based on those figures, especially to get mothers “who might exhibit poor parenting styles” to surrender.|
|Herr (1989)||Research study on maternity home inmates to examine what affected their decision most: parents, “decision counseling,” and peer role models who are parenting.|
|Kallen, Griffore, Popovich, & Powell (1990)||Research study on attitudes towards adoption and open adoption in mothers who surrendered, mothers who don’t, and their own mothers. .|
|Kalmuss, Namerow, & Bauer (1992)||Research study on socio-demographics, family, education differences of mothers who surrender vs. those who don’t. Plus 6-month outcomes on life satisfaction, outlook, relationships, etc.|
|Leon (1999)||Instructions to physicians on treating surrendering mothers, including how to promote adoption to pregnant mothers.|
|Low, Moely, & Willis (1989)||Research factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who do not, in terms of parental influence and vocational goals.|
|Miller & Coyl (2000)||Analysis of how demographic/economic/social trends affect and predict future surrender rates, plus factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Moore & Davidson (2002)||Socio-psychological influences (family background, peers), cognitive functions, beliefs, and decision-making in pregnant adolescents, to determine how to best influence decision-making processes as part of “adoption education” of adolescents and promoting “more reasoned choices” (i.e. adoption) for pregnant teens|
|Namerow, Kalmuss, & Cushman (1993)||Research on what social, demographic, beliefs, and attitudinal factors influenced the pregnancy decision.|
|Resnick (1984)||Overview/analysis of research on decision-making and what distinguishes mothers who surrender from those who keep. Mentions sociological, psychological, factors.|
|Resnick, Blum, Bose, Smith, & Toogood (1990)||Studies of demographic/economic/social factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t, including their views on adoption vs. parenting vs. abortion.|
|Sobol & Daly (1992)||Overview and summary of the literature and findings: Factors influencing adolescents’ decisions about adoption. How to get more babies surrendered: Promote open adoption; make surrender easier; encourage pregnancy counsellors to suggest adoption; and present more “options” to make adoption more attractive.|
|Warren & Johnson (1989)||Research on factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Weinman, Robinson, Simmons, Schreiber, & Stafford (1989)||Research on mothers who initially planned to surrender but then decided to keep their babies: decision-making process, demographic/psycho-social and health differences, and treatment plans.|
|Weir (2000)||Research on what familial, developmental and peer barriers might prevent mothers from surrendering, and suggests how to remove them through group and family therapy.|
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
My previous post on pre-birth matching was inspired by a question asked in a forum that is supposedly to support everyone who has been touched/torched by adoption.
I received a response from another member of this group, who had adopted, and she displayed some assumptions in her response that are very common in society. I am glad she responded as she did, so that maybe another point of view could be provided, by a mother who has actually been there and has lost a baby against her will.
This is what this woman who had adopted said:
“Obviously, for an expectant mother to see these profiles, they must be looking for families to adopt their babies. I’m not sure – what do you think would be a better thing for an expectant mother who thinks she wants to place her baby to do? We don’t want her to leave the baby on a doorstep. So what should she do, if we lived in a world where no one wrote ‘dear birth mother’ letters?”
Reading this, the first question that came to my mind is: No it is NOT obvious. Why do people think that a mother looking at prospective adopters’ profiles is REALLY, concretely, at the stage of looking for a family to adopt here baby? Is this expectant mother really 100% at that point yet and never going back to the question “Should I, can I, keep my baby?”?
So this, the rest of my post here, is my response to her:
Actually, I think that it’s possible that for many mothers, they are not looking for a family to adopt their babies, they are still deciding “Should I surrender or keep my baby?” The mother is still making up her mind, and these profiles can influence this decision.
I know mothers who read these online profiles during their pregnancies and it made them feel they had no right to keep their babies, that they would be selfish and greedy and “unchristian,” as they are made to feel that there are these wonderful people out there who deserved to be parents much more than the mothers did. It was one more nail in their coffin of insecurity and lack of self-esteem. Worse yet if an adoption agency is coaching them that parenthood would be too much of a struggle for them and that their babies “deserve more.”
If you are a woman who has given birth, a mother, you know the emotional changes that come with late pregnancy, labour, and birth. This can be a shock to new moms, how much they may want their babies once their babies are in their arms. And many moms separated from children by adoption feel, from experience, that the final decision about this should (or must) be made post-birth once the mother has her baby in her arms and knows her emotions, preferably given a few weeks so she can recover from birth first.
Viewing profiles of course leads to forming a relationship with someone hoping to adopt — later on — BUT how much pressure does this relationship put on her to “not change her mind” and cause a “failed adoption” — in many cases, lots. (i.e.
“Paul Meding, a Columbia attorney who has been taking adoption cases for 12 years [says] “In my opinion, when the birth mother has more input and can see first hand how important the adoption is to the family, it is more difficult for her to back out and disappoint them.” (“Open Doors,” The Columbia Star, April 29, 2005)”.
What Meding talks about here is also called “emotional coercion.”
So, another person who had adopted responded and asked me what an mother should do instead (i guess, instead of boarding the adoption bandwagon while her child is not yet born). I responded:
I think that the supports are in place already that expectant mothers can obtain necessary prebirth and post-birth counselling and get care and resources such that she can make this decision once recovered from birth, without the decision being influenced by relationships with or expectations from people hoping to adopt.
A good example is South Australia: Adoption offices are ready with substitute care for the baby if the mother wants this while the mother makes up her mind, and she is encouraged to have visits, given parenting mentorship, and to bring her baby home overnight. Various public service agencies have programs providing this type of “cradle care” already in place. After the mom recovers from birth, then an adoption agency (or child welfare office) can provide her with profiles of couples she can interview and choose, *if* she then finds first-hand that she doesn’t want [to raise] her baby. I corresponded with adoption workers in the state of South Australia, who confirmed this information. Evelyn Robinson also has written about it, and she can be contacted through Clova Publications at http://www.clovapublications.com. In Australia, an adoption workers’ paycheque does not depend on the sales she or her agency makes per year, on how many babies they can broker for $25,000 and up.
There is no reason to fear that children will be “left on doorsteps” if there is no pre-birth matching. And there is no need for mothers to be pressured to make decisions about adoption pre-birth, or even soon post-birth. Pre-birth matching is just another tactic that agencies use in order to obtain more babies for the market.
I seriously do not think that any person who adopts can claim that the mother was not coerced, if they have engaged in pre-birth or even pre-surrender matching. How can they guarantee that they did not affect the mother’s decision? Do they even care how they obtained the baby? Several people in the same group, when asked, said that they felt that the mother’s reasons for surrendering “were her own,” indicating that they did not care if she was coerced or not, or whether they themselves had pers0nally engaged in coercion. I find this to be very sad that anyone would s0 blinded by “baby hunger” that they would put this ahead of having ethics, did not care how or why that baby was being surrendered for adoption.
Shortlink to this post: http://wp.me/p9tLn-if
Unfortunately, due to it increasing the chance that a mother will surrender her baby*, the practice has grown in North America to allow prospective adoptive parents to track down and try to convince expectant mothers (whom they call ‘birthmothers”) to give up their babies.
Or, at least that is what it looks like. A “Dear Birthmother” letter could be seen as saying “Choose us over other people hoping to adopt!“, but, unfortunately, first and foremost the message it gives is “Choose us over yourself! We are better for your baby than YOU are! See how loving and perfect we are? We have everything your baby needs.” Whether the prospective adoptive parents mean to give this message or not, it is there.
So, unfortunately, the whole issue of “profiles” and “dear birthmother letters” is rife with ethical land mines
An expectant mother who is considering adoption and is feeling very emotionally insecure, inadequate, and scared may — instead of getting support and counselling to help her overcome these problems — may see the prospective adoptive couple’s “Profile” and think “Wow, they’d be better parents than i would.” or “My baby doesn’t deserve me, he deserves a family like this.” or “They want a baby so badly, I shouldn’t be selfish.” So, reading “dear birthmother” letters and seeing profiles combined with raging pregnancy hormones can actually influence a mother’s decision regarding adoption. This is where it gets ethically sticky.
Plus, can the mother really recover from birth first before deciding on adoption if she has formed a loving bond with people hoping to adopt her child?
Paul Meding, a Columbia attorney who has been taking adoption cases for 12 years, works as a medium to match birth mothers with adoptive parents. For Meding, this process has been successful. “In my opinion, when the birth mother has more input and can see first hand how important the adoption is to the family, it is more difficult for her to back out and disappoint them.” (“Open Doors,” The Columbia Star, April 29, 2005)
I think that these are questions to be considered by anyone who is hoping to adopt, plus by natural mothers who found that this tactic worked on them to get them to surrender their babies. (Would you have surrendered if the alternative was a closed adoption? If not, then you were coerced by adoptive parents using this practice).
Another reason why this is ethically problematic is that women most often surrender babies to adoption because of lack of support, resources, finances, etc. A woman is hence being made vulnerable to exploitation because society and government has put her into a position where she can be exploited, removing protections (such as human rights in the form of a guaranteed income sufficient for her to raise her baby) that would protect her from predation.
To try to find a woman who is in a vulnerable position, so you can obtain her baby from her, is reproductive exploitation, and the people committing it are, by definition, reproductive predators. This is why prospective adoptive parents are handing out “adoption networking cards” at teen activity centres, in Walmart, to high school guidance counsellors, in poor areas of town, to pregnant waitresses — women who look vulnerable due to youth or possible financial stress. This unfortunately resembles to some degree what sexual predators do to find vulnerable women and youth to exploit. Removing power and protection from socially vulnerable groups leaves them open to being exploited by those with more power, money, and social status. No-one wants to be a predator, but many prospective adoptive parents blunder into this practice without realizing what they are doing.
There are many reasons why women surrender their babies for adoption, but some of them involve influence or pressure from other people, even adoptive parents who have NO idea that they are affecting a mothers’ decision (i.e. coercion), or that reproductive exploitation is what they are engaging in.
Fuelling this is desperation: Unfortunately, as we all know, adoption is market driven. There is a huge demand for babies:
“For every healthy newborn available, there are now almost forty potential parents searching.” – (“Love for Sale” Adoptive Families Magazine, 2000).
But I encourage all adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents to get educated about this issue, so they have enough information that, if practising this type of coercion falls outside their ethical framework (and it should — do you really want in on your conscience that you made a mother give up her baby?), they know how to avoid it.
- Open Adoption: They knew it would work
- Adoption: Getting more babies to market
- Adoption: Women’s Rights. Reproductive Rights. Human Rights
- Adoption Coercion in Black and White
- Adoption practice: “What is coercion?”
- “Adoption Books, Letters, Promises: Why Solicitation To Obtain Babies for Adoption Must Be Outlawed“
*Meeting prospective adopters increases surrender rates (Chippendale-Bakker & Foster, 1996) and prevents mothers from “changing their minds” (Caragata, 1999). Choosing them increases surrender rates (Barth, 1987; Chippendale-Bakker & Foster, 1996).The infant going directly from the hospital to the adoptive parents increases surrender rates (Barth, 1987)
Also see this follow-up post: “More on Pre-birth Matching: Assumptions Some People Make”