Unlike what alarmist government-funded programs and conservative-religious lobby groups will try to tell you, teen motherhood is neither a crisis nor an event that will destroy or ruin the life of a young mother.
Old studies that supposedly proved that teen pregnancy was a crisis were based on biased data with confounding variables (race, culture, social class, etc.). But this supposed “research” fulfilled the right-wing, socially conservative, political purposes of the time.
New data proves what people knew up until 50 years ago: teen pregnancy is natural and is NOT a crisis. (When was the greatest rate of teen pregnancy during the past century? During the 1950s. These were the mothers of the Baby Boomers!)
Here are some quotes from recent studies, illustrating the new knowledge about young motherhood:
“.. a review of the research evidence finds that the age at which pregnancy occurs has little effect on social outcomes. Many teenage mothers describe how motherhood makes them feel stronger, and marks a change for the better. Many fathers seek to remain connected with their children.” (Duncan, 2007)
“Moreover, we find that teen mothers may actually achieve higher evels of earnings over their adult lives than if they had postponed motherhood. Finally, we find evidence that while teenage childbearing does seem to increase public aid expenditures immediately after a teen birth, this “negative” consequence of teenage childbearing is not a permanent one, in that teen mothers use less public aid in their late 20s as their earnings rise and their children age.” (Hotz, McElroy, & Sanders, 1999).
Of young mothers who had left foster care: …”becoming a parent meant a positive change in their otherwise chaotic lives. Their experience of motherhood brought about love and enjoyment,
and it signified continuity and fulfillment of a void. For some young mothers, the child provided a focus in their lives and a drive to achieve a position.” –Barn and Mantonavi (2007, page 236-237)
Look at your family trees. My guess is that almost all of your female ancestors prior to 1900 were teen mothers when they had their first babies.
And, existing social class that a woman has grown up in indicates that social class she and her child will be in — NOT the age at which she has given birth! A mother who has grown up middle-class does NOT automatically become a “welfare mom” just because she started a family when young:
“Teen mothers’ life trajectories reflected legacies of unequal life chances that began in childhood and persisted into their 30s. Mothers with childhood advantages fared better over time than impoverished mothers, and a legacy of advantage contributed to a cushion of safety and opportunity for their teenaged children. Conclusion: The powerful legacy of social class and racial divisions on teen mothers’ long-term outcomes challenges the view that teen mothering leads to a downward spiral with negative repercussions for mothers and children” — SmithBattle (2007).
Not only this, but recent research has shown that there’s no good reason to postpone childbearing, especially postponing it until you can no longer conceive. Nature made women to be their most fertile between the ages of 16 and 26. Age-related infertility begins it’s slow climb at around age 27. So, whey are women waiting until their 30s or even 40s to try to conceive? It is their individual choice to do so, but if they do, then I do not believe they “deserve” another woman’s baby to fill that need. It was their own choice to wait, and to take the risk that conception would not possible.. Whitley & Kirmayer (2008) mention that the average age of first births in Canada in 2003 was 28, compared to 22 in 1972.
“Don’t be selfish! Think of that poor couple who can’t have a baby of their own!”* — my father’s words to me when i was crying my eyes out, wanting desperately to keep my baby.
We as young mothers were (and are) supposed to put the wants and needs of adoptive parents before our own, to give away our babies in order to allow them to “build their families.” We are called selfish, self-centred, and immature for wanting to keep our babies. (But does anyone apply these adjectives to older, married mothers who have children? No, because it is only teen mothers who are considered “not worthy” to have babies at all.)
Is it any wonder that a teen parent not only has to fight for the right to raise her baby, but also for her basic human right to the support to keep her family together — and on top of that, she has the social stress of the stigma against her? To show how incredibly unnecessary and inappropriate this stigma is, Whitley and Kirmayer (2008) found that it is now being applied to women in their early 20s!
“Anglophone Euro-Canadian mothers in their early 20s may now be experiencing aspects of social exclusion traditionally associated with ‘teenage mothers.’ This may have a deleterious effect on health.”
I was forced to leave high school in 1979 when I became pregnant – that’s what girls did. I worked on courses by correspondence. It wasn’t even an option to stay in school. This exiling and ostracization was barbarous to do this to any woman — and I thought that this inhumane, discriminatory, and backward practice had ended — but then I read this, written in 2008:
“Girls are forced out of the mainstream education system because they are pregnant or have given birth. The consequences for the young mothers and their children are dramatic… there is a los tgeneration of teenage girls who hve become pregnant in the last two to three years and have effectively ‘fallen through the net.'” (Lall, 2008)
What we need are strong programs that support young mothers, without exclusion, without limitation. Programs that recognize that young children NEED their mothers at home, and that mothering as a career is JUST as important as any other career. Not only that, but recognizing that becoming a mother can be a powerful incentive for a woman to advance her education. Here is one study’s recommendations about helping young mothers:
We suggest that the UK Government adopts a broader approach to addressing social exclusion associated with teenage pregnancy, and one which: values and supports full-time mothering as well as gaining skills; affords teenage mothers the same rights as less vulnerable mothers; fosters supportive social networks and enables the young women to engage actively in the process of their own inclusion. (Austerberry & Wiggins, 2007).
Austerberry, H., & Wiggins, M. (2007). Taking a pro-choice perspective on promoting inclusion of teenage mothers: Lessons from an evaluation of the Sure Start Plus programme. Critical Public Health, 17(1), 3-15.
Duncan, S. (2007). What’s the problem with teenage parents? And what’s the problem with policy? Critical Social Policy, 27(3), 307-334.
Gibbs, N. (2002). Making time for baby. Time Magazine, April 15, 2002. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1002217,00.html .
Hotz, V. J., McElroy, S. W., & Sanders, S. G. (1999). Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Natural Experiment.
Hope, T., Wilder, E. I., & Watt, T. T. (2003). Pregnancy, pregnancy resolution, and juvenile delinquency. The Sociological Quarterly, 44(4), 555-576.
Lall, M. (2007). Exclusion from school: Teenage pregnancy and the denial of education. Sex Education, 7(3), 219-237.
Luker, K. (1996). Dubious conceptions: The politics of teenage pregnancy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Oberlander, S. E., Black, M. M., Starr, R. H. (2007). African American adolescent mothers and grandmothers: A multigenerational approach to parenting. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39(1-2), 37-46.
Richards, J., Papworth, M., Corbett, S., & Good, J. (2007). Adolescent motherhood: A Q-methodological re-evaluation of psychological and social outcomes. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17(5) 347-362.
Shanok, A. F., & Miller, L. (2007). Stepping up to motherhood among inner-city teens. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(3), 252-261
Smith-Battle, L. (2007a). ‘I wanna have a good future’: Teen mothers’ rise in educational aspirations, competing demands, and limited school support. Youth and Society, 38(3), 348-371.
SmithBattle, L. (2007b). Legacies of advantage and disadvantage: The case of teen mothers. Public Health Nursing, 24(5), 409-420.
Solinger, R. (2000). Wake up little Susie: Single pregnancy and race before Roe v. Wade. New York: Routledge.
Whitley, R., & Kirmayer, L. J. (2008). Perceived stigmatisation of young mothers: An exploratory study of psychological and social experience. Social Science and Medicine, 66(2), 339-348.
Zeck, W., Bjelic-Radisic, V., Haas, J., & Greimel, E. (2007). Impact of adolescent pregnancy on the future life of young mothers in terms of social, familial, and educational changes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(4), 380-388.
* The sad irony is that this “poor infertile couple” that i was supposed to give my child to, to satisfy THEIR needs, then went on to have two children of their own. So there was absolutely NO reason for this adoption to occur. They could have children of their own – they did not need mine.
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.
“What is coercion?” This question was asked recently in an adoption-related forum, by someone unfamiliar with the idea that mothers may not want to surrender their babies for adoption. Someone who has meekly accepted adoption industry brainwashing and never questioned the notion that mothers’ don’t willingly abandon their children hither, thither, and yon.
Ever since the Post World-War II demand for newborn infants arose, and the social work profession decided to meet that demand by taking the babies of vulnerable mothers, coercion has formed a large part of adoption practice. You can read all about it in many pages on the internet. Origins Canada has a collection of articles about coercion, including the coercion checklist I created from the true experiences of mothers I had got to know in support groups. You can also read about Baby Scoop Era practices in the U.S. and what excuses baby brokers used for their abuse of mothers and abduction of infants. You can pick up a copy of Ann Fessler’s book The Girls Who Went Away and read first-hand accounts from the mothers incarcerated in maternity prisons, which were little more than baby farms, who knew they would never be allowed to leave with their babies. Or you can read mothers’ stories on the Exiled Mothers and Origins Canada sites. You can look at the many years of research, the millions of dollars in federal tax money, put towards inventing new methods to separate mothers from their beloved newborn infants: techniques such as open adoption, taking mothers away from their support system and putting them into maternity homes because it will more than double the rate of surrender (Namerow, Kalmuss, & Cushman, 1993), and research in which blindfolded regressed “volunteers” were forced to relive the trauma of their surrender in order to find out what coercion worked best. One of these volunteers committed suicide after her experience.
But what is a good one or two sentence definition that sums of what constitutes coercion in adoption practice? I thought it may be useful to invite feedback on one such possible definition:
“Coercion” includes any practice specifically designed and intended to either ensure — or significantly increase the odds — that a mother will surrender her baby for adoption.
“Coercion” describes any practice designed to 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.
Update: This article, from March 2010, ends with a proposed possible definition of coercion. This short description was taken and expanded upon in a later article: “The Definition of Adoption Coercion.“
- Adoption “Choice” – A Response to a Mother
- Adoption Coercion in Black and White
- Adoption: “Studies on How to Take Babies”
- An “Apology” for Abduction
- The Basic Facts of Pre-Birth Adoption Matching
- They admit it was illegal!
- This is what it’s like.
- “What Constitutes Coercion?” (By “Write-A-Holic”)
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
I have a friend, Rowena, who is a natural mother who lost her son to adoption.
Rowena was only 17 when she gave birth to her son Blaise, and in Grace Hospital in Calgary, they only allowed her to see him sparingly for few days after his birth, and then one day the nurses took him away and refused to let her see him ever again. That was the power that hospitals had over us unwed mothers. The professionals around us, often government social workers, we trusted as no-one else showed any care for us. Little did we know of our rights to our babies – the same as the rights of any older or married mother – or that the hospitals’ actions were illegal. Beaten down emotionally and psychologically, and often cast away into exile by our parents and society, we did not know we had any rights at all.
So, in 1967, Rowena’s son was born. And the government social worker that came with the surrender papers made her believe that her only option was to sign, that an unwed mother could not be a mother at all. The growing list of “waiting parents” was more important to the worker than the emotional trauma she was doing by dismembering this one young family. Rowena wanted to keep her baby, and he was taken from her.
Because of the traumatic loss of her son, Rowena never had another child. She yearned for him for what seemed like unending years, thinking of him every single day, and doing what she could to deal with the PTSD and unrelenting grief.
As soon as Alberta set up an adoption reunion registry, Rowena signed up for it. Her name was on that registry for over twenty years as she waited to hopefully find Blaise again. All she had known was that he was supposedly adopted into a “good home” with a stay-at-home mother and a professional father.
Rowena began coming to our monthly Origins Canada support group meetings early this year, and we offered to help her find her son. Thanks to adoption records opening in Alberta (after a hard-fought campaign by people separated by adoption), she was able to apply for and obtain her son’s full adoptive name.
The search began in March 2009, and forty-two years after Rowena lost her son to adoption, he was found again!
The break came when we found Blaise’s adoptive family’s genealogy listed online, including an adoptive sister, “Alice.” We found her in the phonebook, and Rowena phoned her.
Yes, it was the right Alice. Yes, her adoptive brother was Rowena’s son. But, no, Rowena could not contact him as he was a drug-addicted homeless person living on the streets of a city far away. The sister promised to pass on the message to him, if he eventually got a contact number.
Eventually, when Blaise got a temporary cellphone, Rowena and Blaise were finally able to talk on the phone. He told her how his adoptive parents had divorced when he was young, and his adoptive mother was cold and distant. He had little contact with the adoptive father. No, Blaise had not graduated from high school. Yes, he was doing hard drugs, and when Rowena asked what drugs he used, he told her, “Anything I can get my hands on.” Rowena was shocked that her beloved son had been treated this way and was in this state, as she had been forced to surrender him by a system that had told her that these parents were fit and deserved her son more than she did.
Rowena and Blaise talked on the phone three times, when he was able to temporarily get a phone. By the second call, he was calling her “Mom,” and hoping to travel out to the coast to visit her and even live with her. He wanted to start a new life. Rowena offered to send him the bus fare for him to come out.
Rowena sent letters and photographs to Blaise through Alice. Unfortunately, Alice and her family opened up Rowena’s mail to Blaise, which hurt Rowena a lot.
In her third and tragically last phone call with Blaise, Rowena was happy to find that he had finally received the photographs and letters.
In early October, a phone call came from Alice. Blaise was in hospital with a serious heart infection, and Alice said that if Rowena wanted to see Blaise she had better hurry out to Edmonton fast. Alice offered to put up Rowena at her place. Rowena bought the tickets to travel the 1300 km trip and packed her bags, but 20 minutes before she left the house, the phone rang. It was Alice, who told Rowena in an angry voice that she “couldn’t have Rowena staying there” and that she would have to stay elsewhere.
Rowena phoned the hospital to find out how her son was doing. The staff there told her that they were not allowed to release any information, other than to people on the visitors list, and she was not on it. The adoptive father was in charge of the list. Even if Rowena had travelled, she would not have been allowed to see her son.
Last week, the final phone call came. Blaise’s adoptive father told Rowena that her son had passed away. When she asked, he stated firmly that, NO, she was not permitted to come to the funeral, as “They had enough people already.”
Thanks to adoption, Rowena never saw her son nor held him in her arms since his birth 42 years ago. Thanks to adoption, she will never have that chance. The adoptive parents had the right to ensure she would never be able to be there in his final days. Rowena is devastated. The hope of reunion with her son, the hope that sustained her for 42 years, has ended.
I write this post in dedication of the love that Rowena and Blaise had for each other, as mother and son. She never forgot her son. I hope that I am not the only one who sees the tragedy here.
If you are a mother considering the surrender of your newborn infant, please realize that you are losing the right to ever see your beloved child again. Even open adoptions may close at any time (they are not legally enforceable), and not only will you not have the right to see your child, but not even the right to know about his or her welfare. That is a right only the adoptive parents have, and even if your child is an adult — as next-of-kin — they have the right to deny all information or contact to others in case of a medical emergency. Adoption loss is a tragedy in so many ways. Please consider if you can live with this loss as well.
In Memory of Blaise
Loved and missed by your natural mother, Rowena,
even since you were born
This is a true story about a natural mother and her son, and how forced adoption separation led to a heartbreaking tragedy. Every time a mother and child are forced apart for adoption purposes, it is a tragedy; but for Rowena, the hope of seeing her son again was forever lost.
See Rowena’s article “Reunion Attempt“
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)
(Originally posted as a page on Facebook, I wanted to share it with my blog readers here as well.)
Before the term ‘birthmother” was coined, a mother who had given birth to a child was called that child’s natural mother. It was accepted that the mother was a mother by the laws of nature. The myth that adoption was any sort of “ancient” or “natural” act was not as prevalent as today. The truth, that child adoption is a modern legal convention invented in 1851, was not hidden or forgotten. It was accepted that mothers who had lost children to adoption still had an emotional, familial, and social connection to that child and there was no attempt to hide this fact.
The term ‘birthmother” is part of the “Respectful Adoption Language’ terminology set that was invented by the adoption industry in the mid 1970s. It may have been “coined” in 1956 by adoptive parent and adoption promoter Pearl S. Buck, but it was further developed and formally defined by adoptive parent and baby broker Marietta Spencer with the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota. And its meaning is clear: that we are no longer mothers (emotionally, socially, or legally) to the children we surrendered for adoption. That the sole parent and mother of our lost child is the woman who adopted our baby.
Spencer (1979) defines a birth parent as being a “non-parent” by use of numerous examples in her article which validate the sole parenthood of adoptive parents after the adoption of a child, implying that no emotional or familial connection remains between members of the pre-existing family.
“For biological parents, a clear semantic separation … may be helpful in grasping the important fact that their child will no longer be occupying a role of family membership in the kinship group … appropriate language stresses the severance of both moral and legal obligations and emphasizes that there can be no social or emotional role expectations” (Spencer, 1979, p. 456)
Spencer (1980) goes on to state,
“An adoptive mother becomes the child’s parent through the transfer of parental rights. Although she can never become the child’s birth or biological parent, socially, functionally, and finally she does the permanent mothering of the child. In terms of the time continuum, she is the successor to the biological mother (p. 27).
Granting sole motherhood to the adoptive mother as the child’s only female parent (in the case of opposite-sex parents adopting) eliminates the original mother from any claim, either singular or joint, to this title.
Those who raise and nurture a child are his parents: his mother, father…” (Johnston, 2004)
So there is a “role expectation” placed upon us by the adoption agencies, adoption lawyers and other baby brokers (businesses and agencies that provide babies to prospective adopters for a price). No grief, no pain, no loss — nothing “lasting” anyway. Adoption loss as a one-time event, not a traumatic loss that continues on and on for the entire life of the mother and child.
Being “birthmothers,” we’re not supposed to have any feelings for, or emotional connection with, the children whom we lost to adoption.
“… those women who gave into the pressures suffer in a way the others will (mercifully) never know. For the saddest and most horrifying aspect of adoption is the amount of emotional damage inflicted upon the natural mother. To call her the ‘birth mother’ instead of the ‘natural mother’ allows her only the physical birth and denies her those feelings she wasn’t supposed to have.” — Death by Adoption, Joss Shawyer, Cicada Press (1979), page 62.
I always loved the son I was forced to surrender for adoption. I never wanted to lose him. I never “chose” the adoption “option” because I was given no chance of choosing — to have such a choice, a mother needs to recover from birth first with her baby PLUS have access to the resources she requires in order to raise her baby in a safe, secure, and healthy environment (which is her basic human right). If I were to call myself a “birthmother,” I would be denying that I had any feelings for him after his birth. I would be denying that we are related as family. I would be diminishing my role in his life to being only that of a willing gestator. In fact, Spencer also provides the terms “gestational parent,” “prenatal parent,” and “biological stranger” as synonyms for the term ‘birthmother.”
Am I a “birthmother”? No, because I am still a mother to the son I lost to adoption. It’s as simple as that.
- Johnston, P. I. (2004). Speaking positively: Using respectful adoption language. Indianapolis, IN: Perspectives Press.
- Spencer, M. (1979). The terminology of adoption. Child Welfare, 58(7), 451-459.
- Spencer, M. (1980). Understanding adoption as a family building option. Boulder, CO: Adoption Builds Families.
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