The question was recently asked in a newsgroup: Is the use of unethical adoption practices (e.g., coercion, exploitation, reproductive predation) in order to obtain babies for adoption a reproductive rights issue or a women’s rights issue?
My answer is that it is both, plus it is also an issue of human rights.
Adoption is a women’s issue because of the economics of male vs. female power in our society. Despite all our talk about “women’s rights” and “equality,” a woman who gets pregnant and gives birth without a “man” to support her is often left in the lurch unless she has a salary sufficient to afford a home, daycare, and other expenses on her own. The sole fact that men don’t give birth guarantees that they are not affected in this manner. Being “unmanned” makes her baby “illegitimate” and she is often left dealing with stigma, social disapproval and prejudice, insufficient income to support herself and her baby, and the lack of resources. “Single parent” is a term of derision in many places, and the stigma and inadequacy of “social assistance” renders her vulnerable to the loss of her child. Even the legal system fail the mother: child support from the baby’s father is often not guaranteed even when court-ordered, and he may not have a sufficient income himself.
Let’s look at her situation:
- If daycare is not available she cannot work.
- Lack of stable and guaranteed financial support may force her to work while her child is still an infant, thus potentially damaging her child and their relationship. Infants need their mothers, and from raising three children I personally do not believe that being away from mommy for 8-10 hours a day is beneficial for a young child. What about government providing solid universal mother-and-child support such that NO mother is forced to work before her child is in school?
- Being pregnant and giving birth may force her to quit work. If a mother is in a low-paying or non-unionized job, few employers are going to pay for her to have maternity leave. Pregnancy can be physically incapacitating. Sometimes not, but i had to quit work myself during Month 4 of one pregnancy to avoid a miscarriage. And the only way I could do so was to sell the shop that I owned. Thus: out of a job.
- Lack of financial/social support forces mothers to surrender babies they have bonded with for nine months. This does not happen to men as men do not have another human being as a growing part of their bodies for such an extended period of time, ideally followed by the extended physical bonding of breastfeeding. Overwhelming bonding hormones during pregnancy (oxytocin) serve to change a woman’s whole life to focusing on her baby. Her very brain structure changes. Mood and function changes occur. The brain can even temporarily shrink in size. Men, on the other hand, can more easily walk away (as the father of my eldest child did) — after all, their only direct involvement in the child’s life may have been ten minutes of sexual activity nine months previous. They have no physical connection with this unknown (to them) third-party, the baby.
These are all womens’ rights issues, as women cannot live on the same “biological timetable” as men can: pregnancy and birth (and subsequent childcare) are biologically a woman’s responsibility and this conflicts with jobs and career. Having been promised by the feminist movement that they can and should “have it all,” many women are finding that juggling a career and a family can be highly stressful and often next to impossible. And women who live according to “a man’s biological clock” may find that once they are financially-secure they can no longer have children (age-related infertility can start at age 27). Hence the “infertility epidemic” as women postpone attempts to conceive to later and later ages.
The term “reproductive rights” is most commonly attached to the pro-choice/anti-abortion debate. Does a woman have the right to control her own reproductive functions? Despite the adoption industry’s sales-pitch that adoption is an alternative to abortion, I would argue it is most definitely not. Early in pregnancy, a woman may decide to have an abortion or become a mother. The decision on whether to become a mother raising her child, or a mother who loses her child to adoption, is a decision that can only truly be made post-birth. So adoption and abortion are unrelated and are not alternatives to each other. But adoption is a reproductive issue in that it involves a woman’s inherent reproductive capability and the exploiting of that capacity as a “resource” by those in a position of greater social/financial/political power. This happens to women who are rendered vulnerable to this exploitation due to youth, poverty, or lacking the “Mrs.” designation.
Reproductive exploitation has parallels to sexual exploitation. In fact, the only difference is who is doing the exploiting and who is being exploited: economic and age differences are approximately the same, as is the tendency of the victim to blame herself and “fall in love with” the exploiter.
Reproductive exploitation is not new. It was an identifiable part of the slave trade in fact, where enslaved mothers were also were not accorded the right to keep and raise their babies.
Reproductive predation is a relatively new phenomena. Just as there are sexual predators who hunt down vulnerable young women and children to sexually exploit, with reproductive exploitation there are predatory practices such as women with “baby hunger” seeking out vulnerable mothers. If you want to see some examples of the parallels, check out the article “Reproductive Exploitation” on the Origins Canada site. If you want examples of the common “lures” that reproductive predators use, check out http://www.keepyourbaby.com/lures.html.
Feminists are not immune to engaging in reproductive exploitation, and may not even be aware that they are engaging in this practice. Is this from complete ignorance of what constitutes exploitation, or tunnel-vision due to personal avarice and “baby hunger”?
You don’t see people adopting from 30-something married mothers with six-figure incomes, nor do hospitals routinely approach them while they are in labour to ask if they have considered adoption. The average income of a woman who surrenders a baby for adoption is less than $20,000/yr — often far less than that.
Women left in these dire financial straits, with no way to financially afford to keep their babies — without adequate housing finances, healthcare, daycare, paid maternity leave, etc. — are left vulnerable. To obtain a baby from a woman in this situation is exploitation. Just the same way that paid or coerced sexual acts with vulnerable women and children is sexual exploitation.
Adoption is a human rights issue because for most mothers, the circumstances forcing them to surrender are the result of government-led human rights abuses. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 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.
If these fundamental human rights were enforced and upheld, particularly in rich nations, there would be far fewer surrenders. Adoption is a huge industry primarily because we deny mothers the support they are entitled to.
“Most infants placed for adoption come from poor families. Check with any of the adoption agencies and their adoption lawyers to verify that the number one reason for relinquishment today is the inability to afford to raise the child. This is a sad commentary on the richest and most powerful country in the world” (Pannor, 1998)
In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations — which includes U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, and NZ — sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These nations then violated this on a massive scale with their treatment of unwed mothers during the time from about 1950 to the early 1970s (and up to the mid 1980s in some countries such as Canada, where the BSE was bolstered by the “Sixties Scoop” that took native children en masse as well).
The New South Wales government in Australia apologized. They changed their laws such that all mothers are provided support such that no mother need lose her baby due to a human rights violation (which includes poverty) again. PLUS they gave adoptees the right to annul their adoptions if coercion was involved. It’s a start. More information can be found on the Origins Australia website, including transcripts from the Parliamentary Inquiry where the government admitted that systemic human rights violations had occurred.
The same practices occurred in the other nations I listed above. The same crimes, systemic human rights abuses, and coercive tactics.
What must be done is to ensure the financial security of all mothers. To ensure that NO child is left in poverty. To ensure that no child is surrendered for adoption due to this form of blatant financial coercion.
Exploitation precludes any sort of ethical adoption from happening. When you exploit a mother, you are committing an ethical violation. You cannot state that you have “adopted ethically” unless you have proof that the mother’s rights have not been violated: human rights, reproductive rights, or women’s rights. And, frankly, given the immense emotional damage that the loss of a child to adoption does to a mother — damage that is in many cases permanent — coerced adoption should not take place at all.
Love, S. (1998). “Interview with Reuben Pannor.” PACER newsletter. (Winter 1998-1999). Post Adoption Center for Education and Research.
United Nations General Assembly (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
… a seventeen year old with no-one to talk to and no-one who would listen to me.
… parents are 62 and 61 years old … small town Prairie mentality and Fundamentalist beliefs.
… internment in a wage home once I began “showing,” hiding my growing belly to protect my parents from the shame of “what would the neighbours and relatives say?”
… being shamed by my parents into wearing my grandma’s wedding ring to hide my shameful “unwed” status from the world.
… a week of false labour.
… my parents dropping me off at the hospital slightly past midnight, and the nurses telling them to leave. Being put on a gurney and given a sleeping pill to sleep, then put into a closet for the night. Lights on. The pain was strong and the sleeping pill did nothing for me. Awake all night. Alone.
… strapped down to a bed with a fetal monitor wrapped around my stomach. Another one screwed into his scalp.
… my mother coming in the afternoon to sit with me, acting ashamed, never showing concern or affection.
… screaming in pain … and being told by nurses to shut up.
… nauseated and disoriented from the straight Demerol injections that did nothing for the pain
… a doctor telling the intern that he had given me too much Demerol.
… 18 hours of labour with no food or water
… wheeled down the hallway
… climbing onto the narrow delivery table, as flat as an ironing board, my arms strapped down with leather straps, feet up in stirrups.
… trying to push out a baby against gravity, not having slept for 36 hours … not having eaten for 24 hours … overwhelming pain.
… episiotomy sliced down with a deep 4-inch-long cut, without anaesthesia … sewn up again without adequate anaesthesia. Permanent nerve damage.
… sheet put up in front of my face to prevent me from seeing him as he was born and whisked from the room, abducted.
… given a shot and waking up 18 hours later in a ward far far from the maternity ward and nursery, other end of the hospital, different floor.
… a huge huge sense of loss.
… my breasts bound up to prevent lactation.
… unable to walk for 2 days after.
… not allowed to see or hold my baby. Never being told I had the right to. No lawyers to explain to me that i had *any* rights at all. No nurse brought him to me
… finally allowed to look at him for about 5 minutes in the nursery several days later, watched over by hawk-like nurses to prevent me from picking him up. I was not welcome there. Seeing him confirmed for me what I already knew: that I loved him beyond all measure. I wanted to keep him.
…. a woman who had surrendered a baby 2 months prior being sent in to convince me to “do the right thing.”
… forbidden by parents from taking my baby home.
… never told about welfare or any other way to keep him. At age 17 from a small farming town and a sheltered upbringing, I had no idea even what ‘welfare’ was.
… the social wrecker telling me to sign or he’d be in foster care until I ‘decided’ to. Telling me that the children of unwed mothers grow up to be criminals. Lying to me that I would “move on.” No informed consent, no other options, no choice.
I wanted to keep my baby. I was capable. I was never given the chance or the choice.
This is adoption. This was coercion. I was nothing more than a convenient uterus to them, to take away another baby for adoption.This was done to thousands of unwed mothers across Canada for thirty years, until about 1988. There is nothing “voluntary” about “voluntary surrender.” A coerced “decision” is not a decision at all.
I am pleased to announce that this essay is being reprinted in the latest edition of “Opposing Viewpoints: Adoption“
By Jess DelBalzo and Bryony Lake
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood depicted a futuristic society in which fertile young women were held captive and used to bear children for sterile, upper-class wives. The scenario sounds extreme, but sadly, it is not as fictional as one might hope. Vulnerable young women fall victim to reproductive exploitation every day, even in our industrialized North American world.
Exploitation commonly occurs when a powerless group of individuals possesses something that other, more powerful individuals covet. It is nearly unavoidable in a capitalist society, where financial success is often achieved at the expense of innocent men, women, and children.
The exploitation of women, specifically, is not a foreign concept to most of us. For decades, human rights activists have rallied against deplorable working conditions, child prostitution, sexual slavery, and other devastating practices that abuse disadvantaged members of society. Why, then, has reproductive exploitation
In its most common form, reproductive exploitation is used as a tool of the billion-dollar adoption industry. Well-protected by donations from satisfied adopters, large payments from would-be adopters, and of course the religious and fundamentalist organizations that promote the industry, few people have the opportunity to understand adoption for the business it is.
Advertised as an alternative for infertile couples who desperately want to be “parents,” demand for children (and mothers to birth them) is high. Finding pregnant women who are eager to hand their newborn babies over to strangers is next to impossible, and so adoption workers have taken to using coercive tactics against young, poor, and otherwise vulnerable expectant mothers. These mothers-to-be are told that they are selfish if they express the natural desire to keep their children, told that they will quickly get on with their lives and bear other children when they are older/wealthier/married, told that there is no other option available to them. They are not informed of the devastating effect adoption often has on children, nor are they told of the damage adoption
will likely inflict on their own psyches. Adoption workers do not care about
the well-being of mothers or children, though they may put on a good act to
convince expectant parents that their motives are pure. They care about profits,
about the image their business is presenting to powerful, potential customers.
And there you have it: reproductive exploitation.
Consider how easily the following quotes about sexual exploitation can be altered to reflect the tactics of the adoption industry:
“Have you ever heard a child say, “When I grow up, I want to be a prostitute?” For children and youth, working the streets is not a choice. Their lack of life experience and naivety about where the road to the street leads precludes their ability to make a conscious, informed choice.”
Now, slightly re-worded:
“Have you ever heard a little girl say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a birthmother?’ For children and youth, surrendering a baby to adoption is not a choice. Their lack of life experience and naivety about the pregnancy/motherhood continuum precludes their ability to make conscious, informed choice.”
And from http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca:
“A sexually exploited youth is someone who is under the age of 18, who
has been manipulated or forced into prostitution through perceived affection and belonging, and in return receives drugs, narcotics, money, food and/or shelter.”
With a bit of re-wording:
“A reproductively-exploited youth is someone who is under the age of 18, who has been manipulated or forced into surrendering her baby through perceived affection, approval, and promises that the well-being of her baby depends on the baby being turned over to unrelated strangers at birth; and in return receives coverage of medical expenses, shelter, and promises that she can return to pre-pregnant life and will “get over it.'”
Of course, reproductive exploitation is not limited to women under the age of 18. Older women are equally at risk, especially when they are poor, unmarried and/or emotionally vulnerable. Just as older women can be sexually exploited, they too can be taken advantage of for their fertility.
Though reproductive exploitation has yet to be acknowledged in mainstream society, its existence cannot be denied. Millions of women have been exploited for their fertility in the past 50 years, and millions more will fall prey to such exploitation if measures are not taken to protect them.
As a society, we cannot ethically work to prevent sexual exploitation while allowing women to be exploited by another, equally violent industry. Fertile women who do not wish to become pregnant must be granted access to accurate information about sexual issues, pregnancy, and birth control, as well as access to contraceptives. Women who become pregnant either by choice or by chance must be treated with respect regardless of their age, financial situation, or marital status. They must be informed of their rights and given access to all available resources to help them raise their children. They must be armed with information about any decision they make. And above all, they must not be coerced, lied to, or shamed into believing that adoption is their only option. These protections against reproductive exploitation must be made into law.
Now-powerless fertile women will be empowered. Their children will be treated as human beings, rather than as “product” to be sold. The only loser will be the adoption industry – and when you look at it that way, everyone wins.
“In order to drive a car you must be of a certain age, to drink you must be a certain age, to have your own credit card or even your own bank account without parent signatures you must be a certain age, in order to join the army you must be of a certain age – yet government allows very young vulnerable single mothers to sign a legally-binding document handing over their own flesh-and-blood, another human life, to complete strangers.” – Claudia Ganzon, natural mom searching for the daughter she was separated from in 1982.
Copyright 2003 © Jess DelBalzo and Bryony Lake
This is from “Kathy’s Story” on the Exiled Mothers site. Read this and remember. If you have a child of your own, think about how much you love that child and have always loved that child, then picture that child ripped from your arms or your body and taken away against your will:
” … they had my arms tied to the side straps, as well as my legs were tied too. I couldn’t move. I remembered screaming at this point again, “I want to hold my baby” “Please help me.” They laid him down in the plastic see-through bassinet, and the doctor yelled out to the nurse, give me 100 cc’s of Demerol. Again, screaming along with my son, they injected the shot. This is still like it happened yesterday, I can remember every minute. This is post traumatic stress. I saw the nurse whip him up, and speedily run out of the room. My doctor’s words were: “Kathy, this is what’s best for you, it’s too hard for you to see your baby”. Within seconds I was out like a light.. I remembered waking up in the hallway, the next morning, next to the nurses station. I remembered waking up so frightened and scared to death. I felt like I was raped. Raped from life. Raped from my rights as a patient.”
This is what it was like. I know.
I read a post today on proving one’s love to the child one lost to adoption. Suz describes how some natural moms have approaches to reunion — to try to show their love to their found child — that don’t work at all and in many cases can actually do damage to any post-reunion relationship. Some of these approaches that Suz describes include smothering our children with love or presents, acting like a doormat, and having a double-standard such that we will put up with being treated badly in ways we would never dream of treating another person. I would also lob in there: “letting the adoptee make ALL the decisions.”
I have a theory, based on what I have heard many natural mothers state in support groups, and what I read in their blogs: Many of these unhealthy approaches to reunion are based on guilt.
If a mother is to want a healthy reunion, then perhaps part of the preparation is to work on any guilt, shame, or self-blame she may be feeling regarding the surrender/loss of her baby. As long as she has no idea about the dynamics of coercion, she may always carry a ball-and-chain of guilt and self-blame that will damage her chance of a healthy post-reunion relationship.
That is a whole huge issue: Why do mothers blame themselves? Why do they take this burden onto their shoulders instead of placing it firmly at the feet of the baby brokers? And if you surrendered a baby for adoption post-1955, and still blame yourself, you may wish to look into what systemic methods were used on you to “persuade” you to surrender your baby.
Many mothers are reconsidering the idea that they “had a choice.” Especially in light of information found by mothers who have turned the tables, putting the adoption industry under a microscope in the same way that they studied us to find out how to get us to surrender our babies. Perhaps in the majority of cases, surrender was not by choice. Read the stories of other mothers who may have experienced the same thing.
Read up on some things that adoption industry “professionals” did and said to us to get us to surrender our babies, and remember that a coerced decision is not a decision at all. After women began keeping their babies post-BSE and agencies were faced with going out of business, they even engaged in research to ensure that open adoption would get more mothers to surrender their babies. Other research was aimed at getting teen mothers to surrender.
Ask yourself: Did you love your baby and want to keep him/her? If so, then somehow, something was done to you to ensure that this was not going to happen. And it was NOT your fault. Check out how social workers even in the 1950s thought they could “play God” with us. And, did you know that it was because white babies were “marketable” that they only pressured white mothers to surrender, not African-American mothers? If not, check out Solinger’s book “Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade.”
“By the early 1940’s, social workers became convinced that adoption was preferable to”keeping mother and child together” . . . Rejecting the idea that all women who had borne children were suitable mothers, social workers maintained that they must individualize each case . . . and decide which women should or should not put their infants up for adoption.” And Sin No More: Social Policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleaveland 1855 to 1990, by Marian J. Morton, Historian, 1993 (quote from the BSERI website)
“An agency has a responsibility of pointing out to the unmarried mother the extreme difficulty, if not the impossibility, if she remains unmarried, of raising her child successfully in our culture without damage to the child and to herself …. The concept that the unmarried mother and her child constitute a family is to me unsupportable. There is no family in any real sense of the word.” – Principles, Values, and Assumptions Underlying Adoption Practice, by Joseph H. Reid, 1956 Nation Convention for Social Work (quote from the BSERI website)
We need not feel guilt.
We need not take the blame.
We loved our children and wanted to keep them.
We had no choice.
The blame is with the baby brokers, not with us.
Once we shed this guilt and stop blaming ourselves for being pressured to surrender our babies (and if you don’t believe that a pregnant/birthing woman is seriously affected by hormones in such a way that she’s left vulnerable to coercion, then you have never given birth) then we can work on a reunion that won’t consist of years of hopelessly trying to “prove” our love for our children.
And as long as we continue to feel guilt and take the blame for having “given away” our babies, we cannot expect those rejected children to believe that we love them. People do NOT give away those they love (See “Andy and Marcie” for an allegory about this). The fact is that 99% of us did not “give away” our children — but our children will not believe this as long as we feel guilt or act as though we did (example: did you apologize to your child for not keeping them?)
Shed the self-blame and the guilt, for your own sake, not only in reunion but to be free to live to the fullest in other parts of your life as well. Do not blame yourself or feel you have to “make up for” something you had no control over at the time, no way to prevent. You do not need to bear that burden. You do not deserve to carry that pain.
Well, I guess you found this little blog. It is not my intention to write it to try to entertain, shock, or otherwise get you to come back to see the latest in hip news, rave reviews, or celebrity gossip (I’ll leave that to Perez Hilton to keep you satisfied).
Instead, if you frequent this site, you’ll be reading the writings of a mother and policy analyst, one who has analyzed her own experiences and those of other mothers who have experienced a unique form of violence. I will be posting articles that I have written in the past, and new articles as they develop in the future.
What you will find are analyses of such topics as the adoption industry, reproductive exploitation, and the abuse of vulnerable mothers. As well as my own personal experiences, and quotes from my favourite authors.
My name? How about just “Cedar’ for now.