The fantastic video “Out Of The Fog: Mothers Speak About Adoption” by producer/director Suzie Kidnap has been released on Youtube. I strongly recommend it. This is a landmark video about the natural mother’s experience.
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.
This post was inspired by the article “Adoption as a Feminist Issue,” and is expanded from a comment I posted there.
The awareness of adoption as a feminist issue, as a women’s issue, goes back decades. Feminism as a movement is concerned about the exploitation and oppression of women. It speaks out against the violence and abuses which are perpetrated against women because they are women. Reproductive exploitation is thus a feminist issue. And reproductive exploitation is the basis of the adoption industry.
In her landmark book Death by Adoption (Cicada Press, 1979) feminist policy analyst Joss Shawyer states:
“Adoption is a violent act, a political act of aggression towards a woman who has supposedly offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality, and therefore not keeping it for trading purposes through traditional marriage. The crime is a grave one, for she threatens the very fabric of our society. The penalty is severe. She is stripped of her child by a variety of subtle and not so subtle manoeuvres and then brutally abandoned.”
(I would also like to recommend Shawyer’s article “Adoption ‘Choice’ is a Feminist Issue.”)
And, in 1986, Celeste Newbough wrote the landmark article “Adoption, Surrogate Motherhood and Reproductive Exploitation” in the feminist quarterly Matrix: for She of the New Aeon.
Shawyer’s quote, to me, sums up adoption. Along with the statistics that show that the majority of women who surrender babies to adoption do so against their will. These are babies they love and want to keep, but there is a thriving industry that currently sells newborns for $25,000 and more. See some sample price-lists for newborns. Just google “adoption situations” to find many more.
In most other nations, it is illegal to sell children, it is considered to be human trafficking. In Canada and the U.S., however, it is just considered to be business. See Gerow’s article “Infant Adoption is Big Business in America” (PDF) for a good analysis of why this unregulated industry exists. It is easy to exploit a woman if you deny her the supports she needs in order to keep her baby, and then convince her that she is undeserving of her child and that surrender is “heroic, noble, and selfless.” It is even easier if you get her to meet people who are eager to adopt her child, who she may then “fall in love with,” and who she then won’t be able to bear to disappoint by “changing her mind” and keeping her baby. Coercion takes many forms.
How is it not a feminist issue when women are being harvested for their babies, due to combination of a lack of legal protections and an enduring stigma against “un-manned mothers” (or now, “teen mothers” who are now the new “undeserving mothers,” striking fear into the hearts of the populace). Pregnancy and childbirth is an experience unique to women, it is part of their innate biology, a natural process that defines womanhood. When governments violate human rights by withholding the support necessary for a mother to keep her baby, this is blatant sexism and in effect punishes her for being a woman.
Let’s look an example illustrating the sexist double-standard. Men are not punished for fulfilling their reproductive imperative. Men don’t have body parts amputated off by agencies in retaliation for impregnating a woman (another natural act that is specific to their sex) — so why are women’s babies taken away from them (or women being manipulated into surrender (“choosing adoption”) by the NCFA’s “adoption is the loving option” crap), a traumatic act that feels like an emotional and physical amputation, if they get pregnant at a time that “violates” the artificial mores of society, who has “offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality…”?
A friend of mine, Karen Wilson Buterbaugh, who lost her baby to coerced surrender during the Baby Scoop Era, approached N.O.W. for their support. They refused to talk to her, and a woman there implied that it was because many in N.O.W. are adopters:
” When I was working in Washington, D.C., I called the N.O.W. office to schedule an appointment to speak with a representative. I wanted to discuss the issue of adoption surrender, especially during the Baby Scoop Era, being a major feminist issue. I wanted to see what they thought of this and if they were aware of the fact that so many babies were removed during that time from mother, mostly under age 21, who wished to parent their baby but were denied that right by social workers practicing in adoption, many of whom worked at maternity homes around the country such as the Florence Crittentons and Salvation Armies.
” I arrived and was told to wait. I waited and waited. An hour later I asked how much longer it would be. I was then told that I would not be seen. I asked why. She said she didn’t know but that no one wished to speak to me. I left and walked down the stairs to the lobby of the building. A woman approached me saying that she had overheard why I was there. She said, ‘Don’t you know that the women of N.O.W. adopt?’ I admit that I was startled at this as I had not considered that to be a factor!
” She then said, ‘Don’t tell anyone but here is the email address for the current President of N.O.W.’ (whose name I do not recall at this time). This would have been approximately 1997 or 1998. I thanked her for her flagging me down and for the information she shared with me. When I arrived back at work, I composed an email to the President of N.O.W. and sent it. Not hearing back, I sent it again,. I never received a reply. Not even a response saying she had received my emails or even saying she wasn’t interested in speaking to me or even defending adoptions. (My concern was specifically infant adoptions.)
” That experience was certainly a rude awakening to the fact that NO ONE cared, not even other females, about babies being removed from unprotected single mothers. “
So, mothers who have lost children to adoption have no advocates to speak for them and no support from the feminist community. I would like to call out to all feminists to help change this.
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.|
This is a little list i first began drafting a few years ago which has been sitting on my hard drive ever since. These are the promises, guarantees, and blanket statements that the adoption industry (comprised of baby brokers such as adoption agencies, lawyers, and facilitators) routinely promote as being the gospel truth. And they work — the industry now makes over $3 billion a year in profit. Don’t let it fool you.
Lies the Industry tells to Prospective Adopters:
- All families, both adoptive and natural, are the exact same.
- The bond between parents and children in all families are the same. The amended birth certificate will say that you gave birth, so act as though you did. You are now the only mother.
- The child needs only you and not the love of their natural parents.
- Environment is everything – the child is a blank slate (“tabula rasa”) – all the chid’s skills and aspirations will be yours.
- Rest assured that the natural family can never search because the records are sealed tight.
- The natural mom is just an incubator, a “b—-mother” and thus her only purpose is to gestate that child and then hand it over.
- This child is unwanted, the mother will never return.
- If loved enough, this child will never want to search.
- Adoptees will never feel hurt by being taken from their natural parents; love from adoptive parents will solve everything.
- “The Primal Wound” is a myth.
- This is a lifetime guarantee.
Lies the Industry tells to Expectant Mothers:
- Your child will be grateful to be adopted and won’t be angry at you for it. Your child will not be damaged by adoption
- Adoption shows you loved your child enough to give him/her two parents.
- You are not giving him away, you are giving him “more.”
- Children need two married parents.
- You will get over it and forget your child.
- You may feel “a type of grief’ but it will go away.
- Young and Unwed = unfit.
- The grief is resolvable. Only flawed women or those who “cling to the past” can’t resolve the grief.
- It won’t hurt, or won’t hurt for long. The satisfaction of providing a wonderful future for your child will make any “regret” go away.
- Keeping your child will involve more pain, struggle, and sacrifice than surrendering him/her.
Lies that the industry tells to adoptees:
- Your mother chose adoption.
- Your mother “gave you away.”
- Your mother does not love you.
- You only need your adoptive parents.
- You should be loyal and grateful to your adoptive parents for raising you as your natural mother dumped you and who know where you’d be if your adoptive parents weren’t heroes for rescuing you.
- Searching is disloyal and will hurt your adoptive parents
Lies that the industry tells to society:
- Infant adoption is natural (false. it’s a relative recent (last 150 years) social experiment)
- Adoptive families are exactly like natural families, with no problems at all specific to adoption.
- Raising an adopted child is like raising a child of your own.
- Infant adoption has been common since Babylonian types (false. adult adoption was common but NOT infant adoption – infants were fostered but seldom legally adopted)
- Adoption is about finding homes for unwanted babies.
What is is all about? Filling post-WWII consumer demand for infants.
“Because there are many more married couples wanting to adopt newborn white babies than there are babies, it may almost be said that they rather than out of wedlock babies are a social problem. (Sometimes social workers in adoption agencies have facetiously suggested setting up social provisions for more ‘babybreeding’.)” SOCIAL WORK AND SOCIAL PROBLEMS, National Association of Social Workers, (Out-of-print) copyright 1964 (quote provided courtesy of BSERI).
The broker (agency, lawyer, social worker, doctor, or whomever else took the baby for adoption) made promises to the adoptive parents that permeate the entire adoptive relationship and even impact upon reunion. And the promises are lies, nothing but a sales pitch. Brokers knew there was a consumer demand out there from people who wanted newborn babies to adopt. Brokers knew they could make money by meeting this demand — now $25,000 or more per infant. So the brokers give promises that these infants neither knew about nor could keep. And adoptees are expected to live up to these promises, which they had no part in making in the first place! It is all done for money’s sake. It is time to take the profit motive out of adoption.
“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.
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