Pre-birth matching of expecting mothers and prospective adoptive parents is pretty commonplace in domestic infant adoption these days. From an outsider’s perspective, it makes sense if 2 parties are entering into an open adoption agreement that they should get to know each other before committing to a lifelong relationship. It would also make sense that a mother considering adoption would want to know a little bit about the people who will be raising her child. Unfortunately, this practice is ripe for unethical behavior and manipulation.
I disagree with pre-birth matching for a few reasons. First and foremost, a mother can not and should not be forced to make a final decision about adoption until well after the birth of her child. If that decision can not be made prior to birth, it makes no sense for prospective adoptive parents to put themselves in the position to be heartbroken when a woman decides to parent. It should be assumed that a mother is going to raise their child until she can sign her consent for adoption without undue stress. In most circles, the opposite is assumed. If a woman contacts an agency while pregnant the assumption is that she will be giving her baby up for adoption after the child is born. If a woman can not make the decision regarding adoption until after her baby is born, why bother with pre-birth matching?
Are Adoptive Parents Engaging In Adoption Coercion?
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt in life. With regards to pre-birth matching, I try to believe that prospective adoptive parents engage in this practice because it is what the agencies suggest. At this point, it simply is just how it is done in the U.S. so who are they to argue? I do believe that the industry as a whole has a different agenda when it comes to pre-birth matching. The agencies and lawyers know that a mother is more likely to follow through with an adoption if she has a relationship with the adopters but I have tried to believe that hopeful adoptive parents do not engage in the practice because of that. And then I read something like this, taken from a post on the Adoptive Families Circle forums:
“With my first I waited until after court and had more of a family party.
My last 2 were piratically twins (3.5 months apart) and the expectant/birth mothers were good friends.
I was having a huge shower and knew they both wanted to come, so I invited them prior to birth.
I am glad I did because it really got them excited to see all my friends and family and all the love and support and gifts. They loved seeing all their child would have, the nursery and also seeing all the friends and family, etc.
It would have been really hard had they not actually placed, but I am glad it worked out. Maybe that influenced it, I believe the more time you spend together and share, the more likely they do place. You just never know. I thought if they did not place I would give them the gender specific stuff and keep the other stuff.
On a side note I knew I would get a ton of baby stuff, so I had a hospital bag/recovery basket for them so they would have something to open as well with robe, slippers, and all the stuff my sister said you need after you deliver, etc.
Maybe it is to emotional to do for a first time adoption, but probably fun for a second one.”
This comment was in response to a prospective adoptive mother wondering if she should or should not invite the expectant mother she was matched with to her baby shower.
I have bolded the portion of the comment that I had a visceral reaction to. What that bolded portion is describing is most definitely coercion. This woman is describing how, by having the expectant mother present at the baby shower, she was hoping it would put pressure on the mother to follow through with the adoption. She flat out states that she believed that the more time spent with the expecting mother, the more likely they are to give their child to you.
When I read that comment, it was a punch in the gut. This is not how adoption is supposed to work. A woman who is considering adoption should not be subjected to the manipulation and added pressure of worrying about the prospective parents. To read a statement like this from an adoptive mother was truly an eye opener for me.
I am not sharing this woman’s comment to punish or embarrass her. It is my hope that more expecting mothers and hopeful adoptive parents will start to recognize the subtle manipulation and added level of stress pre-birth matching puts on mothers and refuse to engage in it. Adoption should not be about convincing a woman to give up their child. Adoption should be about a woman making the best choice for her child.
This year’s Mother’s Day kicked my ass, plain and simple. Yes, I survived it, but only because there really is no other option, is there?
Up until 2005, I mostly ignored Mother’s Day. I would send flowers or a card to my mother and grandmother, but I didn’t have to really acknowledge the holiday for the most part. I wasn’t emotional, I just ignored the day.
When I got married and had children that I actually am raising, the whole day changed. I could no longer just go about my business pretending that the day didn’t exist. Other people wanted to celebrate the joy of motherhood with me on that day, but not for the child I gave away. No one wanted to talk about that on Mother’s Day.
I think the assumption most people have is that because I now have “real” children that I am raising and am an “actual“ mother to, that I do not think about the child I gave away on Mother’s Day. Most people would not consider me a mother to that child. No, certainly I am not mothering him in any real way now. I have these three beautiful children to celebrate being a mother to. That is real to most people. The child I gave away is abstract.
I am friends on facebook with my son’s father. This is a semi new development that I am very grateful for. He did send me a quick Happy Mother’s Day message, but I am not really sure if it was for our child or just his acknowledgement that I have children and we are friends so have a nice day. Whatever the case may be, it was a small thing that made me smile that day.
What people do not realize is that having these three “real” children only intensifies the feeling of loss I have for my first child. And so, I was a miserable cunt on Mother’s Day this year. Truth be told, the only thing I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and sleep the day away. Instead, I spent the day outside with my kids, watching them play, and hoping that the Mike’s Hard Lemonade I was guzzling would make the day go by faster.
If you were a fly on the wall that day, you would probably not notice anything amiss with me. I simply sat there, drinking my drinks and smiling at my kids. Inside my head, however, was a completely different story.
Here are some random emotions and thoughts that ran through my head:
Anger – Fuck you Mother’s Day! Fucking bullshit holiday on which I must pretend to be perfect Mommy. Fuck you husband for not letting me stay in bed all day. Fuck you Mike’s Hard Lemonade for not providing me with the buzz I so desperately want. Fuck me for not buying a box of wine instead. Fuck you family for not even acknowledging that I might have mixed feelings about the day.
Jealousy – I wonder what my son did for his “real” mom on mother’s day? I wonder if I am even a passing thought for him today? I bet those rich bitches are out celebrating and having the time of their lives today. Fuck you for being able to spend the day together.
Self-pity – I want to be his mother. I should be the mother who gets to hug him and kiss him and love him.
Mostly, I was just irritated that I couldn’t enjoy the day with my family without grieving for my child. One more day to get through in May without having a complete mental breakdown. Jesus, having a mental breakdown at this point sounds like a nice vacation!
So I had to step back from adoption for the last couple of months. I think we all need to do that from time to time. But, just like every year, the month of May is here. My son was born 15 years ago, May 30th.
As soon as May 1st rolls around on the calendar, my emotions go into overdrive. Mind you, I think about my son every single day. Sometimes it is a passing thought, sometimes there is a more steady stream of emotions. May brings flowers, warmer days, and an emotional sledgehammer to my heart.
I read a very dismissive statement the other day from an adoptive mother. She stated that it must be a hard day once a year on her adopted child’s birthday for his birth mother. As if the only time us first mothers think about their children is on that one day a year. Fuck off is not a strong enough sentiment for that adoptive mother.
Every time I have to write a check, or make an appointment, or simply check what the date is, when I see the word, May, I feel like someone slapped me hard in the face. It is just another reminder of the mistake I made, the regrets I have, and the longing for my child. Couple that with Mother’s Day being this month and it’s a wonder I haven’t taken a long walk off a short pier.
I wonder if there will ever come a time when the month of May does not feel like a punch in the gut. It has been 15 years, so I am thinking I already have the answer to that question.
I realized today, that I have left out a big chunk of the “why adoption” puzzle in my story. I originally left it out because I did not want to make it sound like I was trying to garner sympathy or pity. I do not want either of those things. But today, a memory came to me and I was thrust deep into the throws of the “what ifs”.
I have severe asthma. I have had it since life began. When I became a teenager, it only got worse and from about the age of 15 I could usually count on going to the ER at least twice a year and being admitted into the hospital at least once. For many women, pregnancy exacerbates asthma. My OB told me that 1/3 of asthmatics will get better during pregnancy, 1/3 will stay the same, and 1/3 will get worse. I am sure stress had a lot to do with it, but during my pregnancy with my oldest son, my asthma got worse, much worse. At about the 6 month mark, I had such a severe attack that I was put on a ventilator and my doctors seriously contemplated taking my baby out early.
The first time I ended up admitted to the hospital during the pregnancy was fairly early on, right around the 2nd trimester mark. I had not told anyone I was pregnant yet, except the father. My doctor urged me to tell my mother as soon as possible. I was absolutely terrified.
On the day of my discharge, my nurse came in to talk to me. She was probably only a few years older than me, very pretty, seemed very together. My mother is a nurse, so I know how busy they are. She sat on the edge of my bed, took one of my hands in hers and started talking. She told me how she had an abortion when she was younger and then a year later found herself pregnant again. She told me how terrified she was and how ashamed she had been to be pregnant again. She asked me if I knew what I wanted to do yet. I told her I thought I was too far along for abortion, so I was not sure. She looked into my eyes, which were full of shameful tears, and told me I could do it. I could raise this baby. She explained how she was a single mother and although she struggled, she was raising her child and was thankful everyday for him. I don’t even think I said anything, just cried and nodded in agreement.
This nurse, who didn’t know me from Adam, took the time out of her extremely busy shift to sit and connect with me. To support me and encourage me.
I look back on that moment, before adoption entered the picture and I feel like such a fool. What if I had just listened to her? What if I had asked how she did it? What if, what if, what if.
That day, I was discharged from the hospital, and on the way home I told my mother I was pregnant. This is the moment adoption entered my life and any thoughts of raising my own child faded. Hello what ifs and goodbye what could have beens.
I get called angry and bitter a lot. Not in real life, but in virtual life. In real life, I would be described as a middle-of-the-roader. I am a person that never wants to upset the apple cart. Most times, I may have a strong opinion on a subject, but don’t feel comfortable enough to take a position and argue it with people I do not know very well. I am a confrontation-avoider.
The truth is, in real life, adoption isn’t something that comes up in conversation much. I run into the occasional person in the process of adopting, but I don’t really feel it is my place to get in their face about how they are going about it. I have yet to be asked what my thoughts are on adoption in real life. That is probably because I don’t have “birth mother” tattooed on my forehead.
In virtual life, adoption seems to be everywhere. There are adoptive parent blogs, first mother blogs, adoptee blogs, prospective adoptive parent blogs, and a myriad of adoption facebook pages. There are blogs and facebook pages for every position under the sun, for or against, anti or pro. I also have many personal, real life friends on facebook that have adopted or are in the process of adopting.
I do a lot of posting on the internet about my opinions about adoption, mostly domestic infant adoptions. While many of my comments are on pages that are similar to my perspective, I also do a fair amounting of commenting on pages which carry the opposite perspective. I do this because there are so many pages devoted to painting adoption as a beautiful, miraculous event and I feel it is a small thing that I can do for a woman who may be perusing those pages to see another side of the coin.
Inevitably, there are people who do not like that. And, of course, I get called angry and bitter…A LOT!
I embrace being angry. Anger is an active emotion. It is the reason I write about adoption issues. It is a motivator. I am angry that women are lied to. I am angry that families are being separated. I am angry that I am not raising my son. I am angry that people are making money from adoption. YES, ANGRY! My anger motivates me to seek out ways to change the system. Anger is not apathy. Anger is a stepping stone to change. Being called angry is not an insult, it means I am getting to you.
I don’t view bitterness as an active emotion. Bitterness implies a constant state of wallowing. Bitterness is taking in anger without letting any of it out. It is identifying oneself as a victim without working toward changing what made you a victim. So no, I am not bitter. I refuse to let someone turn me into merely a victim and sit on the sidelines watching while another woman is bulldozed over. I will not be that.
So, I love adoption peeps, call me angry, call me rage-filled, call me anything, but not bitter. Not anymore.
Information is power. When armed with information a birth mother has the power she needs to make an informed decision. When information is withheld from birth mothers about the long-term effects of relinquishment on both herself and her child, can it really be said that she made a choice? Is it a choice when she is not presented with every avenue she can utilize to raise her child?
Adoption Truths: Whose Responsibility is it?
When adoption “counselors” present only skewed information it gives the illusion to the birth mother that she is making an informed decision. A birth mother trusts that the “counselor” is looking out for her best interests and the best interests of her child. She is already scared and unsure of her ability to parent. When she seeks out counseling in other scenarios, i.e. depression, anxiety, she can safely assume that the counselor is going to help her and do so with her well-being in mind. She would assume that an adoption counselor would have the same code of ethics. The problem is that most adoption “counselors” have a vested interest in a mother giving up her child. The counselor in this scenario is employed by the adoption agency and this is unethical.
The counter argument to this would be that it is the mother’s responsibility to seek out and understand all the nuances of adoption. She needs to educate herself on all the possible outcomes for herself and her child. That it is not the agency’s responsibility to talk a mother out of adoption.
Let’s take this out of the adoption context for a moment. Imagine a 17-year-old boy who is told by his doctor that he has a heart condition. His doctor has told him there are 2 options, he can either have surgery or he can attempt to control his condition with medication. Whose responsibility is it to explain to this boy all of the side effects, all of the possible outcomes, what the dangers of each choice entails? Should it be the boy’s responsibility to research and educate himself on all the possibilities? What if his doctor has only told him all of the positive outcomes of surgery without informing him of the negative outcomes or not explored in-depth the medication option? Take it one step further, what if his doctor actually gives him misinformation about his condition? None of these things would be ethical. The boy would not be able to make an informed decision. Is that true choice?
Am I the Face of True Choice?
For years I had thought I made a true choice. I thought that I had chosen to give my child a better life. I was scared and naive. I was told that yes, I would be sad for a long time, but someday I would have children of my own. I was told that giving my son to his adoptive parents was the best option because they were stable and would give my son the best life. I was not informed of the possible long term effects of adoption for my son. I was not told about the myriad programs out there to help me succeed in raising my son. I was offered so called counseling that only focused on the adoption option. I was not informed of the long term effects to myself. I was not offered therapy or support groups. I was continually told how wonderful adoption is, how it is a gift, how it is selfless. I was not told that his parents could stop sending me photos and updates at any time (which they did). I was dropped like a hot potato after relinquishing my son. There was no follow up. I wanted to believe I had made a true choice because the other side of it was unthinkable. It turns out I gave my son up without being fully knowledgeable about all my options. He was my son, my blood, my love, my family and I gave him away.
Real Choices Need Real Information
For adoption to be a true, ethical choice the adoption industry needs to employ truth and transparency. It should be their responsibility to present all possible outcomes to prospective birth mothers. It should be their responsibility to present every possible option available to mothers so that they can parent their children. A mother should be counseled by a professional who has zero vested interest in the outcome. A mother should have at her disposal her own attorney that also has no vested interest an there needs to be no conflict of interest. It is only when the truth is presented to a mother that she can truly make a real choice about adoption.
When I gave my son up for adoption I was led to believe that he would have no feelings of abandonment. I was led to believe that he would be “as if” born to his new parents. It was my understanding that it would be best to sign the relinquishment papers as soon as possible (here in Connecticut you can not sign until 48 hours after the birth). I wanted him to bond immediately with his parents so that he would not feel abandoned by me. I thought that “trying to parent” him would be detrimental to his mental health. I did not want him to go to cradle care because I wanted him to feel safe with his new parents. I was led to believe that if I did not sign at the 48 hour mark, there was no guarantee that he could be adopted by anyone and he might be forced to live in foster care. I assumed that he would have no emotional attachment to me, his mother. It turns out, I may have been very wrong.
The Separation of Adoptee and Mother Can Be Traumatic
Karl Stenske has written a thought provoking article at Adoptive Voices Magazine, entitled, “Adoptee View: What Can a Tiny Baby Know?” Here is a little about the author:
Karl Stenske shares a rich and compelling story as an adoptee. Being one of the many who had a great adopted family, he never thought being adopted had a big effect on his life. But at 37, Karl began to unravel the true impact adoption did have on his life and the lives of those who loved, and tried to love him. A sought after speaker and educator, Karl offers insights into the wounds created when any child is separated from his birth mother. In The Hidden Life of an Adopted Child: Understanding the Impact of Adoption, Karl explores the traumatic experience suffered by that separation and its influence on self-esteem, value, worth, and identity.
His article describes how adoption is not only a trauma to the birth mother, but also to the adoptee. We have no way of knowing this because a baby has no language. He can’t tell us what he is feeling except by crying or lack of crying. It stands to reason that if a baby knows their biological mother through smell or their voice that if they are taken away from their mother they would mourn. It must be traumatic, being taken away from everything you have ever known.
Stenske also goes on to explain that many adoptees carry this trauma with them throughout their lives. Sometimes without ever realizing that their fear of abandonment, depression, relationship issues, low self-esteem, etc. could stem from the original trauma of being given up for adoption. It is troubling to learn that the incidence of attempted suicide is higher in the adoptee population than in the general population (7.6% vs. 3.1%) as reported by a 2001 study*.
Adoptee Trauma Must Be Part of the Conversation
It concerns me greatly to hear Stenske’s point of view. Concerns me because as a naive 21 year old who was told my child would have a better life I was not told about the potential for a negative impact on my son. The entire premise of giving my son up for adoption was based on the notion that he would have the best life possible, much better than what he would have with me. If that wasn’t the truth, than I would never have considered it.
Information on the life long negative impact of adoption trauma to adoptees must be presented to expecting mothers considering adoption. A person considering adoption must be made aware of all the facts of adoption, not just the sunshiney picture of it most agencies and adoption counselors like to present.
*Slap G., Goodman E., Huang B. (2001). Adoption as a risk factor for attempted suicide in adolescence. Pediatrics Aug,108(2)E30.