The Myth of the Careless Teenage Birth Parent

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Let’s talk about teenage birth parents.

Who are they?

Getting pregnant, no matter how old you are, doesn’t mean you’re careless. And although there are thousands of teenage birth parents, there are even more birth parents who placed a baby for adoption as adults.

It’s time to dispel some of the birth parent myths which too many people still believe. With the help of the Donaldson Institute’s 2006 study “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birth Parents in the Adoption Process,” we went ahead and took a look.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are teenagers.

Fact: Birth parents are an extremely diverse group.  But, statistics show that most birth moms today are high school graduates in their 20s, many of whom are already parenting other children. Only about 25 percent of birth parents are teenagers.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are drug users.

Fact: Many Americans struggle with substance abuse, and so do some birth parents, but that doesn’t mean that all birth parents abuse drugs. Every year about 13,000 to 14,000 women place an infant for adoption, and they each have their own unique situation and story.

 

Myth: Birth parents “give up” their babies for adoption because they don’t care about them.

Fact: Most birth parents choose adoption out of love for their babies and feel a deep loss after placement. Those who have open adoptions and are able to know how their child is doing as they grow up have been shown to experience lower levels of grief and greater peace of mind as time goes on. The term “give up my baby for adoption” is not positive adoption language, and we don’t use it!

 

Myth: Birth parents want to drop their babies off and never see them again.

Fact: Birth parents have the right to choose the level of openness they want in their adoption, and Adoptions Together respects the needs of those who do not wish to keep in touch. However, most birth parents say they do want to have contact with their child and their child’s family after placement, or at least receive information about how their child is doing. If you choose to place a child for adoption, we can help you decide what level of openness you’re comfortable with.

 

Myth: Sometimes biological parents don’t realize that adoption is the best choice for them and need a friend, family member, social worker, or medical professional to help them understand why it is.

Fact: No parent should be pressured into placing a child for adoption. Research shows that those who feel pressured into adoption have a much harder time healing after and adoption takes place. This is why Adoptions Together supports state laws that require thorough in-person counseling as well as waiting periods during which birth parents can change their minds.

If you’re a pregnant teenager and you’re interested in learning about your options, feel free to contact one of our pregnancy counselors at any time of day by calling 301-439-2900, or sending us a private email at pregnant@adoptionstogether.org.  Your calls and emails are 100% confidential, and we can’t reveal anything to your parents.

What other birth parent myths have you come across? Tell us in the comments!


Is Open Adoption the Cure for Adoption Loss?

image c/o missleaman.com

Sometimes it seems like all we ever talk about here at Adoptions Together is Open Adoption.

We talk about the research that shows that birth parents who have ongoing contact with their adopted children have lower levels of grief after placement and feel more at peace with their decision than do birth parents with closed adoptions.

We talk about how open adoption can provide reassurance for birth parents who might otherwise assume the worst about how their child is doing.

We talk about how openness mitigates any feelings of abandonment that children may have and helps them form a strong sense of self.

We talk about the importance of post-placement contact agreements and how much we wish they were legally enforceable everywhere.

All these things that we talk about are true – but they are not the whole story.

A few years ago, one of our birth parent counselors explained it this way: “openness is not the ‘solution’ to the pain of loss.” Yes, open adoption is the healthiest form of adoption when it’s possible – but it doesn’t “solve” the grief and loss that every birth parent experiences. It helps birth parents to process those painful emotions, but it doesn’t get rid of them.

In some ways, open adoption is more difficult for birth parents than is closed adoption. Some birth parents worry that they may be confusing their child about who their “real” parent is (although we have not seen this happen in the adoptions we’ve facilitated). More significantly, seeing and hearing from your child is wonderful, but it can also serve as a reminder of your loss.  It’s a tradeoff – you might experience negative feelings and memories, but you also get to see your child living and thriving in the world.

We hope you know that our strong feelings about open adoption don’t mean that we don’t understand how painful adoption can be, even in this form. People with closed adoptions and those with open adoptions both struggle with grief and loss; choosing which one is right for you means carefully considering both your emotional needs and the needs of your child.

What have your experiences with open or closed adoption been like? How do you feel about having one type of adoption versus another? Please tell us in the comments section below.

 


When Adoptee Rights Clash with Birth Parent Rights

image c/o www.washingtonblade.com

When a child is placed for adoption, their original birth certificate – the one that names their birth parents and that identifies them by the name their birth parents gave them – is “sealed,” or made private. In most states, the sealed certificate cannot easily be reopened.

Many people whose lives have been touched by adoption support the relatively recent movement to give adoptees access to their original birth certificates so that they can see their original name and the names of their birth parents. Sixteen states, including Maryland, now open or partially open adoption records to adoptees once they reach a certain age (in Maryland this age is 21). Many adoptees have used the information to search for their birth families.

“My Birth Certificate, My Rights”

People who support the unsealing of records believe that:

  • Everyone deserves to have access to their own information
  • Keeping original birth certificates sealed perpetuates shame about adoption
  • It is healthy for adoptees to know where they came from
  • Adoptees need to know who their birth parents are so they can access important medical information
  • Adoptees and birth parents should be able to communicate with one another if they want to

“My Adoption Plan, My Rights”

On the other hand, people who do not support the movement for unsealing records argue that not all birth parents want their children to have identifying information about them and that giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates violates these birth parents’ right to confidentiality. Historically, adoption professionals have promised birth parents that their identifying information would never be shared. Plus, it is important for birth parents to have some control over who knows about their decision given that adoption is often shrouded in secrecy. So the question becomes…

Whose Rights Come First?

We at Adoptions Together have generally supported the opening of adoption records because we have seen adoptees use the information to make connections with their birth parents that improve their well-being and the well-being of their birth parents. However, we are also very strong proponents of birth parents’ rights, so the idea of giving adoptees access to information that a birth parent may have specifically wanted to keep private doesn’t sit very well with us either, especially given that each birth parent has their own reasons for choosing whether or not to remain involved in their child’s life.

What do you think? Do adoptees have the right to their original birth certificates and to communicate with their birth parents based on that information? Do birth parents have a right to privacy from their biological children if they want it? What would you do if you find out that your child had seen their original birth certificate and now wanted to communicate with you? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!


Why We Love Post-Placement Contact Agreements

 

Open adoption is part of Adoptions Together’s mission. We think open adoption is part of healthy adoptive relationships. Let’s talk about one feature of open adoption that keeps birth parent and adoptive family relationships strong: the Post-Placement Contact Agreement!

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We love post-placement contact agreements so much that we think they should be part of every state’s adoption laws – keep reading to find out why!

What Is A Post-Placement Contact Agreement?

A post-placement contact agreement is a plan for how birth parents and adoptive parents will keep in touch with one another until their child turns 18. The agreement might include exchanging letters and pictures, getting together every year, or some variation of the two – or both.  This is how open adoption relationships stay healthy.

Birth and adoptive families often talk about openness before placement happens, but having a physical contract makes the plan clear to everyone and gives each party concrete steps they can take to benefit from their adoptive relationship. It sets the stage for openness right from the get-go, which is great because a child’s connection to their birth family is an important part of their identity, and because birth parents who have ongoing contact with their children generally have a smoother healing process after placement than those with closed adoptions.

What’s the Law Got to Do With It?

We are glad that post-placement contact agreements are legally enforceable in Maryland and Virginia and believe that other states should include them in their adoption laws as well. Making the agreement a legal document underscores the importance of openness and also reminds birth parents, adoptive parents, and agencies how important it is to keep the promises they’ve made to one another. Making contact agreements part of every single adoption would also make cases where the reality of an adoption doesn’t match the birth parent’s expectations much rarer.

How do you feel about your post-placement contact agreement? Has your experience matched your expectations? Do you think these agreements should be legally required and enforceable?


Guest Post: Birth Parents Don’t Want a “You’re So Courageous and Giving” Parade

Birth Parents Don't Want

image c/o www.salem-news.com

In this edition of Birth Mother Stories, Ellen shares a response to a blog post about birth parents on TV. We wanted to share her words again in Birth Mother Stories since they relate to a post on the same topic.

I happened to see a commercial for this show [with an adoption plot] and as a birthparent my response was “Oh there we are – hiding in the bushes, ready to pounce and be crazy.” Besides knowing it is a stereotype (why would adoption searches be so popular if everyone was out there threatening each other?) I also think it is sad. The piece I think professionals and society in general miss is this: birthparents don’t want a “you’re so courageous and giving parade” when we place our children for adoption.

The circumstances that bring us to these decisions are often traumatic and paralyzing. The grief, depression and ongoing sadness is such an opposite of the world’s views: either you were so loving, courageous or there is some deeply crazy thing about you. Many adoptive parents, friends, acquaintances, professionals have some of these extreme views. Some don’t. The fact is: there are no societal rituals/acknowledgement of losing a child in this particular way. Birthparents aren’t the only ones. Other people have terrible circumstances in their lives for which people are afraid or ignore them. Many birthparents I know are expected to go back to work right away “because their child is now safe and secure in a family,” to take care of other children who may be in the family, go out with friends because “that’s all over with now” and continue with life as usual. Obviously, this post led me to report some of the “insider knowledge” that all birthparents know but often feel there’s no use in saying. I think it’s useful because a birthparent may read this and it may be one of the only places they see that it’s OK to be exactly who they are after placement – the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not pretty or fun – it’s messy.


The Four Birth Parents You See on TV

image c/o threepeascreate.blogspot.com

Ah, television.

The Adoptions Together staff have done their fair share of binging on Netflix shows or staying up late at night to watch bad reality TV. But we’ve also done our fair share of cringing when we see adoption portrayed in the shows and movies we watch. Why, in a country where adoption has changed so much over the past fifty years, does the media have such a hard time wrapping its head around the idea of modern adoption? One blogger perfectly summed up media portrayals of birth parents by dividing them into four stereotypes: “the Juno,” the bad mother, the martyr, and the “baby stealer.”

1) “The Juno,” she explains, is based on “the blockbuster movie that shaped a generation’s opinion of birthmothers as people who make an adoption plan, walk away, don’t look back, and conclude ‘I think he was always hers.’” Sure, there are some birth mothers who do not feel a bond with their baby or grieve after placement, and that’s okay – but it’s rare. Very, very few birth moms can simply walk away after placing their baby and not need time to heal. Oversimplifying the emotions that usually come with birth parenthood is dangerous for women and men who are considering adoption and is unfair to those who have struggled with their adoption decision.

2) She also talks about the stereotype of birth parents as bad parents, “incapable of caring for and wholly unworthy of raising her children.” Movies like The Blind Side and Black or White show birth parents as substance abusers who don’t love or care about their children and don’t deserve to raise them. First of all, to say that all birth parents struggle with drug or alcohol abuse is blatantly incorrect. Second of all, the fact that a birth parent has struggled with substance abuse does not mean that they do not love their children. Even in cases where a child has to be removed from their birth parent’s care, it’s important to remember that each individual birth parent has their own complex set of struggles and emotions. Why judge someone whose life we know nothing about?

3) Then there is the martyr stereotype, where birth moms are portrayed as being “self-sacrificing heroes,” like on the MTV show 16 and Pregnant. The psychologist who hosts the show, Dr. Drew, praises women who choose adoption, calling them “so incredibly mature” and “selfless.” He’s not wrong – adoption can be a mature and selfless choice. However, parenting can also be mature and brave. Every person’s situation is different – in fact, every individual pregnancy is different – and there is no reason to advocate one decision over the other.

4) Finally comes the “baby stealer” stereotype. You might have seen the season of the show Glee where the cheerleader who placed her baby for adoption vowed to “get her back.” This stereotype is particularly harmful because most adoptions today are open, and promoting the idea that birth moms who have contact with their children will scheme to take their babies away from their adoptive families hurts the progress we’ve made in educating adoptive families and the general public about the benefits of open adoption. It also paints a picture of birth parents choosing adoption without thinking at all about their decision and then freaking out after they’ve made it. In reality, most birth parents think long and hard about their adoption decision; many agonize over it, and change their minds multiple times before choosing this option.

It’s easier, we suppose, for TV stations and movie producers to approach the topic of adoption when they can fit everything there is to know about birth parents into one of these neat little categories. Understanding birth parents as real people, with good and bad qualities just like everyone else, is more difficult than simply assuming their decisions to be easy, selfish, selfless, or just poorly thought out. By sensationalizing adoption stories and oversimplifying the lives of birth parents, the media doesn’t have to really consider the complexity or difficulty of adoption or try to understand the deep emotions that accompany it.

What do you think about how adoption is portrayed on TV and in the movies? Did these portrayals affect your decision or how you felt afterward? Tell us in the comments section below!


Why We Support National Adoption Laws

national-adoption-lawsOne of our pet peeves in the world of adoption is that adoption laws are different in every state.

This means that while some states have great laws that are fair to everyone involved in the adoption process, others have laws that are not very birthparent-friendly. For example, we are glad that in Maryland, where most of our adoptions happen, birth parents have 30 days to change their mind after signing paperwork. We believe it’s important for birth parents to have that time to fully make up their mind about what’s best for them and their baby. In more than ten states, however, birth parents have no revocation period during which they can change their mind after they relinquish their parental rights.

Not only is this unfair to women who give birth in those states, but it also causes problems even in states with better laws. We have seen many situations in which an adoption organization or attorney based in a state with no revocation period convinces a birth mother here in Maryland to agree to use the adoption laws from their (the adoption organization’s or attorney’s) state – even though doing so is not in the birth mother’s best interest. For example, an organization from New Jersey, where adoption relinquishment paperwork is 100% final, might find a birth mother from here in Maryland and ask her to sign paperwork saying she’ll go ahead with the adoption under New Jersey law instead. If she agrees, she’ll be signing away her right to change her mind, even though she lives in a state with a 30-day revocation period!

What’s the solution? We think adoption laws should be national, rather than determined by each individual state, and that they should include a reasonable period of time during which a birth parent can change their mind about the adoption. Birth parents in every state have the right to laws that protect them, and adoption organizations shouldn’t be able to cheat the system.

What do you think about national vs. state adoption laws? Do you agree that all states should be following the same rules?


Guest Post: Feeling Good About My Decision

Birth Mother Stories: Feeling Good About My Decision

image c/o www.pambooth.com

In this edition of Birth Mother Stories, we hear from Talisa, a birth mother who placed through Adoptions Together many years ago. Talisa wrote several posts about her experience. This one is about feeling good about your adoption decision and sharing those feelings with others. You can read Talisa’s other guest posts here, here, and here.

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve written for the blog! I want to share something that one of my co-workers said to me today, and I was happy to hear it. I’m a supervisor in the childcare department in a Fitness Club in Silver Spring, and this morning when I had walked in, one of the managers that I work with, who I’m very close to, told me how wonderful I was doing and how well I work with the children and my co-workers! I was so happy to hear that, but that’s not it!

He came into my office around lunch time to talk to me about adoption, and I was shocked that he would ask me. Because he is the type that wouldn’t talk about something like that with me. So while we were talking, he was saying that he never thought that adoption could be such a beautiful thing. I asked him why, and he said that he couldn’t picture himself giving up a child even if he knew that’s what his fiancé wanted. I was telling him that everyone has their own opinion, but it’s not a bad thing, it’s quite wonderful!

Then he said his fiancé is thinking about adopting a baby when they get married, and I told him that it is wonderful that they will be making someone happy and that person will be making them happy. Then, he asked me about my adoption plan, and I had told him and he was like that it’s not so bad. I told that when he sees that child for the first time, he will be in love and that the person who is doing the adoption will know that she has found the perfect family for her little one and that makes her happy too.

He was happy to hear that coming from me, and he said that he definitely wanted to do it now. I was happy to hear that he felt that way. Then he told me that my daughter was lucky to have a mom like me because I made the right decision for her, and I continue to be part of her life and he couldn’t believe how well I take everything. I was very excited to hear that. I just wanted to know if anyone ever had one of those days where someone just makes you feel good about the really important decision you made.

 

Sharing Birth Mother Stories is one way Adoptions Together provides support to women in the community who’ve experienced adoption. Would you like to share yours on an edition of Birth Mother Stories? Contact us at pregnant@adoptionstogether.org!

Respond to Talisa’s question in the comments section below!


Guest Post: “With All the Love I Can”

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A couple of years ago we shared Keisha’s story. Recently we came upon her first blog post for us and it was so lovely that we decided to post her thoughtful words again.

I came upon your blog and believe me I was quite hesitant as to whether I was going to write anything about my situation. As you know I am a birthmother and am currently going through the process of putting my child up for adoption. It is one of the most challenging and hard decisions that I have had to make in my life, and luckily my child’s birthfather is helping me with this decision. For the both of us, it has been an up and down rollercoaster, filled with so many emotions. But as much as it hurts, I know that this is going to be the best decision for my child. 

When you have children, your job as a parent is to provide for them, do what’s best for them, love, care, and nurture them. But what happens when you know that even though the baby is here, that you cannot do all the tasks that are needed for the upbringing of your child? As a birthmother, it breaks my heart that at this time, I cannot do everything for my child, and I know that I have to be selfless. This is probably the biggest sacrifice I will ever make in my life, but I know its right. I also know that God and Time will allow me to see my child again, and that this family will provide love and care and all the things my child needs. I got to spend time holding my child and sending her out with all the love I can and a huge piece of my heart, and I know that that means something. The hardest part of giving your child up is waking up every morning and knowing they aren’t there and you will spend a big portion of that day worrying and wondering, and knowing that you can only be together in dreams at night. You cling to the pictures that you have and “what if” questions litter your mind. Despite all of this, you know that they are in a good environment and that your child has double the love that many go without, the love from the birth parents and the adoptive parents.


When Should You Be Able to Sign Paperwork?

image c/o legalwills.wordpress.com

Did you sign adoption papers in your hospital bed?

A number of folks pushing for adoption reform believe that birth mothers should not be able to sign adoption paperwork until 72 hours (3 days) after they’ve given birth.

We totally agree that birth mothers shouldn’t be asked to sign paperwork when they are still groggy from being medicated or exhausted from labor. Unfortunately, most hospitals in our area only allow women to stay in the hospital for one or two days after they’ve given birth, which means that if a birth mother hasn’t been able to sign paperwork yet, then she has to take the baby home.

Why Should Birth Mothers Consider When to Sign Adoption Paperwork?

When we first talk to women considering placing a baby for adoption, many of them are extremely worried about being told they must take their baby home before placement. Making the adoption decision itself is hard enough; they do not want to start the process of bonding knowing that they will be placing their baby very soon. Nor do they want to buy all of the necessary baby supplies only to be left with an empty crib and lots of tiny clothes when they return from an emotional placement.

That’s why our practice at Adoptions Together is to wait at least 24 hours to have birth mothers sign paperwork, but not necessarily 72 hours. Of course, if a birth mother wants to take the baby home first, we support that decision. But if she doesn’t want to, we feel she should be able to sign paperwork in the hospital before she leaves.

Can Birth Mothers Change their Mind After Signing Paperwork?

Luckily for us, the majority of our adoptions take place in Maryland, where birth parents have 30 days to change their minds after signing paperwork. This means that if they feel they were mistaken when they originally signed, they can regain custody of their baby anytime within the next month. Maryland has a longer revocation period than many other states, which makes us feel confident that even a birth mom who signed paperwork relatively soon after she gave birth still has time to feel certain of her decision.

The rest of our adoptions happen in DC and Virginia. In DC, birth moms have 14 days to change their minds after they sign an adoption consent, and in Virginia, they have 10 days from the date of the baby’s birth. We prefer the 30-day waiting period but are glad birth mothers still have 10-14 days to change their minds.

How long did you wait to sign paperwork? Do you think there should be a mandatory 72-hour period between delivery and signing? Tell us in the comments section below.