Dear Birth Moms,
The recent shooting in Santa Barbara, California, which appears to have been motivated by the killer’s misogyny (hatred of women) and the fact that women had rejected him for sex, has gotten us thinking about the many women we know who have been victims of violence. At Adoptions Together, we have worked with numerous birth mothers whose pregnancies resulted from violence, which is unsurprising given that the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that there are over 17,000 U.S. pregnancies a year resulting from rape. And since one in every six women has experienced sexual assault, many women whose current pregnancies are not the result of a sexual assault may have experienced one at some point.
For women who have experienced both assault and pregnancy, pregnancy can be extremely traumatic. Your changing body serves as a constant reminder of what you went through, which can make emotional healing very difficult. Some women are reluctant to seek prenatal care because the associated medical examinations and, later, the process of labor and delivery can trigger painful memories and feelings. These triggers can happen even for women whose pregnancies did not result from their assault, and since women who have been assaulted are three times more likely to suffer from depression, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, we know that whether or not a woman’s pregnancy was the result of her assault, related factors may still play a role in her decision about whether to parent. And for pregnant women who are in abusive relationships, a host of other emotional and physical considerations also come into play.
All women have an absolute right to make decisions about their pregnancies free from pressure and based solely on what they feel to be right for them; and for women who have been sexually assaulted, it is especially crucial that you feel fully in control of your decision making process. Many women with whom we have worked who became pregnant after a sexual assault and chose adoption felt at the time that they didn’t want to make decisions regarding their baby, like choosing the adoptive family or planning how an open adoption might work. Understandably, it felt safer to separate themselves from the pregnancy and the traumatic experience associated with it. You know better than anyone how to take care of yourself and what you can and can’t handle, but it might help you to know that many women who initially rejected playing any role in their baby’s life after delivery but changed their minds told us later that they were happy that they did. Making decisions like naming your baby, choosing an adoptive family, and planning for open adoption can actually help you feel more in control not only at the time of your child’s birth but for many years afterward; if you make these choices now and leave the door open to receive updates or be in contact with your child, then even if you are not ready for those things yet, you might find that you are less likely to look back and have regrets.
Unfortunately, the importance of feeling in control is further complicated by the fact that in most states (including Maryland, DC, and Virginia), rapists have paternal rights, which means that they must receive legal notice of any adoption planned of a child conceived as the result of their assault. Activists are working to change these unfair laws, but in the meantime, where does this leave birth mothers who want to make an adoption plan but don’t want to have contact with their attacker? We wish we had a great answer. All that we can offer right now is the assertion that no agency or facilitator should expect you to personally get in touch with your attacker. If he needs to be contacted in order for the adoption to go forward, then the agency or attorney with whom you are working should do that for you (assuming that is what you prefer). Unfortunately, you will need to answer a number of questions about your attacker in order to try to identify him, but this should be done in a private one-on-one meeting with your counselor, and no ethical agency will unduly press you or judge you based on how much or how little you know. Ethical adoption professionals must also understand and protect the privacy of personal information about you and your whereabouts so that you can stay safe.
We hope that those of you who made adoption plans in the past worked with an agency that supported and respected you. If not, and if you feel like you want/need some support, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline either online at www.rainn.org or by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE. This resource may also be helpful for you if you are currently pregnant and worried about how your experience being assaulted will affect you during labor and delivery (they may be able to put you in touch with a birth doula or other professional who specializes in maternity care for survivors of violence). We know that, frequently, sexual assault is not an isolated incident, and we will be posting more in the upcoming weeks about pregnancy and intimate partner violence, but for now, if you are currently in a situation where you are being harmed by your partner, you may want to check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE.
Stay safe and strong,
The Adoptions Together team