Not too long ago, I met someone who asked me what I did for a living. When I responded that I worked in adoption and reproductive health, he asked, “Is it true that none of the fathers stick around?”
Of course that’s not true! I told him that there are plenty of men who are supportive of the pregnancy choices of their sexual partners and who make thoughtful and difficult decisions about parenting or placing for adoption.
His assumption was based on a common stereotype about birth fathers and, really, about many fathers in general: that they don’t care what happens to their children and don’t want to be part of their lives. This stereotype is untrue – and harmful. Assuming that birth fathers don’t care to be a part of the adoption or parenting processes can lead adoption professionals to shut them out and deny them the important opportunity to play a role in their child’s life.
We have worked with birth fathers who either disappeared when told them about the pregnancy or tried to stop the adoption despite having no intention of taking custody of their child. In situations like these, or in situations where the pregnancy was the result of casual sex, it can be difficult for birth mothers to talk about their child’s birth father. If the two of them have had a tumultuous relationship, that doesn’t help.
But we have also worked with many caring and wonderful birth fathers who made important decisions about their child’s future and continue to remain involved, whether through parenting or open adoption. Many of those who chose adoption helped to pick the family and make an openness agreement, and some were also present at the hospital for their baby’s delivery. We’ve also worked with multiple birth fathers who decided to parent their child, either with or without the child’s birth mother.
The 1991 cases of “Baby Jessica” and “Baby Richard” highlighted the dangers of excluding birth fathers from the adoption process. In both cases, a birth mother placed her baby for adoption without notifying the birth father. Each birth father found out and went to court, and both of them eventually gained custody of their children. Adoption “disruptions” like these are painful for everyone but especially traumatic for children, even if they are still babies or toddlers. Notifying these birth fathers to begin with would have been not only more ethical but ultimately less traumatic for their children.
At Adoptions Together, we always search for birth fathers who do not contact us themselves, not only because we never want to have a Baby Jessica or Baby Richard situation but because we believe that birth fathers have the right to be part of the decision making process and to play a role in their child’s life if they want to. We realize that it can be easy to forget to include birth fathers because agencies are likely to be in more frequent contact with birth mothers, which makes sense considering that birth mothers go through physical changes that birth fathers do not, and cannot separate themselves from a pregnancy the way a birth father technically can. In our experience, birth mothers tend to be more open about their feelings as well – but then again, maybe that is because birth fathers might not expect anyone to care about how they feel. As a professional at Spence-Chapin, a New York adoption agency, said a few years ago, “We have to become more birth father friendly…It can take a lot of courage for a birth father to walk through the doors of an adoption agency.” She pointed out that it would help for agencies to hire more male social workers and to offer more resources for birth fathers.
If you’re the birth father of a child being placed for adoption, we hope you’ll follow this blog, read about your rights, and get involved in whatever way works for you and your child’s birth mother. If you choose adoption, you have the same right to yearly meetings with your child and your child’s family, and to letter and picture updates, as your child’s birth mother does – no matter what your relationship is to her. The adoption community doesn’t portray birth fathers as part of the adoption process as frequently as they ought to, but you’re important. You’re important to us, you’re important to the adoption process, and most importantly, you are important to your child’s life.