Why Adoption Gets a Bad Rap

Some people really don’t like adoption.

There are a few high-profile anti-adoption bloggers and activists out there who talk about the supposedly evil “adoption industry” and warn women considering adoption that they’ll regret their choices.

Hearing from these folks can be tough for us because they often group all adoption organizations into the same awful category. We need to listen to their side of the story, though, because the words of people who have had negative adoption experiences remind us that there is still a lot of work to be done in the world of adoption.

But let’s start from the beginning.

Back In The Day

Nurse with crying baby

image c/o adoptionvoicesmagazine.com

The 1940s began what is sometimes called the “Baby Scoop Era.” Increasing numbers of unmarried women were becoming pregnant, and psychologists and social workers started to spread the false idea that babies born “out of wedlock” would have better lives if they were separated from their birth parents and placed for adoption with married couples. Unwed women who became pregnant before marriage were sent to maternity homes where they were shamed and isolated from their friends and family for the duration of their pregnancy. Then, after giving birth, some women were told their babies had died, while others were pressured to sign adoption papers or had their babies taken from them while they were still sedated. It was a horrible and unethical time for adoption in the United States.

Things began to change in the 1970s. Not only was the birth rate declining, but the country was becoming more socially liberal. It was still difficult to be an unmarried parent, but it was a little bit less taboo. More government services also became available for pregnant and parenting women, and by the 1980s, the Baby Scoop Era had passed.

Many anti-adoption activists are parents whose babies were stolen from them during the Baby Scoop Era. We understand their point of view; they still see adoption as forcing someone who wants to parent their baby to give up that child against their will.

And unfortunately, there are still many organizations that do pressure women to place for adoption. Keep reading to learn how you can avoid them.

What Still Needs to Change: The “Adoption Industry”

choose

image c/o zazzle.com

We’ve written before about professionals, and in some cases adoption facilitators, that make a profit each time a woman chooses adoption for her baby. There is a large industry of these businesses, many of which take advantage of women whose pregnancies make them financially and emotionally vulnerable. You’ve probably seen their advertisements on the Internet; they often play up their offer to pay living expenses, and many of them try to “sell” people on the idea of adoption by telling birth parents how heroic they are and assuring them that their children will have better lives this way.

At Adoptions Together, we do not believe that anyone should be talking women into (or out of) adoption; birth parents should be provided with unbiased counseling and information about all of their options and then be trusted to know what decision is right for them. And no one should be making a profit from adoption, either. While some of our funding comes from the fees that adoptive parents pay (fees which we use to offer services like free counseling, even for those who are not sure yet whether adoption is right for them), much of it also comes from other sources, like foundations and individual donations. Basically, this means that if we work with a birth parent who decides not to go forward with adoption, our employees still get paid. We’re able to be unbiased in our work with birth parents because we aren’t financially dependent upon their choosing adoption.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be writing more about changes we think need to happen in the adoption world. But first, tell us what you think – how is adoption different from (or the same as) it was during the Baby Scoop Era?


“What Happens When They Start Asking Questions?”

image c/o blog.xpressdocs.com

Many birth mothers tell us that they worry about the day their child will ask them the tough questions about being adopted, like why they were placed or who their birth father was (if he’s not involved in their life).

Sometimes, the answers to those questions are straightforward, but other times the subject is touchy. There may be aspects of your adoption journey that you don’t necessarily want your child to associate with you, like drug use or casual sex, or that were upsetting and traumatic, like sexual assault. What happens when your child starts asking questions whose answers are difficult to talk about?

The Need for Trust

When your child’s parents adopted, they signed on for both the fun parts of parenting and the difficult parts, including having tough conversations. They will hear your child’s questions before you do, which is one of the reasons why trust is so important in any adoptive relationship. Choosing adoption means taking a leap of faith and trusting your child’s family to talk openly and appropriately about the adoption story you all share. Trusting them to raise your child also means trusting them to have the tough conversations that come with parenting.

What Will They Say?

Adoptions Together encourages birth mothers and adoptive parents to talk to their child about adoption from a very early age in a way they can understand, and we strongly discourage them from lying to their children, even about difficult topics. For example, if your pregnancy was the result of sexual assault, we might suggest to your child’s adoptive parents that they simply say “We only know a little bit about your birth daddy because he and your birth mommy were not close friends.” If you were struggling with substance use during your pregnancy, they could explain, “Your birth mommy was sick when she was pregnant with you and wanted you to have parents who could take care of you when she couldn’t.”

Your child’s parents will decide, as your child grows older, when and how to share additional information based on your child’s personality, maturity, and overall development. Remember, by the time your child is old enough to hear about the more upsetting parts of your adoption journey, their family will know them inside and out. This won’t be the first difficult topic they’ve ever discussed, so they’ll already understand how your child processes information and will be able to choose the right time, place, and environment for sharing the tougher aspects of their adoption story.

What’s the Agency Got to Do With It?

After your child is placed with an adoptive family, we send a social worker to visit with them every couple of months for six months. During those conversations, the social worker discusses with the family how they plan to talk to their child about adoption. We feel it is important for families to be extremely open with their children and not to leave out details even if the prospect of sharing them seems upsetting, and we address this subject in the mandatory seminar-style training we hold for parents to attend after placement. We also offer specialized training, coaching, counseling, and support for adoptive families who need extra help in this area. If you’re still in the process of choosing an adoption agency, you may want to ask how the agency prepares its adoptive families for tackling the difficult topics that often come with adoption.

How did your child’s adoptive parents explain the “tough stuff” to them? Have you talked to your child about the more painful aspects of your adoption story?


How Much Should You Tell Your Child and their Family?

Birth parents often ask us how much information they should share with their child or their child’s adoptive family. Let’s talk about how sharing personal information before, during, and after planning to place a child for adoption can help relieve pressure on birth parents, help children form positive adoption identities, and form trusting relationships with adoptive families.

birth mother

Personal information is….well…personal. Especially for birth parents.

Whether you consider yourself a private person or someone who is pretty open with others about who you are, it can be hard to decide how much information to give your child and their adoptive family about your personal life. After all, when you place your child for adoption, you still don’t know their adoptive family as well as you do your friends and family members, and there might be aspects of your life and adoption story that you’re not sure you want to share.

We ask all of the birth parents who decide to work with us to fill out a “Social and Medical History,” which is basically just a packet with lots of questions about you. We used to ask only for basic information about your health, like whether you had any pregnancy complications or a history of any type of illness in your family. We still ask those questions, because they help the adoptive family and your child stay healthy; but now, we also ask many other questions that are just about you, like your hobbies, your favorite food, and what type of music you like.

It might seem too personal or even just silly to share information like where you grew up or what style of clothing you wear, but we know from experience that adoptees are grateful to have it. Adoption is a big part of your child’s life story, and no matter what kind of relationship you have, you’ll always be important to them. The more they know about you, the more secure they can feel in knowing where they came from.

And don’t worry – knowing about your life won’t make your child upset or confused about why they were adopted. Kids are capable of understanding adoption from a very young age. If there are aspects of your adoption journey that were particularly upsetting, like drug use or violence, your child’s family will simply wait to share that information with them until the time is right, and will talk to them about it in a way they can understand. Also, if your relationship with your child’s other birth parent has been difficult, you might be tempted to leave out information that you have about them, but think about it this way: wondering who their other birth parent was, and what they were like, will be much more emotionally difficult for your child than realizing that they weren’t perfect.

Laurie Elliott, who works with adoption courts in Pittsburgh, asked the teenage adoptees with whom she worked what questions they wanted to have answered about their birth parents. Some of those questions included what kind of students their birth parents were, what religion(s) their birth parents practiced, whether anyone else in their birth family knew about them, and what hobbies, special talents, or abilities their birth parents had. What type of information did you share with your child and their adoptive family? How did you feel about sharing it?


One Thing You MUST Tell Your Adoption Agency

pregnant woman meeting with adoption counselor

As a birth parent, what do you expect from your adoption agency?

The birth parent counselors at Adoptions Together have learned that every birth mother and father has a different idea of what they want from their relationship with the agency that places their child.

Once, a social worker had two experiences on the same day that pointed out how different those expectations could be. The first was a phone call with a birth parent who said she felt forgotten because her child’s family was a little bit late in sending her an update and her counselor wasn’t at her desk when she called about it, so she had to leave a voicemail. The second was an e-mail from a birth parent who had never answered any of the counselor’s phone calls or e-mails in the year since her baby’s adoption; now she had written to say how much she appreciated the agency’s support.

Both clients had the same birth parent counselor. She didn’t favor one over the other or use radically different approaches in her interactions with them. The difference was in their expectations. The birth parent who expected her updates to arrive on the exact same day every year was disappointed when one was a little late, and the birth parent who hadn’t even intended to be in touch with our agency again was pleasantly surprised by the amount of post-placement support we offer.

The point here is not that you should lower your expectations. In fact, it’s the opposite. If your expectations aren’t being met, it’s very important for you to let your adoption agency know. At Adoptions Together, we want to make sure each of our birth parents feels comfortable and cared for every step of the way, but the things that make you feel cared for might be different from what we need to do for another client.

In order for us to meet your expectations, we have to know what they are. We won’t necessarily be able to meet them every time; for example, we couldn’t magically make the first birth parent’s letters appear right away. However, we were able to talk to her about her feelings and communicate to the adoptive family how much those updates mean to her so that they could get better about sending them promptly in the future.

What do you expect from your adoption agency? Do they, or did they, meet your expectations?


Considering Adoption for an Older Baby or Toddler

Mother holding toddler while pointing at something in the distance

Most of the phone calls we get are from women who are pregnant or who recently delivered a baby.  Occasionally, we hear from mothers whose babies are already a few months – or even a year or two – old.  Usually, the women who call us about placing an older baby or child actually considered adoption early on but ended up deciding to parent instead. Often, their change of heart involved promises of help from family members and friends. If those promises don’t work out as planned, these mothers sometimes end up calling us again a few weeks or months later when they are not getting the support they need and they’re feeling overwhelmed. They are often so panicked that they will ask us on the phone whether we can come take the baby that very day.

As we start working with these clients, many of them realize that they might actually want help figuring out how to get some support so they can continue parenting. Sometimes it’s enough just to show their family members how desperate they are feeling by letting them know they’ve scheduled a meeting with an adoption counselor. Other times they need us to meet with them so they can figure out how explain to others that they’re at the end of their rope and need help.

After all, parenting is hard, especially without support from family members or friends. In a moment of crisis, adoption might seem like the only way to go.  Adoptions Together counselors are happy to talk to you about whether adoption is right for you, and you may find in working with us that what you actually need is help exploring resources. Making an adoption plan when your baby is older is much more difficult than placing them as a newborn (and infant placement is hard enough already!). Not only have you already been nurturing your baby for weeks or months, but your family members also know and love the baby, and often the birth father does, too. If you decide in the end that adoption is just too difficult, that’s okay.

And if adoption is ultimately what you want, then of course we will help guide you through that process. We trust all women to know what’s best for them and clients whose babies are a little bit older are no exception. We also understand how difficult it is to realize that the path you chose isn’t working for you, and we take that very seriously.

Please note that if you are feeling so desperate and/or out of control that you fear you may hurt yourself or your baby, help is available right away. Call 911 so that someone can make sure you and your baby remain safe.


What Adoptees Want Their Birth Parents To Know

happy adoptive family with their child

Did you get a chance to watch the video for Mark Schultz’s song to his birth mother?

Many birth parents worry that their child will be angry at them for making their adoption decision, but the song and its lyrics (which include lines like “You gave life to me, a chance to find my dreams”) remind us that adoptees are capable of understanding the difficult decisions their birth parents made. That is one of the reasons we encourage the birth parents we work with to consider open adoption, where they can maintain a relationship with their child and personally explain their adoption decision to them when the time is right.

Not all adoptee experiences are the same, but the stories we hear about adoption in the media are often the ones that are most dramatic and sensationalized. Rarely do we hear about the millions of adoptees who are living happy, healthy lives, because the news outlets don’t find their stories to be nearly as juicy! The stories below probably wouldn’t make it into the news, but they are much more common than any of the ones you see on TV or read about in the newspaper.

“Forever Grateful”

Heidi Sprouse was adopted back in 1971, when closed adoption was still common, but she feels similarly to Mark Schultz about her birth mother’s placement decision. In her recent blog post over at America Adopts, she explains, “I will be forever grateful to her. She gave me life and by allowing me to be adopted, she gave me a family.” Sprouse also urges birth parents to let go of the shame and guilt that they often feel: “To anyone considering sharing your child for adoption, it is the most selfless act that you could ever do. There is no shame in it.”

“I Am Happy”

In a lovely essay in Elite Daily, fellow adoptee Tori Lyn, whose adoption was also closed, wrote in an open letter to her birth mother, “Wherever you are in the world, I hope you know I am okay. I’m more than okay, in fact; I am happy.” Like Sprouse, Lyn says she feels gratitude toward the woman who gave birth to her: “I am grateful you chose to give me a life, and I feel that way each day, as I try and become a better person.”

All three of these adult adoptees talk about how grateful they are for their adoptive families and for the lives they’ve been able to lead – that’s a far cry from the stereotype of adopted children being bitter and angry!

For those of you whose children are old enough to express themselves, have you talked to them about your adoption decision? Tell us about it in the comments section below!


Does Time Heal All Wounds?

 

image c/o itwillmakeyousmile.tumblr.com

Adele threw up three times during the car ride to her first open adoption visit with her child and their adoptive family.

She felt sick and irritable, snapping at her social worker, who was driving the car, and listening to angry music on her headphones while she stared out the window.

It turned out that the lead-up to that first visit was the hardest part of the whole thing. When they got there, saw Adele’s daughter and her adoptive family, and started talking and playing, Adele’s queasy stomach and bad mood faded. But when they left after a few hours, her anxiety was replaced with sadness. She spent the ride home thinking about how different things would have been had she chosen to parent her daughter instead of making an open adoption plan.

The following year, Adele had butterflies in her stomach on the way to the visit, but she didn’t get sick. She chatted with her social worker and left her headphones at home. The visit itself was as lovely as the first, although the sadness returned when Adele got back in the car afterward.

Open adoption is always painful, but the emotional crisis itself does pass. Often, a birth parent’s first visit with their child and their child’s adoptive family is extremely emotional. The pain of the separation is still very raw, and the hurt – and even regret – might seem unbearable.

Time doesn’t “heal” the pain of adoption any more than it “heals” the pain of the death of a loved one, but it does change the pain. The first year after an adoption placement can feel like an emotional thunderstorm, but as time goes on, the storm ends, the clouds start to part, and the sun starts to peek out from behind them. It might not turn into a beautiful, sunny day, but it can slowly become calm. It can become peaceful.

Adele told her social worker after both her first and second visits with her daughter that she felt very sad but also extremely glad she’d gotten the chance to spend time with her and see how happy and healthy she was.  Today, several years after placement, she still feels anxious before her visits and sad afterward, but she loves those visits and she never gets sick before them. Time might not have healed her wounds, but it has taken away the sting.

What do you think? Does time heal all wounds? How have your emotions about your placement changed over time?


Here’s Why We Use the Term “Birth Parent”

Here's Why

image c/o etc.usf.edu

Are you a birth parent, a first parent, or a natural parent?

Most adoption professionals refer to biological parents as “birth parents,” but not everyone agrees that it’s the best term to use.

“Positive Adoption Language”

The term “birth mother” comes from the Positive Adoption Language (PAL) framework developed in 1979. Previously, biological mothers had been referred to as “natural mothers” or “real mothers” which many felt was disrespectful since it implied that adoptive parents were “unnatural” or not “real” parents. PAL also encouraged the use of terms like “place for adoption” rather than “give up for adoption.” The idea was to use language reflecting respect for the feelings and decisions of all parties throughout the adoption process.

“Honest Adoption Language”

Almost fifteen years later, a researcher developed the Honest Adoption Language (HAL) framework, which is generally used by people who believe that adoption is rarely healthy for biological parents or adoptees. They prefer the term “natural” parent because they see adoption as indeed being “unnatural,” and they also use terms like “surrender for adoption,” “lost to adoption,” and “separated by adoption” because they believe that adoption is never a biological parent’s choice, but rather something that they have been coerced to do.

Many of the people who use the HAL framework are those who experienced adoption during the Baby Scoop Era of the 1940s to 1970s, so it makes sense for them to use language that reflects their losses; that was a time during which many women were indeed forced to be separated from their biological children against their will. There are also many unethical adoption organizations today that pressure people to choose adoption for their babies, and HAL works well for people who feel victimized by these adoption professionals.

Which is Correct?

Both HAL and PAL users sometimes use the term “first mother,” but it’s not quite as popular as the other terms, and some adoptive mothers do not like the idea of being “second mothers.” Here at Adoptions Together, we prefer the PAL framework and the term “birth parent” over the others because we believe that adoption, while difficult, can be a healthy choice for biological parents who feel it is right for them. We are very careful to educate our clients about all of their options and to support them even if they do not choose adoption, so we feel confident using language that reflects adoption as having been their choice. We also think that a parent who adopts is just as “natural” and “real” as a parent whose children are biologically related to them.

But more importantly, what do you think about this terminology? Do you consider yourself a birth parent, a first parent, or a natural parent to the child you placed? Tell us in the comments section.


Guest Post: “It Just Seems Fair”

It Just Seems

image c/o www.cbc-network.org

A couple of weeks ago we shared birth mom Ellen’s words about birth parents on TV, and today we are re-posting her thoughts about adoptees having access to their original birth certificates, which we wrote about on Tuesday. She also discusses her feelings about the difficult questions that adoptees may ask their birth and adoptive parents as they get older.

As a birthmother, adoptees knowing their given names (at birth) seems to me to be a civil rights issue. Everyone else in the U.S.A. knows their names – why not them? My son happens to know his birth name and it just seems fair that he does.

You also talked about the difficult questions adoptive parents may face when their children get a little older. My feeling is – just tell the truth. Some information can’t be shared, but the basic information, like hair color, health information, size of birth families may mean a whole lot to a person. It may bring up more questions, but that’s part of the job.

I know I have a lot of opinions, but I’ve had many years to think about these things. Being a birthmother means waking up every day without your child. That leaves time to think and feel. Thanks for taking the time to have this blog. Keep writing! So will I.


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