New York agency Spence-Chapin even thought about hiring a new person to handle the expected uptick that never happened, according to Sue Dominus writing (12/19/09) in The New York Times: "We're somewhat surprised," said Helen Lauffer, associate director at Spence-Chapin. "But the numbers haven't gone up." If anything, she adds, "even fewer women have sought the agency's services this year." The same dearth of available product was also true of an agency in Vermont.
To which we say HOORAY! Women are keeping their babies!
The social workers quoted outright say that they expected an increase in available product, i.e., babies, due to hard economic times since it is a major factor why pregnant women give up their babies for adoption. At first glance the column is a straight-out report of the situation at adoption agencies today. Speaking of the rationale of why mothers surrender their babies, Dawn Smith-Pliner of Friends in Adoption of Vermont, said:
"...if some of these pregnant women felt their lives could be improved upon by being able to get on their feet and do well by themselves, and have the baby they placed be proud of what they'd been able to accomplish, then it's a different decision. It's a difficult decision, but something about it might feel good. But if the achievable goal, a half-decent job, isn't an option to work toward, then I might as well keep the baby--that's tangible. You wake up every morning and there's that beautiful baby."RIGHT! You don't have to wait until you might someday be reunited--with the vale of tears and conflicting emotions that unleashes--so that your child might be proud of you.
That train of thought supposes this kind of resolution to a person being given up for adoption: Look, says a birth/first mother to her reunited child, I became a cool TV weather woman/rocket scientist, college graduate and none of that would have been possible if I'd kept you! Aren't you proud of me? Aren't you glad I gave up up so I could have a career? Somehow this rankles the blood. We wondered if this convoluted reasoning is possibly what is being fed to women today as an encouragement to relinquish their babies and make them feel better about doing it: that someday their children might be "proud" of them. Which we at FirstMotherForum find completely specious and the most absurd bit of reasoning we have ever encountered.
Adoption today, even with a promise of open adoptions, offers no guarantees: no guarantees that the adoption will remain truly open (see our numerous previous posts on open adoption) or that there will ever be a reunion, since in only eight states can adoptees reasonably except to obtain their original birth certificates with their original identities therein recorded. As for the post reunion period, they are so often fraught with anger and bitterness--to think that they would be mitigated by pride of one's birth/first mother's career following relinquishment--we can only throw up our hands in amazement.
In truth, my daughter may have been proud of me in some sense--I did become the journalist I was on track for when I became pregnant with her, and it's unclear how I would have done that if I had kept her, but that sure did not stack up as equal to the why-didn't-you-keep-me? undercurrent that was always and forever the big rock-candy mountain of conflict between us.
To go back to the idea that women are keeping their babies because they can have this concrete and rewarding relationship with their own flesh and blood, Ah yes, we get that: There is a baby, your baby, and not the lifetime vale of tears that trails women who give up their babies. Oh, yes, we first/birth mothers get up every morning, get dressed, put on makeup, have our lattes and go out to meet the world. We laugh, we cry, we make love again. We have jobs, husbands, sometimes other children...but we do not forget. We never forget. Some of us might hide in the closet, and those of us older might keep the baby we gave away as a terrible secret from children who come after, or even our husbands, but the baby that is gone remains in our hearts. You do not have a baby in your body for nine months, a baby who carries your DNA, and forget.
Several reasons are noted in the Times column for the decline in available babies: the greater acceptance of single motherhood (thank God); and a changing marketplace. More birth/first mothers may simply be connecting with adopting parents through the Internet, allowing them to pay more expenses in exchange for a baby than is possible through regular agency channels. That also leads to greater possibilities of fraud, as some cases have been reported, and of course, borders on baby selling.
The piece conveys a tone of gee-this-is-too-bad-for-all-those-nice-couples-who-want-to-complete-their-families-with-someone-else's-baby, as Dominus quotes a plaintive prospective adoptive parent about how long they have been waiting:
"It's like the longest pregnancy ever" said Lynne Berman, a Friends client who lives in New Jersey and has been waiting for more than two years. "You set these ultimatums. You think, 'This will be the last Mother's Day, or the last thanksgiving.' But then another one rolls around."From our perspective, it would have been refreshing to see that plaintive tone balanced with a quote from a young mother who kept her baby and is happy she did.
One last piece of deconstruction: one of the agencies, Friends in Adoption, located in Vermont, has a
client base of adoptive parents mostly in the New York area. That factoid means this: poor rural girls and women from an area of lower contraceptive use and curtailed abortion services add up to a good product-supply location to meet the high demands of the New York market.
We know that some, particularly prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents who chance upon FirstMotherForum might be offended at our choice of words, that is, using "product" where "baby" would suffice. But we interchange these words precisely to make a point: that adoption is a business today just like any other, subject to the laws of supply and demand. The only difference is that the product being exchanged is a living person, not an inanimate object. We use these words to make people aware that adoption has gone from a service to take care of babies without other options to a business to supply people who want children. And in the process, a lot of "do-good" feeling gets intermixed so that people with the best of intentions end up only increasing the pressures on the world's poor to give up their babies. They do not consider that for every happy adopting parents, somewhere a poor mother grieves. They do not think of helping the woman keep her child by supporting both of them, they think of increasing their own joy by taking the child. But that ignores the fact that they are leaving behind a woman not only in the same dire poverty that led her to offer up her child or children, but now they are leaving behind a poor woman who daily grieves for those children.
Not long ago, we were in touch with a family who was considering from Ethiopia, but with a certain amount of persistence and good will, they were able to locate the mother or mothers in question. At this moment, we are not sure of the outcome, but hope to be able to fill you in at a future date. But on the international front, we can report that due to heightened attention to corruption in international adoptions, that number is also declining. Thus just in by David Crary of the AP:
The number of foreign children adopted by Americans plunged more than a quarter in the past year, reaching the lowest level since 1996 and leading adoption advocates to urge Congress to help reverse the trend.[Italics added] Figures for fiscal year 2009, released by the State Department on Thursday, showed 12,753 adoptions from abroad, down from 17,438 in 2008 — a dip of 27 percent and nearly 45 percent lower than the all-time peak of 22,884 in 2004.Adoption advocates may be clamoring for "Congress to reverse the trend," but we are not. What is Congress supposed to do? Hold up aid to poorer countries in order to allow more babies to go through the adoption mills? Mills that have promoted, either knowingly or unknowingly, kidnapping and corruption in international adoption?
The world doesn't get it yet. But we will keep on writing about the abduction of children and corrupt practices that fuel international adoption until we take our last breath. In the meantime, we thank Ms. Dominus for brightening our day, just a few days from Christmas, one of the worst times of the year for many who have relinquished.
In the interest of full disclosure, we know and admire Ms. Dominus from our previous incarnation as a feminist/humor/advice columnist (with my husband) at Glamour where she helped edit our monthly offerings. We hope she takes our deconstruction of her column in good humor --lorraine