Well, today you can choose everywhere. Go to just about any adoption site and you find pictures of happy couples who hike and ski and are just the "perfect" parents for your child. You are young and vulnerable, without resources, can not possibly provide what a child needs; prospective adoptive parents are in their thirties and forties and fifties and are financially stable and possibly well off. They will give your child the horseback riding lessons you can only dream out.
See...I want to Know how My Child is Doing...sent to me by Vanessa.
Those prospective adopters (calm down everyone, I'm just using this here and do not many any disrespect, no one is an adoptive parent yet, when the mother is choosing) can learn how to be appealing to women considering relinquishing through coaching by their adoption counselor at the agency, as well as through books on how to adopt. One such noxious book is Fast Track Adoption, which is basically a guide about how to game the system to get a kid from her mother. It has been reported that after this book came out and the birth mother of the author's child realized she had been swindled, she committed suicide.
But do open adoptions work? A few Sundays ago, the Modern Love section of the New York Times--wait it was of course on Mother's Day!--ran a piece by Amy Seek called Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math that detailed the difficulties and pain involved in an open adoption. But what we hear less about in the media are the open adoptions that get slammed shut and the mothers simply ignored. On Facebook the other day someone wrote that 80 percent of "open" adoptions are eventually closed. We know that adoption statistics are incredibly hard to come by. We had several posts in April, 2010 about how adoptive parents did not want to or would not answer the question if their children were biological or adopted on the last Census form. So I wondered where did that figure come from? The woman responded that a friend, a birth/first mother, phoned Bethany Christian Services to find out why her open adoption had become "closed." The woman on the phone inadvertently said that 80 percent of all open adoptions they handle ended up closed. Eighty percent. The woman followed it up by saying that the agency had no idea why adoptive parents do this... Incidentally, Bethany bills itself as the largest adoption agency in the world, and they are "Christian" from the get go, and so supposedly the adoptive parents they have are honest, good people who will honor their promises...yeah, right.
I personally know no adoptive parents in a supposedly open adoption. My acquaintances adopted overseas (China, 3; Guatemala, 2; and now, Nepal, 1, and one domestic, have no idea what that arrangement was) because it was easier, or because they wanted no connection with the birth mother. One of my friends, an editor at a major consumer magazine, said that another editor, a man, refuses to do any television spots for the magazine because, she told me, he said that he is an adoptive parent "and the birth mother might recognize me and then know how to find us." So much for that open adoption. Had to be an open adoption because...otherwise the birth mother would not have ever met him or seen his picture?
How else to shut "open" adoptions? In order to make it difficult for birth mothers to visit, adopters often choose mothers who are from some distance. If you live on one coast, the advice is, choose a mother and her baby from another coast, and since she's the one who's going to be paying for the visit...it just makes sense that a long distance and an expensive ticket is going to reduce the opportunity for visits with your/her child.
I've also heard that some adoptive parents say that they would welcome a greater involvement of the birth mother in their child's life, but the birth mother does not follow through. I understand how frustrating that must be to those who do welcome the birth mother. But I'm thinking how hard it must be, as a birth mother myself, to visit your son or daughter and know that that's all there is. To know that at the end of the day, you are going to walk away and leave your child with the people he calls Mommy and Daddy. I can see that it would be heartbreaking. Damn, I felt let down and very blue when my natural granddaughter, who was adopted, had to leave after a successful week of getting to know her. I know what it was like after my daughter left after living with us for whole summers when she was in her teens. And that would be very different from seeing a toddler or young child; it has to be both better (because you know where the child is) and harder (because that's all there is).
The other thing I've heard about open adoptions is this: That the contract spells out, say three visits a year, with photos in between, or something like that, and includes the promise of more contact if the two parties agree. Well, the adopters are so interested in you and your child that of course you are getting along like a house afire, you see how happy you are making them with the promise of your child, you imagine the felicity will continue after you've given them your baby, but then, surprise! They do not want to be your new best friend; they see your mandated visits as intrusions and have no intention of fostering a deeper more frequent connection...so one day three or four years down the road your head is not in a fog anymore and you end up feeling duped into having given your child away. Because you've been had. More visits? Who are you kidding?
We posted a blog before by a birth mother who had this experience, and for anyone reading this who is considering an open adoption, please read: An Un-Open Adoption: Adoptive Parents Lie and Break a Mother's Heart.
Since I started posting this blog today, I found a Legal Services site called Just.Answer and for $15 it said I could have an attorney research my question about open adoption. Are open adoption contracts enforceable? I asked. The answer:
"A so called "ongoing contact agreement" is not really enforceable in any State in the U.S. Once your parental rights are terminated, the adoptive parents can decide who the child is allowed to have contact with. This means they can just ignore the contract.So there you have it. Open adoptions are to a large degree a scam. The publicity they receive as being the answer to today's young birth mothers is largely just that, publicity. Relinquishing your child is a lifelong source of sorrow, no matter how it might seem to be the answer for the moment. I am not saying that in some cases adoption, or a permanent guardianship, such as the late Annette Baran proposed, is not the answer. In some cases it is the only answer. I'm just saying that birth mothers never get over it--even the ones who deny meeting their grown children who come searching later on. Annette was one of the co-authors of The Adoption Triangle, a ground-breaking work, one of the very earliest to open up the secrecy of early adoptions. The subtitle is: Sealed or Opened Records: How they affect adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents.
"The bottom line is that it is not legally binding. It is an agreement between the parties, but it does not carry the weight of law."
If are are a woman considering adoption, a good source to read is from the CUB website "What you should know if you're considering adoption for your baby by Heather Lowe, a birth mother who surrendered around 2000. http://www.cubirthparents.org
Added on Tuesday, July 20: Jane posted the following as a comment but it is too important to leave there and so is being included in the main post:
Jane Edwards said...
However, failure to comply with the agreement does not nullify the adoption. And there are many traps along the way.
The mother may be told by the agency that the agreement contains provisions (visits until the child is 18, for example) where the agreement says otherwise. The mother doesn't or can't read the agreement carefully. (Think used car warranty.)
The agreement may require that all contacts -- to set up visits, to exchange pictures and gifts, and so on go through the agency, turning the mother into a supplicant.
If the adoptive parents refuse contact, the mother must go to mediation before going to court. The adoption agency likely does the mediation and may sway the sessions towards the adoptive parents, trying to convince the mother to back off.
If the adoptive parents refuse mediation or refuse to allow contact after mediation, the mother has to hire an attorney to to petition a judge to enforce the agreement. She likely cannot afford an attorney. She is also faced with the reality that the adoptive parents may try to smear her in court. This of course will be harmful to the child.
The adoptive parents may move away and leave no forwarding address. Even if the mother knows where they are, she may not have the funds to travel across country. She may send gifts and cards but the adoptive parents may not give them to the child.
The adoptive parents may say negative things about his mother causing the child to reject her. (Think parents in a messy divorce.) The adoptive parents use the child's reluctance to see his mother an an excuse to cut her off.
Alternatively, the child may yearn for his mother so much that he is angry when she leaves and throws temper tantrums. This also gives the adoptive parents an excuse to cut her off.
I urge those working to reform adoption laws to go beyond the question of enforceability. To say simply "the problem with open adoption is that it is not enforceable" allows the listener to assume that if open adoption agreements are enforceable, the problems inherent in adoption would be solved.
It reminds me of the argument against capital punishment --
that an innocent person might get executed. States respond by adding procedural safeguards rather than abolishing capital punishment.
In other words, using a procedural argument leads to a procedural answer and avoids the essential question -- is this the right solution in the first place? I urge those in adoption reform to focus on eliminating unnecessary adoptions through assuring mothers have adequate information and sufficient time to decide.
If you haven't looked at the comments at the previous blog, you may want to go back and read Mary Anne Cohen's poem about adoption pioneer, Annette Baran. She is one of the coauthors of that breakthrough work, The Adoption Triangle.