|(Jane, second row on the far right)|
Ann Fessler's film, A Girl Like Her, includes this and other videos to present pictorially the ugly truth about adoption in the mid-twentieth century. As the videos of happy housewives dancing in their oh-so-modern kitchens and teens in full skirted strapless prom dresses switch to pictures of soldiers in Vietnam and war protesters, off screen first mothers tell their stories of loss without redemption.
GETTING BABIES THROUGH ADOPTION
As the hyper-puritan post World War II period melded into the "make love, not war," era of the 60's and 70's, and challenges of the social order were daily events, unwed mothers remained pariahs, an apparent anomaly when viewed from the lens of history. Fessler illustrates this through a mother telling of watching news reports of the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy while hidden away in a maternity home in Washington DC. The social mores that compelled women to give up their babies started to wan in the mid-Seventies, when the Women's Movement took hold, giving women power over their reproduction, increasing career and educational opportunities.
During these decades--often called the Baby Scoop Era--about 1.5 million single women, mostly white from upwardly mobile families, went away to have their babies, leaving the hospital with empty arms while social workers delivered their babies to "deserving" married couples. These mothers (Lorraine and I are among them) grieved and continue to grieve for their lost children. About thirty percent of these mothers, including Lorraine, never had other children.
In the past four decades, adoption has had a make-over. Shame no longer drives domestic adoptions. Far fewer mothers give up their babies and those that do, explain their decision as giving their children "the life they deserve," while allowing mothers to pursue their goals. Rather than reflecting the powerlessness of mothers, the adoption option is touted as empowering--mothers don't lose their babies to adoption; they "choose not to parent." Most domestic adoptions have some degree of openness, or at least promised openness.
As the number of women giving up their children has plummeted, the industry has turned to foreign countries to supply children. Far from asking for children closely matched to them, adoptive parents take pride in the physical differences between themselves and their children. The only thing that does remain from the adoption practices described in Fessler's video is a return policy. Approximately 10 to 25 percent of of adoptions "disrupt," and children are sent to other families ("re-homed" in adoption parlance) or placed in the child welfare system.
BEGETTING BABIES THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
Exploitation of vulnerable women, however, continues through technology that existed only in science fiction a few decades ago. The infertile, gays, singles, anyone who wants a child can have one manufactured through "reproductive technology." An embryo created in a test tube and carried by a "surrogate" has brought parenthood to Mathew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Elton John, Ricky Martin, and countless other celebrities and pedestrians with enough cash to hire someone to carry their baby.
What's lost in media stories about these happy "parents" is the effect on the women who carry their babies, many of them poor Indian women. "There is a dark underbelly to the surrogacy industry" writes conservative columnist Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post:
"And it is a business -- including a burgeoning industry that preys on vulnerable women, commodifying them as 'ovens.'...Never mind repercussions for the children themselves, who may have as many as five 'parents,' from the egg and sperm donors, to the woman who carries them to the couple or the single parent who adopts them.
..."While no one wishes to cause pain to people who, for whatever reason, can't have a child on their own, there are more compelling principles and consequences in play. Human babies are not things, their mothers are not ovens. But bartering and selling babies-to-order sure make them seem that way. By turning the miracle of life into a profit-driven, state-regulated industry, the stork begin to resemble a vulture."
The Center for Bioethics and Culture coined the term, eggsploitation, noting: "Harvesting 'eggs is an onerous, invasive, and painful procedure" with serious health risks including infection, kidney failure, stroke, and even death. In addition to risking women's health, egg donation creates human beings who may never know their genetic origins and leaves women wondering about the children they may have created.
We are uncomfortable with, but find more acceptable, surrogacy, where the eggs and sperm belong to the intended parents. In the case of the celebrities above, the biological parentage of the offspring created is unknown. Clearly gay couples use harvested eggs.
We recognize that long as big bucks can be made through supplying children to those whose desire for a child and physical abilities do not coincide, families created artificially through adoption or technology will continue. What should not continue, however, is the exploitation of women: taking advantage of their poverty and ignorance. Laws need to be enacted so that women are fully informed about the effect of carrying another's child on themselves and their child.--jane
The Center for Bioethics and Culture, a think tank that "addresses bioethical issues that most profoundly affect our humanity, especially issues that arise in the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
A Girl Like Her
Donaldson Adoption Institute, "Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process" 2006
The Center for Bioethics and Culture: Victory for Women in New Jersey
Eggsploitation: The infertility industry has a dirty little secret
Northwest Surrogacy Center
Child Information Gateway, "Adoption Disruption and Dissolution, 2012
More on Baby M from a psychiatrist who defended her mother, MaryBeth Whitehead
Action is the sincerest form of thanks
Surrogate Mother Wins Right to Sue for Custody; Police Chief Sentenced for Stealing Surrogate Items
Making babiest to make ends meet
Egg Donor or Egg Seller: Fulfilling Another Woman's Dreams or Filling Your Pockets?
The Child Catchers exposes the stench of international adoption--and domestic adoption too
Utah agency places cast-off international adoptees
Joyce Maynard's adoption "disruption"
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade A remarkably well-researched and accomplished book. (The New York Times Book Review)
Birthmothers: Women Who Have Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories by Merry Block Jones: Despite the media attention on Fessler's book as "the first one to tell the story" of first mothers, Merry Bloch Jones wrote a wonderful book along the same lines in 1993, more than a decade earlier than Fessler's book, and gives a more comprehensive picture of the effect of relinquishing a child as it analyzes the effects and draws conclusions about the corrosive effect of relinquishment on women. I was brought to tears more than once while reading this book as I recognized myself in her analysis.--Lorraine
"Often revealing their experiences for the first time, 72 American mothers who gave up their babies answered questionnaires and participated in in-depth interviews with sociologist Jones ( Step Mother ) for this searching study. Although their ages and backgrounds vary widely, almost all of the mothers, the author notes, share regrets about their decision to relinquish their babies, with a majority reporting troubled marriages. Most traumatized among those interviewed were teenagers too young to have a voice in the decision to surrender the baby, or who felt stigmatized by illegitimacy. Sixty percent of those who gave up a baby to adoption agencies that "seal" records later sought to locate their children. A chapter titled "Finding, Winning and Losing" sums up the obstacles to establishing intimacy after reunion, and discusses relationships between birth parents and adoptive parents.--From Publishers Weekly
Birthmark Lorraine's book preceded them all, published in 1979 to great controversy: "...The book is a spectacular addition to feminist literature. Dusky's experiences are not new: her self doubts about her desire for a career; her wish to have been born a man; her affair with a married man; her guilt about her pregnancy. She describes these experiences with such openness and raw emotion, without polemics or self-conscious feminist attitudes, that the impact of the book is overwhelming."--Library Journal