This was a first for the OWLS list which typically includes job openings, requests for referrals to other lawyers, and recommendations for nannies, plumbers, and other services, but it shouldn't be a surprise. Many more couples are in the baby hunt than there are babies, particularly with foreign countries curtailing intercountry adoptions.
I was about to fire back a comment when I realized that the attorney who posted on the OWLS list and Erin and Dan don't wear black hats; they're just misinformed. And they have company with the majority of Americans who get their information about adoption from the billion-dollar adoption industry--adoption agency staff and adoption attorneys--who make their living off of transferring children from one set of parents to another.
LET'S NOT CALL HER A ' BIRTH MOTHER' UNTIL SHE IS ONE
Rather than a cause for anger, I saw this as First Mother's Forum's opportunity to educate those who might, just possibly, listen to those who live with adoption. Following is what I would like both the lawyer who posted the message helping to "get their message out" and Erin and Dan to know. I'm posting a link to this post on both the OWLS list and Erin and Dan's Facebook page. We'll see what happens.
Using the term "birth mother" for a woman who has not given birth, much less given up her baby, is not only incorrect, it is extremely offensive, suggesting that these women are incubators rather than mothers-to-be in a crisis, and for prospective adoptive parents, it's just a matter of finding them. A few pregnant women may decided to carry their babies to term and give them up from the moment they learn they are pregnant, but the popular image of Juno-like mothers-to-be is largely a fiction. Instead, most are vulnerable young women who are facing an unplanned and, at least initially, an unwanted pregnancy. They are not comfortable with abortion and decide (or are forced by parents, religious authorities, the baby's father) to consider adoption.
Women today give up their babies because they lack the resources, or are unaware of the financial help, that would allow them to keep their babies. They believe the rhetoric of the adoption industry, TV talk shows, advice columnists, and the like--that adoption is a "loving decision," and that their babies are better off being raised by biological strangers who are prepared to "parent"--which of course might be true in some cases. Many--if not most--of those who give up their babies regret it later. Of those who continue to believe they made the "right" decision, many suffer a hole in their hearts as the blogs of these women attest.
ALL ADOPTIONS SHOULD BE OPEN
Erin and Dan, in their quest to find a "birth mother," may view being flexible on openness in adoption as a way to increase their chances for attracting a pregnant woman. The purpose of openness, however, is primarily to benefit the child, not the first mother or adoptive parents; experts agree that unless openness poses a risk to the child, all adoptions should be open. Adoptees growing up in the closed adoption era overwhelming support openness, thus their continuing quest to change state laws sealing original birth certificates. After our reunion, my surrendered daughter often told me how hard is was growing up "not knowing" why she was given up or who her birth parents were. Being able to know your genetic roots, people who share your talents and interests, why you were given up, is a basic right and should not subjected to the whim of adoptive parents--or first parents--and certainly not legislators.
In explaining why they choose an independent (attorney-arranged) adoption rather than an agency adoption, Erin and Dan say:
"[R]reputable agencies...stated a singular commitment to the birth parents in guiding them through the adoption process. One agency essentially told us that as adoptive parents we really didn't have a voice in the adoption process....Agencies can do the work for you by identifying possible matches but we just couldn't get comfortable with the standard process and motivation of adoption agencies....An independent adoption allows us more control and involvement in the entire process. It also allows more control and involvement from the birth parents as they make their decision whether or not to pursue the adoption of their baby."Erin and Dan are simply wrong about both agency and independent adoptions; neither give true control or involvement to the birth parents. And their resentment of an agency's "singular commitment to the birth parents" shows a complete lack of sympathy for the people who may part with the most precious thing any of us have, a child.
An adoption agency's "commitment" to the parents-to-be, is not based on "a singular commitment to the birth parents" but instead on business necessity. Most adoption agencies seek out and groom vulnerable women to give up their babies because if the agencies don't get babies, they will shut down. Their clients are the prospective adoptive parents who pay their fee, not the confused and anxious parents-to-be. The agencies know, however, that if they come across as baby-snatchers, they will turn away the very people who supply the product agencies must have in order to stay in business, and so they present their services as benefits to those with unplanned pregnancies. The agencies serve prospective adoptive parents by coaching them on how to write "Dear Birth Mother" letters, and how to court expectant parents. As many who lost their babies to adoption will tell you, they felt in charge until they signed the papers; then they were yesterday's news.
LIP SERVICE TO HELP WOMEN KEEP THEIR BABIES
With few exceptions, adoption agencies give lip service to helping pregnant women find ways to keep their babies, instead telling them of the benefits to their child growing in a middle class home with mature parents. Few agencies tell mothers-to-be that adoption experts advocate for keeping a child within his biological family if possible.* They do not tell mothers of the lifelong impact that adoption will have on them and their children. We do, and we are often excoriated for doing so by some adoptive parents when they come upon First Mother Forum.
Mothers-to-be typically receive less information in independent adoptions that they would receive from state-licensed agencies. In some states, mothers don't have their own attorney. Even if they do, the attorney is paid by the adoptive parents, and usually selected by the prospective adoptive parents' attorney. The job of the attorney for the mother (and possibly the father) is to make sure she understands the consent document before she signs; otherwise it could be declared invalid by a judge. If the adoption is to be an open one with letters, photographs and visitations, that attorney would also negotiate the agreement, as well as any payment of birth-related expenses by the adopting parents. In Oregon, a mother is allowed to sign an irrevocable consent immediately after birth while she is still reeling from the aftereffects of having given birth. In many states, mothers have only a day or two before they may sign. In Washington and a few other states, they may sign before birth and have only a short time after birth to withdraw their consent.
Since I am an attorney myself, I happen to know many fine adoption attorneys. But they are not skilled counselors or social workers. They do not see their role as helping a mother find ways to nurture her child. While the laws of some states including Oregon may requires adoptive parents to pay for counseling for first parents, this counseling is likely to be post-adoption and designed to help the parents--usually just the mothers--adjust to losing their children, rather than before the adoption and focused on exploring ways of keeping their children.
Erin and Dan did post a couple of things on their Facebook page that we agree with. They decided against international adoption in part because "it is often probably best for a child to stay in their home country and become a member of their native culture."
FAMILY PRESERVATION RATHER THAN ANTI-ADOPTION
Erin and Dan also linked to an article in The New Republic, "Meet the New Anti-Adoption Movement: The surprising next frontier in reproductive justice" which is critical of the adoption industry. It describes the work of activists, including FMF, in reforming adoption laws to allow mothers adequate time to decide upon adoption, assuring adoptions are open, and unsealing original birth certificates. While we don't like the term "anti-adoption," preferring "adoption reform" or "family preservation," we were pleased to see that the movement is gaining attention, and read by people like Erin and Dan.
I understand Erin's and Dan's desire to adopt an infant, having known people who suffered from infertility. But adopting another woman's child and being part of the problem of the "shortage of adoptable babies" is not the answer. Children are not blank slates. Any child they adopt will not replace the child that they have been unable to have. Any child they adopt will not grow up sharing physical traits or a whole wealth of characteristics that will one day seem "odd." Social scientists now know that the likelihood that traits and predilections are shared with the adopting family is because they, through the luck of the draw, actually share genes predisposed to be one way rather than another, not because of influence in the home. And the likelihood of those shared traits is no greater than pure chance.
I remind Erin and Dan and OWLS members that, as Judge Virginia Linder of the Oregon Court of Appeals wrote, "the primary purpose of adoption is to provide a home for a child, not a child for a home."** Erin and Dan should focus their search on a child who needs them. A good place to start is Oregon's Department of Human Services. While the adoption industry may caution them against DHS kids, referring to them as Damaged Kids or DKs, these tales are exaggerated. DHS provides substantial training for those considering adoption. And, DHS provides a critical service which is not offered by adoption attorneys and offered only sparingly by adoption agencies, post-adoption support for the adoptive parents.-- jane
Note: Although Dan posted the comment below, he has not changed his Facebook page to reflect what he claims are their values and goals. We have removed Erin's and Dan's picture at their request. To see the picture of Erin and Dan previously posted and other family pictures, go to their Facebook page, Erin and Dan adopt.
The New Republic: "The Anti-Adoption Movement is the Next Reproductive Justice"
**McCulley v. Bone, 160 Or App 24, 52 (1999)
Oregon Department of Human Resources
*Adoption experts who advocate for keeping children with their natural families include the Donaldson Adoption Institute, the Child Welfare League of America, and social worker L. Anne Babb, author of Ethics in American Adoption.
Finding babies through Facebook. And your manicurist. And....
Why Ellen Page and the movie Juno bugs me--even years later
How the Internet is changing adoption
How adoption agencies 'turn' vulnerable women into spokespeople for relinquishing
Giving Up Your Baby?
Are Laws Tilted to Adopting Parents? Well, yes, even in Oregon
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Verrier
"As an adoptee, I could not have written this book better myself. It is an extremely insightful book which opened up a world of understanding to myself and also to my loved ones. It helped me understand why I am the way that I am, why I do some of the things that I do, why I struggle with love in my life, and why I have this subconscious fear of abandonment and trust...a definite "must read" for all parents of adopted children. You will learn to understand your adopted children and will be able to help them throughout their lives." Coco Ventura, on Amazon. Verrier is controversial to some, but the book continues to be a consistent seller.
Adoption and Loss - The Hidden Grief by Evelyn Burns Robinson
"Robinson poignantly and thoroughly describes the losses experienced by all of those whose lives have been affected by adoption separation and the grief that they suffer. The book is based on the author's personal experience as a mother who lost a child through adoption and her experience as a social worker who has worked extensively in the area of post-adoption counseling with adults. The book graphically describes the disenfranchised grief associated with adoption and suggests ways in which that hidden grief can be acknowledged and confronted." Amazon Highly recommended.
Order either by clicking on link or book jacket. Any orders at Amazon places through FMF portal are highly appreciated.