' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Our Christmas Gift: No rise in adoptions during lean times

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our Christmas Gift: No rise in adoptions during lean times

Christmas came early this year in the form of news that even in these lean times there has been no rise in adoptions. More women are keeping their babies.

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


  1. “I think 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,” Ms. Smith-Pliner explained, “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,” she continued. “You wake up every morning and there’s that beautiful baby.”

    Maybe I'm dense, but I honestly don't get what Ms. Smith-Pliner is saying here. I think she would have done herself a huge favor by just saying "I don't know".

    It’s a difficult decision, but something about it might feel good.

    What the...??? Good God, has she ever spoken to a woman who has surrendered her child? I made my decision with *no coercion*, knowing it was the right thing for me to me, and it never felt good.

    And even in this statement, babies end up sounding like commodities.

  2. Thanks for pointing that out Maura, it kind of escaped my notice.

    what was that woman thinking writing that?

    Who gives up their child so that their life can be improved??? It's not about your life it's about the baby....

    Sorry am I wrong here? Who relinquished so that their life could be better, so that they could do well for themselves??

    I relinquished because at the time I felt I was not qualified to be her mother, I did not feel mature enough to parent and truly believed the people who adopted her were superior to me. I also believed they were more deserving of her.

    I rellinquished her because I thought it would give her a chance. It had nothing to do with me wanting to do well.

    All the stuff I wrote is what I fed day in and day out by other people and fed to myself. Brainwashed.

    Still confused, not sure if it was better for her to have been adopted. Too late to change it now.

    YEAH dumb reporter, why don't they ask mothers, that would make a nice article.

    So if you are not going to get a good job you may as well keep your baby? OMG how stupid is that?

    Does it get more stupid than that?

    I bet it can....

  3. Everybody, please resist from name calling. We do not have the power to edit comments, and do not wish to not post a comment because of a careless remark but it does happen. And will.

  4. Lorraine your post said "encouragement to relinquish their babies and make them feel better about doing it: that someday their children might be "proud" of them" and it struck a huge gong in my head.

    For many years, in order to get through this ordeal, I used the coping skills I learned in foster care.

    1 - Never let anyone in close enough to cause real pain (except I let my spouse in).

    2 - Never want anything, it won't be there.

    3 - Live only for yourself, because you are the only one that counts.

    That was on the outside. The inside was a whole different line. I lived for the day I could search. I looked at every child who would even remotely be similar to mine with a care that made some mothers uncomfortable. I still do not go near the baby section of any store. I never said outright that I did not have my daughter with me, but simply acted as if she was there. Basically, I lived in a fantasy.

    But your words, they woke up something I told myself, right up until the moment I found my daughter. "She would be proud of me because I went to college and was in the Army and, and, and...." It was my way of keeping my fantasy of what reunion would be like alive.

    But, like all things, this too ends. Now, I go to school for me. I do things because I want to and because I am proud of myself.

    Yes, she is proud of me, even when she is a little afraid that I am "too good" for her.

    Maybe our relationship is strange. Unlike most I seem to have to be vulnerable to be real to her. Yet, no clay feet, just very much human.

    I love a line from a book - "Wizard's First Rule" - it goes something like this: People will believe what they want to believe, no matter how improbable. A person will question those beliefs."

    In other words, this columnist, who wrote quite eloquently about how things are bad for the industry (slavery is always an industry), made statements that scared young women and their over protective, usually confused parents want to believe. That one day, maybe, their child will be proud. Or that if it is an open adoption it is somehow less painful.

    Regardless, this is the institution of lies. And, simply put, it is easy to follow and difficult to lead. For following is simply putting your feet in the same steps as those before you. Leading is making your own path.

    JMHO - Thoughts

  5. Lorraine, my apologies for getting rather...uh, strident... in my comment. It wasn't my goal to set a critical tone.

    And this: knowing it was the right thing for me to me should be "knowing it was the right thing for me to do".

  6. Sorry Lorraine, it could have been said a bit less passionately.

  7. I called the wrong person and idiot too, must apologize about that. I thought the reporter made all those ridiculous comments about why women relinquish. It was actually someone who is a spokeswoman for an adoption agency.

    That makes it even worse, she's supposed to work in adoption and have contact with women who relinquish all the time.

    How insulting that she thinks they do that because they want to make their lives easier.

    Oh well, not going to be annoyed about someone who is a so called adoption professional helping talking to the media and creating even more misunderstanding about relinquishing mothers.

  8. KimKim said: "Who gives up their child so that their life can be improved?"

    I can't speak for my mother especially since I have only talked to her through an intermediary, but my impression is that this was at least part of her reasoning. Yes, she also wanted me to have that oft-promised "better life," but I think she was too ashamed of how her family would react, how it would stifle her future prospects and how that would reflect on them. She was the oldest child and no doubt expected to be an example to her brothers and sisters. She was also 24 and a college graduate with her career ahead of her. I think she grabbed onto the false promises of adoption with both hands because they offered her a way out of the situation. And I don't blame her for that. Given the brainwashing of the industry I would have been surprised if she'd been able to resist it. Becoming a successful professional may have been a way for her to dilute, in her own mind, the social stigma of being an unwed mother.

    I for one am glad more women are keeping their babies. If we took even a fraction of the funds that go toward promoting adoption and redirected them toward helping mothers in need, what a difference that would make!

    As for "product," I have no problem with the usage of the word whatsoever. It's a stark fact that adoptees are marketable commodities, bought and sold like anything else. If that makes people uncomfortable, good. Maybe it will make them take a closer look at the less savory aspects of adoption.

  9. Triona that's right you can't speak for your mother. But you have of course every right to your opinion. I am sorry you have not had the chance to speak to her, that is not nice.

    Maybe it was a reason for her but not *the* reason, I doubt it was the main reason she relinqushished you. I could be wrong of course. Maybe I see to much good in other people, I don't know.

    Are less women relinquishing now? I hope so.

  10. As an adoptive mom, it breaks my heart to see what birthmothers go through. I lost my bio son, who was born without a left ventricle, and I can empathize with those of you who have been cut off from your children with little hope of being reunited .

    My daughter's birthmom found us through an ad I placed without agency help and she told me that if I didn't take Teagan, she would be taken away by the state when she was born and she wanted to have a choice in where she ended up. We developed a strong friendship during the course of her pregnancy and it broke my heart when she cut off contact with us shortly after our daughter was born (she is OUR daughter- Mine, My husband's, and Liz's).

    I will never hide my information to prevent her from finding me and I hope that if she needs me, she can find me. I also made sure she knows how to get in touch with my parents if she can't find me. The last I heard, she was arrested for being transient and I found the police report too late to do anything for her. When Teagan is old enough to ask questions, I will be honest with her and make sure she knows she is loved by everyone involved.

    I understand your anger at the adoption industry and sometimes look at adoption sites that have birthmothers listed like an online shopping center. I would like my family to grow through adoption, but I believe that I have a responsibility to my daughter and future children that I do it in a way that protects everyone involved, including the birthmother. Do you guys believe that adoptions can be handled ethically or even that at some points, they are in the best interest of those involved? My daughter is African American and it breaks my heart that a lot of adoption sites promote what I feel is a sort of "Black kids at a discount" program based on the fact that they're not viewed as desirable unless they actually come from Africa.

    I'd be interested to learn of any positive experiences you've had with the families of your children or whether you've been able to participate in their lives as they've grown. I wish I could share Teagan's life with her Birthmom.



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