' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: The Case for More Time Before Signing Surrender Papers

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Case for More Time Before Signing Surrender Papers

Why does a mother need time after a baby is born before she irrevocably signs him away? What is wrong with prospective adoptive parents being at the hospital when the baby is born, wrong with them cutting the physical cord that connects mother and child? Just about everything. The pressure on a mother to "make a nice couple happy" and relinquish her child can be overwhelming. Recently one of us heard a legislator say: "Why does she [a mother, a birth mother] need time after the baby is born before she signs the papers? She's had seven months to think about it."

Off with his head! 

Only someone who has never given birth would say something that stupid. Only someone who doesn't know what it is like to have a baby in your body, of your body, come out of you and be a living breathing person who is connected to you in a way that no one else will ever be. Fellow blogger and attorney Jane Edwards is working to change legislation to help mothers in Oregon not lose their children by extending the time before they can sign relinquishment papers, and help them afterward if they were coerced into doing so. (See previous blog: Yes we can reform state adoption laws!)

On this topic, what follows is a section of the memoir I am currently rewriting. 

By Lorraine Dusky
copyright (c) 2010

Many of you must remember this movie from a couple years ago, Juno, that a lot of us first mothers can’t get out of our heads. It made pregnancy with a child you’re going to give up such a slap-happy kind of affair, Eggo rhymes to pre-go, not even remotely depressing except for a couple of moments. It was black humor all way. The name was Juno was taken from that of the goddess of sexuality, fertility, marriage in Roman mythology. Nice touch, I admit. But the movie? 

I watched alone, on my TV with growing dread as the scenes unfolded. The eponymous lead, Juno, finds the adoptive parents in a penny saver, flirts over groovy music with the adoptive dad-to-be, is not upset with the boy who impregnated her—in fact her teen crush remains intact—and except for one quick scene at the hospital, the whole matter is played to seem like not such a big deal. Screen writer Diablo Cody was quoted as saying that she imagines it would have been like that if she had gotten pregnant in high school. Too bad she didn’t. Different movie. 

She would know then about the hormones that have you preparing your nest for your newborn. Days before giving birth I woke up full of energy and scrubbed my apartment to the point where it would have passed any white-glove test. I washed windows, put down fresh shelf paper, vacuumed cobwebs from behind furniture. Patrick [my daughter's father] was amused. He said that kind of thing often happened just before the baby was born, he didn’t know why, but it did. 

I never thought much of his comment until I caught this headline in The New York Times: “Nesting with a Vengeance (and a Deadline).” * The story was about how women just before giving birth are dripping with oxytocin, the “nesting hormone,” which leads them to renovate, paint, clean, get their home ship shape. For the baby. Oxytocin is thought to be responsible for maternal attachment, the piece stated, “Without it, mammals do not bond with their young, or prepare nests for them.”

Or prepare nests for them. While I was the cleaning dynamo, I did not take into account that I was not bringing my baby home; all I knew was that something in me was saying: Clean! Fix up! My maternal drive was on automatic, I could not turn off the mothering neurotransmitters the way you flip a switch. My body did not know that this one, this baby that was days away, was not for keeping.

* Kate Murphy, “Nesting with a Vengeance (and a Deadline),”The New York Times, Home and Garden, March 27, 2008.


  1. I have heard that oxytocin helps your milk come in and causes the let-down reflex when the baby is hungry, so I must have had lots of it, breastfeeding successfully even when I did not know anything about breastfeeding with the first child I raised, and my milk was coming in for a month with the one I surrendered despite dry up shots.I did not lack hormones.

    There is nothing on earth that would cause me to fanatically clean house, though:-) Didn't do that with any of my kids. Haven't done it since either. There is nothing I hate more than housework.I guess I lack the nesting instinct:-(

    Instincts aside, it is plain wrong to make a mother sign a surrender right after birth. Give her time to recover, about 6 weeks till the first checkup. Don't let prospective adoptive parents in the delivery room or hospital. Plenty of time for that later after the mother makes an unoerced choice to surrender. If she decides to keep her child, nobody's expectations are dashed.

  2. As always, thank you for your post. You raise a very important subject.

    FYI - and related to your topic, I came upon an "embryo adoption" blog by a "genetic mother" who writes about placing embryos for adoption and how difficult it is. She writes, "During the relinquishment process, (which I believe takes place in bits and pieces, up until months after a baby is born) I don’t think it’s emotionally possible for both parties to support each other. There is a process going on that makes it so you’re at odds with each other. Neither party should feel bad or guilty about how they are dealing with their part of the process. The Adopting Family should feel happiness, joy, and excitement over the arrival of their baby without feeling guilty. Also, the Genetic Family should fully grieve the loss of parenting that child without feeling guilty...I think it’s okay to meet the Adopting Family and be in direct contact to complete the contract process, but then I would limit contact from there, until months after a baby is born. An important process is going to take place during that time. The Adopting Family will be bonding with their baby and experiencing all the joys that go with a pregnancy and the Genetic Family will be going through a relinquishment process. I think it’s best to not have expectations of each other during that time."


  3. I find that most people don't get that connection, the cleaning freak out and immenent delivery, very well. I do. I woke up one day and redid our room (I would have done the house but the foster parents would have shot me). Then, when I ran out of things to do in the house, I mowed the lawn and trimmed the bushes....It had to be perfect. I didn't know what it was either.

    I watched Juno and I thought one thing - what a pathetic hodge podge of fantasies it was.


  4. slyzesslMaryanne wrote "Give her time to recover, about 6 weeks till the first checkup." *
    Totally agree. As under article 5 of the European Convention on the Adoption of Children:

    "A mother’s consent to the adoption of her child shall be valid when it is given at such time after the birth of the child, not being less than six weeks, as may be prescribed by law, or, if no such time has been prescribed, at such time as, in the opinion of the competent authority, will have enabled her to recover sufficiently from the effects of giving birth to the child."

    * in a supportive and non-coercive environment.


  5. I could not bring myself to see 'Juno' because I knew I would be angry and triggered and, after reading the reviews of many mothers, I am glad I didn't. Back when we were giving birth by the thousands in the BSE, they just managed to keep us away from our infants as much as possible. Now, they are driving the wedge of pity and obligation between the mother and the child. The practice of the adopters being in the labor room, present at delivery and cutting the cord is barbaric, cruel and, somehow, creepy. Give that mother time to know what she might lose. Good blog, Lorraine.

  6. I am all for a waiting period AFTER the baby is born.
    now about Juno... no one that I have ever spoken to or read has ever mentioned the sterotypical parents. Teen-father's mother gave Juno a couple of looks that "could kill" for *disgrassing/trying to "trap" her son; and Juno's parents - tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumb. Juno's parents are the Whatever type... going on with their business and leaving pretty much all the heavy thinking to Juno. Wasn't that one of the things that most parents of the teen-mom were afraid of - that the community would see them as bad (uninvolved) parents who's kid was out taking advantage of good boys?? What will the neighbors think? - sound familiar??

  7. Both the comments about Juno are right on. What was so terrible about the movie is its wide acceptance among people--today's adopting class--and it furthered the idea that giving up a child is not so bad. I had an email discussion with my sixteen year old granddaughter [daughter of the daughter I surrendered] over its implications after it came out. And I could see that she thought, well....

    In my darkest thoughts I'd like to run into Diablo Cody some night in a dark alley.

  8. I haven't seen Juno (too triggering) but I think this is what happens when people use adoption as a mere plot point without thinking about how it actually affects real, live people in real, live ways (and not always for the better).

    Of course Hollywood was all over it because it perpetuates all the stereotypical myths. Try getting a novel published or a movie produced that deals with adoption in not-so-savory ways... much harder.

    I got the nesting instinct with my kids, but mostly I was filled with utter dread: DO NOT TAKE MY CHILD. The maternity ward was a panic zone for me, especially the first time. The second time was not as hard, partly because I had a boy (e.g. not repeating my own history) and partly because it was at the same hospital and by then I was comfortable with it. But being adopted definitely impacted having my own kids. I was terrified someone would steal them from me even though I had no reason to think so. It was totally instinctual and I attribute it to being separated from my mother as a newborn (she never held nor nursed me).

  9. Two days after Christmas, when my water broke and my parents took me to the hospital to give birth to my oldest son who I gave up to adoption, my mother made the comment in the car on the way that she knew it was time because for the two days before, I scrubbed my room, rearranged everything, made the bathrooms in the house sparkle and washed every stitch of clothing in the hampers.

    I also happened to spend my labor delivery, and post-delivery with my son's adoptive mom there for everything - including flowers being sent to my room congratulating her for her new baby.

    Yeah, that wreaks hell on you, especially when you realize after holding your child the last thing you want to do is give him away to anyone to raise but you do anyhow because you can't bear to hurt the adoptive parents feelings. It truly does suck.

    And my surrender was signed before I ever walked out of the hospital.

    Oh, and I could never bring myself to watch more than a couple minutes of that horrid movie.

  10. Mark I don't see the connection between a mother who has an unplanned pregnancy and is feeling desperate, alone, unsupported and coerced into adoption is connected to a woman who donates embryos?

    Sure the two are loosely connected if you want to really be microscopically specific but one child is planned and created specifically to be donated and the other well if you read here you get the picture. The two situations are also worlds apart.

    I find it really creepy what you wrote, I'm sure it wasn't intened that way but yeah, not cool. Not appropriate or sensitive to mothers who experience grief and loss because of adoption.

  11. So many people do not realize how adoption-centered our society can be. I would love to post a link to this blog entry on my own blog as it echoes my own story from 1999.


  12. I was never a cleaning maniac so I can't really relate to this, and I didn't see Juno I just can't as a birthmother. The only thing positive I can say about it(from the point of view of someone who hasn't seen it of course) is that maybe it shows the pregnancy and birth as normal and not different from everyone else What is different is the separation of mother and baby and breaking a basic law of nature. When my son was born it was the happiest day of my life I couldn't believe that something this good could happen to me and the overwhelming love but ANYONE can be brainwashed When a friend of mine (who is married to an adopted person) said to me'I would never do that' I replied 'Well,I guess you're just better than me' When I got severely depressed after my son was gone, her husband used to taunt me with 'It's not nice to fool Mother Nature' That used to make me so mad, but, you know, he's right.


    Even if you disagree with us.

  14. Cassie: Flowers sent to the adopting mother at the hospital? I just read that again and can not get over the insensitivity of that act. My heart hugs you, salutes you for your pain.

  15. Anonymous mentioned how her friend would wonder how anyone could 'do that'. ( I presume I am interpeting correctly as in 'how could anyone give their baby away)
    I come across that as well,any thoughts on how to respond? I remember papers before my baby was born, and then one paper less than 24 hours after she was born, and that was it. I have lately discovered that the family who adopted her collected her directly from the hospital.

  16. This is so crazy. I found my daughter on Facebook yesterday. I am a Gladney birthmother. I am so blessed she is happy to speak to me I never dreamed this day would come. I am struggling with telling her my experience because I want nothing but happiness for her. Her parents seem wonderful and she is healthy and happy. They are grateful to have been blessed with her. When I start saying out loud my experience it is a horrible reality. I feel sick seeing negative postings online about the agency. Not because I don't agree. It makes me sick to think I was not one of a few but one of many who was taken advantage of. This is bitter sweet for me because God blessed her with a wonderful outcome. He has blessed me with being able to have her in my life. But the way the adoption played out was a horrible violation of my life.

  17. I don't think I have seen any movie either before or after Juno that offended me so much. Her cavalier, indifferent attitude to her pregnancy and child was infuriating. She treated the experience as if it was just a blip on the radar screen of her life that she had to tolerate for 9 months. I was quite annoyed when she insisted on a closed adoption thinking "how nice that she doesn't even take into consideration that the child may want to know his/her first parents when s/he grows up. And picking PAPs out of the Pennysaver. Wow, how thoughtful, responsible and caring. I really feel sorry for any child with fparents like this. Also, the ending where Juno and her bf were strumming their guitars as if the whole experience had no impact on them and that life goes on. What pro-adoption propoganda.

    And I do agree with you all that any mother should have at least 6 weeks to recover from the stress of childbirth and the hormonal roller coaster before she can legally surrender a child for adoption. The fact that so many potential fmothers would probably change their minds is probably why those agencies and attorneys want the papers signed so fast.



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