' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: First Mother Forum in USA Today and The Adoption Option Revisted

Sunday, January 30, 2011

First Mother Forum in USA Today and The Adoption Option Revisted

See LORRAINE'S VIEWPOINTS today : I share Oprah's mom's shame and pain AT USA Today. Please leave comments there; our side needs affirmation, not only from adoptees and first mothers but adoptive parents who understand the rights of the adopted to know the truth of their origins. SOME HAVE REPORTED A PROBLEM COMMENTING AT USA TODAY SITE; I'VE ASKED FOR HELP AND WILL TRY TO HAVE PROBLEM FIXED. (2:52 p.m.)

While we have written about The Adoption Option before, we are sending this rebuttal to it to John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and later this will be posted as as  permanent page at First Mother Forum.

By Lorraine Dusky and Jane Edwards

Making adoption more attractive to women with unplanned pregnancies is a “worthwhile goal,” according to the liberal think tank, The Center for American Progress. A recent publication, The Adoption Option: Adoption Won’t Reduce Abortion but It Will Expand Women’s Choices (October, 2010), argues for  government support for “ensuring that adoption remains an ethical and effective option” while recognizing that increasing voluntary infant adoptions, (approximately 14, 000 a year), would not impact the number of abortions annually (1.2 million).

We vehemently disagree. Yes, some will find their lives easier without the hassles of child care, but that does not take into account the fallout for both the mothers and the children so adopted. Adoptee and birth mother organizations, poignant memoirs from both first mothers[1] and adoptees,[2] as well as numerous psychological studies[3] attest to the enormous pitfalls and life-long consequences for the two individuals at the heart of any adoption: mother and child. That a liberal policy institute, the Washington D. C.-based Center for American Progress, takes such a stand is both shocking and offensive: Women should not be encouraged to part with their children, and certainly the government should not be involved in furthering such a policy.

Instead, the government, or private institutions, should find ways to help those who need assistance to raise their children. Yet the tacit implication of the report is that mothers-to-be are less aware of adoption as an option. This is absurd. Everyone of even modest intelligence is aware that adoption is an option—there are ads for babies in weekly newspapers and penny savers, on restaurant place mats, on numerous websites; television and movies further glamorize adoption. Only a moron would think that the “adoption option” was not readily available.

In spite of this the publication urges Congress to “provide grants to establish national public education campaigns to accurately inform the public about adoption and its potential benefits for all involved.” Quite frankly, we are speechless. The only long term benefit we can see is that adoption agencies, always short of healthy infants available for adoption, will have their orders more readily filled, that middle class women and men will find it easier to get a baby.

The report focuses on a 1997 study, “The Consequences of Placing versus Parenting Among Unmarried Women [4] stating that two-thirds of teen mothers participating in adoptions “reported a feeling of peace about their decision and were very certain they would make the same decision again. This means that a full third of the women were not at peace with their decision to relinquish their children. The report also fails to note that a third of the original participants could not be located to complete the survey four years later, ten percent of the women who surrendered their babies reported a great deal of regret while ninety percent of the women who kept their babies reported no regret. This is a “success” rate only if you are comparing the price of widgets, not emotional impact and subsequent depression.

Furthermore, the mothers in this study were surveyed four years after relinquishment, and for many the full extent of their grief is not realized until years later. Through various social networks, we hear from these women many years later and they write and talk of the emotional devastation that the surrender of their children has wrought throughout their lives. In numerous letters from first mothers collected years after surrender, “there was still the intensity of feeling and the need to describe the pain, still carried within…. Even if the birth parents had become comfortable with the decision [to relinquish] because there were no  viable alternatives, they nevertheless felt loss, pain, mourning and a continuing sense of caring for that long vanished child.”[5]

Because the mothers in this study were teenagers living in a maternity home during their pregnancy, the authors of the original research cautioned that generalizations from the findings should be limited to girls in these circumstances; yet the report suggests the findings would be applicable to all mothers who relinquish.

The report also states that the young women participating in the survey surrendered their children in “open” adoptions; yet nothing in the original study says they were participating in so-called open adoptions. There are no follow-up studies on the success or failure of open adoptions from the first mother’s viewpoint, as no reliable study has been able to find and survey a representative sampling. However, the anecdotal but overwhelming evidence that has come to our attention is that the vast majority of these adoptions close soon after the adoptions are finalized. Adoptive parents deny access to the child, stop sending information and photographs, or simply fade away without leaving a forwarding address or a listed phone number. As for these women? The report admits that these women suffer the “poorest grief resolutions.” In plain English, that means coming to terms with the disheartening and regretful reality that their children are lost to them, no matter what the agreement was with the adoptive parents.

The proposed solution? State-funded mediation services to resolve open adoption conflicts. But the reality is if adoptive parents are unwilling to cooperate or cannot be found, first mothers have little to no recourse since they typically lack funds to hire private detectives to track down the reneging adoptive parents, or hire an attorney to pursue whatever legal recourse they might have, and, in most states, that amounts to none at all

As for the overall mental health of first mothers following surrender, the most comprehensive follow-up survey comes from the British Association for Adoption & Fostering, the primary UK-wide membership organization for all those concerned with adoption, fostering and child care issues. Researchers were able to document the overall devastating impact of relinquishing a child by finding first mothers decades later: “While only an insignificant proportion of birth mothers had been diagnosed with a mental health problem before adoption (three percent), in the time between the parting and contact, 24 percent had psychiatric diagnosis mainly for depression, with half of them having inpatient treatment.”[6]The Adoption Option does cite a 2006 study from the E. B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents, which reiterates these findings: “a significant portion of women who placed children … [in closed adoptions] have experienced chronic, unresolved grief.” [7] However, Jessica Arons, the author of The Adoption Option, ignored  these findings in her attempt to put an upbeat spin on adoption for the first mother.

What the report does not discuss is the most telling of all: the lifelong impact on being relinquished on those so relinquished in infancy to be adopted. It distressingly fails to include that adoption experts unanimously agree that keeping children within their natural families, except in extreme and exceptional cases, is unquestionably in the best interests of the children. We offer a few sources here, expert opinion is emphatic on the point: “The birth family constitutes the preferred means of providing family life for children,” Child Welfare League of America, Standards of Excellent for Adoption Services[8]; “Every society, including our own, accepts that it is generally in the best interests of children to be raised by their biological parents unless they cannot or do not wish to do so,” Donaldson Adoption Institute, Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents[9]; “Every attempt should be made to preserve the family of origin, and when family preservation is not possible, to safely place the child in the extended family,” Anne Babb, Ph.D. Ethics in American Adoption.[10]

The reforms proposed in The Adoption Option are supposedly designed to encourage more women to select the “adoption option.” Reforms are needed but the goal should be to decrease infant adoptions. The United States has a significantly higher adoption rate than Western Europe and Australia primarily because it fails to support families and prevent shoddy, unethical practices of the adoption industry. By way of example how skewed the adoption option is, in the U.S., we have a population about 5.7 times greater than that of England and Wales but more than a hundred times the number of voluntary infant adoptions each year.[11] This is not only unnecessary, but catastrophic.

Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted DaughterThe report stresses the importance of unbiased counseling but it fails to address who should pay for the counseling. Adoption agencies, funded largely by prospective adoptive parents, typically do provide counseling, but as they are looking for "product" for their clients, such counseling obviously has a built-in conflict of interest. Adoption agencies often supply mothers with services such as housing and medical care, but then threaten nearly destitute mothers with having to repay these costs—thousands of dollars-- if they change their minds and keep their babies.

While recommending that expectant mothers have independent legal counsel, the report again ignores the funding question. Currently, mothers’ attorneys are paid by prospective adoptive parents--creating yet another conflict of interest. True unbiased counseling and effective legal services can exist only when funded by an independent source, not connected with the adoption industry.

The Adoption Option recommends mothers have three days after birth before they sign consents to adoption and one week to revoke their consent. While an improvement over the laws of many states, this is still far too short for a mother to recover from hormonal changes after birth fully or reconsider what resources she might find to help her keep her baby. The Donaldson Institute recommends a considerable longer period: “Parents [should] have several weeks after childbirth before an adoption decision becomes irrevocable. Ideally, this would include a minimum of one week after birth before a relinquishment can be signed and then a substantial revocation period.”Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents.[12]

Notably, the report offers no remedies for women who lose their babies through coercion, pressure, or bias. Unless mothers have the legal ability to get their babies back when their rights are violated, there’s little to deter sleazy adoption practices, even at seemingly reputable agencies.  

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self“Mutual consent registries” and “search and consent laws” are promoted in the report to protect “the minority of women who want to remain secret and do not wish to be contacted. But all evidence points to the fact that sealed records laws were enacted to protect adoptive parents, not first mothers. Birth records of adoptees are sealed upon adoption, not relinquishment. There is no moral reason to deny adult adoptees the right granted to the non-adopted, that is the absolute right to know who gave birth to them, what their life stories are, and how they fit into the tree of life. Without this base of self-knowledge, the best experts in the field agree that adoptees will face a dislocation struggle that may become a source of great disturbance and depression in their lives.

The report concludes by asking “whether it is a legitimate policy goal to seek to increase the adoption rate?

The answer is unequivocally no.

The report continues: “After all, in an ideal world where every woman had the resources necessary to plan wanted pregnancies, cope with unexpected pregnancies, and end unwanted pregnancies or medically complicated pregnancies, even fewer women would likely choose to have a child placed for adoption.”

Increasing the adoption rate should never be a policy goal, and is only a step away on the continuum that leads to the “one-child” only policy of China. The United States should strive for the “ideal world,” a state which already achieved in Western Europe and Australia. Despite the deficit facing the United States today, keeping mothers and children together is well within our capabilities, or should be. It is the humane thing to do. It is the right thing to do. It must be the goal of an ethical, humane society.

Lorraine Dusky of Sag Harbor, New York is an award-winning journalist and the author of Birthmark and several other books. Jane Edwards of Portland, Oregon is an attorney and a contributor to family law publications. Both are reunited first mothers together they write a popular blog, First Mother Forum.

[1] Dusky, Lorraine, Birthmark, (1979); Carol Schaefer, The Other Mother (1991); Moorman, Margaret, Waiting to Forget (1996); Guttman, Jane, The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow (1999); Hall, Meredith, Without a Map (2007); et. al.
[2] Lifton, Betty Jean, Twice Born (1975); Strauss, Jean, Birthright (1994); Green, Tim A Man and His Mother (1997); Saffian, Sarah, Ithaka (1999); et al.
Waiting to Forget: A Motherhood Lost and Found[3] Deykin, E.Y., L. Campbell, & P. Patti (1984) The post adoption experiences of surrendering parents. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 54(2):271-280; Pannor, R., A. Baran, & A. D. Sorosky. (1978) Birth parents who relinquished babies for adoption revisited. Family Process 17:329-337 (Sept); Rynearson, E. (1982). Relinquishment and its maternal complications: A preliminary study. American Journal of Psychiatry 139:338-340; Sobol, M. P. & K. J. Daly. (1992). The adoption alternative for pregnant adolescents: Decision making, consequences, and policy implications. Journal of Social issues 48(3):143-161; Watson, K. (1986). Birth families: Living with the adoption decision. Public Welfare 5-10.
[4] Namerow ,Pearila Brickner, Debra Kalmus, & Linda Cushman, Families and Adoption  (The Haworth Press, Inc) pps. 175-197.
[5] Sorosky,A. D., Annette Baran, & Ruben Pannor The Adoption Triangle (1989) p. 72
[6] Triseliotis, John, Julia Feast, & Fiona Kyle, The Adoption Triangle Revisited (2005), p. 91.
[7] Smith, Susan. “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being in the Adoption Process”, (2006) p. 6
[8] (2000), p. 13.
[9]  P. 9.
[10] (1999), p. 138
[11] There were 93 children under the age of one in 2009 and 119 in 2008 compared to approximately 14,000 in the US each year. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/StatBase/Product.asp?vlnk=15049. The population of the US is 310 million; England and Wales, 54 million, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/England_and_Wales.
[12] P. 9


  1. Beautiful! Powerful! Perfect!

    I did think of one other issue, though. It is unfair and misleading to give first mothers a false sense of security that their children will want to have a relationship with them later. There are plenty of adoptees who feel, "my mother gave me away, why would I want to have a relationship with her now?". I wonder if so-called "open" adoption is promoting the idea that the mother and child can just pick up again later when the child is 18. In many cases this will not be possible.

  2. Robin: thanks for your affirmation. There are a lot of other issues; Jane and I tried to stick to those brought up in the original piece. In fact, I tried to get more in about other evidence for openness, and Jane pointed out we were getting off point.

  3. Ladies, well done. Great research and definitely something that should be passed around and held up for perusal by those that are unable to see things without the black and white.

    I would like to link this to the Adoption EDU blog - it is definitely something that is important to share with as many people as possible.

  4. I am trying to post at the USATODAY article but it is not going through. So I will add it here:

    Thanks Lorraine for sharing your thoughts, experience, and feelings on this.

    For adoptees, there is a great deal of shame involved in this whole process as well. We are asked "why isn't your Adoptive Family 'good enough' that you need to search?" We are seen as being careless and disruptive; as intending to upset the mother for whom we search on our own quest of wholeness of identity and geneological continuity. We carry the shame of society who views us as needing to forsake all else to validate the parenthood of those who adopted us. When, in fact, we are more than capable of loving more than one set of parents, more than considerate in our search, and more than entitled to the truth about our entire lives.

    We never asked for our lives and information to be left behind. Neither did our mothers. The state and society decided what we'd be "better off" not knowing; and they were wrong.

    There should be no secrecy in adoption. As Lorraine has clearly expressed, it does no good. From an adoptee point of view, I can tell you it does no good for us either.

  5. The whole idea, in my perception, behind "the adoption option" was that they felt that women were not choosing adoption more because they just didn't know about it or that it was available.

    The largest adoption agency in the U.S., alone, spends 5% of its 65 million dollar budget marketing to pregnant women. Adoption is everywhere.

    But they think women don't *know* about adoption or that it exists??


    Has it crossed their minds that larger numbers of mothers aren't surrendering because they really don't want to??

  6. Thank you for this, Lorraine. I got the word about the article from Origins-USA, read it, and immediately linked. People need to learn... and understand beyond the sensationalism of Oprah, that this is a huge issue and problem.

  7. Congrats on getting something on this topic published in USA Today, Lorraine. Hope it results in something positive all around . . . great that you affirmed the importance of knowing one's origins in the closer.

  8. Looked in USA Today Sunday paper is
    couldn't find article what section. Or is this
    an online article?

  9. I have tried to post about 3 times on your article. Grrrrr with furourstration at the USAToday posting system!

    Good work :)

  10. Anon: Yes, this is on line, link is at top of this posting. It is scheduled,I believe but everything is subject to change, for the Wednesday print edition. People are having trouble commenting, not getting their sign up confirmed, but it usually comes through.

  11. I can't get through right now but I will keep trying. I saved my comment in Word. Some of the comments are quite, uh, ignerunt.

  12. Joy, I had the same problem. It went through when I shortened my reply.

  13. Yeah, I thought of that, mine was super short and sweet and I am registered, but no. :(

  14. I've just emailed my editor and asked him what's up with the comment problem. When I have news I will report.

  15. Thank you.Lorraine, for writing the eloquent article in USA Today. I don't know where you get the strength to keep fighting. I read your book 'Birthmark' shortly after giving up my son and was amazed that someone else out there felt similar. I don't post on blogs very often because I'm not good at it. But I read yours and many of the other posters with interest. Maybe I also relate to your comments about Sag Harbor-since my mother bought a house there in 1959 and I spend a lot of time out there-my favorite place on earth. Keep up the good work

  16. Congratulations on getting this article in. I think my comment went up but not sure, anyhow, I said"

    "I am also a mother who gave up a child for adoption, because I felt at the time I had no other options, not because it was what I wanted to do. I believe adopted adults should have access to their truth, their biological history, and their original birth certificate. I have always been proud of my son, not ashamed, even more so since I have met him and know what a good man he has become."

  17. Lorraine, Thank you for this. We all need validation that our pain/guilt was and is real. I posted the article to my facebook page and the first person to respond was my daughter. Just the fact that we are again together is a miracle and even though the emotion is a roller coaster ride its one that I will never get off of.
    We are no longer those young, silent girls. The wisdom we have gained from our pain and the truths about this "option" are real and I thank you for your part in giving us a voice.

  18. Im having difficulty posting this comment to USA Today but will keep trying.

    Thank you for this insightful, truthful article Lorraine. When I surrendered my son to adoption in 1971 I was told by my parents, the social worker and nuns who ran the unwed mother’s home that people better than me would raise my son. That I should never speak of him, that I should forget him and get on with my life. For decades I cringed with shame and feelings of being an inherently flawed mother every time I heard someone matter-of-factly say “I could never give up my child”. My feelings of being inferior for giving up my son were so pervasive that I never had more children. When I found my son he told me he never would have searched for me yet he was eager to hear about his family of origin and the circumstances that led to him being surrendered. Those conversations were extremely difficult for me but my belief that this was his history and he deserved my answers propelled me along. I understand Vernita Lee’s reluctance to meet her daughter and face the woman whose life she changed forever. I understand her reluctance to go back to 1963. Yes. I know it’s not 1971 anymore but I was taken back to that very painful time filled with helplessness, rejection and zero self-worth each time I had a conversation with my son about how he got where he is and where he came from.

  19. Lori, yes do post. We are honored. And anonymous, you must give me a call sometime....when you are in sag harbor.

  20. I'm another one having trouble posting on the USA Today comment section. It hasn't sent me the confirmation that I'm even registered but when I go in to re-register - it says my membership isn't approved!

    Anyway great article as usual! I most definitely agree in that it's easy to find compassion and empathy for Vernita and her shame issues. She really seemed a bit shell-shocked to me...

    Personally, I think Oprah is lacking a sensitivity gene when it comes to family members being separated by adoption.

  21. Lorrraine,
    I read article on this site. Now where does
    one post? Hopefully by the time I find where
    to post issue p posting will be resolved.

    The article was very good and covered a lot
    usually they seem to not allow enough space
    to write such a complete expose of adoption.

    Seems I remember the person that owns this
    newspaper is pro adoption he and his wife have
    adopted many kids older ones in foster care.

  22. Yikes, you guys are wonderful to keep on trying. If it is in the print ed, I hope I couple of you will emails letters to the paper after tomorrow, when it is supposed to be in. It's always the antis who feel the most inspired to write. If they get 3 letters, I imagine they will print one.

    Thanks again for all your support. It makes it possible to keep on truckin'.

  23. I just took Cully's suggestion and posted on USA Today's FB page. Feel free to go there and post on the link we started and also letting them know you are having difficulty posting.


  24. I have not been able to log onto the USA Today site, but here is what I would like to post:

    Thank you to Lorraine Dusky for writing this piece and for the blog that she writes with Jane Edwards, and to USA Today for publishing her article.
    I join all the mothers who lost children to adoption in their pain, but I will not take on shame. Shame belongs to my mother who abused me physically and mentally; to the people who allowed me to stay with her; to my alcoholic father who could not defend me; to the educators who did not teach about birth control (and handed out inaccurate information) and to the law that said only those over 18 or married could have birth control pills. Shame belongs to the nuns who said I was selfish for wanting to keep my baby, that I didn't deserve him, that there were other people who were more worthy to raise him and besides, I could always have more children later. Shame belongs to the Catholic high school authorities that said I could not return to school if I kept my baby. Shame belongs to my boyfriend's parents who wouldn't allow us to marry (we have been married 30 years) and said they would not support his education if we did. Shame belongs to the society that made me choose my boyfriend's life or life with my son, because to marry without an education meant he would be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Shame belongs to the nuns at the home for unwed mothers who said I couldn't hold him, though I was wracked with sobs and hurt, and he was so tender and vulnerable, alone in a nursery.
    Shame belongs to the society that told us everything would be wonderful for our son, that he would never miss us and have a better life without us and the risk to his well-being was zero. Shame belongs to the judge who told me I must never search for my son, that it would be harmful to him and his family, that it would ruin his life. I thought the pain in adoption, would all be mine; my son would thrive and grow in a happy family, far away from my abusive family. I could bear my heartbreak when I thought he would be ok.
    I am very disturbed that Oprah chose to put her mother on television. I spent the first year after reunion with my son in shock, the second year deep in depression and Post Traumatic Stress, the third year and after in recovery. There would have been no benefit to me to be put on national television; in fact it would have been harmful. I hope Oprah's mother is getting some counseling. Some days I am strong enough to speak of my experiences, some days I am overcome with the sorrow of his loss and cannot speak, and can only function through the shear force of will. I know other mothers who lost children to adoption feel this way too. I applaud those who can speak.
    The shock of my reunion centered on revisiting all the trauma of his loss; the cruelty of my family and society, the years lost with him. The deepest wound of all was learning that he had suffered for the loss of me; he always felt that some vital part of him was missing. He yearned for me and to know about his origins.
    It is right and fit that some states have opened their records. All adoptees have the right to have access to their original birth certificates. There may be extreme circumstances when adoption is still the best course for the child, but all children and the adults they become deserve to know the truth of their beginnings. I am sure the majority of mothers would welcome private contact with their children, as it has been shown in states with open records. Allow these mothers time to heal and then gain the strength to share their story in their own way.

  25. The piece is now scheduled for Thursday. Letters to the editor welcome after that:


  26. @Anon5:56,
    Thank you for posting your comment, I found it quite moving.

    You wrote,

    "Shame belongs to the society that told us everything would be wonderful for our son, that he would never miss us and have a better life without us and the risk to his well-being was zero."

    Boy, does this tick me off. These so-called experts speaking for us adoptees when we were infants. How did they know how we would feel in 20, 30, 40 years? Actually, I read at Origins NSW that it has been known without a shadow of a doubt since 1952 that adopted children have significant psychological, emotional and behavioral problems as a result of having been adopted.

    You have certainly put shame where it belongs

  27. The letter to the editor was today in response to Lorraine's article.

    Origins-USA, an organization that works to protect the natural rights of mothers to nurture their children, commends USA Today for reporting on the seldom mentioned subject of the realities of adoption, those from a birth mother’s perspective. So much in the media make adoption appear normal. The realities of adoption should never be normalized. Ms. Dusky so aptly says it, “relinquishing our child is not wrong in the eyes of the law, but in the natural order of things.” Birth mothers believe, in fact are told, that relinquishing our child is the best thing all around. Rarely do we comprehend, until it’s too late, the secrecy, never forgetting, grief, stigma, wondering about the uncertainty of the life that awaits our child that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Rarely do we comprehend, until it’s too late, that relinquishing our child will affect decisions we make for ourselves and our families for the rest of our lives, and not always for the better.

    The University of Oregon’s Adoption History Project, June 2003, updated in July 2007, reports that, although there are no concrete data, a conservative estimate suggests that five million Americans alive today are adopted. That equates to the number of birth mothers. Publishing Ms. Dusky’s frank article is an excellent start to educating our country about adoption realities by providing a platform from which those conversations can begin. Jeanine Biocic, President, Origins-USA



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