' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Is giving up a child for adoption a 'loving' decision?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is giving up a child for adoption a 'loving' decision?

"Adoption is a courageous and loving decision" touts the Children's Home Society of Florida. We've heard this a zillion times although in my day it was often phrased as "think of your child, not yourself." Signing the papers on a rainy day a week before Christmas in San Francisco, and giving an adoption agency the power to select a family for my daughter Rebecca was not a courageous and loving decision. In many ways it was not a decision at all. I simply did what white middle-class singe mothers of (I hope) a bygone era did--acquiesced to social mores trumpeted in advice columns, soap operas, pulpits, and teen magazines.

But if it was a decision, it certainly was not courageous but instead born out of fear. Where would I go? What would I do? What would people say? How could I do it? I took the path of least resistance. Sign papers and it's over. Keep the baby and it's uphill forever. As for "loving, well, it was in spite of loving my daughter. I had an emotional bond the minute she was born; but it did not give me the confidence to face the world, to do what it would take to nurture her. Let me add that while I consider myself cowardly, I was 24, had a college degree though no marketable skills, I don't believe that other mothers who gave up their children in the Baby Scoop Era were cowards. For most, there simply was no choice. 

Today more than 40 percent of all babies born in the United States are born to single woman, and social pressures take a back seat to "love" in the adoption industry's arsenal of ammunition to get the baby their customers want. Since disgrace no longer sells the adoption option, the industry employs a perverse concept of heroism and love. Focus on the Family, the Colorado Spring institution self-described as a "Global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive" says it like this: 
"Adoption is truly heroic act--an act of love. In most cases, adoption is the most loving and unselfish decision an unmarried, expectant mother can make. You see, love is not primarily an emotion.... Love is taking action in the best interests in another person or persons, regardless of one's emotional feelings."
The sentences requires a couple of leaps of faith--that love is not about emotion when nature has conditioned our bodies to feel an intense emotional bond to our babies the minute they come out of our bodies. Well, if that's not love, I don't know what it is. In the Baby Scoop Era, adoption practitioners tried to spare mothers from this feeling by whisking the baby way, not letting the mother see him or her, and in some cases not even divulging the baby's gender. This did not work; mothers like Lorraine who did not see their babies still felt a rush of love that just about knocked them out. The second leap of faith that adoption workers push is the idea that giving a child to biological strangers is per se in a child's best interests. 

Along with love for your child according to Focus on the Family comes charity through fulfilling "the dreams of a carefully chosen couple who have been longing for a child." As I grieved for my lost daughter through Christmas and into the New Year, I tried to comfort myself by visualizing her coming into the home of this childless couple longing for a child--such a joyful Christmas they would have because they had my baby. I imagined her under the Christmas tree, wrapped in a large stocking. When we met 31 years later, I learned that Rebecca did not even go into her adoptive home until the middle of January--she spent Christmas in a foster home--and the adoptive couple had three children, a biological daughter and two adopted sons. In The Other Mother, Carol Schaefer wrote that she was told so often about the couple who deserved her son that she began to feel sorry for them. When she met her son nineteen years later, she learned that he was placed with an immature couple and removed from their home a few months later.

Today adoption practitioners don't keep the newborn baby away from the mother and mothers don't have to conjure up the flawless adoptive couple. They may have selected them from a small portfolio of prospective adoptive parents given to them by the practitioner, although whether the mothers truly know them is questionable. Prospective adoptive parents are taught how to write "Dear Birth Mother" letters, how to curry favor, how to present themselves in the best possible light. Mothers can now cuddle their babies when they are born. Then mothers "gift" their children to the new parents sometimes formally in an "entrustment ceremony," putting on a brave face, smiling with tears streaming down their cheeks, claiming confidently that they made the right decision, while the social workers applaud their "brave" act of "love." Rubbish. 

For many of these mothers, this confidence lasts only a few months, for others a decade or more. After that: for many, years of regret. True, the grief subsides but never fully leaves. Meanwhile their children may not have the life the mothers imagined. The adoptive parents' marriage may end, they may follow practices the natural mother disagrees with, they cut off contact; any manner of things which later may inform the natural mother that adoption was not in the best interests of their children. 

Focus on the Family ends its adoption promo by stating, "The truth is that single mothers often wish they had chosen adoption after only a few months of caring for their child." I am astounded by this statement. I've met mothers who wished they had waited to have children, or regretted having so many children. I know of mothers so overwhelmed with poverty and family problems that they surrendered a child several months or even several years after birth. But all the first mothers I have known and read about grieve over the loss of their child. Most wish they had kept or could have kept their child. I have never ever met a mother raising a child who wished she had chosen adoption; who could look at her child and wish the child had not been in her life.--jane
This is the third in a series on techniques the adoption industry uses to convince vulnerable mothers to give up their children. How money rules infant adoption was posted December 1. How the adoption industry convinces women they aren't 'ready to parent' was posted on December 15.
Children's Home Society of Florida You Tube Video
Children's Home Society of Florida website
Focus on the Family: Choosing the Best for Your Baby
A Bridge of Love: One Family's Entrustment Ceremony
Unmarried Childbearing 
Forty-five years later I still regret giving up my daughter
How adoption agencies 'turn' vulnerable women into spokespeople for relinquishing 
How shame keeps birth mothers from embracing reunion

The Other Mother by Carol Schaefer
In 1965, the author was 19, a freshman in college and deeply in love. She was also pregnant. When her boyfriend’s family opposed their marrying, her parents sequestered her in a Catholic home for unwed mothers a state away, where she was isolated and where secrecy prevailed. She had only to give up her baby for her sin to be forgiven and then all would soon be forgotten she was told. The child, in turn, would be placed with a “good” family, instead of having his life ruined by the stigma of illegitimacy. Carol tried to find the strength to oppose this dogma but her shame had become too deep. “The first time I looked deep into my son’s eyes, I felt like a criminal. As I unwrapped his hospital blanket and took in the heady fragrance of a newborn, I feared the nurses or the sisters would come in and slap me for contaminating my own son.”--Amazon

Birthmark by Lorraine Dusky
FMF's own and the first memoir from a mother who relinquished a child. It was extremely controversial when published--in 1979. "Sadly, every bit as relevant today as it was when it was written nearly thirty years ago--Birthmark poignantly spans her life from the time of her relationship that led to her pregnancy, through the birth of her daughter, and her inability to forget and get on with her life and despite having the career she thought giving up "the child" would allow. It will be most relevant for those who thought they could give away a child and pick up the pieces of their educations and careers...and for all those who told us we could or should."--Mirah Riben 
From Birthmark
"The child was everywhere. True, I stopped thinking about her every hour, and maybe sometimes several days would manage to slip by...But then something...commercials for gentle Ivory Snow, safe for baby...I would always be a woman who gave away a child."


  1. "Along with love for your child according to Focus on the Family comes charity through fulfilling 'the dreams of a carefully chosen couple who have been longing for a child.'"

    Carefully chosen.

    The older I get the more I realize that everyone wears masks. Some wear thicker ones than others. But, everyone wears them.

    And, people who wish to adopt tend to put on their Sunday best masks. (Who wouldn't?)

    And, the home visits are scheduled, not spontaneous. So, again, they get to show themselves at their best....

    When I was a kid, my family went to a pet shelter. The shelter wouldn't allow us to adopt a pet because we didn't meet the shelter's qualifications, which rattled me. I wondered how my family could not meet the qualifications for a DOG, but could meet the qualifications for adopting a human being? Apparently, the shelter required someone to be home during the day for the dog. So, it's okay to be a latchkey kid, but not a home-alone dog?

    At least in my case, it seems that the vetting process for adopting an animal was more stringent than for adopting a human being.

    Carefully chosen? Nah.

  2. I think it is really hard to compare the "baby scoop era" with adoption today. It is a different world. Being a single unwed mom is no shame for most. Millions and millions of young women chose to end their pregnancies with abortion. So I do think woman who decide to give birth who don't want to be moms (and the abortion numbers show millions are willing to make that decision) are courageous because they are willing to take on so much, either the challenges (and absolute joys) of motherhood, or the grief of giving a child up for adoption. The courage today is to take on that grief if a person really does not want or is not ready to be a mom and chooses life over abortion. It is totally different scenario than what happened to women who succumbed to the societal pressures decades ago.

  3. I think the "loving decision" ploy is a direct result of today's social mores. The well of babies was drying up. Since it is socially acceptable to be a single parent today, the agencies have to use the marketing ploy of the "loving decision".
    "If you love your child, you'll 'place' them for adoption."
    Only a selfish person would want to deny a child the right to be raised by two parents, right?
    Marketing at it's best/worst.
    It seems to work for a lot of mothers in Utah.
    Too bad the divorce rate for adoptive parents is the same if not worse than the national average.
    A lot of adoptees end up in broken homes regardless of the "loving" decision.

  4. Oh Jane - this statement that you posted:

    But if it was a decision, it certainly was not courageous but instead born out of fear. Where would I go? What would I do? What would people say? How could I do it? I took the path of least resistance. Sign papers and it's over. Keep the baby and it's uphill forever.

    That brought back memories - I wanted to keep my daughter; even planned on just taking her at the adoption agency when I went to sign the papers - pretend my "husband" died in Vietnam (this was 1969) and just move to a small town somewhere with her! Yeah, right! I was 21 and going to college; not job; not money to do that!

    Also you said:
    As for "loving, well, it was in spite of loving my daughter. I had an emotional bond the minute she was born; but it did not give me the confidence to face the world, to do what it would take to nurture her. Let me add that while I consider myself cowardly, I was 24, had a college degree though no marketable skills, I don't believe that other mothers who gave up their children in the Baby Scoop Era were cowards. For most, there simply was no choice.,

    No, I don't consider myself a coward either... Telling me my child would have the label "bastard" didn't sit well with me; it definitely society driven "choice"!

    Thank you Lorraine & Jane for your forum/blog here!

    Merry Christmas to you both and to all who read and post here! Hoping for better 2014 year; i.e. having contact with my daughter. She'll have her 45th birthday in May; sure wish I could wish her a Happy Birthday...

  5. With all due respect, Anon above, some things haven't changed entirely. While reading the collected letters of muckraking author Jessica Mitford, this anecdote caught my eye:

    Jessica, who had eloped with Esmond Romilly in 1937 (much to the horror of the teenage lovers' aristocratic parents), and moved to the United States before the U.S. entered the war. Esmond joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was killed in action in 1941.

    Senator and Mrs. Claude Pepper of Florida approached one of Mitford's best friends "& said that obviously I shouldn't be able to bring up [baby daughter] Dinky (as I was too poor), so they offered to pay $5,000 to adopt her. I was rather cross, & told [friend] that English people are on the whole unaccustomed to selling their children--forebearing to mention that I thought the price too low. Now if they'd offered ten thou..."

    This grim bit of humor (humour?) gets grimmer in the knowledge that a) Mitford became a widow at twenty-four, same age as Jane when she DID relinquish her daughter, and b) that the Romillys' first daughter, Julia, died of measles at the age of five months.

    Constancia "Dinky" Romilly grew up to become her mother's and stepfather's joy and ballast, mother of two fine sons, as well as a highly respected R.N. and nursing supervisor.

    According to Senator Pepper's obituary in the New York Times, he and his wife "had no children." Despite efforts to purchase one.

  6. Anonymous 9:53

    Your position starts with the assumption that all woman would willing choose abortion, so those who could have, but didn't, are courageous. Could it be that they simply would not chose to abort because they believe it is wrong?

    That assumption allows you to then assume that those who chose adoption instead of abortion - don't want to, or are not ready to be a mother. It's a nice pat answer that doesn't cause you to think deeper, where it takes you to the messy societal issues of poverty, because if you went there, then you would have to see how little protections there are when it comes to maternity leave, or ability to find a daycare they can afford - so they can parent and support themselves. It might even make you see why many chose abortion. Seeing that isn't so easy as simply calling mothers courageous for choosing life and adoption.

    But lets get back to your first sentence - it is very true that there was shame and societal pressure on the entire family, especially the white middle class family. It is also very true that many pregnant women back then chose the dangerous, sometimes deadly alternative of a back alley abortion. Neither adoption or the back alley abortion was any real choice though because the alternative - raising your "illegitimate" child you had to do on your own, because your child had no right to parental support from the father, a right that "legitimate" children had.

    So as much as you would like to assume that things are so different today compared to the BSE - not so much in reality. Abortions existed then, but they were dangerous and deadly, but many chose that option anyway. Abortions exist today but are safe and legal, many chose that option. Societal supports are better, but hardly adequate especially for the first year of an infants life.

    Some mothers do not want to parent - that happened during the BSE and that happens today.

    Some mothers would love nothing more than to parent, but can't see how they can financially afford to do so - that happened during the BSE and that happens today. Society has provided more supports, and they removed the discrimination laws against the illegitimate - but they haven't changed enough so that you can say it is a free choice made today.

  7. I'm not so sure about a distinction between "giving up" our child out of fear OR out of love OR from accepting a societal belief about what was "best for the child"--for me these were all mixed into one. I loved and, so, feared for my child and wanted what "is best" for him; these were interconnected. The lie came in, in believing, as we did in the BSE and some still do (especially for economic reasons) today, that 2 parents would give a better home than 1 parent.

  8. Sometimes I find it is better for me to give people the benefit of the doubt,don't attribute negative motivations to others, jump to conclusions based on little or no information and especially don't project too far into the future based on the present. I will not call myself a coward even though I was also in my twenties when my kid was born. Looking back now after a few decades have passed I can see how very complicated my situation was and it was not just a matter of money or societal pressure and being unmarried-although that was an extra stress leading to my giving up my child

  9. To "the adopted ones" , re your comments to my post, I do think the world is a dramatically different place today than decades ago with the easy access to contraception and abortion, as well as society views of unmarried pregnant women. It has been a sea change for sure. But I did not say and certainly don't think that all pregnant women see abortion as a viable option.

    I am a single mom myself so I don't give pat answers about that. I live it every day. It is not easy but it is a joy. If I can give any encouragement to anyone facing single motherhood, it is doable but it is hard. be realistic and do hard work in seeking out the options and support that are available to you if your family is not there for you

    Some women do not want to be mothers at all or at a particular point in their lives and that is evident due to the millions of abortions in the US. In my state, the greatest number of abortions are by women in their late 20s, not young high school girls.

    Just getting pregnant does not make a mom. I don't think all women who give up their babies today for adoption are necessarily victims of wily adoption agencies by any means. They don't want to raise a child at that point and make that choice.

    whenever I read stories here about the pressure to give a child up for adoption, people always talk about their own families of origin pressuring them, not some agency.

  10. Anon at 3:27 pm on 12/22/13 wrote:
    Whenever I read stories here about the pressure to give a child up for adoption, people always talk about their own families of origin pressuring them, not some agency.

    Mothers from the BSE have written about the extreme pressure from family members to give up their babies. Today the situation is quite different. Parents often offer to help their pregnant daughters and try to persuade them to keep their babies. We've seen this on "16 & Pregnant" and on "I'm Having their Baby."

    Look at Adoption agency websites. There's a constant refrain of "you can make your own decisions; don't let family members tell you what to do." Some agencies offer to pay for a woman to hide from her family so she can maker a decision "free from family pressure."

    Appealing to a woman's desire to exert her independence is the same tactic tobacco companies used to hook young women into smoking with ads like "Smoking is an adult act" and "you've come a long way baby."

    Tobacco companies also claim people "choose" to smoke when in fact clever advertising snares them into trying cigarette until the nicotine hooks them. The adoption industry claims mothers "chose" to place their babies when in fact they are often seduced into giving up their babies through clever marketing like the ones I'm describing in this series.

  11. From the voice of a BSE mother, I must say Jane that your comment to Anon @3:27 is quite accurate. And one might even add that in addition to the extreme pressure there was also anger at the fact that an unwed pregnancy occurred in the first place - at least this is how it was for me. If people like Anon @3:27 would like to better informed, a site worth reading is babyscoopera.com. Keep the accurate information flowing.

  12. It ain't a different world Anon when you are way over 40 and you still don't know who your parents are because of closed adoption and all the secrets and lies from days gone by that no one gives a damn enough about to give you your OBC NOW....

  13. @Anon 7:45pm,
    You are certainly right about that. The vestiges of the BSE are still with us today. Not only in our lack of access to our OBCs, but I believe it is still the shame from that era that causes many first mothers, even today in the 21st century, to refuse a reunion with their relinquished children. The BSE generation has the largest number of adoptees ever in this country. And too many of us still have mothers who don't want it known that they had sex outside of marriage which resulted in a child being given up for adoption.

    Times may be different now, but many people still have the mindset of that era. And it is certainly still affecting a large number of us adoptees today.

    Wishing our bloggers and all the readers of FMF a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

  14. Twenty five years ago, I was sent away by my parents half way across the country to live with relatives who had a friend who was the director of an adoption agency. My whole pregancy, I was counseled and assured that I had a choice. That they were just there to help me make an informed decision. Even my parents, who just wanted what was best for me, believed that they were protecting me by sending me away. My mothers idea was that if I "decided" to place my baby for adoption no one at home would ever know and there would be no awkward questions. When I asked the agency about changing my mind, I was told that since I was 18, it would not be a problem. There was a week or so "hold" period before the adoption was final that if I changed my mind I would just have to file a paper.

    The truth is that the agency lied. I didn't have a week. I didn't even have one day. Once I reliquished my rights, only a long drawn out court battle could give me back my daughter. I know this because the very next day after reliquishing my rights, I changed my mind and all those caring and lovely people at the agency who promised to help me were no where to be found. The friend of my relatives that was the director of the home, who I saw ever sunday at church, now told me that she could only talk with my attorney. I got an attorney and fought for several months until the cost of travel across the US for court appearances became too much for my family. I lost my court case.

    When my daughter turned 18 years old, she found me. I met her and her adoptive family a few months later. It was a happy reunion. However, in getting to know the adoptive parents side of the story we discovered even more lies and misdirection from the agency. This did not happen in BSE, this was 1988.

    During these last 25 years, I got married and had 2 more children. I have a good life. However, there is not a day that goes by that I do not regret my decision. Even after being reuntied with my daughter, the pain and hurt and sense of loss is still there. The reality that I was used by others for their own best interest and not the best interest of me or my baby still weighs heavy on my heart. Thank you, Jane, for speaking about this. The truth is that no matter if it is BSE tactics or "a loving gesture" jargon, it is all just a ploy to prey on women in a tough situation. If the agency employees had told me the truth about how it feels and what life would REALLY be like afterwards, I would not have given my daughter away.

  15. Melissa, I am so sorry to hear your story. I, too, went back to the agency once I got out of the hospital only to be told that I was too late. I also was never told about foster care; nor was I given any paperwork whatsoever. It's a terrible feeling when you discover that you've been lied to and your child taken away. I'm happy to hear that your reunion was positive since so many seem to end on a sour note which just adds another layer to the travesty of adoption.


  16. 'Just getting pregnant does not make a mom.'

    That's exactly what it does.

  17. In the 70s when I got pregnant, my parents immediately worried what the small community and, OMG!!, Baptist church members would think. My dad immediately said my baby would be put up for adoption. The doctor they took me too just happened to have a best friend physician friend (and wife) who were wanting to adopt a baby. how convenient. Many young girls of the 70s did NOT have a voice, a choice, a say in the fate of their child. It was decided by those around them in their (adoptive parents who were wealthy) best interests, not the best interests of the young pregnant girl. I remember thinking I didn't have a high school diploma, a job, a car, any money. I was powerless and at the mercy of my parents, the doctor, and the a-parent's attorney. Decisions were made for me and for my baby. Was it a loving decision? Yes, as far as the adoptive mother, the rescuer, was concerned. Her importance was elevated, and mine was greatly diminished. I became the least important member of the adoption triad. The coercive thinking and tactics of the 1970s were hideous, barbaric, and cruel. As a young, powerless, pregnant girl, I didn't get to make any decisions.

  18. Jane, my experience completely. An era of tragic consequences for my future and future children: social relationships, relationships with men fractured by suspicion, distrust, followed by cruel disruptions after reunion with my daughter, Joanna-for how long, no one knows. A lifetime sentence of regret.
    Also, worth mentioning, some mothers like myself, experienced earlier trauma in our families long before becoming "pregnant out of wedlock." In 1969, while cultural and social mores were changing - easy access to birth control, government stipends made available to mothers to allow for greater personal independence) other factors surrounding a pregnancy placed pressure to give our babies away.
    More than ever, I regret not confiding, at least to my mother. I thought she would not be able handle it as she suffered mental an emotional trauma in her marriage and childbearing years from postpartum syndrome and abuse by my father. I cry as I write this but I believe she would have welcomed and loved my baby. I can only say in hindsight that my Mom very likely would have experienced forgiveness and healing for herself and be a great source of shelter for me and her granddaughter.
    Thank you Jane for truth telling, a way of freeing so many of us out there hiding and suffering alone.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I too regret not confiding in my mother. Looking back, I didn't want to admit my "failure." It was also a tough time for my mother. One sister was having marital and financial difficulties and my brother had dropped out of high school and was "acting up" as they called teen misbehavior then. My mother certainly would have allowed me and my baby to stay with her. I also could have stayed with another sister. I thought, though, that adoption and secrecy were absolutely essential.



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