Category Archives: Adoption

Need Reader Feedback

Hi folks.

I am going to be closing down this blog in the next several weeks. There are many reasons for this, but I won’t get into them now.

What I would like to do, however, is compile the most useful posts into categories and bind them under an e-cover for download in case really, really interested folks still want to read them, or share them with others.

This is the compromise I’ve come to between just shutting down OR leaving the blog archives sitting here forever.

What I would love from you is some nominations for posts you’d like to see preserved in e-book form. I will try to edit and/or update any posts that go into that format, so if your favorite one is old and needs some revision that’s okay too.

I have in mind a total of say, 100 posts.

Help? (Please leave your suggestions in the comments so people can see each others’ okay?)


P.S. I’m also taking some of the posts from this blog (mostly since 2009) and backfilling Muse of Fire with them. So much of the more recent material will still be on a blog.

Veronica Won’t be a “Baby” Forever

This is cross-posted from BlogHer, where it was originally published last Tuesday:

After the Supreme Court decided against a biological father in the so-called “Baby Veronica” case two months ago, I found myself worried not just for the family in the case, but for adoption in general. Adoption is riddled with misunderstanding and the mainstream media tends to exacerbate the problem rather than clarifying.

Now Veronica’s father has failed to return her to the adoptive couple that won the Supreme Court case, has been arrested, paid his bail and is currently somewhere unknown, presumably with his daughter. Now the would-be adoptive parents are using language like “holding her captive” and claiming to “fear for her safety and well-being,” though Veronica has been in her father’s custody, happy, and healthy, for close to two years.

This case has been rife with misunderstanding, and its high profile can only lead to more confusion among people not personally knowledgeable about adoption. Rather than leap into an argument for what I believe ought to be the case’s outcome, I want to focus here on clarifying what I see as three major misunderstandings the coverage of this case has perpetuated:

1. Misunderstanding of how legal adoption works
2. Misunderstanding of the ICWA and its purpose
3. Misunderstanding of what is in the “best interest” of children

First, the would-be adoptive parents of Veronica (no longer a baby) knew that this adoption was questionable from an early date after Veronica’s placement with them. While Veronica was still a young infant, it became clear that the adoption was not perhaps, legal or likely to be finalized because of the father’s interest in parenting her.

But importantly, the adoption was not yet final at that time. So in spite of headlines declaring that Veronica was “adopted” at birth, she was not. In my long experience of adoption study, I have never, ever heard of an adoption being final “at birth.” Babies may be placed with prospective adoptive families at birth, but adoptions typically take about six months to become final, and these six months include follow-up visits from social workers and legal work at court.

Veronica’s hopeful adoptive parents were indeed caring for her as their daughter in her infancy, but she was not legally theirs yet.

Second, the law the father has used to fight this adoption placement (which happened against his will and most likely without his full understanding, depending on who you believe in the reports, and I believe him), the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), is a matter of American Indian sovereignty, not of racial identity, as the press has widely misled us to understand.

The ICWA was enacted as a correction to and a protection against the all-but kidnapping (sometimes, indeed, literal kidnapping) of American Indian children and their placement in white families or (more often) “boarding schools” or other institutions that basically forced them to assimilate to white culture and cut them off from their heritage and communities.

The ICWA gives a tribe legal sovereignty over where its children in need are placed for care. Typically there is a hierarchy in which immediate family members are first, extended families are next, any tribal member is next, any American Indian is next and last, after these are exhausted — and only with the tribe’s approval — an Indian child can be placed outside an Indian home.

This hierarchy was hardly exhausted in Veronica’s case. In fact, her own father, as soon as he knew she was being adopted by out-of-state strangers, wanted to parent her.

Third, there is a problem in this case that comes up in adoption in general, even when there is no bitter custody battle. Veronica (again, not a baby) is bound to develop her own perspective on it all. And what is going to be best for her overall healthy development as a person?

To me, the answer is obvious. When a biological parent is ready, willing and able to raise a child he clearly loves, and has a two-year track record of doing just that, and doing it well, there is absolutely no excuse for moving her from his home to the home of out-of-state strangers who claim her based on an at-risk hopeful adoption placement that they knew was problematic since Veronica was an infant, and before her adoption was final.

Would it be heart-rending to give up a baby you had been caring for as your own for three or four months? I have no doubt of this. I am an adoptive mother myself and both my children were placed in my care at birth. Legally final adoptions or not, they felt very much like my babies — no, they indeed were my babies — the minute I held them each for the first time.


Is it okay to essentially steal someone else’s baby because you love her? No. Nor is it a particularly loving thing to do.

I still maintain that as soon as her prospective adoptive parents discovered the legal and interpersonal complications of this case, they should have handed Veronica (then an actual baby who might have had enough resilience to thrive in spite of the disruption) to her father and wished them all well. Would that have been hard? Absolutely. But if we are going to romanticize the relinquishment of babies to adoption as a “loving, selfless” sacrifice on the part of birth parents (and we do, all the time) why is it that these hopeful adoptive parents shouldn’t be expected to do the same with grace?

A legal trick is not what should decide this case — as in: when did Veronica’s father sign away his rights and did he know what he was doing? A decision about which adults ought to have more rights is not what should decide this case. What should decide this case is Veronica’s right to her father.

“Best interest” should not be about which parent lives in the better neighborhood, has the better school to offer or takes the most expensive vacations. If that were the grounds for deciding where children should be, would you (if you are a parent) be allowed to keep yours if your wealthiest friend took a shine to them and decided to sue you for custody?

If we can agree that people of any socio-economic class who provide for their children adequately and lovingly deserve to raise them in their own families and communities, we must look elsewhere to decide where a child should be when a contest like this comes along. And when I listen to adopted people (who are no longer babies), they tend to say that they have a right to their biological heritage when it is available.

Adoption disrupts families. No matter how loving and stable the new family, the original family is forever broken. This should be prevented whenever possible. A child with an enthusiastic, loving and fit parent has no reason to be adopted.

Veronica has known her father as her father now, for two years. She will be four years old next month. She has a right, not only to the stable family she has known for probably, all of her conscious life, but to the biological connections that are available to her.

Importantly, Veronica is not a baby anymore and from here on out, she will do nothing but grow in knowledge and understanding of what is happening to her. If her adoptive parents end up with custody, I hope they are ready to answer an angry teenager when she googles herself and asks them, “Why did you take me from my daddy?”

I find it hard to swallow that “we love you” will be enough for her.

Meet Lindsay of “Fortunes Full”

 As a part of the annual Adoption Blogger Interview Project sponsored by Production, Not Reproduction, I was paired with Lindsay, sweet, busy new recruit to the two-kid lifestyle, and brain-behind-the-blog, Fortunes Full. Lindsay began documenting her adoption process once she and her husband were ready to begin.

A mother by traumatic birth (pre eclampsia, premature emergency c-section, weeks in NICU), Lindsay knew she wanted to adopt if she had any more children and her partner agreed.

She brought home a new son (her second) this past spring, a few weeks after another plan to adopt fell through when a father decided not to place.

Without further ado, here is my interview with Lindsay:

What kind of adoption did you do?

We decided very quickly on open, domestic adoption through a local agency. It was the perfect fit for us.

How did you make the decision to do this kind of adoption versus other types available (if they were available)?

As we were learning about all the different kinds of adoptions out there, we were shocked at how great the need for African American/biracial adoption was versus how long some people were waiting for a baby of their own race. Everyone has different needs and comfort levels, and we understand that. But for us it just didn’t matter, at all. We wanted a baby and felt we were emotionally and logistically equipped to raise a child of another race, respectfully. We also needed this adoption process to have a very low impact on our son, W, who was two at the time. So we decided on domestic to avoid extensive travel. Then we learned that there was an agency very close to our home  that specialized in open adoptions. We figured that if we were going to have a child of another race, that it would be beneficial to know their birth family – to see where they came from. It was all just too perfect. Open, domestic, multi racial adoption. Boom bam.

Of course it didn’t wind up turning out quite that way though…

What factors (specifically about adoption itself) where most important to you at the time you began the adoption process? Did these change or shift at a later time? If so how and why?

We went into adoption with one focus: a healthy baby to bring home from the hospital. We were robbed of that experience with Little W and we were craving it. So that was our driving force in the beginning. But once we found our path (open, domestic), I think a fire was lit in me and I developed a passion for it. Open adoption is a relatively new thing and I think it’s very scary to outsiders. I love “spreading the gospel” to people who aren’t in the know. Hopefully some form of open adoption will be the norm, some day.

It was also important to me to find a respectable agency that put the needs of the children first, then the birth parents. We were lucky to find that in our local agency. In my opinion, once agencies or adoption professionals start putting the needs of the adoptive parents before the babies and birth families, you’re creeping into what seems like very questionable moral/ethical ground.

Once we were in the thick of The Wait, bringing a newborn home from the hospital seemed less and less important. And good thing because H’s adoption plan was created when he was three months old. Our feeling was… when this kid is six months, three years, eleven years, twenty years old, is it going to matter that we missed twelve measly weeks with him? No way.

As you raise your adopted child, what is most important to you today? Is it what you predicted would be important when you began the adoption process? If it has shifted how and why?

I think my answer to this mirrors that of any other parent, adoptive or biological. I want my sons to have every opportunity available to them. I want them to shoot for the moon, to follow their dreams, to be healthy and kind and loving. Being  an adoptive parent will always be a bit trickier than being a biological parent because there’s more questions to be answered and more people woven into the tapestry of our lives. This is especially so if you’re a multiracial family. In preparing for our adoption, I did all the research, I knew all the ways to include my child’s ethnicity into our family’s nucleus. But as fate had it, that sweet little baby wasn’t placed with us. And just a few weeks later we were surprised with an emergency placement… of the blondest haired, bluest eyed cherubic baby you’ve ever seen.  Go figure. So while I still want H to have a connection to his birth family’s roots, it’s not quite so pressing because simply, at first glance, there’s not that blazing difference in appearances. Did I answer that question appropriately? Not so sure. We’re just seven months in from placement, 7.5 months in from that heart breaking disappointment. So even though Little H consumes every corner of my mom-brain and is the light of my life, I still think about the baby that  wasn’t placed with us every day. I’m sure that will fade with time. But currently, the transition from expecting an African American baby to having a Caucasian baby is still a part of my life. Clearly, some of the details aren’t what I expected. But overall, the ideals that I hold important remain the same. I want him to know that he is loved by his birth family. I want him to know about them – and to know them. I want him to know that he is entitled to feel exactly how he feels. If he’s feeling sad or mad regarding adoption, I want him to know that that’s ok and that we’re there to listen.

What resources do you look to for learning what you need to know about adoption and raising an adopted person? What do you like about these? Are there any “resources” you have seen and not liked? Why?

I’m a blog junkie. I bought several books while making our adoption plan but I just can’t get through them. They’re written by well meaning psychologists and I’m sure they’re great for some people.  But when it comes down to it, I prefer blogs. Real life experiences from people who aren’t experts is what I need. I like to learn from real moms’ mistakes and laugh with them as they learn the ropes of parenthood. It puts a face and a heart on “The Adopted Child” that you read about in the books.

You have a mixed biological/adoptive family. Do you feel there are unique challenges to this experience, from your perspective? Are there unique blessings?

I do feel that there are unique challenges to having both biological and adoptive sons. Just the other day, I got into a conversation with W about how much we look alike. It wasn’t a real heavy talk. It was short and to the point then he was off with his trains and dinosaurs. But it stuck with me for a while. How would that convo had gone down if the boys were older? How would it have made H feel to hear me talk about how much W and I look alike? Will W feel left out because he doesn’t have a birth family like H? We will definitely have challenges as a family of mixed origin. Luckily, we have a few years to figure out how to tackle those subjects. Hopefully, our endlessly open dialog regarding H’s adoption and birth family will leave him fulfilled when it’s brought up that W and I look like twins. We’ll be able to jump right in with pictures and stories about how much H looks like his birth parents and siblings.
What does “open adoption” mean to you and your family? Do you feel you have the support you need to maintain a healthy open adoption? What is your support? Would you like to have more and if so, what kind?

Open adoption means so much to us. Ultimately, it gave us our son. But it also gave us such a bigger sense of love for a child.  Before learning about open adoption, I would have never guessed that loving an adopted child would include love for his birth family. H’s birth family loves him so much – and that will always be tangible to him. I see our relationship heading towards a place of closeness. It’s still very new and I think I don’t hear from them much because they’re healing. But I keep a blog for them and always let them know how open I am to him knowing (I mean really knowing them). Hopefully with time for healing, we will be comfortably close. We all live less than two hours apart, so there’s no excuse, if both parties are game.

If we need it, our agency is there for us. But I don’t feel like I need them as a middle man. I’m confidant in our relationship and the respect is there, on both ends. Like I said, I’d love to have a close relationship with them. But only time will tell if they will reciprocate.

Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Lindsay! To read my answers to Lindsay’s questions, visit her blog.

By Special Request: 10 Red Flags that Your Adoption Agency Might be Coercive

I like to think that no prospective adoptive parent wants to adopt a baby whose mother really wanted to keep him–and might have done, with the right kind of support. But adoption agencies by and large are in the business of adoption. They are not in the business of counseling or supporting women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies to do anything else but place their children for adoption.

That being the case, while “coercion” may be too strong a word to apply to all adoption agencies, it is hard to see how any adoption agency is not mostly hoping that the expectant mothers that come to them will choose to place their babies for adoption. For this reason, it can be hard to sort out a relatively ethical agency from a downright coercive one.

In the end, you have to make the call for yourself and look most of all to the individual circumstances of any placement you find offered you, but there are things to watch for as you research the best agency you can find.

Not all of these is a sure sign in and of itself that your agency is practicing coercion with expectant moms. But each of them is a reason to look closer.

Caveat: This is all in reference to adoptions in the United States.

1. Calling expectant women in crisis pregnancies “birth mothers” before they place their children, or even well before they’ve given birth. The term “birth mother” is questionable in and of itself. Many mothers who have placed children for adoption find it an offensive label that distances them from the fact of their real motherhood. But to call a pregnant woman a birth mother (read: “merely” a birth mother) before she has signed away her parental rights–even before she has given birth–is to subtly distance her in her own mind from the possibility of keeping her baby. She is always-already “just” there to provide a baby for others to adopt.

Adoption professionals should be referring to pregnant women working with them as just that–pregnant women or expectant mothers. These women may be considering adoption, but they are not “birth mothers” at least until they have placed (if indeed it is ever appropriate to call them this).

This ought to be a red flag, and it is. But, here’s the rub: I have never come across an agency that didn’t do this at least somewhere in their materials, website or just in talking among themselves. What that says to me is that “adoption coercion” is almost a redundancy. [Healthy, newborn infant] adoption in the United States is coercive. But we can work to make it less so by letting the agencies we work with–perhaps especially the best of them–know that this language is offensive and inappropriate.

2. Providing agency “counseling” for expectant mothers—often this is about talking mothers into placement not truly helping them make a decision. The TLC show, “Birth Moms” gives some sadly excellent examples of this. The counseling basically amounts to a “how to give up your baby” class. How can you know what kind of counseling an agency offers? All you can do is ask. Listen carefully and consider what it would sound like to you if you were a pregnant woman thinking about adoption. Is it the kind of counseling you would want or need?

3. Providing housing—esp. on agency grounds—for expectant mothers. It’s a fine line that different states handle differently. How much pre-birth assistance to a pregnant woman is okay and what amount counts as coercive or as baby-selling? Any amount of help can place a sense of obligation on the woman that she owes her baby to the agency (or prospective adopters) in return for help and services. On the other hand, it feels cold not to offer a woman help when she is pregnant, whether she plans to place her baby in adoption or not. If you yourself end up giving assistance to an expectant mother, be sure to remember what it is–assistance to an expectant mother. Make sure the woman hears from you that there are no strings attached to your help. If you can’t say this to her with honesty, don’t accept the “match.”

4. Websites that subtly give one message to prospective adoptive parents (open adoption means the birth mother might get a letter once in a while and she will probably lose interest in a few years) and another to expectant moms (open adoption means you will always have access to your child, you will still be in his life as much as you want to, with no mention that open adoption is not usually legally binding).

This agency’s website is an excellent example of this double-message. I used the form on the “pregnant?” side of this website to ask if open adoption is legally binding in the state in which it operates (Louisiana) and how soon a woman was allowed to sign a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) without revocation in the state. The response was that no, open adoption is not legally binding there. If you watch the birth mother testimony videos about how “in control” they are of their adoptions, you will hear no hint of the fact that in the state where they live, the adoptive parents of their children could change addresses, phone numbers, never contact the agency again and disappear–legally–regardless of promises made to their children’s first mothers.

Always read the whole website, both the “for birth parents” side and the “for adoptive parents” side. Request all print materials given to each as well and maybe even call the agency posing as an expectant mother to see how eager they are for you to “work with” them or for you to use their “services.” That work and those services are for the sake of getting babies to prospective adoptive parents, not for your sake.

5. Being a for-profit agency–or a not-for-profit one that seems a bit too well-heeled. Find out what the fees cover and what the agency’s finances are like.

The agency we used to adopt our children has fees that are roughly the same as the current federal tax-credit for adoption. They do this to keep adoption within the reach of a maximum number of parents, regardless of income. (Of course, tax-credits are not accessible to all income-levels, but it’s the best we are doing in the United States right now.) This leaves the agency with a shoestring budget to keep the lights on and the phones hooked up and put gas in the social workers’ cars. Poverty in an adoption agency can be a good thing when it means no one is raking in cash by selling babies.

6. Being in a state that allows TPRs to be signed too early and without a revocation period. Some states allow non-revocable terminations of parental rights to be signed by a mother as soon as 24 hours after the birth of her baby.

(When I questioned that Louisiana agency above, the answer was 72 hours after birth with no revocation period–or opportunity to change your mind. This is the same law we have in my state where our children were adopted. One came to us right after those 72 hours were up and the other came 10 days after birth because she and her mother were both still in the hospital. But in general, agencies tend to push for the TPRs to be signed as soon as legally allowable. A great agency is one that not only does not push this way, but perhaps provides temporary care for a baby a mother isn’t sure she can take home, but isn’t sure she can relinquish. Our agency sometimes uses the services of a larger, nearby agency, that offers a nursery for this purpose, giving mothers more time to think through a decision after the birth of their babies.)

Look around and you will often find other abuses occurring in states with short TPR signing limits—like egregious violations of the rights of biological fathers. Utah is a notorious example. If you can help it, just never, ever adopt a baby born in Utah. Perhaps that sounds extreme, but I stand by it.

7. Providing nothing but adoption services. An agency that also provides foster care, or single-parent/low-income assistance to women actually parenting their children is a good indication that women are encouraged to make their own decisions rather than pushed towards adoption. Many “social services” agencies do all of this work, not merely adoption.

8. Abortion versus Adoption rhetoric. When adoption is portrayed by the agency as merely an alternative to abortion and parenting the child is not explored in much detail, it erases a woman’s agency to choose to keep her baby. An over-emphasis on adoption as the non-abortion alternative to a crisis pregnancy also tends to indicate a moralism in an agency that is likely to extend to disapproval of single, young or poor mothers rather than a desire to help them keep their babies. Religious-based agencies (though not all of them–Lutheran Social Services being a notable exception) often have this rhetoric. You can be sure that the rhetoric alone is shaming to single women expecting babies, and shame is coercive.

For a thoughtful post on why adoption is not simply an alternative to abortion, see Racilous.

9. A high percentage of pre-birth matches that don’t “fall through” after birth. The rough percentage should be close to 50/50. When few mothers are choosing to keep their babies after birth, the agency is probably doing something coercive rather than just happening across women who turn out to place in higher than typical numbers. That might sound hard–who wants to go through the disappointment of a missed chance to adopt? But it is realistic.

10. An overall “babies-for-parents” rather than “families-for-babies” attitude in the agency. If you feel like a customer, if the adoptions an agency is making feel like orders fulfilled, if you are not challenged to think about the possibility of accepting a harder-to-place child rather than the perfectly healthy same-race newborn you might have produced biologically, the agency might be emphasizing adoptive parents to the detriment of expectant mothers and their children.

I also tell friends who ask to look at the guidelines for adoptive parents. If they have too many restrictions (income, marital status, age, current number of children, years married, sexual orientation, etc.) it could be a red flag. Willingness to work with any qualified (passed a home study) prospective parent shows that they are most concerned about finding parents for babies who need them and less about wooing the perfect, monied customer with a Leave it to Beaver profile that can impress expectant moms (or worse, shame them about their own deficiencies) into placing their babies for adoption.

Wait, Make that Eleven

This is a tough one, but in general, encouraging prospective adoptive parents to meet a baby before the mother has signed her final TPR can be a problem. I know adoptive parents who were present for the birth of their child. I know first mothers who wanted the adoptive parents present. Often, people are very happy with this arrangement. Especially in hindsight, when things have gone well, it can be a beautiful memory.

But things don’t always “go well.” For this reason, an agency should not encourage it. Having adoptive parents at the birth or hospital after birth can create a serious difficulty for a mother who has decided she wants to keep her baby. And of course, it can be gut-wrenching to watch the birth and then find out the baby won’t be yours after all. If possible, a pregnant woman should have her “own” support for her birth experience, rather than the adoptive family–or at least in addition to it.

For just about every red flag on this list and a few extras, see my write-up of that awful TLC show.

The longer I live adoption, the more important these ethics become. I am grateful that we were able to find just about as ethical an agency as I have ever found–though they are far from perfect–and that the individual circumstances of our adoptions fulfill my ethical standards. But it has taken years to learn just what those standards are, because the problems in adoption are not well known by people outside of it. Adoption is too often assumed to be an uncomplicatedly good thing. It is far from this.

Please add your own red flags, anecdotes, or links in the comments and let’s keep spreading the word.


Update May 2013: For those who are concerned about the possibility of corruption in International adoption, there is a wonderful post here, that gives some bullet points to consider when choosing an agency/country/program. It’s part of a series considering the importance of reform and ethics in international adoption–especially on the part of people who are motivated by religious beliefs to help “orphans”.

A Reality Check for TLC’s Latest “Reality Show,” “Birth Moms”

Correcting misleading portrayals of adoption in the media is a never-ending battle for many of us. And while I often ignore bad adoption references, choosing to roll my eyes at things like Loki being “adopted” or yet another bad-seed-type horror movie, I couldn’t let this one go. I am sure that my readers are aware of the scripted and false nature of so-called reality television, but I wanted to point out just a few of the most obvious problems–mainly enormous breeches of ethics–in the show, beyond the meta-problem of putting these women on television in the first place, with an assumed story line that they will be relinquishing their children at the end of the narrative.

1. Moving expectant moms out-of-state removes them from their own support networks, isolates them and creates a more vulnerable situation in which they are less likely to feel in touch with their own parenting and other resources.

2. Housing pregnant women in adoption-agency housing does everything above, plus creates a sense of dependency and indebtedness towards the agency.

3. Moving expectant mothers to Utah puts them in a state which has, perhaps the worst record of all fifty states on adoption ethics. Utah adoption law is often used to intentionally cut off biological fathers from their children even when they want to and would be able to parent. In Utah, a woman is allowed to sign an irrevocable termination of her parental rights to her child as early as 24 hours after birth.

These times limits–in any state, of whatever length–are almost always explained in these terms: “the birth mother has XYZ hours/days to change her mind.” This completely misrepresents the law. In fact, the mother has eighteen years to make decisions about her child. These time limits are supposed to be helpful to women making adoption placement decisions by restricting them from being allowed to sign papers before they’ve had a real chance to carefully consider the decision, spend time with their babies, contact friends and relatives who might be supportive of their parenting or even allow the drugs they received in labor to fully leave their systems. A state that allows a woman to sign away her rights so soon after birth with no option to rethink her decision is failing in its obligation to protect women from coercive adoption practices.

4. I know that it is a sticky subject, and that there are exceptions to this rule and people on all sides of the adoption “triad” (for lack of a better term) who have had good experiences, but with that caveat, it is not a good idea to have prospective adoptive parents in the birthing room with a woman considering placing her child.

This situation creates an emotionally coercive atmosphere in which the adoptive parents seem like the baby’s parents before they are. It creates a situation in which a birthing mother feels that much more obligated not to let them down and disappoint them by keeping her child.

5. When a mother says “I want to keep my baby,” or “I don’t want to give him to anyone else,” or “I want to raise him myself” but that she feels she has no choice but to place him for adoption because she has no money, no job, no car, no house… a social services worker has a moral obligation to find support for her to keep her child. Poverty alone is not a good reason to place a child in adoption. Virtually no healthy infant adoptions are occurring in countries with strong social safety nets like paid maternity leave, free and subsidized child care, socialized medical care and other benefits. Adoption is a drastic, traumatic life event for both mothers and children and should never happen unless absolutely no other options are available.

6. At least in the way this show was filmed and edited, it looked like the “counseling” session these young women had with a man from the adoption agency was nothing but a give-away-your-baby class. When one of the expectant moms suggested that another’s difficulty in choosing a family might signal her desire to keep her baby, the “counselor” was silent and the woman seemed pressured to prove that she was committed to adoption, when in fact, she explicitly wasn’t. A real counselor ought to have picked up that thread and helped her explore her options besides adoption.

Likewise, when she complained about the lack of racial diversity in the prospective parent profiles, the “counselor” again said nothing. She made an excellent point that the only family she liked already had three biological children–all blonde–and her biracial son might feel out of place in such a family. No one affirmed her hesitations as reasonable or right. No one offered her information about transracial adoption and its effect on children or the ways in which white parents ought to be prepared to raise a child of color. No one offered to put her in touch with adult adoptees who grew up in transracially adoptive families.

Similarly when another expectant mom asked the prospective adoptive parents of her child not to tell her son that he was adopted it ought to have raised a red flag that she was not ready to place. Whatever her troubles–and the show certainly made her look quite troubled–adoption, if she is feeling that much shame about it, will only add to them. At the very least, she ought to have been given some real counseling. She ought to have been given such counseling when she talked to the doctor about her drug and alcohol problems as well. It was sadly clear that no one she talked to–the adoption agency “counselor,” the doctor, the prospective adoptive parents–cared at all about her and what would become of her after her baby was born. All they cared about was getting that baby away from her. And all the show seemed to care about was portraying her as always-already unfit to raise her own children, so that we wouldn’t care too much about her ourselves.

[Just a little update here to say that if you read the Huffington Post’s ridiculous story about this woman–which concludes “Are you horrified by her?”–and then read the comments you will get a sense of just how horrifying people are about young women in distress. There is just about zero compassion for this woman. It alarms me that people with that attitude towards pretty much anyone, might go out and become parents–by adoption or otherwise. I am surprised that so many people don’t seem to know the basic fact that addiction is a disease, that by its very nature is uncontrollable. The woman with an alcohol and drug addiction could not stop her behavior through willpower or love for her baby, no matter how much she wanted to. But it doesn’t surprise me that such a woman might have given up trying to be “good” when everyone is so determined to paint her as evil.]

7. When a baby goes home with adoptive parents and a mother goes home without her baby, that is not the end. Adoption is a lifelong condition that has repercussions forever–into future generations. I am not saying that adoption can never create a happy family (it created one for me) or that all adopted people are especially broken. (We are all broken in some way, but we are also resilient.) But adoption is not automatically a good thing just because it’s adoption. In fact, I was not sure why some of the prospective parents were adopting. It seemed like a couple of them just thought adoption was an inherently charitable act and they wanted to do it to have done this good deed, when in fact, it was unneeded by the mother and the baby. (I am thinking of the family with three children who said “we’ve always wanted to adopt.” Why? And they adopted a baby whose mother wanted to keep him and was already raising a healthy daughter. It was not exactly a “rescue” of a child in desperate circumstances.) There is so much more to adoption than these simplistic stereotypes.

8. A small note about language: A woman is not a “birth mom” before she has given birth and relinquished her parental rights. The term “birth mom” itself, even after relinquishment is problematic to many people. But even those who accept the term don’t accept it before the adoption happens. Calling women who are merely considering adoption “birth moms” is part of the cultural coercion that makes it more difficult for a woman struggling with a crisis pregnancy to see options besides adoption.

Have you got feedback about this show? Please leave it in the comments. If you’re blogging about it, please leave a link.

Return to the Baby Scoop Days?

Today HDNet is running an hour-long documentary about women who lost their babies, against their will, to the U.S. adoption machine of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. It’s great to see some attention to this in sort of mainstreamish media (as mainstream as an obscure cable channel gets). In honor of that, I’m cross-posting a recent piece I did for BlogHer:

There’s nothing quite like an election year to bring the whackjobs out of the woodwork, is there?

2012 is no exception, and really how could it be, after the past 8 years of a GOP race to the bottom? They “won” by disenfranchising numerous legal voters in 2000 (and getting lucky with a Supreme Court that was seemingly too tired to wait for a recount). In 2004 they turned out the bigotry vote by putting “gay marriage” at the bottom of various state ballots. They tried something similar with “gay adoption” in 2008 to notably less success, but Sarah Palin’s right-wing extremism and anti-intellectualism and the rise of the Tea Party distanced them yet further from civil, moderate discourse.

Now there is almost nowhere (right) left to go. In 2012 we’ve managed to regress so far intellectually, that Nina Fedoroff, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently claimed that the anti-intellectual political climate in the United States, particularly among republican presidential candidates and big corporate political funders, had her “scared to death.”

When you think about it, it’s only logical that a party this out of touch with reality would also consider women’s access to a fundamental health need, namely contraception, to be debatable.

Rick Santorum, who has claimed that birth control in general is “not okay” (like, ever, including within marriage) was one-upped in the extremist comment department by his own billionaire supporter Foster Friess who suggested that the “pill” women needed for birth control was an aspirin between their knees.

Rush Limbaugh liked that one and repeated it in his three-day personal attack on Sandra Fluke after she testified to the U.S. Senate democrats that lack of access to hormonal contraceptives had caused a friend to lose an ovary. Limbaugh went Friess one even further, of course, calling Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute and cajoling that she and her friends ought to put sex videos on the Internet for Limbaugh and his friends to watch.

Limbaugh’s radio advertisers have been pulling their support from the show lately and this may be his last stand. But if saying slut and prostitute out loud about women who use contraception becomes Limbaugh’s downfall, it won’t be for crossing a line — it will be for making the line Santorum and company have already crossed too obvious to ignore.

That line is wide and blurry, sliding from sex workers to victims of rape to young women exploring their bodies and desires to married women who just don’t want to have any more babies, to women for whom pregnancy could be life threatening to women who need hormonal treatment for conditions unrelated to contraception at all. All of these women, according to the right-wing side of the current debate, should be ashamed for needing birth control. All of these women need to be controlled but certainly cannot be trusted to control themselves.

A couple of amusing — though logical — subtexts of this line of thinking have been pointed out. Rachel Madow’s cogent read of Rush Limbaugh’s attack indicates, for example, that Limbaugh doesn’t really understand how “the pill” works. Jezebel recently drew the conclusion that republican men were trying to make vaginal sex so dangerous that women would be more willing to have anal sex.

But the subtext of this “debate” that jumps out for me is adoption. After all, people have been having sex — shame or no shame, birth control or no birth control, ever since God said, (in renaissance English) “be fruitful, and multiply.” They’ll go on having sex, whether women can enjoy it safely or not, and when they do, sometimes, unplanned babies will be born. (In the Brave New Birth-Control-Free World, there will be of course, no abortion. Witness the latest prong of the anti-choice attack that suggests women — compared in the argument to farm animals, such as pigs and cows — should even be forced to carry dead fetuses “to term.”)

And in a world where single parenting (read “single mothering”) is being pathologized by law as leading to child abuse, those unplanned babies will have to go somewhere.

In the 1950s and 1960 and in the early 1970s, when women had little access to reliable birth control, little education about where babies come from (besides being admonished to keep an aspirin between their knees, presumably), the routine for white, middle-class unmarried girls and women who had babies was shame, silence, and the all but forced separation of mother and child by adoption laws that erased the mother’s existence and rewrote a child’s history “as if” born to adoptive parents.

These, seemingly, were the good old days to the likes of Santorum and his billionaire backer Friess. But they were not the good old days for those of us in the progressive adoption reform movement. We call them the “Baby Scoop Era,” when babies were unceremoniously taken from their mothers and often lost to them forever after.

These days, though adoption placement coercion is still far too common, the notion that a woman is unfit to parent her child simply because her sexuality exists outside of legal marriage is most often dismissed. Being young, single, even poor, are not reasons in and of themselves to place a baby for adoption and more and more girls and women — Bristol Palin, for example — know this and have resisted adoption for their children.

But more and more married couples are having fertility trouble these days too, and the wait to adopt a healthy white infant is long — often many years long — and the international adoption market is in flux, frequently disrupted by child trafficking scandals or rumors of them and political upheaval.

I am not suggesting there is a smoke-filled room in which red-faced republican men are plotting a fresh supply of healthy, domestic-born, white babies for the adoption market. But there is a certain symmetry in the push for adoption and the beatification of adoptive families in right-wing circles and this desire to keep women’s fertility in men’s control. The people opining about aspirin between the knees would be more than happy to suggest that the babies of fallen women be adopted by the “right” people — middle-class married couples. They would be proud of such a solution, no doubt.

But those who survived the baby scoop era (for example, the women whose voices fill The Girls Who Went Away) know better than to believe the pretty picture of adoption as a perfect solution in the case of an unplanned pregnancy. Assured that they would forget their babies and move on with their lives — marry, have more children — many of the women who relinquished their children to adoption in the mid-twentieth century tell stories of lifelong anguish, shame, guilt, hiding, even hiding the truth, sometimes from spouses and other children. The children of those women — the ones adopted — tell stories of searching desperately for something as simple as the name their mother gave them at birth, before it was sealed by the court and they were given a new one by adoptive parents.

These are not times anyone should wish to return to. The open records movement is made up of adoptees, first parents, and adoptive parents who believe adoptees have a right to their original birth certificates — the basic information of how they came into the world that non-adopted people mostly take for granted.

But most importantly, the adoption reform movement wants to see fewer babies separated from the mothers who bore them in the first place. Hard as that might be for people waiting to adopt a baby, (and I have been one, so I understand how it feels), it is better for mothers, for children and for our society and its view of women overall, when we acknowledge that women — and girls — have a right to both their bodies and their babies, regardless of when, where, how, with whom and even simply if, they have sex.

I like to think that the worms are out of the can and there can never be a return to the Baby Scoop era. And perhaps there can’t — not exactly in that original form — but there can be something new that is just as bad in its own way. To prevent that we need to shout to the skies that not only do women have a right to have sex without having babies, but when they do, they have a right to raise their children — with or without the dubious benefit of the GOP’s blessing.


One of the reasons I don’t write much here anymore is that fairly early on, I realized that Nat is a private person. She is reticent to talk much about important or complicated topics and I didn’t feel it was right for me to go on talking to the general public about her business if it was likely she was going to dislike it when she got old enough to realize I was doing it.

So while I’m not going to tell you exactly what she and I have been talking about lately, I do want to share that we have been talking.

I have heard that many times, adoptive parents assume that if kids aren’t talking/asking about something, they aren’t thinking about it. I have also heard that that assumption is usually proved wrong–sometimes in sad ways that might have been avoided with better communication.

In our case, Nat has typically been very unlikely to raise the topic of adoption or race or having same-sex parents, or any sensitive topics that affect her personally. But we have always talked about those things openly anyway, to try and make sure she grew up knowing that those topics were not secrets, shameful, or in any way threatening or off-limits. I could also get hints that Nat was thinking about these kinds of things from other sources–lately, she’s been writing stories, for example, that, while fictional, are exceptionally transparent! Also, Selina, who is a far less pensive kid, is much more open about these topics, bringing them up casually and frequently.

But in the past six months, Nat and I have had some really intense conversations, all initiated by her. In fact, long as six and a half years might have seemed to wait to hear her broach topics I’ve been chattering about to her all that time, her way of engaging has turned out to be (or at least seems to me, to be) quite precocious. We’ve had some difficult discussions that I had assumed we would have when she is a teenager. She’s only seven.

I wanted to break my general Nat silence to tell you this because you may be or may know an adoptive parent who is shy about bringing up these topics or is waiting for a child to bring them up first. I want to add my two cents to the pile of advice suggesting that we keep bringing things up. I feel like my persistence is beginning to pay off now, because my sweet, almost painfully empathetic kid has gotten the message that no matter how challenging the issue, she won’t hurt me with her honest feelings and I will always be on her side in difficulty.

Keep talking. Even if you get changes of subject, rolling eyes or silly faces, at any one moment, try, try again. Let them know you won’t shy away from any of their truth, no matter how hard.