Category Archives: The Political is Personal

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.

Not in My Name, or, Whiteness Goddam

In the days immediately following the George Zimmerman acquittal I was in a state of shock. I wasn’t alone. I was stuck home with children too young to take to after-bedtime demonstrations, so I sat in front of my computer and tweeted with like-minded, grieving, angry fellow travelers.

But now that a few days have passed, I have moved from my sense of helpless, hopeless horror to my version of an action phase. I’m going to share it with you, and perhaps you’d like to join me, or if it doesn’t apply to you, you might pass it on to a friend to whom it does.

As a white woman, I feel a special responsibility (I almost wrote “culpability” and I’m not sure that’s far from wrong) regarding this case. I’m not saying it’s my personal fault, but my “identity” (not necessarily one I choose, but one that is put upon me by everyone who looks at me) is an enormous working piece of the machine that killed Trayvon and denied his family justice.

Because of this, when I first heard about the makeup of the Zimmerman jury, I was really, really worried. I hoped against hope that maybe being moms of teens might help these women empathize with Trayvon. But (especially after hearing from the anonymous juror on CNN), we all know that didn’t happen.

The fact is, throughout U.S. history—especially after the Civil War—white women have been the rhetorical foil white men have used to justify violence and terrorism against Black men. In the 1880s and 1890s there were several lynchings of Black men per month. In fact, in some years of those decades there were three or four lynchings per week. The overall “reason” given for these lynchings by almost everyone in the press—even in the Black press, which decried lynching but didn’t always challenge the accusations leading to it—was the rape of white women.

But Ida B. Wells (my favorite dead person of all time), challenged this claim by investigating every lynching she could, finding that in fact only 30% of lynchings were actually claimed to be about rape, and that very few of those actually were rape cases. (Many of the cases involving sex between Black men and white women, were in fact consensual relationships, as Wells pointed out, garnering death threats for her pointed honesty.)

No one accused Trayvon Martin of rape. But the icon of the threatening, always-already criminal Black boy or man is an icon perhaps not invented, but certainly refined, in the heyday of Strange Fruit, and is made out of white men’s need for sexual (well, and everything else) control of white women. This is well accounted for. Just go watch D.W. Griffith’s Birth of Nation  and you will see the story unfold there just a few years past the height of the lynching era. In that film, anxiety about white men’s loss of political and economic control to Black men is finally too much to bear when control of white women’s sexuality is added to the pile of straws.

So when George Zimmerman assumed, based on appearance that Trayvon was a criminal, a big part of why he assumed it was this history of Black boys and men being considered threats to white women. Sadly, though it’s been nearly sixty years, the twisted logic that made Emmett Till’s life worthless and let his murders go free has done the same to Trayvon.

I say 150 years (at least) of being used as an excuse to terrorize Black boys and men is enough. I’m out. I’m a white woman and I am not afraid of Black boys and men. If some white man is afraid for me, well…he needs to learn to be afraid of me. Because I’m not taking it any more.

How do I change one of the keystones of white supremacy all by my little self?

Fine, I can’t. But I can sure kick against it with all I’ve got and if you’re a white woman, you can join me and recruit all your white female friends to join too.

It is time (way past time) for white women to ally with Black boys and men with all our hearts and minds, with every shred of power we’ve got, and when it comes to this issue, we’ve got more than most of us realize.

Here are a few small things we white women can do almost every day to fight the ideology that Black boys and men are our worst enemies and to refuse anymore to be theirs:

1. Stop using the phrase “I was the only white person there.” It’s code for some kind of perception of vulnerability at best, real threat or danger at worst. But the truth is, if you’re the only white person somewhere, you’re likely to be a guest, and treated as such. If you stumbled into the “wrong” neighborhood, the history above should assure you that you are perceived to be a threat–much more so than a target.

But when you say, “I was the only white person there” with no other context for why this was relevant, you are leaning on that history to explain what being there meant. You are underscoring the idea that generally, Black people are a threat to white people and specifically that Black men and boys are a threat to white women.

Besides not saying this yourself, you can refuse to support it with your silence when other people are saying it.

When you hear someone toss the “I was the only one…” line into conversation, stop the speaker and say, “what’s your point?”

This will either force the speaker to unveil the racism behind the phrase, or to be clearer about why race legitimately mattered in the situation.

This isn’t the only phrase of this kind. What are some others you hear in what seem to the speaker to be white-only conversations? Interrupt them whenever you can.

2. Make a friend. No, your Black friend won’t be your get-out-of-racism free card. (And trying to wield it as one will lose you your Black friends fast. Because doing that is racist.) But let’s face it, if you DON’T have any black friends, you’ve got a problem. (I’m talking to U.S. Americans who live in the U.S. here, not the people of Iceland.) And everyone knows that the best kind of friends not only reflect our sense of self back to us, but challenge our sense of self, stretch us to empathize with others’ experiences and teach us new skills and ideas.

Real, honest, vulnerable friendships (based on something other than “hey you’re Black and I need a Black friend!” of course) are always valuable. When they are made across the boundaries society polices the most, they can help undo the implicit bias everyone in our culture carries around. (According to this research, seeing anti-stereotypical images helps combat implicit bias. What’s more anti-stereotypical than a true friend?)

Meanwhile, cross the daily thoughtless, race boundaries society has erected whenever the opportunity comes your way. Smile, and say hello to the Black man in front of you in the grocery store line, look those Black teen boys in the eye when they pass you on the street (whatever you do, don’t cross the street!), sit by a Black man, instead of another white woman, on the bus.

Seek out integrated spaces as much as possible. Don’t settle for the easy thoughtless comfort of being around a bunch of other white people. Try putting yourself in the minority often enough that you learn to be comfortable there.

3. Stop identifying with whiteness. I don’t mean stop allowing yourself to be labeled white by the census or the law or whatever, but to identify with whiteness within yourself. Identifying with whiteness is a pillar of white supremacy. Whiteness was made up. It didn’t fall from heaven decreed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You may have to be it in the eyes of others and ironically, in working to undo it you must acknowledge the unearned privilege it gives you. But you don’t have to give a flying fig Newton about it, yourself. You don’t have to take the wrong side in historical stories, for example.

Back when I was teaching race in U.S. history and culture to college students, the white ones would eventually come to me all distressed that “white” people had done such terrible things in U.S. history. Half these kids’ families weren’t even in  the U.S. at the time of some of the events that troubled them. I told them there was no reason to identify with Thomas Jefferson and no reason not to identify with Frederick Douglass. Your heroes should be the people who share your values, not your melanin levels.

Again, I’m not saying Jefferson didn’t set it up sweet for you if you are white nowadays and you must acknowledge that, but you can be proud to be a U.S. American because of the heritage you share with others–a heritage that includes people like Harriet Tubman and W.E.B. DuBois.

TrayvonMartinHoodedDo you have any personal examples of how you’ve carried out any of the things on my list? Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Please share them in the comments. It’s time we U.S American white women got together to form a ring of love and protection around our Black boys. But first, we have to recognize that they are ours.

Watch Out World, There Are Two Cates Online

My brother started blogging. He just couldn’t hold back after receiving a letter from his congressman assuring him of all his (congressman’s) hard work to end Obamacare.

Go say hi and tell him I sent you.

Whiplash at the Supreme Court: An Excerpt

“…how am I to feel when the Supreme Court decides today that my partner and I could potentially be legally married, but my daughters—both Black—had their future voting rights threatened by the striking down of a key aspect of the 1965 Voting Rights Act yesterday?

I am cynical enough to think that we won the right to (sort of) marry because queers are imagined as white and middle, or upper-class, like Ellen Degeneres or Anderson Cooper. Those people are comfortably familiar enough to Supreme Court-types to “deserve” civil rights, whereas poor southern Black grandmothers without driver’s licenses to show at the polls aren’t as obviously deserving of a vote.

It’s this imaginary idea—along with the racist notion that all Black people are homophobic–that is too often wielded to divide and conquer us as minority groups with many interests in common. But queer rights and the rights of racial minorities are not in competition. If we pit them against each other, we all lose.”

For more, head over to BlogHer.

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.

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