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4 problems with today parents adoption article

4 Problems with NBC TODAY Parents Adoption Article

Beware any article that paints open adoption as terrible. Beware any article that paints open adoption as wonderful. Open adoption — which occurs when people come together under less-than-optimal circumstances — is a mix of the sublime and the sorrowful.

I was encouraged when I saw a headline for a TODAY Parents article: “Open Adoption is not something to fear.” That statement, I believe, is true. If parents are entering into the lifelong responsibility of adopting a child, they need to be willing and able to give her, over her lifetime, all she needs to become whole and integrated. This means adoptive parents must be willing to identify and resolve their own fears and insecurities  about not being the Only in their child’s life. (As the author says, she was “scared to death” about having to share her child. But she worked through that fear, as adoptive parents need to do).

So I’m on board with the title.  But much of what comes after that is problematic. Here are the top 4 issues that jump out at me.

4 problems with today parents adoption article

1. The Word “Our”

The article’s subheading “Finding Our Birth Mom” violates two oft-invoked rules in cross-triad groups, groups that seek to understand the perspectives of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents.

The word “our” is not only insulting to birth parents, it’s also inaccurate. Birth parents have expressed that calling her “ours” can imply some sort of ownership and an imbalance of status, reducing a woman to a breeder (that’s how some report it feels).

And technically, she is NOT the parents’ birth mom. She is the child’s birth mom.

2. Timing: Use of the Term “Birth Mom”

Online cross-triad adoption groups have embraced the fundamental understanding that using the term “birth mom” too early in the process is at best inaccurate, and at worst, coercive.

Just like any other pregnant woman, a woman considering adoption is an expectant mom — until she (and the father) legally relinquishes her baby. This cannot legally happen prior to the baby’s birth. In other words, no woman can place a baby that hasn’t been born yet; therefore, no pregnant woman can be a birth mom to the baby she carries.

Regarding the coercive nature of this term prior to placement, my friend at The Adopted Ones says “ If you call someone something long enough, they’ll start to believe it. In the case of a woman experiencing a crisis, those not-so-subtle terms can go along way to making sure she sticks to the plan.”

3. Cherry Picking States

The author’s story includes a strategy that many adopting people take without fully understanding the implications of that strategy: “I began contacting private adoption attorneys in the states that I was willing to adopt from.”

The author may not even be aware of it, but this statement can be code for, I want to do my business in an adoptive-parent-friendly state, one that protects my interests.

And who could argue with that?

Well, there are some states in which protecting the interests of adoptive parents comes at the expense of protecting the interests of placing parents. Worried about getting consent from the father? Some states will help you around that, even if the father wants and intends to parent his child.

Worried that she’ll get attached to her baby and have too long to change her mind and parent? Some states have such short periods between birth and relinquishment that the woman could still be under the influence of the brain-fogging  medicines administered for childbirth.

Worried that she’ll suddenly be able to parent because a support system comes through for her? Some states have laws advantageous to  less-than-ethical facilitators and attorneys, which spurs the practice of shipping an expectant mom to that state for the duration of her pregnancy. This strips her of any support system she may have had. The lure is being treated “like a queen” during her pregnancy. (That quote comes from the first mom of one of my children, who was promised a lovely apartment, a clothing allowance, and other living expenses if she left behind her parents and her son and incubated away from Colorado. Her intuition told her to run away from that plan).

Of course, those expenses are paid by hopeful adoptive parents who tend to expect a return on their investment. And too often, we hear stories about how the “queen” is reduced to “peon” as soon as the ink is dry on the papers she signs.

4. Paying Pre-Birth Expenses

The author states as fact: “In private adoption you pay attorney fees and birth mother expenses prior to the baby coming.”

That may be true in some cases, but doing so is actually outlawed in some states. As I cover in a section on ethics in my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, some birth moms are the most vocal against the practice of paying pre-birth expenses. This practice muddies the placement decision with financial matters and can be considered coercive. Plus, it can make adoption seem more like a transaction than a sacred relationship people enter into.

Sublime and Sorrowful

I appreciate the author’s core message: don’t be afraid to let your child’s birth parents into your lives in a meaningful way. (I hope that’s her core message; perhaps I added those last 4 words on my own.) With a platform the size of TODAY Parents, the article must be examined in terms of accuracy, ethics,  and perspective.

Adoption, at its best and over the course of time, is both sublime and sorrowful. Just ask this adoptee. Or this first mom. Or this adoptive mom.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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16 Responses

  1. The intentions of this article are good, but you point out some glaring things that need to be addressed. There’s one more I will point out: the focus on finding the match, not on the ongoing relationship.

    There’s still this assumption by the world in general that once a child is adopted, the story is over and they all lived happily ever-after. Yet when know that it’s actually just the beginning. I wishes the author would have talked more about the ongoing relationship, the dialogue they are having both with their daughter’s first family as well as with her (and their other children). Maybe even talk about what they’ve learned with putting their child(ren) at the center of the triad instead of themselves (which didn’t really come across).

    In short, a well intentioned start, but it’s clear the conversation needs to continue. Adult adoptees need to continue sharing their stories and be supported in doing so. And work for people like you needs to be talked about more. Because well intentioned can still be harmful.

  2. Thanks for this Lori. You are spot on and I hope somehow this reaches the author of the original article you mention. Open adoption is complex yet is so beneficial to everyone, especially the adoptee, when done with the well-being of the adopted child at the forefront.

  3. The entire article read like a stereotype of the entitled AP. The terminology used was also problematic and often incorrect. In addition to what you pointed out, there’s the fact that a private adoption is any adoption that isn’t through foster care. The author did a private independent adoption, and independent adoption comes with its own ethical pitfalls. The APs being in the delivery room is also controversial. I, personally, dislike APs talking about that as if it were their right to be there in the first place, as this author did. I could go on…

  4. I think we’re all responsible for anything we put out there, but there is greater reach (and chance to do damage) with the mainstream media vs. blog. Even an entertainment show online magazine needs to check their words. So true: “With a platform the size of TODAY Parents, the article must be examined in terms of accuracy, ethics, and perspective.”

  5. I have very mixed feelings about the article and the concerns addressed in response to it.

    Overall, I think the article is trying to portray that open heartedness that we should all strive for. To me, the tone was right even if the semantics were not what is considered correct.

    Language is super powerful and I understand the concerns with timing of using the term birth mom. However, many folks, (adoptees, in particular) issues with that term in and of itself–regardless of whether it used before or after the adoption takes place.

    The word “ours” of course doesn’t make sense when adoptive parents use it to refer to “our birth mother”. However, I firmly believe that it’s important that adoptive parents not be afraid to discuss “their” daughter or son. Our child. Your mom. Your dad. Your family… These are powerful statements of belonging, crucial for healthy development–not necessarily possessiveness.

    As far as cherry picking states, I understand why people choose states that are more “adoptive parent friendly”. It’s a scary process and pre-adoptive parents are vulnerable. Many people may only have enough money for one adoption… that goes smoothly… This was the case for myself 20+ years ago and one reason I chose international adoption as it seemed more financially secure. Right or wrong, this is a reality of the adoption world.

    I do think it’s wrong to pluck a woman away from her supports and life in order to facilitate things for the adoptive parents. It is not wrong to make that move if it is in line with HER goals and desires.

    As a mom through adoption for quite a few years, I’m at a place where I think that we (as in the adoption community) need to be very careful to be respectful, giving and above all, CHILD centered, to the INDIVIDUAL CHILD’S NEEDS!

    1. Katie,

      This adoptee would far prefer the timing of using birth mother be correct vs the term itself. I’m far more concerned about the tactics used to get an expectant mother to follow the plan to surrender her parental rights to her child after birth, than industry calling a mother by birth a birthmother AFTER she has signed away her parental rights to her child. Until she has signed her rights away, she is first an expectant mom, then a mom post birth.

      I can’t imagine finding out that my parents participated (knowingly or unknowingly) in making my mother feel like she had to sign away her parental rights after she gave birth to me because she needed to follow the plan and was only a birthmother. It would break my heart for her, for myself, and it would bother deeply if my parents had been involved.

      That’s why non-coercive language matters, and everything else that happens leading up to the adoption matters. Every adoption that must happen, must be done ethically and with the highest level of morals guiding the process. I’m also sure mothers are still being failed in this area.

      We must call out and correct that which can cause harm.

      1. Tao, your comments resonate with me. I am a birth mother and my son chose to meet me when he was 19. He is now 35. He is a doctoral candidate in psychology. Although he is not researching the subject of adoption and we often talk about how it has impacted his identity and mine. i’m curious to hear your thoughts on the terms first mother and second mother? These two have their pitfalls, chief among them is how adoptive mothers identified-as the second mother. But my son’s point is simple. I am his first mother. His adoptive mother is no longer alive so we haven’t been able to ask her about this but is an adoptee,I am very interested to hear your thoughts.

        1. First mom is fine, Second mom is fine – it’s an accurate representation of the order of things. I know some seem to not like being the second mom, but they adopted knowing the baby/child was born to another woman. I do understand the underlying insecurities that it might evoke but only they can work through those.

          Adoption is complicated, messy, hard and lets face it, there will never be perfect terminology for something that is an imperfect solution to a child needing a home.

          We didn’t use qualifiers before our mother’s / father’s in my home – mom and dad didn’t need them but they were very secure.

  6. I saw you post this article on FB and read it immediately. I picked out your first 3 points you made here, 3 days before reading this post. I am completely intolerant of the use of “our birth mom” and referring to the mom as the “birth mom” prior to placing the child for adoption (I actually prefer “first mom” over “both mom”). She is not YOUR birth mom! And because I support what’s best for babies and their moms and dads, I would NOT choose to adopt from a state that favors adoptive parents. No way.

    I’ve been looking forward to your reaction – thank you for posting it!!!

  7. Lori, you said, in quoting the article, “(As the author says, she was “scared to death” about having to share her child. …).” Her, being the operative word.

    This statement reveals the error ridden starting point of the problematic and for some of them, ought to be illegal as they are certainly unethical / immoral, issues you point out.

    The mother and/or father share *their* child with the adoptive parent/s. Not, the other way around.

    It is the de-mothering of mother by fair means /or foul. That is precisely what leads to these other issues.

    Maybe one way to get adoptive parents to discontinue the phrase “our birth mom” would be to ask them, “How much did you pay for her?” or “How much did you pay to own her and rename her?” (from mother to *birth* mother) .

  8. That NBC site is labeled Open Discussion, and I think anyone can contribute. It’s a forum, basically. If it were an article vetted by NBC I feel pretty sure someone would have edited it, at least for grammar if not for terminology. So people who have handled aspects of their open adoption differently could maybe post their own experience.

    I share Lori’s concerns about terminology and the assumptions that words represent. I do also think that walking the walk is more important than talking the talk, if you had to choose. The fact that this adoptive mother actively chose open adoption makes me hopeful that the relationship will continue to deepen and that it wasn’t just something she agreed to to get her hands on a baby.

    I knew a family in our adoption support group years ago who referred to their very large brood as “some home-made and some store-bought” (although the many adopted kids all came through foster care, so there actually was not a payment by the aparents). That sounds pretty crass, but they were exceptional parents of traumatized older children and they provided respite care for other stressed-out adoptive families as well. I learned a lot from them about what treating all family members with openness and respect and common sense looks like.

    Personally, I prefer birth family or original family. “First mother” to me sounds too much like “first wife,” someone who might be replaced by a fancier model. My kids prefer to call their birthmother by her first name, so that’s what we do. One of my daughters works in an office where several people know her birthfamily. When she first started there, someone came up to her and said, “You look so much like your mom.” My daughter said it really took her aback for a second, since she thinks of me in the “mom” role, and she’s African American and I’m WASPY. Then she realized they meant her other mom, and she was still taken aback because she thinks she looks more like her granny.

    1. I think it’s such a good point about the importance of walking the walk. The author IS open to developing a relationship with her child’s birth parents. That’s something.

      And that you can’t always tell a person’s intentions and heart by the words they use.

      Point taken about “first family.” Someone told me once that could mean there is be a second family, a maybe a third family….so a child may think: “what’s so permanent about family?”

      1. Your points are spot on. I would add one thing to the use of “our” – he is our son, she is our daughter. My son’s adoptive mother always used “our” in her communication with me, and later in person, when we finally met (our son was 19). This can only be a both/and conversation: biology and biography. It cannot be either/or. Of my three children, my son, the one I did not raise, is the one most like me in every way. That said, he has values his adoptive parents instilled in him and those are equally intrinsic to who he is today. He is our son.

  9. I loved this point by point analysis of the article. I will be honest, the first time I read it without your commentary I had a hard time picking out what was so awful, but after reading your points I feel completely embarrassed to have missed them the first time. I blame wine and tiredness. 🙂 I dislike when people say “our birthmom” because it makes it sound like somehow you own the birthmom, she belongs to you and your child, and it sort of creates a hierarchy that’s icky in my mind. I am so with you on the relinquishment times, and the importance of making sure that someone really has had time to make the decision. The one time we were chosen in a blind profile and then the mom decided to parent before we ever knew about it, I just remember not being sad but being grateful that she knew her mind and made the right choice for her. Maybe we would have been more hurt if we’d been in the know, but even with the hurt, you can’t go into adoption without accepting that if it’s ultimately the wrong decision, that is 100% the right of a expectant or birth mom to decide to parent. People we knew didn’t understand that at all. This article would totally play into their idea that the birth mother/expectant mother has a responsibility to follow through, and that you should maneuver your adoption plans to ensure that you don’t ever have to face that possibility.

    Thanks as always for eye opening discourse on the realities and ethical pitfalls in open adoption!

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