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.
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.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.