What Kind of Woman Does This? (Burning Building Test)

When we first brought Tessa home, my grandma was quite disturbed in meeting Crystal, Tessa’s firstmom.

Now, I love my Grandma, and she was an amazing woman. Almost 90 years old, she had seen space shuttles and the internet replace horse and buggies and telegrams.

But she was stuck in an absolutely incorrect view of birth mothers.

She was both grateful to Crystal for making me a mom, and contemptuous of her for “giving up her child.” Indeed, most mothers — by birth or adoption — have trouble imagining the unimaginable. Grandma couldn’t get over, “what kind of woman does this?”

Here’s a post that helps explain what an act of love relinquishment can be. The bigger point of Abebech‘s post is that adoption should only take place when the mother absolutely can’t (or won’t, in rare cases) take care of a child. It’s called the “Burning Building Test,” and I use it when I teach classes to hopeful adoptive parents.

I was impressed, at the time, by an adoptive mother who had defended the mother of her child. Someone had said “I could never give up my baby,” to which she responded, “Could you if you were in a burning building?”

And she elaborated: relinquishing a child for adoption was like tossing your child to safety, from the window of a burning building. It was not an unloving act, the act of a woman pathologically unattached to her child, but a supreme act of love.

Yes, I thought, that’s a good way to explain it to people outside the adoption community, people who don’t get what it is our child’s mother would have to have done: a woman would be compelled to throw her child from a burning building, and I would be there to catch that child. She and I would recognize each other equally as mothers, and I would know that there was nothing else that she could do.

I explain why it’s right and necessary that adopting couples use an ethical agency, one that doesn’t pursue or coerce expectant mothers. One that helps fully explore the option of parenting. One that cares more about the adoption process than about the agency’s stats on placements. One that can balance the needs and rights of both adopting couples and expectant parents. One that is aware of the Burning Building Test.

Crystal says that our agency passed this test. And because of that, she and I have created a symbiotic (rather than adversarial) relationship that endures years later, with no end in sight.

That’s what kind of woman does this. One with boundless love for her child.

24 thoughts on “What Kind of Woman Does This? (Burning Building Test)”

  1. Amen!When people ask me why I don’t “just adopt” with so many unwanted children in the world, I reply that the “unwanted children” do not usually have the parental rights terminated.Yes, there are unwanted children who are neglected and abused. First moms give their WANTED children to someone else to raise.At least that is my opinion from my very limited experience.

  2. I work on an adoption study, and in my work I have met many birth parents. People of all different types, and I have heard many tales of how they came to their decisions – the most common reasons are of altruism and rational thinking about what would be best for the child.

  3. What an incredible post. I love the burning building allusion. Just so perfectly gets at what’s truly going on. I have always struggled somewhat to understand a birth mother’s mindset, but being pregnant now myself, I can truly appreciate the massive amount of love that is involved in their decision. When there are readily available and socially acceptable options for terminating a pregnancy that would make one’s life so much simpler in the practical sense, it takes a mammoth amount of love to carry a child to term and then give it to another. My admiration for these mothers is boundless.

  4. Okay. I kinda see where you are coming from and for the most part I agree. There are many people who have kids taken away becasue of the inability to care for themselves let alone a child. I also know that it takes a strong woman to give her child to someone else and that there is no greater love. As a child of adoption, due to a rape, I think I look at it a bit different. I do not agree with coertion when it comes to adoption but how many rape victims keep the child out of guilt. When the mental welling being of the child is what is at stake, I think strong encouragement to consider that the child may cause emotional damage to the mother too, is in everyone’s best interest. So, I guess I am saying, there are circumstances that I think could use a bit of unbiased persuasion to maybe dig a little deeper than they normally would.

  5. Dr Grumbles — I would love to know more about your study.Excavator — I occasionally help re-work profiles for couples who are so focused on their hope-for outcome that they forget the others who are involved.Kind of vague, I know.

  6. Lori, Thanks for letting me know you’ve linked. I’m glad that post, that analogy, was helpful to you — certainly, it was an imperfect effort . . .

  7. I just found your blog, and this is the post I needed to read today. We are looking at a second adoption placement with my daughter’s birth mother, and I just posted how different it is the second time around, knowing so much more now. The burning building analogy works well. Thank you.

  8. Oh, I agree that the burning building test is for voluntary reliquishment. I would like to say that I admire that you still have Crystal in Tessa’s life. I don’t think i could do it and I know my mom never could have. The first two years of my life she was terrified Jeni (my bio-mother) would steal me back. It was hard enough when I was 20 and I found my bio-family.

  9. Very good point, Tammy. It is a fine line to walk — we don’t want to infantilize an expectant mom by saying she’s not capable of making the optimal decision, yet we also shouldn’t gloss over special circumstances.And to clarify, I am fairly certain that the Burning Building Test applies only to women making conscious, voluntary decisions. I am not including in this discussion women who have adoption decided for them by state or local government, due to an inability to make life decisions consciously.

  10. I LOVE THAT ALLUSION! I am so ripping that off from you the next time someone says something about our daughter’s other mom.We have an open relationship with our child’s birthfamily and it’s BY FAR the best decision we’ve ever made. It’s NOT the norm, and people do NOT get it usually…but it’s been a blessing to everyone involved and I can not imagine not having that contact. It’s fabulous. Open adoption critics should come with us sometime and see our little girl playing with her bio brother or laughing with her birthmom. I mean honestly, HOW could that be BAD??🙂

  11. You know, when I first saw the title and the picture, I was afraid this might be about a woman arsonist. I am so glad I was wrong, and so very glad you and Crystal have this strong relationship. I have been reading at Drama too, and so have gotten to see how it started, although much abridged, I am sure.

  12. Oh Lori, I love this post so much. That is excactly what it is. That is what our Autumn did for Lily. She loved her so much and loved her other children so much that she felt like she had to place.The burning building comparison is amazing. Thank you so much for this. This is going to sound very sappy, but you really do inspire me to get more involved with adoption reform and you remind me to be my daughter’s best advocate. Thank you! 🙂

  13. You have me teary. I never ever thought of it that way. i dont’ think I ever judged why they did it either, but I never thought of it as of course I’d throw my kid to safety?! How could I not?!You rock my friend.

  14. I remember this post, and I think it’s good enough to bear repeating. I love the analogy of the burning building. I worked with a woman as a caseworker (mental health) who is a birthmother with an open relationship with her daughter and her parents. She had been homeless at the time of the birth, and had mental health and substance abuse issues. When she would talk to or get a letter from her daughter, she always seemed to come back with the phrase, “Geez, look what Daughter is doing, I could NEVER have done that for her.” It’s not that she didn’t want her, it was just that she wanted more.

  15. Thanks so much for sending me this link on your comment. That is such a great analogy to use. I think that’s a great tool to explain adoption to those who have limited experience. I’ll be using that bit of wisdom in the near future I’m sure.

    Thanks for your support and helpful comments!

  16. Joan, thanks for visiting.

    Your solution would not have worked for either of my children’s first moms.

    I can understand why you have the viewpoint you do, though, given your father’s treatment.

    Until recently, I did allow anyone to comment. Until I began getting tons of spamments, especially on old posts. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  17. I forgot to mention: it would be good for those of us who do not wish to use their Google accounts, but have existing websites, to be able to use thier accounts here.

    Joan M Wheeler

  18. The “Sophie’s choice” (my analogy) or “burning building” approach does not fit all situations. You completely overlook the fact that most mothers are talked into giving up their babies by an adoption industry that feeds upon the weak to provide children for the more monetarily prosperous adopting families. You do not take into consideration that fathers, too, are talked into relinquishment of their children when faced with the black/white thinking of no other options presented to parents in crisis. My father was talked into relinquishing me just after my mother’s death by a Catholic priest who insisted that the baby needs two parents. My father’s four other children also needed two parents, and, we needed to stay together as a family, but it was much easier to give our father no other options, no help, and no support, and no grief counseling for himself and his four older children in coping with the death of his wife and our mother. By the way, my natural father is well-hated by my extended adoptive family who were happy that he provided a child to be adopted by one of their own, but they also looked down upon him for giving away his baby. This is the destructiveness of adoption psychology.

    The solution? No adoption at all. Period. Family preservation, kinship care, and guardianship are the only possible solutions because none of these solutions remove a child from an existing family. None of these solutions change a child’s identity and birth certificate to that of a falsified birth certificate that is routinely issued to adoptive parents fraudulently indicating that they “gave birth” to a child they legally adopted.

    The entire system of adoption is corrupt. Guardianship is the only option as it provides for the intact identity of the child and does not destroy the existing family.
    Joan M Wheeler

  19. It needs to be pointed out that the book Forbidden Family, written by Joan Wheeler, published by Trafford Publications has been pulled from their selling markets. The book is unavailable and no further copies of it in it’s present form will be printed. The book was pulled by the publisher after several months of investigating the documented proof sent to them by the birth family.
    The pulling of the book proves that what the birth sisters have been saying, that the book is full of lies and hate, is correct.

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