The anti-adoption movement found me years before I became a mother, though my drive has been intensified by motherhood. I began studying adoption when I was still in high school, reading every book I could find and talking with natural mothers and adopted adults in an attempt to learn as much as I could. In the beginning, it was pure gut instinct that made me question adoption, but when research supported my original feelings, I felt compelled to do something more than talk.
In 1998, I and a small group of likeminded individuals founded an organization called Adoption: Legalized Lies. Since then, our membership has grown exponentially. We have helped mothers and fathers who were considering adoption to make informed decisions, and we have supported others through contested adoption proceedings. Our main goal, though, has always been education. North American society is particularly rife with misconceptions about adoption; misconceptions which make the anti-adoption movement seem both radical and unnecessary.
According to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the majority of Americans feel positively about adoption. I can only assume that these positive feelings exist because of the many common misconceptions about adoption and the people involved in it. One common assumption is that mothers who surrender their infants are making a free and informed choice to do so. In my experience, this could not be further from the truth. It is a vicious cycle; a woman living in a society that holds adoption in high regard is hard pressed to find information about the negative consequences surrender will have on herself and her child.
This brings us to another misconception; that children who are adopted during infancy will not be affected by the loss of their mothers. Nancy Newton Verrier refutes this claim in her book, The Primal Wound. Adoptee and psychotherapist Joseph Soll does the same in his book, Adoption Healing, which offers advice for adopted people grappling with the common issues of grief, trust, and abandonment. As mothers, we should be especially capable of understanding how adoption separation is traumatic for a newborn. We know that infants are able to recognize their mothers at birth by sight, smell, and sound. Even when the baby’s new caregivers have been present during the mother’s pregnancy, they are not automatically familiar or comforting to her baby.
Another common misconception about adoption is that it is a necessary, if not wholly beneficial, institution. This simply is not true. Family preservation can go a long way in supporting mothers and fathers who wish to raise their children despite being in circumstances which would normally cause them to consider adoption. Kinship care is yet another alternative, allowing extended family members to care for children whose parents are unable or unwilling to raise them. Even in the most extreme situations, legal guardianship exists as a way to provide safe and loving care for children without changing their names or pretending that they are “as if born to” their caregivers. There is not a single situation in the world that must be remedied exclusively by adoption, nor is adoption a preferable option in any circumstance.
Of course, there are perhaps as many misconceptions about the anti-adoption movement as there are about adoption itself. One that I frequently encounter is that anti-adoption activists prefer abortion to adoption. While this is true of some, it is not true of everyone. The movement includes activists on both sides of the abortion debate. Similarly, we are not interested in forcing mothers to raise their children. We believe that given the opportunity, most women who go through nine months of pregnancy would ultimately choose to raise their babies, but we would never require a mother to parent if she was vehemently against doing so.
People unfamiliar with the anti-adoption movement also commonly assume that anti-adoption advocates would leave children in abusive or neglectful homes in order to prevent them from being adopted by others. This is tantamount to saying that anti-adoption activists do not care about the well-being of all children, and it is simply not true. Most people involved in the movement are involved precisely because they do care about children. As I mentioned previously, there are options other than adoption which facilitate getting a child out of abuse and into a safe and loving environment.
The Business of Adoption
In 2000, a study conducted by Market Data Enterprises revealed that the adoption industry had earned $1.4 billion in the previous year. The larger adoption agencies were reportedly bringing in upwards of $10 million, while the smaller agencies could boast an income of $400,000 or more. The industry as a whole was projected to grow at a rate of 11.5% into 2004, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it has slowed since then. Adoption is a big business in America.
Like other big businesses, the adoption industry is not immune to corruption. In fact, the lack of uniform laws governing adoption practices combined with the popular view of adoption as a benevolent institution enable coercion to run rampant. The federally-funded Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program teaches crisis pregnancy centers, obstetricians, and others who may come into contact with pregnant women how to sell them on the idea of adoption. Adoption agencies have been doing this same thing for decades, as is evidenced by the numerous books and websites written by and about mothers whose children were taken by the adoption industry in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Modern adoption workers have implemented new methods of coercion, including the promise of openness, but the end result is the same.
The maternity homes of the new millennium are not unlike the homes where expectant mothers were interred half a century ago. A quick glance at the facilities’ web sites indicates that they are stuck in the 1950s mentality that a pregnant teen is a “problem child.” Though some acknowledge that young women have the option of parenting, they go on to portray child-rearing in negative terms while extolling adoption as a redeeming act. Some homes, like the one operated by the Gladney Center for Adoption, ask that mothers who decide not to surrender their infants compensate them financially for their services.
While maternity homes are the epitome of isolation for expectant mothers, it is not uncommon for adoption agencies to encourage women to move away from home in order to deliver and surrender their babies. Once they have left their familiar surroundings and support systems, these women are encouraged to rely on the adoption workers for basic necessities. Situations like this are not at all conducive to helping a woman make an informed and empowered decision on behalf of herself and her baby. Because laws vary by state, women are often transported into adoption-friendly areas to birth and surrender. They will likely be encouraged to sign adoption papers earlier and have a shorter time to revoke their consent than they would have at home. Additionally, removing an expectant mother from her home state can make it difficult for the baby’s father to secure his own parental rights.
Other, less tangible aspects of coercion also exist in adoption. Mothers who are young, unmarried, or poor are often marginalized by our society. They are presented with the idea of adoption as a loving or selfless act, which sends them the subtle message that keeping the baby is unloving or selfish. In all my years of research and activism, I have yet to meet a surrendering mother who was fully informed of the emotional and psychological risks for herself and her child. A decision made under false pretenses and without proper information can hardly be classified as a choice!
Of course, infant adoption is not the only form of adoption driven by dollars in America. Ever since the Adoption and Safe Families Act went into effect in 2000, states have been clamoring to earn federal bonuses by getting foster children into adoptive homes. While stability is a beneficial goal for children who cannot remain with their families, many parents’ rights organizations have speculated that the $4000-$6000 per child adoption bonuses are causing case workers to remove children from perfectly loving homes. False allegations of abuse and non-traditional parenting (including home-schooling and extended breast-feeding) have been cited as causing unjust family separation. Poor parents are especially at risk, as they are unable to afford adequate legal representation and expert testimony to defend themselves in court.