Back to Basics

The recent announcement of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute study on first parent rights has triggered a considerable amount of debate on this issue around the internet. I say debate deliberately – much of it has been angry, attacking, and frankly disturbing.

The negative reactions to the study's recommendations that I've read, and they far outweigh the positive, suggest, among other things, that closed adoption is best for children, and that adoptive parents have a financial stake in the outcome of open adoption. What I found particularly dangerous about the opinions voiced is that they were based in individual personal experiences. Drawing on experiences with failed reunions and challenging open adoption situations, adoptive parents and adoptees offered their pronouncements on appropriate adoption policy. And they were decidedly unwelcoming toward first mothers.

We're all products of our personal experiences. Every one of us interested in the future of adoption practice in this country and around the world comes to the dialog with a particular point of view. That point of view is shaded by our personality, our political and religious and social views, our preferences, and our experiences with adoption.

If we're sharing our opinions in an open forum, this is as it should be. But adoption law and policy shouldn't be based on the opinions of individuals – it should be based in justice and a desire to protect human rights. Instead, it seems to be a jumble of archaic and judgmental policies veneered as social service, designed "in the best interests of the child" to "let the mother get on with her life."

Imagine this, if you will. A woman, mother to an infant child. You know nothing about her – her age, financial situation, marital status, nothing. All you know is that she's struggling. You worry about her, you want to help. If you do, it's likely you offer financial assistance of some kind, perhaps hands-on support, or food.

Now add a piece of information to the picture: the woman is under 20. Now you may question why she has a child and is in such dire straights at such a young age, but you see how clearly she loves her little one, so you extend your hand. You offer help.

One more detail: the woman is also unmarried. Does your offer of assistance still stand? Or does your mind wander to adoption – she's so young and has no husband. Her baby would be better off with a couple, a stable family with great financial possibilities. She has her whole life ahead of her.

We need to remember: a woman's whole life may already be in her arms when she gives birth.

Yes, I'm looking at this simplistically. But we need to bring the discussion of adoption policy back to the most basic level – back to a discussion of a woman's human rights. Too many of our adoption laws are based in archaic perceptions of a woman's fitness to mother. They single out the unmarried mother as one to be judged, justifying the removal of her rights and rationalizing the lies that may be told to her by those who want her child. And unless her behavior is deemed perfect in the eyes of those who adopt her child, she can be cut out of the adoption relationship with little if any recourse.

In spite of the ugly opinions I've seen the past couple of days, I believe that change is possible. I hope the Donaldson study encourages positive discussion, discussion that leads to action, action that leads to change.


Terri said…
Thank you for your willingness to endure scorn from some of your peers regarding these isssues. This reminds me so much of other fights for civil rights ... how those in power react when change begins. It's self-protective and fear based, not love based. Not remotely.
Susan said…
Wow. I'm really glad I'm not hanging out where you're hanging out, because everything I've read regarding this study has been unanymously positive. It is upsetting to think that there are those who really even question these basic issues. Don't give me the links; I never want to go there.w
MomEtc. said…
I think one of the cruelest things you can do to a young woman is try to convince her she is incapable of mothering her child. I think it's only a very rare circumstance where a woman really cannot act in the mother role (e.g., she's incarcerated, psychotic, etc.). I've always hated how shame and guilt are used to get young women to give up their children.

I feel so fortunate that I wasn't raised to believe that children are necessarily better off in homes with more money. I saw so many young moms make do with welfare and support of friends, family, maybe a liitle "off the books" work on the side. They did it. It wasn't easy, but they raised their kids just fine.

Young women need advocates when they are at the most vulnerable point in their lives. I'd like to see society provide more support and knowledge of resources to these young women. They need to know that others have made it and they can too.
Margie said…
Terri, thanks for the kind words. Susan, I definitely won't post the links, these boards are scary, loaded with trolls, too. But such hate, really bad.

Mom2 - exactly. I'm continually surprised, shocked really, at how quick people are to judge unmarried women who become pregnant, including other women! You'd think we'd be on the same page with this, but there really is an arrogant, "holier-than-thou" mentality out there that believes there's nothing to discuss. "You made your bed now lie in it" stuff. said…
It really is a great step forward to have all these issues in the media. I too can't help but think of the civil rights movement and compare it to adoption reform.

Don't you feel excited to be part of something like this? I do. All of us who are blogging and writing and talking and researching and documenting are part of this unstoppable wave.
suz said…
Margie - As always. I love you and your thoughts. Very much in agreement. I gotta say that line about "a womans whole life may already be in her arms when she gives birth" sent me crying. So very true. To see it put so bluntly. So candidly. Gosh, it just ripped at my heart. Cuz you know, take my child or not, she is still my life. Still my child. Still mine. That never ended. Never stopped.
zoe said…
I agree, Margie. People are so misinformed about adoption ethics/issues/laws because those who benefit from adoption (the industry and adoptive parents, primarily) have effectively kept silent the voices of mothers and the children from whom they have been separated. What's even more outrageous, though, is that people can be so ignorant and yet so opinionated, so judgmental, so downright mean when they open their mouths to talk about something they know nothing about.

I couldn't be happier for those whose voices and experiences are finally being heard. A serious examination of what has been happening to split families apart (with the intention of and hope for sweeping change) is long overdue.
HeatherRainbow said…
Thank you ((ThirdMom)) for talking about this.

Your comment, "We need to remember: a woman's whole life may already be in her arms when she gives birth." REALLY speaks home to me. And, the thought after that is, That when our babies and children are taken from us, so to are out whole lives.
Melissa said…
"We need to remember: a woman's whole life may already be in her arms when she gives birth."

The whole post, but especially that one sentence, is so well stated - so true.
alley said…
I just wanted to step in and say, as one of those young single mom', that yes, we do need more encouragment and less judgment. AndI wanted to say how thankful I am for the big-ssi club and all its done.
joy said…
"We need to remember: a woman's whole life may already be in her arms when she gives birth."

Yeah this line got to me, thinking of my own dear son.

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