Open Mike: Should women be forced to parent?

The Stephanie Bennett update I put up a couple of days ago elicited an anonymous comment from someone who appears to be close to the situation. It was a perfectly respectful comment, and raised some issues on the other side of this situation that made me think a bit.

Before I put this question out there, understand that I still believe the actions by Stephanie's school, the adoption agency in question, and the prospective adoptive parents were inappropriate and unethical. No matter the story behind the story, these behaviors were wrong - Dawn has a really good post up about the intersection of adoption ethics and women's decisions that explains it ten times better than I can.

This subject has actually been turning in my mind for some time. Much of the discussion of adoption reform is polarized, focusing on "all or nothing" extremes that, if implemented, have the potential for creating far larger problems than we're experiencing in adoption today. In my opinion, if adoption policies started with the assumption that a woman wants to parent, but provided alternatives for those who do not, we'd preserve a lot more families.

This is a two-parter, feel free to respond to one part or both. Remember, all comments are welcome, anonymous comments, too - just be nice!

Do you believe a woman should be forced to parent?
Why or why not?

How can we ensure that a woman's decision is respected when family, friends, counselors and community push her in a different direction?

Comments

Erin said…
Women absolutely should NOT be forced to parent. Adoption has to be within the realm of choice for women. There ARE women out there who aren't equipped to parent, who can't, who don't want to etc... And they shouldn't be forced to do that.

However, I firmly believe that more women than are should be parenting. The key is real choice, not sugar coated choices. Women need to know and understand the impact of placement on not only them, but their children. They need to be guided through their fears of single parenting and shown how to overcome those things, and they need to be encouraged that their children need their natural mothers first.

I have no idea how we can insure women's rights and choices are protected. I think letting the government get involved is a huge mistake. They can't manage to run anything properly, why on earth would we trust them with MORE, when they can't even manage what they have been given.
Kohana said…
No, women should not be forced to parent or place. Forcing either decision is equally wrong.

I wonder if it was standard agency policy to give a longer amount of time before relinquishment, and encourage a woman to have her baby with her during that time, how it would affect placement rates? I've heard many women planning adoption for their child say they want the child to go straight to the adoptive family (not into interim care) or that they are afraid that after spending time with the baby, they won't be able to follow through with their choice. Agencies encourage those women to spend time with the baby. Wouldn't even more time spent help to solidify a woman's choice one way or the other?

Just something I'm thinking about...

Something else I think about is how some women in conservative Christian circles STILL go away to a maternity home for their pregnancies (non-religious women go as well, of course). Instead of ostracizing single pregnant women who might not be able to stay in their home environments, I would love to see the Christians in their lives open their homes to care for and support expectant moms that might be in financial or relational difficulty. Why are we shipping vulnerable people off to make the hardest decision of their lives instead of drawing them in to support them? Okay, I can feel the elevation of the soapbox...
LilySea said…
I don't think it's an answerable question. So I guess, no. I want to preserve choice for women who need it. But the question is at what point do we decide she really needs to be allowed NOT to parent? I truly believe my children's mothers needed adoption. But I also believe they wouldn't have needed adoption in a different society, nor would they have wanted it.

Knowing all that I do about adoption and about being a mother, I feel quite strongly (and hypocritically) that if one of my girls had a crisis pregnancy, I'd do everything in my power (including coersion of the mother-guilt variety) to prevent them placing their babies in a stranger adoption (open or closed). I'd either bend over backwards to help them parent, adopt the baby myself or find a family member (and my family does include non-legally-related friends) to adopt openly.

I would strive not to respect their desire to place in any other way.

So this is hard.

And yet, ultimately, for policy purposes, it is just too scary to contemplate the law forcing women to do anything--let alone parenting.

So no.

But personally? I'd "force" my daughters if I had to--if I could.
Wendy @ adoptionandfire.typepad.com said…
I definitely do not believe a mother or father should be forced to parent. I have seen way to many horrific situations involving unwanted children working as a firefighter/paramedic.

There is an individual in my life that does not like to be a parent but has three children. The third was a 'surprise.' She is 'forced' to parent because she is a wife that wanted to give her husband a child and because their is a stigma attached to being married and having unwanted children. She is not a very good mother and I worry about her children.

Being a child of someone who is being forced to raise them would be a very scary proposition. I have seen the outcome way too many times
Lisa V said…
The short answer is no woman should be forced to parent, just as no woman should be forced to give birth.

What can we do to assure that her choice is honored is a much more complicated question.

Some of the basics of ethical adoption would have to start with taking the money out of the picture, go to totally non-profit agencies.

I also think that if there were some neutral party that would help a woman sort it all out- an intermediary between agencies, family, expectant father, all of it. Someone who would truly give all accurate information, regarding parenting, placing; long term consequences of both, factors that make either an option.

That said, even a fully informed woman can still make a decision that feels wrong to her months or years later. I don't know how we protect against that. That still troubles me, but not enough to say shouldn't be allowed to make the decision.
Anonymous said…
See, here's the thing about questions like these. The very way this question is posed, the correct answer is always going to be "of course not" or some form of that.

Except there are hundreds of voices out there speaking about how adoption is wrong, should be illegal, about coercion, about psychological damage to mother and child in adoption, about severing ties that should not be severed, about profit and supply/demand and so on.

So, what the heck are we saying anyway? And, to Erin's post, how do you know a 'real' choice when you see one? Because hindsight is always different, and we are constantly re-interpreting our own selves, our decisions, our lives, in context of current day. Hence the "when I placed I thought it was good but now I don't" comments I so often see. So does that mean that you really didn't have a choice at the time?

There is always a conundrum created whenever we attempt to legislate behavior, as we never can develop constraints that meet every single need perfectly this way. Adoption laws are not perfect, nor are any other laws created by people anywhere (name one that is always perfectly applied and I'll retract this statement).

So, my mind goes back what was written in the book "Freakonomics", where this statement was made (and NOT in relation to adoption specifically). They wrote something along the line of "What this means is that when women are left to make choices about whether and when to have children, they generally make a good choice."

That's what I think.

Consider that, given the current thinking:

Abortion is bad, and mostly unavailable in the US now thanks to powerful political lobbys that made the practice nearly as difficult as when it was not legal.

Adoption is bad, you'll destroy yourself and damage your child if you do this. Adoption should always only be a last resort, when the mother (notice not hardly ever father) cannot be the parent (notice, no definition of how we'll know she really can't parent, and why is "I just didn't want to" not a good enough answer for anyone?)

The only truly loving thing is to parent, no matter what your circumstances are, you'll never regret keeping your baby.

Until you fail them, so badly, that they need to be removed from your care or buried, then not too many will be willing to step up and take your place, nurturing your child damaged by your choice to parent.

Why is it that in this construct, the child must be failed before they get what they need to thrive?

Nobody really knows what Stephanie Bennett was thinking when she did what she did, except for Stephanie. We don't really know what her personal circumstances were, what her relationship and life with her parents and her child was, or how the controversy impacted what she has voiced at various times about her choices. We all want her to be a certain way to fit what we need out of the situation. What often gets lost in this is her personal truth.

JMHO.
Michelle said…
Stephanie Bennett has stated enough times that she was afraid of the father of her child and didn't know where to turn. Had the school counsellor not presented her with A Child's Waiting brochure, she probably wouldn't be in this situation. A bit more time, or proper counselling from the guidance counsellor may have helped her to confront her parents and tell them what was really going on, and they would have handled it like every other family handles a crisis.

Once a pregnant woman enters the an adoption agency (as a business that's focus is to sell a mother's child) her world changes -Stephanie and many other women would not have had any idea what they were getting themselves into -and yes, hindsight is one thing, but come on....the adoption industry preys on vulernable pregnant women, and it is the agency's job to break down a woman's confidence and convince her she is doing the best thing for her child before she has given birth so they can take her child.

It can happen to anyone and the more involved the mother gets with the agency, the less it becomes about the choice to parent.
Anonymous said…
"It can happen to anyone and the more involved the mother gets with the agency, the less it becomes about the choice to parent."

So are we weak, vulnerable victims unable to make decisions under any kind of emotional duress? When we become vulnerable, we're readily taken in by any Svengali or schyster who crosses our path?

Remember, Stephanie was not pregnant at the time. She was not even in the 'immediate postpartum period' defined in medical literature as the first 8 weeks post-delivery. She'd been a mom for five months (20 weeks) before her first contact with an agency.

Is she 'too young' at 17 to make a decision about whether she wants to be a parent? Is she not smart enough to make a decision about how she wants to live her life? When do we get old enough and smart enough? 18? 21? 35? When are we no longer captives to our own bodies - literally, our uteruses - who seem to control our thoughts completely and render us incapable of true choice?

Does this line of thought devalue us? After all, men cannot be held captive by the raging hormones of pregnancy, can never truly be postpartum, can never have PMS or menstruate. Does that make them less 'vulnerable', 'weak', able to be 'preyed upon'?

I'd prefer to think that even when we are at our most hormonal, that we are still in control of our lives, our minds, our bodies and can make a choice (as well as be held accountable for that choice). Otherwise, we devalue ourselves for that which makes us unique: our ability to sustain life within ourselves.

JMHO.
Cookie said…
"So are we weak, vulnerable victims unable to make decisions under any kind of emotional duress? When we become vulnerable, we're readily taken in by any Svengali or schyster who crosses our path?"

That kind of comment IMHO has to come from someone who has never felt weak and powerless - ever. I seriously doubt too that person has experienced an unplanned pregnancy and has an inkling how it feels. But, they posted anonymously, hmmm, interesting, no?

Many young women are not the strong confident people they are later on as adults. And yes, as a society we do need to protect our most vulnerable members.

As for forcing parenting, I don't think that is a poorly worded question. I happen to believe that if MOST women have accurate and complete information, resources and support,that they will choose parenting. It IS the most natural choice. But no, we should not ram any choice down a woman's thought.
Cookie said…
Opps! I meant to say ram down her "throat". Don't get old, it sucks big time - wrong words end up on the page!

Group Owner - Pregnant and Considering Options
http://www.cafemom.com/group/26942
Lisa V said…
Cookie, I agree with you that if given accurate and supportive information, many women would choose to parent. I think it's a likely choice, as our society is set up for most women to aspire to motherhood. In addition, pregnancy does makes most women want to fulfill their maternal instincts and nurture that little being outisde they have carried for 9 months.
I however don't think it's "natural" for every woman. The only reason I am being picky about a word is because I know several women who are marginalized because they don't choose motherhood and are often belittled because of it. Some of these women placed children for adoption, but more likely they had abortions or chose to remain childless. I think choosing not to parent because you don't WANT to is perfectly valid, and just as natural for women as mothering.
Anonymous said…
"So are we weak, vulnerable victims unable to make decisions under any kind of emotional duress? When we become vulnerable, we're readily taken in by any Svengali or schyster who crosses our path?"

What?
Anonymous said…
"That kind of comment IMHO has to come from someone who has never felt weak and powerless - ever. I seriously doubt too that person has experienced an unplanned pregnancy and has an inkling how it feels."

I can't think of a single person, male or female, I've met either IRL or online who's never felt weak or powerless in their lives. Some may not want to admit to it, but we all feel that way.

As to the specific situation of an unplanned pregnancy, not that it matters and I hesitated to post this because it takes things off point: What the hell. As a 19 YO college student, there was an unplanned pregnancy. At 7 weeks I decided to terminate. 2 days before the end of the 'waiting period' there was a spontaneous m/c.

Being pregnant before being ready did not disable my ability to think, nor did anyone else telling me what I should do about the state I was in have undue influence on me. God knows, they all told me what I should and should not do. Terrified, yes. Unable to think for myself, nope. Influenced by others, nope. The decision to terminate (and thank God that option was still available then) was mine.

We've all felt vulnerable, either because of a pregnancy, or because of another situation. Why we let this vulnerablilty be an excuse for a choice we made that we later regret is beyond me because it devalues us all when that happens.

"I happen to believe that if MOST women have accurate and complete information, resources and support,that they will choose parenting. It IS the most natural choice."

So, basically, they should parent, they really want to parent, and if they don't parent it's because they're ignorant, uninformed, unintelligent, un-natural or too young to know better for themselves?

See, there's some fallacies of thought in the 'everybody can parent if they just have all the facts' line of thinking:

Thought: There is support from the US and State gov't through finance, housing, medical care and food

Reality: This is not nearly as readily available as it was 30 years ago. Medicaid threshholds are getting higher b/c funds are drying up, TANF is good for 24 months (welfare to work) low cost quality daycare is incredibly challenging to find, child support systems are completely inadequate, subsidized housing is equally challenging, and most jobs for a non-professional do not make enough singly for a person to support themselves, much less a child.

Thought: We are all equal in our capability to parent.

Reality: Developmental issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, educational issues, social issues, and community issues do not make us all equal. We don't all start at the same place, nor do we end up likewise. Just as in other areas of life, we are not all capable in the same way. Being able to reproduce does not equalize those differences. Would you ask or require a woman damanged herself as a child, subsequently experiencing, say, RAD (reactive attachment disorder) to parent when she has no ability to form a loving bond (even with her offspring)? Why would you require that child to be damaged by a parent who will fail at a critical developmental milestone because they were failed themselves for the sake of what you see as 'natural'? Would you judge her ignorant, ill-informed, naiieve, manipulated because she chooses to not put her child through what she went through? Or would you commend her for breaking the cycle she was trapped in? And why should she have to tell you the details of her life before catching a break (if she even would)?

Not that it will change anything, but how would a 'name' change the meaning of the post? So quick to disregard that. Suppose I said my name was Jasmine vs. "anonymous"? Why would that change the ideas presented?

JMHO
Michelle said…
"As to the specific situation of an unplanned pregnancy, not that it matters and I hesitated to post this because it takes things off point: What the hell. As a 19 YO college student, there was an unplanned pregnancy. At 7 weeks I decided to terminate. 2 days before the end of the 'waiting period' there was a spontaneous m/c."

How on earth did you manage to get yourself pregnant at 19 and in college? I'm sure there was enough information available about sex and birth control . . . and even with birth control, there is always the risk it might not work, which, with all the information available you would have certainly been aware of that. I am surprised, based on what you have written here about choice, that you would be the type of person to put herself in the position of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
Michelle said…
"As to the specific situation of an unplanned pregnancy, not that it matters and I hesitated to post this because it takes things off point: What the hell. As a 19 YO college student, there was an unplanned pregnancy. At 7 weeks I decided to terminate. 2 days before the end of the 'waiting period' there was a spontaneous m/c."

How on earth did you manage to get yourself pregnant at 19 and in college? I'm sure there was enough information available about sex and birth control . . . and even with birth control, there is always the risk it might not work, which, with all the information available you would have certainly been aware of that. I am surprised, based on what you have written here about choice, that you would be the type of person to put herself in the position of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
Anonymous said…
"How on earth did you manage to get yourself pregnant at 19 and in college? I'm sure there was enough information available about sex and birth control . . . and even with birth control, there is always the risk it might not work, which, with all the information available you would have certainly been aware of that. I am surprised, based on what you have written here about choice, that you would be the type of person to put herself in the position of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy."

That's why they call them 'unplanned pregnancies' (duh). Wasn't in the plan, and for the record I was on the pill (not the mini-pill, the full pill), a condom was used, and no, I wasn't on antibiotics. BC (surprise!) is not 100% preventative.

Not the first college student to find herself pregnant unexpectedly, not the last.

I had health class, understood conception, gestation, delivery, birth control and that it could fail. Most people these days understand this. We just don't think it will happen to us, especially when we're using nearly
'foolproof' methods.

We all think it won't happen to us, until it does. It's the immortality syndrome. Kinda like people who smoke cigarettes: they know they can get lung cancer, just think it won't happen to them...and sometimes it doesn't. No direct cause-and-effect because it doesn't always happen. People say "hey my Uncle Ed smoked unfiltered for 50 years and he didn't get cancer!"

I don't care what you think about my personal circumstance (it was a looong time ago, when abortions were still pretty available, not yet demonized into practical non-existence).

Funny, just occurred to me that I heard a lot of similar arguments about abortion as are presented for adoption:

Like: will damage me forever psychologically.

I'll regret it.

Bad mother's kill their babies.

You can take care of it! We can help! We'll give you clothes and a crib (as if that's all a child needs)!

Back then, open adoption wasn't widely available. If it was, I might have chosen differently. For me, adoption wasn't what I wanted b/c I didn't want to have a piece of me out there that was unknown to me.

What I care about is not being seen as a 'victim' of my uterus, or of being 'ignorant'. I was neither, and if I can be neither, than so can everybody else. I care that we preserve true choice, rather than bullying or judging people into our own personal 'truth' as being the one and only truth.

By demonizing any choice that is not to parent, we remove that choice, even if it's technically still available. And that's wrong.
Michelle said…
Anon wrote: "What I care about is not being seen as a 'victim' of my uterus, or of being 'ignorant'. I was neither, and if I can be neither, than so can everybody else.'

First of all, you said you did not have an abortion, you had a spontaneous miscarriage -you did not have an abortion, so you have no idea what that feels like to have an abortion!

Secondly, you suffer from a severe case of solipsism!
Erin said…
"it was a looong time ago, when abortions were still pretty available, not yet demonized into practical non-existence)"

this is bull.

Abortions are readily able to have in most states. South Dakota and Mississippi are hard. I know of four places in my smallish town where you can get an abortion.

So your little digs about the closing of choice is just a crazy thing to say honestly and is discrediting you in my eyes.
Cookie said…
I agree that although I think wanting to parent is THE most natural choice; that some women do not want to do so. And, I would never think of demonizing someone for not wanting to parent. I don't believe either in forcing a woman to choose parenting, abortion or adoption.

As for Anonymous - I do think it makes a difference whether you use even a screen name or not. I don't think parenting is the only true choice, but I think in most situations, it is decision that most mothers can live with best. Don't know where you live, but abortions are common in my state.
Magissa said…
I think ,yes may be women should not be forced to parent but when an expectant mom gives birth she has so many hormones to deal with .
Usually the decision to adopt out is made before birth . And before really having her baby,
she might not understand the love she will have for her baby. She might not understand that that baby is hers. The idea of bringing a baby into this world might seem abstract.
What happens is if an expectant mom have pro adoptive parents at her delivery room she might feel powerless. I think Women should not be allowed to give up their children from the day 1-2 they should be given at least a month an a half. This way they can see whether they can be good parents or not. And if she does not have a place to stay, the baby can go to a cradle care. But she should be made to go and visit and have some time with her baby before adoption.
Air said…
I have found this discussion thread to be quite interesting. I have noticed that some of the posters seem to assume that all first mothers are first time pregnant so don't understand what parenting entails. This is not always the case.

I think that the key issue here is "how can we ensure that a woman is not coerced into a decision at a vunerable time?" This is tricky and very much based on individual circumstances, but I think that it requires regulation of adoption agencies and private adoption lawyers, support of pregnant women, and some sort of regulation on the finances involved.

Just as I went through a homestudy process and classes as an AP to help prepare me for the adoption of my child, perhaps the same type of support should be offered (dare I say required) to first moms.

I think a big issue is when the first moms get financial support pre-birth and then feel an obligation to place their child.

My 2 cents
Akabah said…
I agree with Margissa's comment: "I think Women should not be allowed to give up their children from the day 1-2 they should be given at least a month an a half." and in fact, this is exactly what's about to happen in Guatemala. From the Associated Press: "The [new] law expressly prohibits birth parents from being paid for giving a child up for adoption, and eliminates the notaries' practice of offering children for adoption before they are born. Biological parents will have to wait at least six weeks after birth before deciding whether to put the child up for adoption". This should be standard in all adoptions.
Paragraphein said…
"Does this line of thought devalue us?"

Why is it always people who have NOT been pressured into relinquishing a child who bring out this argument?

We lived it. If we feel it's the truth, if we feel it's so important to get the truth out DESPITE the fact that we risk this argument getting used against us, well then... how about just taking our word for it?

Our word is: NO, it does not devalue us.

___________________

Margie, to answer your question: no one should be forced OR pressured to do anything (ideally). But practically speaking, it's nearly impossible to know how all our words could be (without our knowledge) influencing a person, creating pressure, whatever. SO. As that is the case... My answer is... nope, no one should be FORCED... but if we are going to err on one side or another, we should err on the side of pressuring to parent.

Why?

Because the parenting decision can be undone. In fact it's a decision that gets remade every day. At any point, you can relinquish.

Not so for relinquishment.

So if my daughter ever comes to me and says she's pregnant and thinking about adoption, yes, I will try to give her her space... but if I see her falling for any adoption marketing crap, I WILL start countering it and WILL start pushing a bit for parenting. Because I know how strong that marketing force, and it will take some strength/force to counter it.

Would I emotionally blackmail her? Threaten her? Stop loving her if she chose adoption? No WAY.

But if she was seriously leaning towards relinquishment in a case where she was capable of parenting, yes, I'd start trying to counter that somehow. Not FOREVER, but long enough for her to give birth, bring her baby home, and experience mothering that baby. If after that she is still wanting to place, okay... I back off again.

Relinquishment is permanent. Permanent. Permanent.

I won't sit idly by and watch women make a permanent choice without even TRYING the other option first... not when one option is reversible, and the other is not... and not when the the irreversible decision has so much potential for damage.
Margie said…
I want to thank everyone who added their thoughts here for doing so. I have read them all, but will be reading them again and again, as I've gotten some new insights.

One thing I have to agree with that was said was that this was a bit of a leading question. A simple yes or no can't answer it, and frankly I didn't want a simple yes or no - I wanted to hear exactly the kind of dialog you provided here. Ideas. Thoughts on how to make it better. And although I'm on hiatus, I think I'm going to put another question up that doesn't lead, but rather opens up the floor for ideas.

You guys rock.

Popular Posts