Exploitation or Choice?
When trying to approach people with my concerns about adoption
and it's effects on adoptees and natural mothers, I have been
stymied by the response. Churches, pro-lifers, feminists and others
had difficulty comprehending why adoption surrender (really, surrendering
all parental rights is not an "adoption") as obtained today in
the United States might not be considered a woman's choice.
When speaking with a pro-lifer about why someone who apparently
cared so much about a child before birth suddenly seemed not to
care about the child's well-being after the child was born, he
immediately replied "It's a woman's choice." Granted that's an
ironic use of language from a pro-lifer. But, he seemed
quite serious. He thought he was protecting women, even while
he was pointing them in the direction of services that would counsel
a woman by telling her essentially that adoption is no big deal
and "Your child will thank you for it", services that would not
provide complete, honest information such as a parent would expect
when making a life-changing decision regarding their child's well-being.
Before you feminists lambaste me for lingering with pro-lifers,
I have to say it is a feminist I turned to next on this issue,
attempting to get some protections put into place for naive mothers
and their children. The response? "It's a woman's
choice." Just like the pro-lifers, many feminists truly
believe that they are protecting women by making this "choice"
It's commonly believed that a woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy
has three choices: Get an abortion, surrender her child
for adoption, or keep her child. This availability
of choices is supposed to provide a woman with reproductive protections.
A woman should not be forced or coerced into any one of these
or else it is no longer a choice.
It is the second of these choices that I wish to address:
The idea that a mother who signs a surrender contract freely chooses
to surrender her child for adoption.
Before I get started, I'd like to compare the surrender/adoption
choice to an abortion choice. Many women would prefer not
to have extensive delays prior to an abortion – it's medically
safer to have an abortion earlier for one thing. So, if
she chooses abortion, it's to her advantage to get the abortion
as soon as possible. If she does, she may have minimal effects,
and experience relief afterwards.
Having spent the last year and a half doing research on the effects
of adoption on the women who surrendered their parental rights
and supposedly made a free choice to do so, I can say authoritatively
that surrender choice is not like abortion "choice" where less
information may be desirable and a woman may have minimal effects
afterwards. There may be a few instances where it's true,
but I have yet to run into any mother who has given birth and
was anything like "relieved" to have lost her child.
If she truly hadn't wanted her child, she would have gotten an
abortion. Even if she wanted an abortion initially
and could not obtain it for some reason, by the time her child
is born, she is as bonded to her child as any mother.
It's nearly always true that she cares about her child and what
was best for her/him more than she cares about her own well-being.
The rates of mothers surrendering parental rights have declined
since the 1970s due to the decreased stigma associated with
single motherhood. With this decline, the adoption industry
has doubled it's efforts to obtain babies, especially healthy
white infants from intelligent, educated mothers. The use
of shaming as a means to obtain babies has diminished, leading
to a false sense that women's rights are being upheld.
However mothers are still being lied to about the effects of separation
and legal risks.
After hearing her whole life that "everyone benefits" from adoption,
a mother is primed to think her child may be better off with someone
George W. Bush is excited about the bill HR1997 that will essentially
overturn Roe v. Wade. Some might think it's innocent and
truly aimed at helping someone. But it's interesting that
the Gladney Center, a staunch financial contributor and lobbyist
group to both Jeb and George W. Bush, is prepared for an onslaught
of young mothers by having a brand new facility all ready and
waiting. In addition there is HR 7 which (tacked onto the
end of the bill) provides for funding of maternity homes with
adoption counseling. And there are bills for "Adoption Aid"
license plates ("Choose Life") from which millions of dollars
in proceeds go to fund adoption. Here's are quotes from an article
in the Illinois Leader on "Adoption
Aid" Specialty License Plates:
"With adoption all about choice, the bills [ Illinois HB 5883
and Senate Bill 3089] should be well-received on both sides of
the political aisle."
"Florida was the first state to offer this plate. Within four
years, over $2,000,000 has been raised for agencies specializing
A young pregnant mother (or her parents) may be drawn in
by advertising for places like the Gladney Center "Dorm" (aka
Unwed Mothers Home) which is enticing with it's "park-like setting",
"beautiful swimming pool" and "cozy fireplace". Separated
from society to "aid" in decision-making and repeatedly hearing
"It's your choice" the mothers will all come out of there
saying "It was my choice". Just like robots, their brains
will be wired on that track. With their thoughts
constrained by the carefully chosen phrases provided by the adoption
industry, it'll be years before they comprehend that (in the best
interest of the child) the choice to keep their children should
have been fully explored, but it was not.
In addition to lies and information hiding, the intense solicitation
to obtain babies now includes offers to pay "expenses" far beyond
pregnancy-related costs. These "expenses" include scholarships,
car payments, entertainment, house maintenance, credit card payments,
personal loans. How does this compare to soliciting to buy
children from families off the streets in Cambodia? THAT
is considered criminal!
Yet, in the United States, many people seem to view the promotion
of baby abandonment for profit as acceptable. I can't
help but think a child who discovers she/he was sold by her mother
or by both parents, will NOT come back later and say "Thanks for
"Thanks for considering adoption." is a slogan being promoted
in the Infant Adoption Awareness Training funded by the United
States government. On October 17, 2000 the U.S. Congress,
under Public Law 103-310, amended the Public Health Services Act
to authorize specific activities pertaining to Infant Adoption
Awareness (title XII, Subtitle A). The legislation requires the
Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
to award grants to adoption organizations to develop and implement
programs to train the designated staff of eligible health centers
in providing adoption information and referral to pregnant women
"on an equal basis with all other courses of action".
This training and colorful feel-good brochures are being provided
to those involved in health care. As short as the training
is, it can hardly provide much understanding of the complex life-long
issues surrounding the loss of a child to adoption. There
is no requirement that this training inform trainees of the life-long
emotional consequences of surrender/adoption to mother, child
or other family members.
While other mothers are counseled carefully about the importance
of a mother spending time with and breast feeding her infant on
the child's well-being, a pregnant mother vulnerable to "giving
up her baby" is still being led to believe her child will be better
off without his mother. She is called a "birthmother", giving
the impression it is possible to be an ex-mother, to just forget
your child and go on with life.
While other single mothers are caring for two or three children
and frequently receiving support from their fathers, naïve mothers
are led to believe the entire burden of support should be theirs.
The parents of these mothers such as these are led to believe
their daughter will be better off without her child as well, with
the effect of cutting off yet another important source of support
There are so many websites and personal advertisements that cover
only advantages of surrendering all parental rights (which they
call an "adoption"). Are there really disadvantages for
a mother who surrenders her child?
Evelyn Robinson identifies the following effects on mothers in
her presentation "Adoption and Loss - The Hidden Grief":
"[mothers who have lost children through adoption] experience
the same outcomes as other people whose grief is disenfranchised
and suppressed. They become depressed, they have low self-esteem,
they develop emotional disturbances and sometimes physical illnesses.
Sometimes they withdraw from society or succumb to substance abuse.
Sometimes they have difficulty forming healthy relationships.
Their grieving often becomes chronic.."
In "A Keynote Address: Known Consequences of Separating Mother
and Child at Birth and Implications for Further Study" Wendy
Jacobs, B.Sc., B.A. provides an overview of the effects of separation/adoption
that have been known since 1941. Ms. Jacobs states that one reason
mothers experience problems following surrender is the trauma
of separation from their babies:
" Back in 1941 Florence Clothier wrote about the traumatic psychological
effects on the mother of separation from her baby. She said this
trauma is inevitable. "
In "Adoption and Loss - The Hidden Grief", Ms. Robinson wrote:
" Many parents and children who have been separated by adoption
are still suffering because they have endured a grievous loss
in their lives which has not been acknowledged. Often they also
feel guilty and inadequate because they have not resolved their
grief. The central issue in dealing with disenfranchised grief
is to validate the loss. Family members who have been separated
by adoption need their loss to be validated and their grief to
The problems are intensified by the secrecy in adoption.
To combat the intensification of these ill effects, experts have
promoted open adoption, to allow the adoptee to stay in touch
with her/his heritage and natural family and allow a mother some
contact with her child. Unfortunately, open adoption is now being
used as a "carrot" to lure in mothers who would otherwise have
kept their child. People who are seeking a child frequently
pretend to be interested in open adoption, fully intending to
close the adoption as soon as possible. Even when the adoption
stays open, the mothers (and other children if they have them)
are at the mercy of the adopters as to what kind and how frequent
the contact will be.
But while open adoption may leave the natural mother feeling
used and anguished, other family members expecting continuing
contact with their grandchild, niece, nephew or sibling are affected
Many of those who have been "touched" by adoption loss compare
adoption to a veneral disease. A woman who lost her granddaughter
to adoption put it this way:
"Adoption: the gift that keeps right on giving. Giving
Depression, giving misery, giving a complete wreckage of people's
lives, giving an endless torment."
One mother whom I'll call Sylvia compared the emotional impact
of the loss of her child to adoption to having her child torn
out of her arms by enemy soldiers.
"At first, I believed it was my fault. I though it really
must be best for my child like I was told. I thought I deserved
this harshest of punishments for having a child while still in
school, unmarried and unable to support it. Over time,
I recognized that the 'soldiers' were adoption vultures, which
had been hovering, looking for me or any other pregnant woman
Whether Sylvia and other mothers consider themselves responsible
for the loss of their child or view it as due to the influence
exerted by the adoption "vultures" makes little difference.
It's still incredibly traumatic for a mother to lose her child
and have it raised by someone else.
Even if she has been persuaded that it is the best thing for
her child, it will still be the most traumatic event of her life
and the loss will continue for her throughout her life.
If she can stand to face it at all, she will have to look to events
like the massacre of an entire group of people in Rwanda or the
German concentration camps and extermination program to find something
that compares to the horror of it for her. Like the
Jews who encounter people who deny the concentration camps that
took their loved ones even existed, she will have to face those
who deny her motherhood exists – and so deny her the opportunity
to experience her very real grief as a mother.
She learns she must repress her grief and never speak of her
child. Her very existence, as a mother, is completely unacceptable
to society – she might make the adopters feel bad!
Anyway, wasn't this her choice? It's her own fault.
In The Adoption Reunion Survival Guide, Julie Jarrell
Bailey & Lynn N. Giddens, M.A. quote studies that suggest
as many as 40-60% of mothers suffer from unexplained secondary
infertility (or else cannot bear the thought of having another
child) following the loss of a child to adoption.
Of those that do have another child, they find that no other
child will ever replace their lost child. They tend to be
overprotective of subsequent children, fearing that they too will
somehow be taken.
The importance of the mother-child bond and other family bonds
is well known to psychologists. Mother-child bonding begins
before birth and it cannot be broken. This bond is not the
same as the attachment that may develop between an adoptee and
the people who have adopted him/her.
In her book Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
(1993), Nancy Verrier wrote of her adopted daughter:
"I discovered that it was easier for us to give her love
than it was for her to accept it."
Those women (and families) who have had a child illegally taken
from them and who fight to get their child back face strong opposition
from a public that believes the child has "bonded" to the people
with whom he/she is currently living. In Journey of the
Adopted Self, Betty Jean Lifton, wrote:
"Now therapists are beginning to understand that there are primal
strivings behind the adoptee's need to reconnect in some way with
the [natural] family. .... The Argentine
psychiatrists were amazed at how easily some of the "disappeared"
children, who have been adopted by the military families responsible
for murdering their mothers in the late 1970s, had been able to
adjust when returned to their original families years later."
The need for real information in surrender/adoption choice is
not just a desire, but a right that women must have. Essentially,
in a surrender/adoption situation, a woman should be counseled
with the same respect she would be given as a parent considering
major surgery for her child. She should required by law
to be presented clear, honest information about the long-term
effects of separation/adoption on mothers and adoptees.
A woman should never be subjected to manipulative lies (Adoption
is in a child's best interests, people with material possessions
will love a child better than his/her own parents, "loving" option,
etc. ) and mass-produced highly fictional "Dear-B___mother" letters
which are actually false advertising and nothing more.
Consider that an honest advertisement from many potential adopters
might read something like this:
Our own baby is our dream.
But we can't have one so yours
might be our last hope. My wife is
willing to settle for the idea and
I am going along with it. We can't
understand why anyone would part
with their baby and we will never
respect you for it. We want only a
perfectly healthy white infant and
she/he better love us and be grateful
after all we've been through!
Contact our lawyer at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
Can you imagine the uproar if those desiring fetal tissue for
research or medicine solicited women with ads similar to those
put out by adoption lawyers and agencies?
It's our dream to complete our
research on xxxx and we need
fetal tissue to do it! We provide
scholarships, pay expenses, etc.
You'll aid people with x, y and z
diseases and give them life!
Women should not have to be vulnerable to solicitation for their
child. To protect women (and children), there should
be no money exchanged by adopters for a child ever, not even to
pay for associated counseling services, medical bills or expenses.
There is much evidence that a mother's (and father's) consent
to surrender parental rights as it is being obtained in the United
States is not a choice.
To be a choice, the parents must be informed by having all the
effects of separation on adoptees and their natural families plainly
spelled out and understood. Honest language that is not
discriminatory against natural families must be used.
To be a choice, parents should understand that a person's circumstances
(financial, marital state, etc) change over time.
When a father gets laid off from work, a family should not immediately
be thinking of ridding itself of the "burden" of their "adoptable"
children and likewise a mother whose resources are slim today
should not immediately think it is wrong to obtain help to make
it past this temporary situation.
To be a choice, all resources available should be clearly understood.
This includes financial support from the father, government aid,
parenting classes, young parents groups, potential sources of
low-cost but high quality baby items (garage sales, Salvation
Army, etc.). When a mother has chosen to give birth to a
child conceived in rape, she should be taken seriously and helped
with suggestions when she asks how to answer questions (posed
by strangers, friends and the child) about her child's father.
To be a choice, family members should never be advised
to withhold offers of support if they wish to help. No one
should ever be told that it benefits a child to be abandoned by
his/her own parents in favor of an "adoption plan", just because
the child's parents are not married. These things should
To be a choice, there should be no pressure or mention of any
kind of the people who are clamoring to adopt. In fact,
the choice should be made with the idea in mind that the child
may not be cared for at all adequately if surrendered for adoption
because there is no guarantee of any kind that it will.
Most adopters of infants "pay" for a healthy child that will love
them. They will return "the merchandise" if they are not
entirely satisfied (and possibly sue the agency for wrongful adoption)
and the child could find himself/herself abandoned to "the
This is even true in an "open" adoption. Mothers want their
child to have some contact with their natural families and know
their origins. They frequently "choose" open adoption
over keeping their child, when their resources are (to the best
of their knowledge) limited. They believe they
will minimize the trauma for their child. Naively,
they trust the friendly potential adopters and their verbal promises.
But, an "open" adoption may become closed at any time without
consent of the natural parents and all contact cut off.
To be a choice, the resources available to parents to keep their
child must be known and readily (not begrudgingly) available.
To be a choice, fathers should be required by law to provide
financial support and such support readily obtainable. The
United States government should stop blaming and penalizing women
who are caring for their children as if they were the ones not
taking responsibility. Mothers should not be pushed
out into full-time jobs when they have small children to care
for. Training and other resources that will
help low income women to find higher paying employment should
be provided. When children who are living with one
parent find that parent absent because he/she must work full-time
or more, it's the children who suffer from this and it's not right.
Without these protections for women, it can hardly be fair to
call the surrendering of parental rights a "choice". Without
these protections, it's not a protection of a woman's reproductive
rights but an exploitation that ignores her rights. It's
not a protection of children's best interests, but ignores those
The primary reason for this exploitation is to provide people
with the dream of having a child "of their own". I call
this a dream because the reality is that the child is not "their
own" even though they may "own" it legally. The lack of
acknowledgement of their natural family as a part of their reality
is troublesome to adoptees. For adoptees who experience
this possessiveness, this desire on the part of adopters to "own"
them, it is a problem into adulthood.
Many of you may be learning about adoption loss for the first
time today. One of the inherent characteristics of oppression
is that the victim's voices are silenced.
Social workers and others have typically spoken for natural mothers
and adoptees. Websites with adoption forums (which give
the appearance of being open to all viewpoints) frequently delete
unwanted posts, just as they "deleted" the unwanted mothers.
When they post adoption stories, only happy, grateful stories
will ever be posted. They will never post a story from an
adoptee who describes her surrender/adoption (or foster care for
those whose adoptions were terminated) as unsatisfactory and questions
why her mother was not helped to keep her.
In addition, a language which is negative and discriminatory
against the natural family has been generated by the adoption
industry. If you can control language you can control people's
According to the adoption industry, phrases like "own child"
must never be used, but must be replaced by "biological child",
giving the impression that a mother is simply an egg donor.
The phrase "give up" is also on the list of words, evidently too
many natural mothers realized that they did simply "give up" hope
and "give in" to the pressure and lies. The word "adoption"
itself is taboo and has been replaced by "placement" to give the
impression that natural mothers have control. No mention
is made of the extra money paid by adopters to get their advertisement
in front of some naïve pregnant woman ahead of others' ads.
The term "FOB" (father of the baby) is used on the Gladney Center
website to refer to a child's father. Generalizing and calling
fathers FOBs is de-humanizing language similar to but even worse
than "birthfather" because it is so close to S.O.B. While
some fathers may shirk their responsibilities (and thus merit
name-calling) a great many might be pleased and proud to assist
mothers in nurturing and taking responsibility for their children
if fathers were encouraged (and required) to do so, rather than
being shunted off to the side or dispensed with as quickly as
possible in the interest of finalizing an adoption.
Natural mothers are quick to point out other misleading phrases.
Joss Shawyer, in her column Voices From Exile, wrote about how
natural families are "touched by" adoption in her article entitled
"Touched By Adoption, With a Blowtorch". (http://www.origins-usa.org,
click on "Voices From Exile").
Mothers who are traumatized, shamed and isolated (and constrained
in their thoughts by language carefully chosen by the adoption
industry) frequently take decades to face reality. It is
initially incredibly painful for a mother to acknowledge that
she has been used as baby-making machine to provide a baby for
someone else. Once the baby is in possession of adopters
the mother becomes a cast-off byproduct of the process.
Many mothers and adoptees are speaking out, via their own personal
websites or through groups such as Exiled
Mothers and OriginsUSA
(internationally affiliated with mother organization Origins Inc.
(NSW Australia), Origins Canada, and other Origins Branches;
Origins Queensland, Origins South Australia) as well as Adoption
Lies and many more.
However for the mother who finds the information she needs a
day too late, the presence of these websites is no consolation.
To summarize, adoption choice is commonly perceived as a protection
for women who truly do not want their babies – an option
to abortion. In reality, adoption "choice" as it is being
implemented in the United States nearly always ensnares mothers
who truly do want their babies and would be wonderful mothers.
Most of these women will be married within a few years after their
child is born, often to their child's father.
A pregnant woman who intends to give birth must be viewed as
a parent and deserves respect as a parent.
She is a parent, not "not-a-parent". She deserves real information
and kindly assistance to help her through a temporary situation.
The "loving" option rhetoric designed to separate babies from
their parents should be illegal as should any solicitation for
babies or children. Whether the payment offered is money,
a television, potential scholarships, or just "feeling good about
doing the right thing" the truth is, these people soliciting for
babies and children are vultures working to tear children away
from the mothers who otherwise would have kept and nurtured them.
No one should ever be allowed to pay money for a child, not even
to pay for associated counseling services, medical bills or expenses.
No one should ever be paid or provided an incentive for adopting.
No one and no organization should be provided a bonus or incentive
to get a child adopted rather than returning that child to her/his
Let's stop the exploitation of women. Let's make surrendering
parental rights a real choice, by first calling it what it truly
is (surrendering all parental rights, not an "adoption"), by eliminating
the money in adoption, by providing real help and real information
for mothers, and by removing all pressures on women to surrender
their parental rights including the false advertising and solicitation
of mothers for their babies.
Copyright © 2003 Laurie A. Frisch
- Bailey, J.J. & Giddens,.L.N., M.A.(2001) The Adoption
Reunion Survival Guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger
- Finnegan, J.P. (Feb 18, 2004), "Help Choose Life Adoption
Aid Specialty Plates"; The Illinois Leader [World Wide
Web] Available: http://www.illinoisleader.com/letters/lettersview.asp?c=12278
- Jacobs, W. B.Sc., B.A. (2002) "A Keynote Address Known Consequences
of Separating Mother and Child at Birth and Implications for
Further Study" [World Wide Web] Available: (http://www.angelfire.com/or/originsnsw/wendys_pres.html)
- Jones, M.B. (1993). Birthmothers: Women who
have relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories.
Chicago, IL.: Chicago Review Press.
- Lifton, B.J. (1994) Journey of the Adopted Self:
A Quest for Wholeness. New York: BasicBooks.
- Robinson, E.(2001) "Adoption
and Loss - The Hidden Grief" (Presented in New Zealand,
USA, Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland) [World Wide Web]
- Shawyer, J. (2004) "Touched By Adoption With a Blowtorch"
[World Wide Web] Available: (http://www.origins-usa.org,
click on "Voices From Exile").
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , Administration
for Children and Families. (no date given) "Infant Adoption
Awareness Training Program Guidelines" [World Wide Web] Available:
- Verrier, N. (1993). The Primal Wound: Understanding
the Adopted Child. Baltimore, MD: Gateway