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I hold certain beliefs about adoption that are informed by both my own experience as an adopted person and by things I have read by birth parents and other adoptees. One of my beliefs is this: when a person (an adoption worker, a family member, a guidance counselor, etc.) tells a woman who is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy that she is selfish if she is thinking of parenting the child and that if she is truly loves her child she will do the unselfish thing and give that child a better life through adoption, that person, however well-intentioned, is making a statement that is inaccurate and insupportable. Simply put: adoption gives a child a different life, but there is no guarantee that it will be a better one.
Even if the adoptive parents have more money, more education, more resources; even if they are married and the first parents are not; even if they have no psychiatric diagnosis (that we know of) and the first parents do, there is no guarantee that life with them will be preferable for the adoptee. What we can almost certainly guarantee, however, is that whatever gains exist will be accompanied by losses: lack of genetic mirroring; struggles with identity; confusion (how to make sense of the unbreakable thread that binds you to one family when law and custom and experience have bound you to another). Who can balance that account and say with certainty whether the adoptee will come out ahead or behind?
Nevertheless, this is the decision that a parent considering placement must make. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, she must weigh the various factors and make the best decision she can in the best interest of her child. Parents who are raising children do this constantly; every day we make decisions that we hope will prove beneficial to our children without any guarantee that they will do so. For the birth parent, these countless little decisions are replaced with a single, huge, life-altering one: the placement decision.
A birth parent is first and foremost a parent. That may seem like a simple enough statement, but it is actually a radical one. Historically, birth mothers have not been viewed as such. My birth mother, during her pregnancy with me, was not considered to be a parent making a decision for her child. Rather, she herself was the child ... a child who had messed up and now needed the adults in her life to swoop in and and clean up her mess. She was told what do and how things would play out. Wheels were set in motion to make the "problem" (unplanned pregnancy) disappear.
Becoming pregnant did not make her a parent in the eyes of her mother and others; it reinforced her childlike status, proving her irresponsibility. For a birth mother of my mother's generation, an expression of a desire to parent would only have reinforced her "childish" naivety in the eyes of more "knowing" adults. And her case was not unique; certain social trends were at work and had been at work for a number of years: Here's a quote from Rickie Solinger's book Wake Up Little Susie:
Consistent with postwar [post-WWII] attitudes about single women, white unwed mothers became, by definition, unfit mothers, in fact, not mothers at all. By professional definition and diagnosis, white unwed mothers who wanted to keep their babies were diagnosed as particularly immature, or more usually, mentally ill.I wish I could say that such attitudes are a thing of the past, but I've read enough first-person accounts from women who have placed more recently to know that many young and/or unwed women still face tremendous pressure, and in some cases, manipulation. Many are presented with an idealistic picture of adoption (with no negative repercussions for the adoptee or birth parent). In contrast, a negative picture is painted of the scenario in which the birth parent chooses to parent; in that scenario, neither the mother nor the child could possibly thrive. Birth mothers may no longer be given an official diagnosis of "mentally ill" if they express a desire to keep the child, but many are still told that they'd have to be "crazy" to do so. Crazy, and selfish to boot!
As an adult adoptee, I have a different perspective from that of most non-adopted persons. I speak up about the complexity of adoption because I believe that the decision to remove a child from his or her biological family to be raised in a family of genetic strangers is a serious matter. It should be an informed decision. I stand by my statement, radical as it may be, that a birth parent is first and foremost a parent and should be treated as such. I long for every birth parent to have the accurate information needed to make an informed decision, and then I long for each to have peace with whatever that decision turns out to be.