Writer-Counselor-Wellbeing Coach

Category: Adoption (Page 2 of 4)

Promotion of adoption

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Briefing Paper:   Promotion of Adoption as an Alternative to Abortion      July 2018

There has been increased media representation of Australia’s low adoption rates as a negative phenomenon along with calls to increase rates, ostensibly to provide children with security and stability, and also to provide infertile couples with a way to ‘create a family’.   Christian and prolife groups have also increased their ‘adoption not abortion’ sloganism, seemingly unaware of the damaging nature such an approach has on their positioning on abortion.

This paper will address four main arguments against the use of promoting adoption as a solution to abortion and is informed by research and experience working with both post-abortive women and those living with the negative impacts of adoption, including adult adoptees and the research into impacts of adoption.

 1. Adoption does not decrease abortion rates.

Countries such as the United States of America where adoption rates are significantly higher than in Australia continue to report the same rate of abortion as Australia.   This tells us that a) adoption is an alternative to parenting when a mother is not supported to do the latter and b) it is a decision made later in pregnancy, not at abortion decision-making time.

There is simply no evidence from any country that increased adoption means less abortion.

 2. Promoting adoption ignores the reasons the majority of women seek abortion

Approximately 95% of all abortions are undertaken for psychosocial reasons, which generally mean a lack of resourcing, whether financial, material, relational or emotional.  Promoting adoption as a solution to these social issues is no different from promoting abortion as the solution when it does nothing to address women’s real unmet needs.   In fact, such promotion weakens the evidence based position that women seeking abortion have unmet needs rather than ‘unwanted’ pregnancies.

3. Promoting adoption reinforces a woman’s feelings of incapacity and feels like a greater loss

When women think about having an actual ‘baby’ as opposed to being pregnant, they think in terms of the pain and anguish of losing that baby and may be more inclined to decide on abortion if the alternative is to give their baby up rather than be supported to parent.

  Messaging about ‘good’ parents, who have more resources and who desperately want a baby has the implicit and very powerful message that:

  • The mother isn’t good enough
  • The mother’s capacity to provide is as limited as she already believes it is
  • That the mother doesn’t want, and therefore couldn’t love her baby as much as ‘better’ parents

This messaging simply reinforces her sense of incapacity about her ability to parent and leaves her feeling that nobody will support her to parent, thereby making abortion seem much less traumatic than adoption.


4. Fails to acknowledge the adverse impacts of adoption

Adoption is not without significant, serious and long-term consequences for mothers, adopted children and adult adoptees.  There is significant and growing evidence of the detrimental effects of maternal deprivation on infants.  A baby knows and has already bonded to his/her mother during pregnancy.  He/she seeks comfort in her smell, her voice, her touch and when they are separated, trauma ensues and can have life-long effects.   Promoting adoption as a means to create families for those who struggle with infertility ignores the trauma of the severing of a first family in its wake.  

There are a number of groups established in Australia by both mothers who have lost children to adoption and by adult adoptees.   The common thread in their stories is the lack of acknowledgement of the genuine grief and trauma inherent in their lives due to the loss of biological connections.  For adult adoptees the sense that they were traded as commodities is prevalent, along with an understandable objection to the expectation they should be grateful for the ‘better’ life they were given.  This better life for many did not exist, as adoptive parents are also human beings who don’t parent well, who get divorced, and who die.   Even those who feel loved by, and love their adoptive families have lived with a strong sense of loss throughout their lives; a loss that they often feel compelled to be silent about in order to protect all parties.

For mothers who grieve the loss of their children to adoption, there are valid questions about why they were not considered ‘good’ enough and why people did not simply support them through a time of need rather than take their child.

Adoption as it is currently practised severs biological ties in a way that is not necessary for the provision of love, stability and security for life.  Adoption serves the needs of adults not of children, and promotion of this option at any time ignores the rights of mothers and children to adequate support and connection to each other.

Key Recommendations

  1. All promotion of adoption as an alternative to abortion should be ceased
  2. Access to information about supports available for women during pregnancy and parenting should be strengthened and promoted.

The clashing of ‘rights’

The concept of 'rights' would seem one that most could agree on.  Many of them are objectively clear and straightforward.   As human beings we expect that everyone has the right to be provided adequate food, water, shelter and medical care.  We expect that people have the right to feel safe from physical and psychological harm and that they have the right to make certain decisions about who they interact with, and in which ways.

Many of our laws are designed to protect the rights of the majority... the 'greater good'... as opposed to the individual.  We don't have the right to drive above the speed limit or to ride motorbikes without helmets.   Some laws are designed to protect young people from the potential harm of life-long decisions;  in Australia a person under 18 cannot legally get a tattoo and a person under 16 needs parental permission for ear piercing.    We don't allow young people to drink alcohol or drive cars until they are deemed mature enough to fully comprehend the responsibilities and consequences.

There are several areas within which the concept of 'rights'  means an upholding of one person's 'right' even when it infringes another's.   When these situations arise, rather than take the time to find a balance, people who have held vehemently to one right or another seem to dig their heels in and argue all the more loudly for their positioning.

One of these that threatens to create a new generation of people whose rights are infringed upon is adoption.  I have spent the best part of the last decade listening to the stories of mothers who lost children to adoption in an era when this was seen as 'better' for their children and something they should just move on and forget about.   Most of them describe situations where they experienced very little choice and some that they were forced or didn't even provide consent for adoption.    I have images in my mind of the mothers who related stories of returning day after day to the hospital where they'd given birth, wanting to collect their baby only to be eventually told that their child had been given to a 'better' family and they should go home.   The grief they carry today is palpable.  There is no forgetting one's child.  It is beyond heartbreaking.

Many of the mothers try to contact their now adult children, some find that their children don't want to meet them; others discover a hard reality; that the adult they meet does not make up for the infant they lost.  The person in front of them is not the same person they would have been if they'd been raised by them.  The losses remain even when a new way to build relationship is successful.

Over more recent years, the voices of adult adoptees have been added to those I've heard on this issue and they have a lot to say about the loss of their own rights.  When adoption occurs a transaction is made whereby a child becomes the legal 'property' of another family.  Their original birth certificate is replaced with one that states the new parents are their parents.  The identity of the child is erased.

While some espouse that open adoptions have replaced the previous landscape of separation with a new model, this isn't strictly true.  Open adoptions in most cases mean only occasional contact, and not always in person.  Such contact rarely provides necessary time for true relationship building, and is fraught with challenges of its own.

What happens when that child grows up to be an adult with their own rights?  Surprisingly this doesn't actually happen for adoptees.   One would expect that all adults have certain rights to know their parents or other biological relatives.  Yet people who were adopted as children don't have this right.  They don't have the right to sever the adoption contract that was made for them as infants in order to return to their biological families, even when both parties want this to occur.  Some feel they don't have the right to even seek such information when their childhoods have been replete with talk of how lucky they are to be adopted, when many are wondering how it is others think it is lucky to not be with their natural mothers.

Adoption is talked about as a solution for providing loving, stable 'for life' families for children, yet there is no guarantee of this, even when we grow up in our own biological families.   There are many stories of people who did feel loved by their adoptive families and who love their adoptive parents.  This does not negate the sense of loss they experienced, nor their need to belong with their 'own'.  In many ways it adds to the guilt, confusion and trauma that many feel.

Being adopted doesn't prevent you from living a life where your parents divorce, experience financial hardship, or where you aren't abused or neglected in some way.  There is no way of ensuring that adopted children are consistently, genuinely loved or cared for any more than this is possible in biological families.   Yet we sold it in these ways for decades, and we are now building systems to do so again.

And many adult adoptees are rightly angry that their voices are missing from the discussion, that their rights remain infringed and that they are about to witness the same level of deceit and lifelong trauma inflicted on a new generation.

When we legislate 'rights' for individuals we need to take into account all the potential individuals impacted over time.   No person has the 'right' to have a child.  Children have a right to love, stability and safety but also the right to grow up knowing their biological parents.   It is possible to do both without legal severing of those ties.  It is time to look at alternative models of long term care that don't include this.

It is time to listen to those most affected; the children who have now grown up and are demanding their own rights.


Sacred ties

Sacred is a word tied to religion or God and I don't like my writings to contain words or phrases that may present a barrier to people who have different beliefs or no beliefs in this regard.   So I searched for another word.

I couldn't find one that had the same depth of reverence that I wanted to discuss.    But not reverence in a religious respect.  Reverence in the valuing and respect worthy of it.  Maybe even in the bond of mother and baby itself exists a kind of spirituality and that's why the word seems to fit the best.

The only other word I found that said something in a little more  secular way was 'indissoluble', but it really doesn't sound as special.    It is however a perfect descriptor for the perpetual nature of the bond between mother and child.  It cannot be dissolved by death or by separation.  I am sticking with sacred, and hope those who aren't religious will hear the word as describing an otherwise indescribable depth and value.

We now know amazing things that may contribute to this longing for biology with scientific discoveries that fetal cells are found in the bodies of mothers decades after pregnancy.  Perhaps this contributes to the physical and emotional yearning we have toward our children when we hold within our bodies the very cells of the children we carried in pregnancy

When I listen to stories of mothers who have lost children to adoption, I try to imagine what my life would have been like if the same had happened to me.  As a 17yr old mother the road wasn't easy, however I cannot even begin to imagine how much harder it would have been knowing my daughter was out there somewhere needing me.  It feels as though every cell of my being would have been yearning for her in every moment of my life.

When I hear stories of adult adoptees, some of whom yearned for their family of origin even as children and even if they were loved by, and loved their adoptive family, I imagine that as well.    My own mother had just turned 17 when I was born, at a time when unmarried mothers often endured huge coercion, and sometimes force to give up their babies.   My mother was fortunate that my then 19yr old father married her.   At that time it was the only saving grace for a pregnant teenager.

Would I have yearned for my mother?   Would I have known something was missing?  I have no doubt about it.   As I've grown older I see the significance of my maternal line as the roots of my entire ancestry.  I see the strength of my maternal grandmother who endured great hardships during the war and who emigrated to Australia from Germany with my then 6yr old mother in tow.   I see my own strength and resilience in my mother who spent her life working full time in an environment not always supportive of women who chose this path.   I see her commitment.   I also see myself when I look at them, something people who grow up in adoptive families can never do; search the eyes of those who love them and see something of themselves to connect them.

The grief I hear from both mothers and adoptees  is palpable.  The not knowing where your child is, how they are, is they are even alive, an added layer of complexity and trauma to accommodate.   Even in reunion the loss continues.   Meeting an adult who grew up in a different family, with different values, a whole different view of the world, is not the same as healing the arms that longed for a baby, a toddler, a child and all the milestones of your child's life.   For adults meeting a mother who may reveal that she never wanted to lose them, or looking for a mother who to this day has kept them a secret and now can't meet them, the road is paved with more pain and confusion.

What prompted me to once again address this issue is the concept of the sacred ties.  When do they begin?   When do cells from a fetus make their way in to the mother's body where they can remain for her life?   Is it in the first weeks of pregnancy?   The final weeks of pregnancy?  We know that pregnant women, even very early in pregnancy and even when they are contemplating, or have decided on termination will cradle their wombs with a hand, often unconsciously.   I've heard the confusion in the words and tones of women talking about whether to have an abortion or not.  The move from words of 'this pregnancy is just too hard' to 'I don't know how I will support this baby'.   From 'I've always been pro-choice so this should be easier' to 'I can't think of it like a baby, even though I guess it is'.

I've heard women describe sitting in an abortion clinic waiting room saying they had to force themselves not to think, not to look at anyone else, to stay focused on just getting 'it' done and getting out of there.   I've heard dozens of descriptions of other women and girls in waiting rooms, crying, staring blankly, also looking determined not to make eye contact or be swayed from what they are there to do.    I've yet to hear any story of women smiling, encouraging, expressing a sense of autonomy or freedom as they sit and wait.

What of their sacred ties to their child?  Do they already have fetal cells from this baby circulating within their bodies?   I know that many of these women also yearn for and mourn their lost babies.    Their grief is as palpable as the grief of mothers who lost to adoption.   I have been in a room with women who sob as they tell of nightmares of crying babies they can't find, women who relive that moment of 'what am I doing here' just as they succumb to anaesthetic for a termination, women who wake after a termination and wail about what they have just done, already wishing they could undo it.  I hear from women regularly who have begun a medical abortion and now wish desperately to stop it.

What binds all these women except the sacred ties; to their children, to each other, to our maternal history; one that so many of us have forgotten, or been forced to forget as we devalue all that is womanhood.  We moved from the forced removal of women's babies to shame them and provide children for more 'suitable' parents, to the forced removal of women's babies through abortion.   We sold adoption to earlier women as the solution to their shame and a way for them to get on with their lives with a 'fresh start'.    We sell abortion to women as a sign of their independence and autonomy and as the only way in which they can fully participate in the social world. 

In both of these situations we use the time of a woman's greatest vulnerability, to undermine her greatest strength.  When she is feeling alone, anxious, scared about her future, we reinforce these by telling her the best and easiest solution is to not have her child.   We sell adoption through words like 'selfless' 'brave' 'loving' and that her baby will have a better future, with loving parents, as though the future she could give her own child is too terrible to contemplate.    We sell abortion in the setting of fetal medical conditions as 'compassionate' and 'loving' and 'saving your baby from suffering'.     We literally turn the woman's love, compassion, courage, and strength to do all she can to protect her child and give him/her the best, against her by convincing her that she isn't 'best', that her love is deficient, that she could never cope.    We sell abortion in other circumstances by undermining her sense of what she can accomplish, that she will never get her promotion, her degree, the right man, if she has a baby in tow, that children are an interruption to life.  

How did it happen that women led the charge to freedom by telling each other that there are no sacred ties; that the only way to have all that men had was to give up all that women had?    How is it that women attributed so much greater value to men's worlds that they not only willingly gave up the value of their own, but now they encourage other women to do the same no matter what the cost?   How is it that we lost touch with the strength and value of ourselves as women and allowed these to be labelled and demeaned as weakness?

Why didn't women demand that society move to accommodate them?   Why didn't they demand educational opportunities that accommodated their pregnancy and parenting needs, workplaces that allowed flexible practises for both parents and support for one another to achieve all that they are capable of?    We live in a world where we perceive greater gender equality now, yet women are still forced to choose between motherhood and education or motherhood and career.    Motherhood has become an isolated, unsupported journey that so many undertake, bewildered, overwhelmed, and alone in their own homes. 

Women got us here.  Women must get us back.   We have to take back everything we lost, including our dignity and value as women.   Women are slowly being erased, both in language, our reproductive capability, and our equality.   The major contributor to infertility is age, with so many women still uneducated about their own bodies and the fact that child bearing is a time limited option.  

We are already living The Handmaid's Tale where fertility was lost and only a few left to reproduce.  At the moment, the rich predominantly buy their babies from the bodies of poor women in developing countries.   There have already been media stories of gay couples asserting their 'right' to children meaning their 'right' to use the bodies of women to produce them and stories of celebrity couples expecting 'their' child, produced from the body of an unidentified, irrelevant woman.  

How far down this path to we have to travel before it will be too late and all women will be subject to reproductive laws totally outside their control?  All  because they bought the lie that in order to have any kind of life you need to deny, suppress or destroy sacred ties or at the very least that you should see your reproductive capacity as the enemy.

I want a different world for the generations of women to follow me.  I want them to be able to see generations of women following them and I want them to know their value, in every sphere of life.   It is going to take an uproar.   I hear the rumblings in the voices of those women and men who recognise the deception they succumbed to or that was perpetrated on them.   I hear it from mothers who lost children to adoption or abortion.  I hear it from adult adoptees, who lost their family ties and even as adults have few rights to regain them.  I hear it from professionals who bear witness to the suffering and silencing of these women and men in their consulting rooms every day.   Until we break the silence and demand the voices be heard, each of them will continue to feel they are alone, again buying the lie that their greatest strength doesn't exist: in this case their strength in numbers.

We must reclaim our womanhood for the future of both women and of men.






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