What’s real?

An adoptee speaks: listen.

Holt Adoption Product:

I have two birthdays.

One birthday is the day/ anniversary of the day on which I was born.

The other birthday is the one which appears on my birth certificate but has nothing to do with my birth. Originally it was an ordinary day which had abosolutely nothing to do with me, but an adoption agency’s workers attributed it to me as my birthday as they invented a family background story in order  to make me more adoptable/sellable and to prevent my family from finding me.

A birthday is a birthday.  One can be born only once in his/her lifetime. There should be no need of adding a modifier with a birthday.  But the land of adoption is a land apart where the language is tweaked and moral values are twisted [link], so I have to use a modifier to distinguish between the two birthdays. The day/anniversary of…

View original post 436 more words

Educating the Masses, one Discussion Board Post at a Time

I’ve already posted my main response to this week’s writing prompt for one of my classes, in which I argue adoption is not a reproductive right but I thought I would share my response to a fellow student who argued that adoption is a right for adoptive parents.

________________________________________________

A.B.-

At one point in my life, I felt very much the same way you did: adoption is a right. However, when I started  listening to the voices and lived experience of the very people adoption is supposed to benefit—adoptees— I unlearned many of my biases regarding what is and what isn’t a reproductive right.  I figure since they are the experts on what it feels like to live an adopted life, they probably have a lot to teach the rest of us. And this is what I learned.

No one should be prohibited from adopting based on sexual orientation, race, religion, or gender. If a person is a fit parent, they should not be prohibited from adopting and courts across the land agree.  However, not prohibiting a person from adopting does not grant them the right to adopt.  Framing adoption as a right sets adoptive parents at odds with the rights of their adopted child when he or she reaches the age of majority.  It also creates an environment where entitlement abounds and can lead to grievous violations of human rights for both the adoptee and the birth parents.

Adult adoptees have been engaged in an ongoing struggle since the late 1970’s to have their civil rights restored so they can gain access to their original birth certificate, as well as to end the human rights violations that occur when a person’s original identity, heritage, and culture are obscured and even lost in the adoption transaction. Opponents to open records cite the primacy of the birth and adoptive parents’ rights, claiming they are superior to that of the adult adoptee. While 42 of the 50 states still prohibit an adoptee from accessing their original birth records, people across the country are beginning to realize that an adoptee’s rights are human rights and are moving to open records in their state. The most recent state to declare the supremacy of adoptee rights over birth or adoptive parents’ rights is Indiana, who just passed an open records bill today—the bill now moves on for a signature from the governor, which it looks like he will do.

As a mother of four children, I understand the deep-seated psychological need to be a parent, but this is one of those instances where we must listen carefully to those whose rights are most vulnerable, and that is the rights of the adoptee. If you would like more information about adoptee rights and how viewing adoption as a reproductive issue thwarts those rights, you can read more at Americans for Open Records, the Adoptee Rights Coalition, and Bastard Nation.

All the best-

Melynda

P.S. I address this issue at length in my discussion board post, too. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am what is known as an “adoptee light.” My step-father adopted me when I was 27-years old. While I have my original birth certificate tucked securely away, there are millions of Americans who are prohibited from accessing their original birth certificate.

Is adoption a reproductive right?

The writing prompt from this week’s Human Behavior in the Social Environment class for my MSW program instructed us to read the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Family Planning and Reproductive Choice position paper. We then had to select one topic and then tell whether we agreed or disagreed with the NASW’s position on the subject, as well as how it might affect serving our clients.

Here’s my response.

Reproductive rights are things such as access to affordable birth control, safe abortion, and even perhaps infertility treatments and assisted reproduction techniques. However, a trend in recent years is to include adoption as an alternative to abortion as part of a broader range of reproductive services. This trend is reflected in the NASW (2009) position that “the fundamental right of each individual throughout the world to manage his or her fertility and to have access to a full range of effective family planning and reproductive health services….these services include….adoption rights.” The NASW also supports, “public and private adoption services that better address the needs of birth parents….to consider adoption as a genuine alternative to abortion or parenting, contributing to a broader range of options.”  Additionally, Planned Parenthood (n.d.), NARAL (n.d.), and the ACLU (n.d.) all hold the belief that adoption is a third reproductive choice.

Opponents on both the Right and Left of the political agenda frame adoption as one of three choices in the marketplace of reproduction: abortion, parenting, or adoption. However, I disagree, as adoption is not a third reproductive choice but a parenting choice. When a woman is faced with an unplanned pregnancy, her choice is binary: to continue to carry the pregnancy to term or abort. If a woman chooses to not terminate a pregnancy but to carry the pregnancy to term, she will be a mother of a child, whether a mother who raises her child or a mother who voluntarily terminates her parental rights. Her reproductive rights have already been exercised when she chose to continue with the pregnancy. That being said, women do have the right to voluntarily terminate their parental rights and relinquish a child for adoption after the child is born, based on what she feels is in the child’s best interests. Just like breastfeeding, good schools, access to day care, and prevention of child abuse are not reproductive rights issues, but issues centered on the well-being of a child, so is adoption.

Additionally, framing adoption as a reproductive right is at odds with the rights of the child once he or she is born.  Those rights are outlined in Articles 7 through 10 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and include the preservation of a child’s identity and family relations, the right of the child to maintain direct and regular contact with one or both parents, and that the child be provided with essential information about their family.

By framing adoption as a reproductive right of the birth mother or adoptive mother, it becomes easier for the state to violate these essential rights and deny adult adoptees factual information surrounding their original identity in the form of sealed original birth certificates and the issuance of amended ones. However, reproductive rights of a mother do not last forever—those rights end with a live birth.  Even if a mother voluntarily terminates her parental rights at birth and relinquishes her child for adoption, she is not guaranteed privacy in perpetuity.

My belief that adoption is a parenting choice and not a reproductive right will affect how I interact with my clients who are already members of the adoption constellation because birth parents are not guaranteed anonymity and therefore, all adult adoptees have a right to their original birth certificate. I realize this may sometimes come in conflict with both adoptive and birth parents’ feelings, but the rights of the adopted individual trump those feelings. By removing adoption from the marketplace of reproductive choices and situating it soundly in the realm of parenting choices, it places the child at the center of the process and protects their rights—as a separate and unique member of the human family, independent of the biological process of reproduction—to have access to factual knowledge surrounding their birth and heritage.

Additionally, when working with a woman facing an ill-timed or unplanned pregnancy, my position will affect how I counsel them and the sequencing of the questions I ask. Instead of asking if she wants to abort, parent, or place for adoption, I will ask if she wants to continue her pregnancy or not? If she wants to continue with the pregnancy, then I will help her decide between parenting her child or placing her child for adoption.
____________________________________________________________

References

American Civil Liberties Union. (n. d.). Reproductive freedom. Retrieved from: https://www.aclu.org/issues/reproductive-freedom

National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. (n. d.). Healthy Pregnancies. Retrieved from: http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/what-is-choice/healthy-pregnancies/

National Association of Social Workers. (2009). Family planning and reproductive choice. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

Planned Parenthood. (n. d.). Thinking about Adoption. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/pregnant-now-what/adoption

United Nations General Assembly. (1989). Convention on the rights of the child. United Nations, Treaty Series, 1577(3).

“Empowerment” & The Modern Birth Mother

I wrote this in response to an assignment for one of my courses in my MSW program.  I thought some who follow my blog might be interested in it, too.

M.
_______________________________________

On page 87 of Pullen-Sansfacon & Cowden (2012) we read, “Empowerment, in a neo-liberal ideological worldview, thus becomes about accepting ‘personal responsibility’, and while this idea is appealing at one level, it obscures the impact of the social dimensions of power, based on class, gender, race, and ability/disability.” This passage is a long-sought for answer as to why I have experienced so much cognitive dissonance when it comes to the rhetoric of “empowering” young single expectant mothers in their “choice” to relinquish a child for adoption, and is but one example of how this modern interpretation of “empowerment” may be dangerous for a client.

In the decades since birth control was made available to women regardless of marital status and with the passing of Roe v. Wade, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of adoptable newborns in the United States. At the same time, there has also been an increase in infertility and women seeking to build a family through adoption. In an effort to address this issue, the National Council for Adoption (NFCA, the nation’s largest adoption lobbying group) conducted multiple studies involving women who surrendered a child for adoption during the Baby Scoop Era. Mothers of this era were frequently shamed, coerced, and even forced into relinquishing a child for adoption (for more information about this time period, read “The Girls Who Went Away” by Anne Fessler). One of their primary findings was that these mothers experienced a great deal of emotional turmoil because they felt powerless to affect the outcome of their unexpected pregnancy.

The National Council for Adoption took this information and created a campaign aimed at increased the number of available infants for adoption through the guise of “empowering” expectant mothers. For expectant mothers, the campaign was called, “Birthmother/Good mother: Her Story of Heroic Redemption.” For adoption professionals, it was called the Infant Adoption Training Initiative (IATI).

Both of these campaigns were based on “empowering” a single expectant mother in an effort to guide them to choosing to voluntarily terminate their parental rights and relinquish her child for adoption instead of raising her child. The tactics used in both campaigns aimed at “empowering” expectant mothers violate principles of medical ethics, Title X guidelines, and in some instances, are clear examples of coercive persuasion techniques. For example, the training for adoption professionals, workers are taught specific techniques on how to break down a mother’s resistance to adoption, ways to convince uncertain mothers adoption is a good choice and “best” for their child, and how to instill pride in the decision to voluntarily terminate their parental right.

The “Bravelove” campaign is a recent example of this neo-liberal application of empowerment in adoption and how the problem and the solution are both located in the individual. Indeed, it is the very embodiment of what Pullen-Sansfacon & Cowden (2012) refer to when they say “to be empowered comes to be defined as the capacity to act effectively within a market of consumer choices” (p. 74). The life-altering experience of relinquishing a child for adoption is treated as if it were simply another “choice” in the market place.

The individual empowerment perspective approach to counseling single expectant mothers places all of the responsibility of the “choice” on to her shoulders, ignoring the impact her class, gender, race, and the power differentials between her and the wealthy (almost always White) adopters have on her “brave” decision. Thus, when she later experiences periods of adoption-related grief  (which she will throughout her lifespan, as research shows), society as a whole and the adoption professionals can further marginalize and silence her by telling her she “chose” this grief when she “chose” adoption and therefore has no right to complain because “no one held a gun to her head.” Society, adoption professionals, the adoption industry, and even to an extent adoptive parents are provided with absolution from their part in a birth mother’s life-long grief because she made an “empowered” choice when she decided to be the “hero.”

This type of “options counseling” instills a false empowerment in a single expectant mother as it guides her to an outcome that has been predetermined for her by adoption agencies and professionals. These same adoption professionals view single expectant mothers as “problematic individuals” who need to be instructed and motivated on how to get their “projects of the self” started (Pullen-Sansfacon & Cowden, 2012, p. 78). In this instance, the “project of the self” is the carefully scripted process of motivating and instructing a single expectant mother that a “good mother is a birth mother” and that adoption is the path towards redeeming herself and becoming a hero. This approach of false self-empowerment can be dangerous to the long-term mental health of the relinquishing mother and her child as she is frequently not told of the true impact adoption loss and adoption related trauma can have on both her and her child.

In short, I agree with the Evan B. Donaldson Institute’s report “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process” when they argue that women do not need more pressure to place their babies for adoption, they need better advocacy. Part of that advocacy is counseling from a place of true empowerment, from a perspective that addresses how race, class, gender, and power all came together in a woman’s life to bring her to the point where she is, to assist her in identifying barriers to parenting, and then helping remove them if possible. Instead of focusing on waiting families and how her decision would be a “brave” choice for people waiting for a baby, it should provide special protections to ensure there is not a misunderstanding of the nature and consequences of her decision and from the regret that might come.

________________________________________
Pullen-Sansfacon, A., & Cowdwn S. (2012). The ethical foundations of social work. London: Routledge.