Dear Ms. Feverfew –
Recently, the wise mothers over at First Mother Forum (www.firstmotherforum.com) wrote an excellent post for single expectant mamas who may be considering adoption for their baby. It is titled “Giving Up Your Baby?” and I feel it is a critical piece of missing information in the adoption conversation. I asked them if I could include it here in my letters to you, in its entirety. Lorraine and Jane of First Mother Forum graciously agreed.
I know a lot of expectant moms find their way to this blog looking for answers and information to help them sort through all the “stuff” that is out there. I hope they read this. There were other options for you and me, options that would have kept us together as a family. I just didn’t know about them and no one was willing to help me find them. I hope they can come to know they are other options than giving their precious baby to strangers.
______________________________________________________________________GIVING UP YOUR BABY? –Lorraine Dusky and Jane Edwards; www.firstmotherforum.com
SHOULD YOU GIVE YOUR BABY UP FOR ADOPTION?
YOU WANT THE BEST FOR YOUR BABY AND YOU’VE HEARD THAT PLACING YOUR BABY FOR ADOPTION WITH AN OLDER, WEALTHIER COUPLE IS BEST.
The truth is according to child welfare experts that in most cases staying with you, his mother, is the best for your child.
Your body is preparing for your baby to come into the world and preparing you to care for him. Your breasts will produce antibodies to help your baby ward off disease, antibodies that he can only get from your milk. Once your baby is here, all your instincts will tell you to nurture him. In fact, your body at birth releases a hormone (oxytocin) to assure that you will bond with your baby, and be flooded with love for him.
Your baby knows your voice; your scents, your movements. When he is born, he wants to be with you.Your baby will look like you and his father. He will share your interests and talents. He is a unique human being created from the DNA of the two of you. Adoptive parents will be strangers to him. Yes, in time he can bond with them, but it will different than if he were living with his natural family. Adoptive parents may be able to give your child more material goods–but they can’t replace you.You may be considering adoption because you don’t like, or even detest, your baby’s father. We’ve found, though, that even mothers whose babies are conceived in rape cherish their babies and grieve for them when they are gone just as mothers whose babies are conceived in love do. It’s possible for you to work through your feelings about your baby’s father and be a mother to your child.
No first time mother-to-be feels ready to nurture her child. You can prepare yourself just as adoptive parents will have to do.
You may have heard that giving up your baby will increase your chances of finishing school and having a career. Babies are demanding, but the truth is that most teen moms and their children end up doing just fine. Most find help they didn’t imagine was available. It can be tough at first–but we’ve never met a single mom who regretting keeping her baby, and we’ve met and talked to many, many moms who regret giving up their baby. We use that language here–giving up–because that is what it is. You give up your baby, even if your social worker is talking about how brave you are for making an adoption plan so that your baby can “have a better life.”
What you are probably not hearing from the social worker is that individuals who are adopted generally suffer–from the loss of their birth parents, and the loss of cultural and family connections, the loss of security of knowing they belong exactly where they are. Many struggle with issues of identity, abandonment and self-esteem all through their lives to varying degrees, even if their adoptive parents are wonderful people. They are not the people your child will grow up looking like. No matter how many times your child is told that you gave him up because you loved him, so that he could have a better life, he may feel abandoned, and that he was not “good enough to keep.”Adoptive parents are not “special” although they may appear so in adoption agency advertisements, where they are advertising themselves so they look “special” so that you will choose them. Remember, adoptive parents, like other people, may divorce, lose their jobs, have health problems, abuse alcohol and drugs.
The only person who can be sure that your child has the love and nurturing you want for your baby is you.
RESOURCES THAT CAN HELP YOU CAN RAISE YOUR BABY
Start by talking to your parents and your baby’s father’s parents. Your parents may be upset about your pregnancy, but parents often come around when they stop thinking of “the problem” and start thinking of their grandchild. If you are receiving undue pressure to relinquish your baby, you might ask your mother and father to read some of the blog postings or books by mothers who have relinquished and are not able to “get over it” and “move on” with their lives. If your parents or your baby’s father’s parents can’t help, talk to other family members, your school counselor, a favorite teacher, your clergyman. You’ll find people who want to help if you just ask.
With a trusted adult, learn about services that can help you give your child a good start in life. These include:
- Your school district’s teen parents program.
- Parenting classes offered by your county or state health department.
- Women’s, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) program, offered by your county or state health department. WIC provides nutritional foods for you and your baby at no cost to you.
- Medical care during your pregnancy and post partum period and medical care for your baby until age 18, through your state or county Medicaid program.
- Food stamps, though your county or state welfare department.
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) which provides cash assistance, job training, and day care for your child, through your county or state welfare department. While you may be embarrassed to accept welfare, remember this is a temporary program to help mothers like yourself and you may soon be off welfare and into a job or college.
- Low cost housing through your local housing authority.
- Education after high school, through community colleges and four year schools which have scholarships for student parents and day care for their children.
- Check for resources at this government site: Family Preservation Services
BEFORE CONTACTING AN AGENCY OR ATTORNEY
Adoption agencies and attorneys make their money from people who want a child. Even if the agency is a non profit, it charges fees to cover salaries (often $100,000 per year for top agency officials), marketing, and office expenses. People who work in adoption are often adoptive parents, or people thinking of adopting. They may be highly ethical—although some are not–but they are looking at adoption through the eyes of someone who wants the child of another woman. It is the business they are in; you are supplying the product they deal in.
Adoption agency employees and attorneys cannot know the grief and loss you’ll feel when your child leaves your arms. While the immediate loss is the worst–those baby-love hormones are still pumping through your body–the grief lasts a lifetime. Sometimes it’s not too bad, and other times it’s likely you’ll go into a deep depression. Holidays are likely to be difficult; so are family gatherings, the child’s birth month, your own birthday. Giving up your child will also affect your parents, your siblings, other family members, and any children you may have in the future. However, often the loss of one child triggers so much long-lasting sorrow that the thought of having another seems too depressing and difficult, and women who give up their children have a high incidence of not having another.
Talk to other mothers who have lost their babies to adoption. You may find a mother in your area by calling Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), 1-800-822-2777, www.cubirthparents.org. Read mothers’ stories on the Origins-USA website, www.origins-usa.org. Read our page, Response to The Adoption Option, to learn about the impact of surrendering a child. Or you can look through our posts here and read the comments of other first/birth mothers and adult adoptees. Do remember that you are not a birth mother or first mother until you actually sign the relinquishment papers, and if you are already working with an adoption social worker, do not let her refer to you like that. You are the baby’s mother, period. Calling you a birth mother before your baby is born will make you feel as if you’re carrying a baby for someone else. You are not anything but a mother in waiting until you sign the relinquishment papers.
You may meet mothers who say they did the right thing in giving up their babies, and you can also find them on the Internet. No matter what the influences were that led to giving up their children, it was still heart-breaking. If you read their posts carefully, you’ll see the grief pouring through their words.
OPEN AND CLOSED ADOPTIONS
If you decide to explore adoption, you need to know that adoptions can be open, semi-open, or closed. In open adoptions you may choose the adoptive parents from a list of three to five couples pre-screened by the agency or attorney. You should meet with them before you make your selection. Once you’ve selected the parents, the agency counselor or your attorney will help you work out a contact agreement, typically three to five visits a year and pictures and letters a few times a year. You can arrange more contacts if you and the adoptive parents agree. READ THIS DOCUMENT CAREFULLY. Make sure that it does not say it can be closed at the desire of “either party,” because that means that the adoptive parents can disappear at their whim, or decide that the visits are “disturbing,” or some other language that will sound straight from the psychological playbook of adoption counselors and attorneys. Remember, the clients of adoption attorneys and agencies are the adoptive parents, not the teenage girl or middle-aged woman who offers up a baby.
In semi-open adoptions, you select the adoptive parents from profiles given to you by the agency–but you do not meet them or know their names. The contact agreement typically requires the adoptive parents to send you pictures and letters every few months for the first few years of your baby’s life. You may write to them and send letters and gifts to your baby. However, all correspondence is through the agency and the agency may read your letters and open your gifts, and refuse to send them if they think they are inappropriate.Semi-open adoption agreements provide that after a certain amount of time, often three years, any further contact will up to you and the adoptive parents. This means that you may lose contact with your child. We have heard from many first mothers devastated because what they thought was an open adoption soon became closed, and they suffer perhaps more than other women because they have not only given up their children, they have been duped by the system. We highly urge you not to consider this kind of adoption. If this is what is being promised, find another agency, find another attorney. We urge anyone who is considering adoption to make it a fully open one, where you meet the adoptive parents, know where they live, work, and get their mail, as well as know their full names and other community involvements. No matter how nice they may seem before the birth and surrender, remember, they want your baby, and everything may change after they have your child.
However. no matter how scrupulous you are–and since it is a difficult time it may be hard to focus on the details, but open and semi-open adoption agreements may not be enforceable in your state. As noted earlier, sometimes adoptive parents simply ignore the agreement after they take your baby. Some adoptive agencies provide mediation services to help birth parents and adoptive parents work out differences. In states where agreements are enforceable, you will have to hire an attorney to help you if the adoptive parents refuse to cooperate.
In closed adoptions you do not know who adopted your child or where your child is. You have no contact with the adoptive family or your child. All that your child will know about you is what the agency chooses to tell the adoptive parents and what they choose to tell him. In most states at this point, you may never be able to contact that child, and no matter how you feel now, you may feel differently later.
Keep in mind, no matter what type of adoption you have, the adoptive parents, not you, make all the decisions for your child, what he eats, his religious training, his education. They may have different values than you–and make decisions that you would be vehemently opposed to. Know, too, that open or closed, adoption is forever; you can never regain the mother and child relationship you lost. The social worker may tell you that you and your child may reunite in the future. It’s not that simple. You may not be able to find your now adult child and, if you do, your child may reject you. Even if you and tour child reunite, your relationship will be strained and your child may pull away from you.
Adoptions can be handled through an adoption agency licensed by the state or through an attorney (private adoption). If you place your child through an attorney, make sure you have your own attorney, one does not represent both you and the prospective adoptive parents. We cannot stress this strongly enough. Adoption attorneys may tell you they can represent you and the prospective adoptive parents. This is highly unethical. Find another attorney. The adoptive parents will pay for your attorney unless you can afford one yourself, which is desirable.<
Shortly after you child is born (or in some states before your child is born), the adoption agency will ask you to sign a document surrendering your child to the agency for adoption. If it is a private adoption, your attorney will ask you to sign a consent to allow the prospective adoptive couple to adopt your child.
You do not need to sign a surrender or consent right away. You may feel differently about adoption after your child is born. You may take your child home, or have your child placed with a relative or in foster care before you make your decision. Give yourself some time to calm down after the birth and see how you feel weeks later. Under no circumstances allow the prospective adoptive parents to be at the hospital with you during the birth, or shortly after the birth, as they will be desperate to get your baby and you will feel as if you are letting these nice people down if you do not hand over your child. The pressure will be intense if they are there. Take time to consider the decision that will not only have a lifelong impact not only on you, but also your baby. This is likely to be the most life-altering decision you will ever make for two people–you and your baby.
If you decide to give your child up, ask your adoption counselor or attorney if you have time after signing to change your mind. In most states surrenders and consents to relinquish a child are irrevocable. Even in states which allow you to revoke your surrender or consent, a judge may not return your child to you if he finds it is in the child’s “best interests” to stay with the prospective adoptive parents. Attorneys and agencies are not likely to help you if you do change your mind. Again, we urge you to not sign immediately. You should also insist that the agency or attorney give you copies of all the documents you sign.Do insist upon getting a certified copy of your child’s birth certificate–the one with your name on it. You have every right to it, and you will not be able to get one once you sign the relinquishment papers. Also get a copy of the relinquishment papers. You may not feel that you want it at the time, but later on you may not be able to get them. Keep both in a safe place. One day the unamended and original birth certificate could be very important to your child, and you will be able to give it to him–even if your state keeps the original locked away in the courthouse.
YOUR CHILD’S BIRTH CERTICIATE
After your child is born someone from the hospital or the state will collect information from you for his birth certificate. The certificate will have your name on it, and the baby’s father’s name if you two are married. If you are not married, some states allow the father’s name on the birth certificate only if he files a statement of paternity with the state’s vital statistics office. If he will agree to it, this could be very important for your child in the future.
No matter how you have prepared yourself, no matter how you have filled your head with the idea that you are “doing the right thing,” no matter how many times your social worker has told you that you are making the “loving decision,” that you are making someone so happy with your “generous gift” of your baby, you will feel incredibly sad once your child is gone. Those hormones don’t leave because your baby is gone. Joining birth mother support groups may help you. The adoption agency may have programs for birth mothers. Call the CUB number above an talk to someone who truly understands what you are going through.
Though you have signed over your baby, you do still have a lifelong emotional responsibility to that child. There is a bond between the two of you that no legal document can ever sever. Thus it is your responsibility to follow through with agreed-upon contacts with your child. You gave birth to this individual, you will always on one respect be the Mother, and he will want to know you. And who knows, you just might have selected adoptive parents–there are some–who do want you to remain in contact, and visit, because they know it is best for the child you now share.–Lorraine Dusky and Jane Edwards