This post was inspired by the article “Adoption as a Feminist Issue,” and is expanded from a comment I posted there.
The awareness of adoption as a feminist issue, as a women’s issue, goes back decades. Feminism as a movement is concerned about the exploitation and oppression of women. It speaks out against the violence and abuses which are perpetrated against women because they are women. Reproductive exploitation is thus a feminist issue. And reproductive exploitation is the basis of the adoption industry.
In her landmark book Death by Adoption (Cicada Press, 1979) feminist policy analyst Joss Shawyer states:
“Adoption is a violent act, a political act of aggression towards a woman who has supposedly offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality, and therefore not keeping it for trading purposes through traditional marriage. The crime is a grave one, for she threatens the very fabric of our society. The penalty is severe. She is stripped of her child by a variety of subtle and not so subtle manoeuvres and then brutally abandoned.”
(I would also like to recommend Shawyer’s article “Adoption ‘Choice’ is a Feminist Issue.”)
And, in 1986, Celeste Newbough wrote the landmark article “Adoption, Surrogate Motherhood and Reproductive Exploitation” in the feminist quarterly Matrix: for She of the New Aeon.
Shawyer’s quote, to me, sums up adoption. Along with the statistics that show that the majority of women who surrender babies to adoption do so against their will. These are babies they love and want to keep, but there is a thriving industry that currently sells newborns for $25,000 and more. See some sample price-lists for newborns. Just google “adoption situations” to find many more.
In most other nations, it is illegal to sell children, it is considered to be human trafficking. In Canada and the U.S., however, it is just considered to be business. See Gerow’s article “Infant Adoption is Big Business in America” (PDF) for a good analysis of why this unregulated industry exists. It is easy to exploit a woman if you deny her the supports she needs in order to keep her baby, and then convince her that she is undeserving of her child and that surrender is “heroic, noble, and selfless.” It is even easier if you get her to meet people who are eager to adopt her child, who she may then “fall in love with,” and who she then won’t be able to bear to disappoint by “changing her mind” and keeping her baby. Coercion takes many forms.
How is it not a feminist issue when women are being harvested for their babies, due to combination of a lack of legal protections and an enduring stigma against “un-manned mothers” (or now, “teen mothers” who are now the new “undeserving mothers,” striking fear into the hearts of the populace). Pregnancy and childbirth is an experience unique to women, it is part of their innate biology, a natural process that defines womanhood. When governments violate human rights by withholding the support necessary for a mother to keep her baby, this is blatant sexism and in effect punishes her for being a woman.
Let’s look an example illustrating the sexist double-standard. Men are not punished for fulfilling their reproductive imperative. Men don’t have body parts amputated off by agencies in retaliation for impregnating a woman (another natural act that is specific to their sex) — so why are women’s babies taken away from them (or women being manipulated into surrender (“choosing adoption”) by the NCFA’s “adoption is the loving option” crap), a traumatic act that feels like an emotional and physical amputation, if they get pregnant at a time that “violates” the artificial mores of society, who has “offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality…”?
A friend of mine, Karen Wilson Buterbaugh, who lost her baby to coerced surrender during the Baby Scoop Era, approached N.O.W. for their support. They refused to talk to her, and a woman there implied that it was because many in N.O.W. are adopters:
” When I was working in Washington, D.C., I called the N.O.W. office to schedule an appointment to speak with a representative. I wanted to discuss the issue of adoption surrender, especially during the Baby Scoop Era, being a major feminist issue. I wanted to see what they thought of this and if they were aware of the fact that so many babies were removed during that time from mother, mostly under age 21, who wished to parent their baby but were denied that right by social workers practicing in adoption, many of whom worked at maternity homes around the country such as the Florence Crittentons and Salvation Armies.
” I arrived and was told to wait. I waited and waited. An hour later I asked how much longer it would be. I was then told that I would not be seen. I asked why. She said she didn’t know but that no one wished to speak to me. I left and walked down the stairs to the lobby of the building. A woman approached me saying that she had overheard why I was there. She said, ‘Don’t you know that the women of N.O.W. adopt?’ I admit that I was startled at this as I had not considered that to be a factor!
” She then said, ‘Don’t tell anyone but here is the email address for the current President of N.O.W.’ (whose name I do not recall at this time). This would have been approximately 1997 or 1998. I thanked her for her flagging me down and for the information she shared with me. When I arrived back at work, I composed an email to the President of N.O.W. and sent it. Not hearing back, I sent it again,. I never received a reply. Not even a response saying she had received my emails or even saying she wasn’t interested in speaking to me or even defending adoptions. (My concern was specifically infant adoptions.)
” That experience was certainly a rude awakening to the fact that NO ONE cared, not even other females, about babies being removed from unprotected single mothers. “
So, mothers who have lost children to adoption have no advocates to speak for them and no support from the feminist community. I would like to call out to all feminists to help change this.
A literature review was recently done on a collection of peer-reviewed journal articles on natural mothers published between 1978 and 2008. The results of this literature review were published as part of a masters thesis on trauma and are reprinted here with permission of the author.
In this literature review, 98 articles were identified, and 91 of them obtained. The author did a thematic analysis of the articles, using grounded theory to identify the themes present in these articles. Nine themes were identified, including search and reunion, the surrender experience, open adoption relationships, and advice for professionals. But there were two main themes in this literature that were found to be above and beyond all others in terms of frequency. I am going to quote directly from the thesis:
” There were found to be two main themes in literature on natural mothers. These can be viewed as two “streams” of research, as the articles within a stream mainly refer to other work and prior research within that one stream. The first stream (43 articles) examines the consequences of surrender on the mother. The second stream (32 articles) examines factors that may predict and/or influence rates of surrender, often stating with concern that surrender rates have declined significantly and should be increased. The latter stream contains three main sub-themes: factors (socio-demographic, educational, attitudinal, familial, or economic) that distinguish mothers who surrender their babies from mothers who keep their babies, surveys to determine what would encourage expectant mothers to consider adoption, and comparisons of differing agency practices and their effects on surrender rates.”
Let’s come to the point and put it into more concrete terms: These 32 articles are on how to take babies.
The author of this thesis provides a list of some of these articles (below, reprinted with permission). So, seeing these, how can anyone believe that a “decision” about adoption is free from influence, coercion, or manipulation? When agencies have 30 years worth of research on how to increase the likelihood a mother will surrender her child, is she really making an informed decision completely of her own free will?
|Bachrach, Stolley, & London (1992)||Analysis – how demographic/economic/social trends affect and predict future surrender rates, plus factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Baran, Pannor, & Sorosky (1976)||Results from a focus group on how to increase adoption: Open adoption can persuade single mothers to surrender.|
|Barth (1987)||Research on adolescent girls and mothers: how to make adoption more appealing. Recommends open adoption as a way to encourage more adolescent mothers to surrender.|
|Berry (1991, 1993)||Study on effects of open adoption on family members and relationships. Suggests that open adoption can benefit adoptive parents by enticing more mothers to surrender.|
|Caragata (1999)||Examines teen pregnancy as an economic problem.’ Suggests open adoption to entice more mothers to surrender, that adoption should be “restructured,” and that meeting with prospective adopters might prevent a mother from “changing her mind”|
|Chippendale-Bakker & Foster (1996)||Studies of what demographic/economic/social factors distinguish mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Cocozelli (1989)||Research – what situational variables predict surrender rates. plus factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t (life plans, social worker visits, sign consent before delivery)|
|Custer (1993)||Research on influencing attitudes, beliefs and decision-making about adoption among pregnant adolescents. Found that deterrents to surrender include: fear of harm to baby, social disapproval, feeling that it shows lack of responsibility, lack of knowledge of benefits, “failure of professionals to actively initiate discussion of adoption with clients,” and anticipated psychological discomfort. Suggests that these issues be actively addressed in “social programs and political interventions.”|
|Daly (1994)||Research on adolescents to find out what keeps them from considering adoption. Recommends agencies do educational and public relations programs to explain the benefits of adoption, promote open adoption, and conduct face-to-face outreach programs to adolescents.|
|Donnelly & Voydanoff (1991)||Research on pregnant adolescents and new mothers: attitudes, demographics, relationships, experiences, and perceptions of early pregnancy distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t. Suggests programs to present benefits and “promote positive attitudes towards adoption” as those who surrender have more positive attitudes than those who don’t.|
|Dworkin, Harding, & Schreiber (1993)||Research on pregnant adolescents, regarding how adoption knowledge, social/psychological functioning, familial influences (grandmother and father of baby), and demographics correlate with surrender rates.|
|Geber & Resnick (1988)||Research on family functioning, cohesion and adaptability differences between parenters vs. surrenderers using “FACES II” questionnaire.|
|Hanson (1990)||Research on factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t, to recommend early intervention based on those figures, especially to get mothers “who might exhibit poor parenting styles” to surrender.|
|Herr (1989)||Research study on maternity home inmates to examine what affected their decision most: parents, “decision counseling,” and peer role models who are parenting.|
|Kallen, Griffore, Popovich, & Powell (1990)||Research study on attitudes towards adoption and open adoption in mothers who surrendered, mothers who don’t, and their own mothers. .|
|Kalmuss, Namerow, & Bauer (1992)||Research study on socio-demographics, family, education differences of mothers who surrender vs. those who don’t. Plus 6-month outcomes on life satisfaction, outlook, relationships, etc.|
|Leon (1999)||Instructions to physicians on treating surrendering mothers, including how to promote adoption to pregnant mothers.|
|Low, Moely, & Willis (1989)||Research factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who do not, in terms of parental influence and vocational goals.|
|Miller & Coyl (2000)||Analysis of how demographic/economic/social trends affect and predict future surrender rates, plus factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Moore & Davidson (2002)||Socio-psychological influences (family background, peers), cognitive functions, beliefs, and decision-making in pregnant adolescents, to determine how to best influence decision-making processes as part of “adoption education” of adolescents and promoting “more reasoned choices” (i.e. adoption) for pregnant teens|
|Namerow, Kalmuss, & Cushman (1993)||Research on what social, demographic, beliefs, and attitudinal factors influenced the pregnancy decision.|
|Resnick (1984)||Overview/analysis of research on decision-making and what distinguishes mothers who surrender from those who keep. Mentions sociological, psychological, factors.|
|Resnick, Blum, Bose, Smith, & Toogood (1990)||Studies of demographic/economic/social factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t, including their views on adoption vs. parenting vs. abortion.|
|Sobol & Daly (1992)||Overview and summary of the literature and findings: Factors influencing adolescents’ decisions about adoption. How to get more babies surrendered: Promote open adoption; make surrender easier; encourage pregnancy counsellors to suggest adoption; and present more “options” to make adoption more attractive.|
|Warren & Johnson (1989)||Research on factors distinguishing mothers who surrender from those who don’t.|
|Weinman, Robinson, Simmons, Schreiber, & Stafford (1989)||Research on mothers who initially planned to surrender but then decided to keep their babies: decision-making process, demographic/psycho-social and health differences, and treatment plans.|
|Weir (2000)||Research on what familial, developmental and peer barriers might prevent mothers from surrendering, and suggests how to remove them through group and family therapy.|
An analysis of what is REALLY behind “Dear Birthmother Letters”
We want you to give us your baby. We know that by meeting us and seeing just how perfect we would be for your child, you will gladly do this.
Why do we know this?
Because you are young, vulnerable, and don’t feel confident about your ability to be a mother. We know that we will appear mature, confident, capable, and will make you feel like we could take care of your baby better than you can. We may even remind you of your own parents.
Because we know that the reason you are considering adoption is out of fear and guilt. Guilt that you have disappointed your parents by irresponsibly getting pregnant. Fear because you do not know what to do and you don’t know if you’ll be a good parent or not. We can take advantage of your fear and your guilt, and we don’t have any qualms about doing it.
We know that research shows that mothers who “meet” and “choose” prospective adopters during their pregnancies will give up their babies out of guilt and obligation. Especially if we are in the delivery room with you, or “bonding with” OUR newborn in the hospital with our family and friends congratulating us. How would you DARE think of keeping our darling newborn from us? Giving us a “failed adoption” by “not carrying through with your adoption plan.” We are scared that if you take your baby home first before deciding, that you likely wouldn’t give her to us, so our agency’s “birthmother counsellor” will ensure that won’t happen.
We know that if we befriend you while you’re still pregnant, you won’t have a choice. In fact, we’re happy to take that choice (and all choice) away from you, because we are desperate and we know we deserve your baby more than you do. After all, we’ve paid thousands to the agency – you just had a broken condom.
We also know that our promises of open adoption will sounds great, and the same pregnancy hormones that make you feel trusting of others and insecure about yourself will make you believe us, and WANT to believe us. And we also know that these promises have NO basis in law, that we can close the adoption any time we want. And we will close it, especially if it looks like OUR baby loves you when you visit (as many adopted children do with their natural mothers). We’ll just crush that pesky blood-bond by stopping those upsetting visits. They will only “confuse” our child.
If need be, we can get you a counsellor at an adoption agency. We know that the more visits you have with agency staff, the more likely you will be to surrender your baby. They will have lots of time to work on you and convince you how expensive and difficult it would be to raise a child at your age. Can you actually afford it? Like any other luxury commodity, only the rich should be allowed to obtain (and keep) a child. Poor? Too bad. You should have kept your legs crossed.
We promise we will treat you like a queen while you are gestating our baby, while we are “Paper Pregnant” and counting down the days until we get our freshly made bundle of joy from you. We’ll praise you and call you things like our “heaven sent angel” and “God’s gift” to boost your ego and make you feel valued and incredible and loved during your pregnancy — the love and support that your parents and those around you don’t show.
We’ll even give you flowers and a “birthmother gift” when you hand over OUR baby to us — a reasonable exchange, right? If you’re lucky, the hospital will give you a teddy bear to take home with you – standard practice now, right?
And of course we or our paid agency worker will be right there with you in the delivery room, to make certain you don’t try to “bond” with our baby. We’re paying too much money to the agency/lawyer/facilitator for this baby to allow THAT to happen.
Speaking of money, we offer to pay your medical and hospital expenses. This will make you feel like you “owe” us that baby.
But frankly we don’t care what we do to you — how we will manipulate you, exploit you, and then cast you aside like a used container (and that’s what you are, right?) — because we’ll be better parents than you will ever be. That’s why we’re writing you this letter: We know we deserve that baby more than you do. We pay more in taxes than you earn in a year (but we’re sure looking forward to that $10,000 adoption income-tax credit that we’ll get!).
Contact us at our 1-800 number, and check out our “profile page” to see how good-looking we are and how confidant and mature we look compared to you.
Two “Waiting Parents”
Praying that God will bring us Our Little Angel
Being related to someone, having that natural connection of a mother giving birth to you and this event of creation and nurturance being your connection to the human race through millions of years of evolution, having the innate and emotional blood-bond and instinctive mother-child bond and biological/genetic connection to a family, to mother and father, is highly important in the rest of society. EVERYWHERE other than adoption.
In legal child adoption, invented only in 1851 as a social experiment, it is dismissed.
It shows how we in modern society put adoption upon a pedestal, one built on artificial and discredited notions such that infants are “blank slates” and that “environment is everything.”
In the rest of society, outside the adoption realm, being actually related to someone IS important. If it were not so, then women giving birth in hospitals would not care which baby they brought home with them. Push out a baby, then choose whichever one you want to take home with you. Or, be handed the “next one up in the rotation.” And why on earth should it matter? Why in heaven’s name would it matter? If we were to use the make-believe logic of adoption, it wouldn’t matter. But we all know it does.
I think that adoption as an institution is based on lies, fabrications, and the financial/social power and emotional “needs” of those who can afford to buy a baby. Reality has nothing to do with it. Instead, we are pressured believe that parents are replaceable and interchangeable, that children will “get over it,” that natural mothers are nothing more than heartless abandoners and willing incubators.
None of this is the truth, but it is a direct result of the legal principles underlying the first child adoption act, passed in 1851 and copied throughout the Western world. Terminate all parental rights AND all filiation. Permanently and without revoke. That is what differentiated this law from ALL others that preceded it. As long as adoption exists, it will be based on these lies, and will assume that biological connections, relatedness, are irrelevant.
My previous post on pre-birth matching was inspired by a question asked in a forum that is supposedly to support everyone who has been touched/torched by adoption.
I received a response from another member of this group, who had adopted, and she displayed some assumptions in her response that are very common in society. I am glad she responded as she did, so that maybe another point of view could be provided, by a mother who has actually been there and has lost a baby against her will.
This is what this woman who had adopted said:
“Obviously, for an expectant mother to see these profiles, they must be looking for families to adopt their babies. I’m not sure – what do you think would be a better thing for an expectant mother who thinks she wants to place her baby to do? We don’t want her to leave the baby on a doorstep. So what should she do, if we lived in a world where no one wrote ‘dear birth mother’ letters?”
Reading this, the first question that came to my mind is: No it is NOT obvious. Why do people think that a mother looking at prospective adopters’ profiles is REALLY, concretely, at the stage of looking for a family to adopt here baby? Is this expectant mother really 100% at that point yet and never going back to the question “Should I, can I, keep my baby?”?
So this, the rest of my post here, is my response to her:
Actually, I think that it’s possible that for many mothers, they are not looking for a family to adopt their babies, they are still deciding “Should I surrender or keep my baby?” The mother is still making up her mind, and these profiles can influence this decision.
I know mothers who read these online profiles during their pregnancies and it made them feel they had no right to keep their babies, that they would be selfish and greedy and “unchristian,” as they are made to feel that there are these wonderful people out there who deserved to be parents much more than the mothers did. It was one more nail in their coffin of insecurity and lack of self-esteem. Worse yet if an adoption agency is coaching them that parenthood would be too much of a struggle for them and that their babies “deserve more.”
If you are a woman who has given birth, a mother, you know the emotional changes that come with late pregnancy, labour, and birth. This can be a shock to new moms, how much they may want their babies once their babies are in their arms. And many moms separated from children by adoption feel, from experience, that the final decision about this should (or must) be made post-birth once the mother has her baby in her arms and knows her emotions, preferably given a few weeks so she can recover from birth first.
Viewing profiles of course leads to forming a relationship with someone hoping to adopt — later on — BUT how much pressure does this relationship put on her to “not change her mind” and cause a “failed adoption” – in many cases, lots. (i.e.
“Paul Meding, a Columbia attorney who has been taking adoption cases for 12 years [says] “In my opinion, when the birth mother has more input and can see first hand how important the adoption is to the family, it is more difficult for her to back out and disappoint them.” (“Open Doors,” The Columbia Star, April 29, 2005)”.
What Meding talks about here is also called “emotional coercion.”
So, another person who had adopted responded and asked me what an mother should do instead (i guess, instead of boarding the adoption bandwagon while her child is not yet born). I responded:
I think that the supports are in place already that expectant mothers can obtain necessary prebirth and post-birth counselling and get care and resources such that she can make this decision once recovered from birth, without the decision being influenced by relationships with or expectations from people hoping to adopt.
A good example is South Australia: Adoption offices are ready with substitute care for the baby if the mother wants this while the mother makes up her mind, and she is encouraged to have visits, given parenting mentorship, and to bring her baby home overnight. Various public service agencies have programs providing this type of “cradle care” already in place. After the mom recovers from birth, then an adoption agency (or child welfare office) can provide her with profiles of couples she can interview and choose, *if* she then finds first-hand that she doesn’t want [to raise] her baby. I corresponded with adoption workers in the state of South Australia, who confirmed this information. Evelyn Robinson also has written about it, and she can be contacted through Clova Publications at http://www.clovapublications.com. In Australia, an adoption workers’ paycheque does not depend on the sales she or her agency makes per year, on how many babies they can broker for $25,000 and up.
There is no reason to fear that children will be “left on doorsteps” if there is no pre-birth matching. And there is no need for mothers to be pressured to make decisions about adoption pre-birth, or even soon post-birth. Pre-birth matching is just another tactic that agencies use in order to obtain more babies for the market.
I seriously do not think that any person who adopts can claim that the mother was not coerced, if they have engaged in pre-birth or even pre-surrender matching. How can they guarantee that they did not affect the mother’s decision? Do they even care how they obtained the baby? Several people in the same group, when asked, said that they felt that the mother’s reasons for surrendering “were her own,” indicating that they did not care if she was coerced or not, or whether they themselves had pers0nally engaged in coercion. I find this to be very sad that anyone would s0 blinded by “baby hunger” that they would put this ahead of having ethics, did not care how or why that baby was being surrendered for adoption.
Shortlink to this post: http://wp.me/p9tLn-if
A Mothers’ Bill of Rights
Expecting? Considering adoption? The adoption agency may not have told you all your rights!
If you are considering surrendering your baby for adoption, remember that you are still the only mother that baby has until you have signed the surrender papers and until any revocation periods have passed (this varies from within 30 days of birth in British Columbia, to no revocation period at all in some states such as Florida and Illinois). Some adoption agencies publish “Birthmother Bills of Rights,” which invariably neglect to inform the “birthmother” that she has rights that every other mother takes for granted – including the right to change her mind.
This list below is provided so that expectant mothers considering adoption can take this to adoption agencies and potential adopters and ask right-off-the-bat if they’ll honour these rights. And if they refuse to, then mothers go to a different agency or different potential adopters that will. According to an article (“Love for Sale”) in Adoptive Families Magazine, there may be up to forty couples vying for every baby available, so there is no lack of choice if one couple says “no” to you. And in fact, the best parent for your baby may well be you!
As a mother, maybe being called a “birthmother,” these are your rights.
~ Your Rights as an Expectant and New Mother ~
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO:
- … see your baby after he/she is born.
- … choose to hold, nurse, and care for your baby in the hospital.
- … decide if the potential adopters can be in the labour or delivery room, and the right to change your mind and ask them to leave at any time.
- … have independent legal counsel (i.e not also representing the potential adopters, known as “dual-representation”) to explain the surrender papers and to be present when you sign them.
- … choose to care for your baby without feeling pressured to decide about adoption within ANY certain time period.
- … choose to take your baby home from the hospital if that is what you want to do.
- … say “No” to adoption at any point before or after the birth without fear of hurting or disappointing the potential adopters.
- … adequate financial support from the state which would enable you to keep and raise your baby.
- … expect child support from the father of your baby, and take him to court for enforcement if this is not provided.
- … be free of any monetary obligation, such as repaying living or medical expenses, should you choose to keep your baby (potential adopters can buy insurance to cover all costs if a mother changes her mind, it is a risk they knowingly take).
- … choose to decide on adoption after recovering from birth and any post-partum depression.
- … be treated as the mother and a parent of your baby until and unless papers are signed, and to be thus treated with the respect granted any other mother.
- … be a mother. No matter if you’re unmarried, young, or financially strained, you still have the right to be a mother.
These rights come from the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (at http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html), which since 1948 has guaranteed these protections to ALL citizens of the U.S., Canada and all other nations that signed it. Articles 12, 16 and 25 of the Declaration specifically guarantee protection and social support to mothers and families:
- Article 12. – No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, FAMILY, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
- Article 16(3) – The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
- Article 25(1) – Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Copyright © B. Lake 2004. This article may be reprinted on other not-for-profit websites as long as it is reprinted in its entirety with copyright statement included.
Reprinted with Permission of the Author
I have to admit, I feel very uncomfortable with the word “bastard.” Mainly because it originated as a derogatory term used for children born out of wedlock and I feel strongly that any form of discrimination against a person due to their circumstances of birth is reprehensible. Even if the term “bastard” has come to mean “jerk” or “impolite/rude/inconsiderate [male] person” — or even sometimes serving as a humorous term of endearment/admiration for someone who has managed to come out ahead of the game (“Hey, you know Bob? He won the lottery last week — that bastard!”) – I still refrain from using it even in casual conversation. And if I do “slip up” and say it, I feel a small pang of something (guilt?).
Having said, that, I have a huge amount of respect for adoptees such members of Bastard Nation, and bloggers such as Bastardette and Bastard Granny Annie and Ungrateful Little Bastard, for proudly taking ownership of the term and using it for their own purposes, and in doing so are removing some of the stigma from it. Good for them!
But this post is not about the term, it is about the stigma that is still attached to the birth of children outside of marriage. You can see this in figures quoted in newspapers, about how it is a measurement of the “social ills” in society. You can hear it in the derogatory words thrown at single, young mothers on buses, at least where I live. And the “campaign against teen pregnancy” that assumes that all young mothers are not only irresponsible monsters but are unwed.
I personally knew the shock when I met a woman in 1990 who had also given birth at age 17 in Canada, but had been allowed to keep her baby — the hospital did not abduct her baby at birth — the difference was that she was married!!
… And having to wear my grandma’s wedding ring whenever I left the wage home to go anywhere.
… and when I found out 24 years after the fact that my father had phoned my son’s father around the time of the birth of my son and asked him if he would do the right thing and marry me (Grandma Maxwell told my son about this one). I guess, that was the condition on which they would allow me to keep my baby.
… and being a single mother giving birth in a hospital in many places in Canada will still prompt a social worker visit while you are still in hospital, questioning your motherhood and your right to raise your baby, giving you adoption pamphlets and asking “How do you intend to support this child?”
But getting back to the stigma that in many places still surrounds having a baby outside of marriage, it is interesting about the double-standard that surrounds adoption.
Question: Given that it is such a social crime to give birth to a baby outside of marriage that the child is termed a “bastard”: What about a child who was born to a married couple, surrendered (perhaps due to poverty — this is happening all the time) then adopted by a single person (male or female)? That person was not born “illegitimate. “ The modern child adoption system that was invented in 1851 makes a child “As If Born To” the person who has adopted them. So, does that child become “illegitimate,” and hence a “bastard”? If not, then why not?
Only in adoption is there a paradox that a single mother “deserves” to adopt a child – but a child *born* outside of marriage is “illegitimate” and the mother is deemed not to deserve her own child.
Why is it is okay to adopt as a single mother, BUT if you dare to give birth to a child outside of marriage, that child is called a “bastard” and the mother vilified??? The woman who adopts is put onto a pedestal while the mother who has given birth is considered by the same people to be inherently irresponsible and potentially unfit? Being unwed is still considered to be “just reason” to surrender a child, or imply to a mother that she should surrender her child (“Have you considered adoption?”). Books on “how to adopt” advise prospective adopters to, in public places, approach pregnant women who do not have wedding rings, to hand them “adoption cards.” To imply that the people who want to adopt deserve her baby more than she does.
An interesting double standard.
~ ~ ~
Postscript: I want to recommend a related blog post, about how some mothers are condemned while others are honoured: “The Right Kind of Mother: Intersections of Race and Class and Choice“
Unlike what alarmist government-funded programs and conservative-religious lobby groups will try to tell you, teen motherhood is neither a crisis nor an event that will destroy or ruin the life of a young mother.
Old studies that supposedly proved that teen pregnancy was a crisis were based on biased data with confounding variables (race, culture, social class, etc.). But this supposed “research” fulfilled the right-wing, socially conservative, political purposes of the time.
New data proves what people knew up until 50 years ago: teen pregnancy is natural and is NOT a crisis. (When was the greatest rate of teen pregnancy during the past century? During the 1950s. These were the mothers of the Baby Boomers!)
Here are some quotes from recent studies, illustrating the new knowledge about young motherhood:
“.. a review of the research evidence finds that the age at which pregnancy occurs has little effect on social outcomes. Many teenage mothers describe how motherhood makes them feel stronger, and marks a change for the better. Many fathers seek to remain connected with their children.” (Duncan, 2007)
“Moreover, we find that teen mothers may actually achieve higher evels of earnings over their adult lives than if they had postponed motherhood. Finally, we find evidence that while teenage childbearing does seem to increase public aid expenditures immediately after a teen birth, this “negative” consequence of teenage childbearing is not a permanent one, in that teen mothers use less public aid in their late 20s as their earnings rise and their children age.” (Hotz, McElroy, & Sanders, 1999).
Of young mothers who had left foster care: …”becoming a parent meant a positive change in their otherwise chaotic lives. Their experience of motherhood brought about love and enjoyment,
and it signified continuity and fulfillment of a void. For some young mothers, the child provided a focus in their lives and a drive to achieve a position.” –Barn and Mantonavi (2007, page 236-237)
Look at your family trees. My guess is that almost all of your female ancestors prior to 1900 were teen mothers when they had their first babies.
And, existing social class that a woman has grown up in indicates that social class she and her child will be in — NOT the age at which she has given birth! A mother who has grown up middle-class does NOT automatically become a “welfare mom” just because she started a family when young:
“Teen mothers’ life trajectories reflected legacies of unequal life chances that began in childhood and persisted into their 30s. Mothers with childhood advantages fared better over time than impoverished mothers, and a legacy of advantage contributed to a cushion of safety and opportunity for their teenaged children. Conclusion: The powerful legacy of social class and racial divisions on teen mothers’ long-term outcomes challenges the view that teen mothering leads to a downward spiral with negative repercussions for mothers and children” — SmithBattle (2007).
Not only this, but recent research has shown that there’s no good reason to postpone childbearing, especially postponing it until you can no longer conceive. Nature made women to be their most fertile between the ages of 16 and 26. Age-related infertility begins it’s slow climb at around age 27. So, whey are women waiting until their 30s or even 40s to try to conceive? It is their individual choice to do so, but if they do, then I do not believe they “deserve” another woman’s baby to fill that need. It was their own choice to wait, and to take the risk that conception would not possible.. Whitley & Kirmayer (2008) mention that the average age of first births in Canada in 2003 was 28, compared to 22 in 1972.
“Don’t be selfish! Think of that poor couple who can’t have a baby of their own!”* — my father’s words to me when i was crying my eyes out, wanting desperately to keep my baby.
We as young mothers were (and are) supposed to put the wants and needs of adoptive parents before our own, to give away our babies in order to allow them to “build their families.” We are called selfish, self-centred, and immature for wanting to keep our babies. (But does anyone apply these adjectives to older, married mothers who have children? No, because it is only teen mothers who are considered “not worthy” to have babies at all.)
Is it any wonder that a teen parent not only has to fight for the right to raise her baby, but also for her basic human right to the support to keep her family together — and on top of that, she has the social stress of the stigma against her? To show how incredibly unnecessary and inappropriate this stigma is, Whitley and Kirmayer (2008) found that it is now being applied to women in their early 20s!
“Anglophone Euro-Canadian mothers in their early 20s may now be experiencing aspects of social exclusion traditionally associated with ‘teenage mothers.’ This may have a deleterious effect on health.”
I was forced to leave high school in 1979 when I became pregnant – that’s what girls did. I worked on courses by correspondence. It wasn’t even an option to stay in school. This exiling and ostracization was barbarous to do this to any woman — and I thought that this inhumane, discriminatory, and backward practice had ended — but then I read this, written in 2008:
“Girls are forced out of the mainstream education system because they are pregnant or have given birth. The consequences for the young mothers and their children are dramatic… there is a los tgeneration of teenage girls who hve become pregnant in the last two to three years and have effectively ‘fallen through the net.’” (Lall, 2008)
What we need are strong programs that support young mothers, without exclusion, without limitation. Programs that recognize that young children NEED their mothers at home, and that mothering as a career is JUST as important as any other career. Not only that, but recognizing that becoming a mother can be a powerful incentive for a woman to advance her education. Here is one study’s recommendations about helping young mothers:
We suggest that the UK Government adopts a broader approach to addressing social exclusion associated with teenage pregnancy, and one which: values and supports full-time mothering as well as gaining skills; affords teenage mothers the same rights as less vulnerable mothers; fosters supportive social networks and enables the young women to engage actively in the process of their own inclusion. (Austerberry & Wiggins, 2007).
Austerberry, H., & Wiggins, M. (2007). Taking a pro-choice perspective on promoting inclusion of teenage mothers: Lessons from an evaluation of the Sure Start Plus programme. Critical Public Health, 17(1), 3-15.
Duncan, S. (2007). What’s the problem with teenage parents? And what’s the problem with policy? Critical Social Policy, 27(3), 307-334.
Gibbs, N. (2002). Making time for baby. Time Magazine, April 15, 2002. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1002217,00.html .
Hotz, V. J., McElroy, S. W., & Sanders, S. G. (1999). Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Natural Experiment.
Hope, T., Wilder, E. I., & Watt, T. T. (2003). Pregnancy, pregnancy resolution, and juvenile delinquency. The Sociological Quarterly, 44(4), 555-576.
Lall, M. (2007). Exclusion from school: Teenage pregnancy and the denial of education. Sex Education, 7(3), 219-237.
Luker, K. (1996). Dubious conceptions: The politics of teenage pregnancy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Oberlander, S. E., Black, M. M., Starr, R. H. (2007). African American adolescent mothers and grandmothers: A multigenerational approach to parenting. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39(1-2), 37-46.
Richards, J., Papworth, M., Corbett, S., & Good, J. (2007). Adolescent motherhood: A Q-methodological re-evaluation of psychological and social outcomes. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17(5) 347-362.
Shanok, A. F., & Miller, L. (2007). Stepping up to motherhood among inner-city teens. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(3), 252-261
Smith-Battle, L. (2007a). ‘I wanna have a good future’: Teen mothers’ rise in educational aspirations, competing demands, and limited school support. Youth and Society, 38(3), 348-371.
SmithBattle, L. (2007b). Legacies of advantage and disadvantage: The case of teen mothers. Public Health Nursing, 24(5), 409-420.
Solinger, R. (2000). Wake up little Susie: Single pregnancy and race before Roe v. Wade. New York: Routledge.
Whitley, R., & Kirmayer, L. J. (2008). Perceived stigmatisation of young mothers: An exploratory study of psychological and social experience. Social Science and Medicine, 66(2), 339-348.
Zeck, W., Bjelic-Radisic, V., Haas, J., & Greimel, E. (2007). Impact of adolescent pregnancy on the future life of young mothers in terms of social, familial, and educational changes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(4), 380-388.
* The sad irony is that this “poor infertile couple” that i was supposed to give my child to, to satisfy THEIR needs, then went on to have two children of their own. So there was absolutely NO reason for this adoption to occur. They could have children of their own – they did not need mine.
Hi! I haven’t written any posts lately, and I apologize to my readers for the delay. I’m spending every spare waking moment finishing off a large report for the clinic I volunteer for, as the final requirement for my practicum work term there. And, following “Cedar’s Third Law” (or “Cedar’s First Law of Project Management”:) “Every project will take twice as long as you originally estimate.” And, indeed, this one has. So, wish me luck. The finish line for my Masters degree is finally in sight … !
Meanwhile, as most of you know, I am a support and advocate for young mothers. I want to share these two sites with you:
Promoting Respect for Young Mothers at http://prymface.yolasite.com
and Moms and Mentors Society at http://www.momsandmentors.ca
Maureen Hobbs, who coordinators Moms and Mentors, wrote an excellent Masters’ thesis for her Nursing degree, written on how support for young mother can make so much difference for them. (Frankly, this support is something that older mothers take for granted!). On a discouraging note, I heard from another mother in Vancouver who spoke with the coordinator or a support group for young mothers — she said that young mothers are still openly insulted to their faces and yelled at on Public transit in Vancouver — there is still a huge amount of stigma against a woman having a child during the first half of her most fertile years, the time when Nature intends us to give birth.
“What is coercion?” This question was asked recently in an adoption-related forum, by someone unfamiliar with the idea that mothers may not want to surrender their babies for adoption. Someone who has meekly accepted adoption industry brainwashing and never questioned the notion that mothers’ don’t willingly abandon their children hither, thither, and yon.
Ever since the Post World-War II demand for newborn infants arose, and the social work profession decided to meet that demand by taking the babies of vulnerable mothers, coercion has formed a large part of adoption practice. You can read all about it in many pages on the internet. Origins Canada has a collection of articles about coercion, including the coercion checklist I created from the true experiences of mothers I had got to know in support groups. You can also read about Baby Scoop Era practices in the U.S. and what excuses baby brokers used for their abuse of mothers and abduction of infants. You can pick up a copy of Ann Fessler’s book The Girls Who Went Away and read first-hand accounts from the mothers incarcerated in maternity prisons, which were little more than baby farms, who knew they would never be allowed to leave with their babies. Or you can read mothers’ stories on the Exiled Mothers and Origins Canada sites. You can look at the many years of research, the millions of dollars in federal tax money, put towards inventing new methods to separate mothers from their beloved newborn infants: techniques such as open adoption, taking mothers away from their support system and putting them into maternity homes because it will more than double the rate of surrender (Namerow, Kalmuss, & Cushman, 1993), and research in which blindfolded regressed “volunteers” were forced to relive the trauma of their surrender in order to find out what coercion worked best. One of these volunteers committed suicide after her experience.
But what is a good one or two sentence definition that sums of what constitutes coercion in adoption practice? I thought it may be useful to invite feedback on one such possible definition:
“Coercion” includes any practice specifically designed and intended to either ensure — or significantly increase the odds – that a mother will surrender her baby for adoption.
“Coercion” describes any practice designed to remove a mother’s freedom of choice by the use of influence, persuasion, fraud, or duress. A coerced “choice’ is not a “choice” at all.
Update: This article, from March 2010, ends with a proposed possible definition of coercion. This short description was taken and expanded upon in a later article: “The Definition of Adoption Coercion.“
- Adoption “Choice” – A Response to a Mother
- Adoption Coercion in Black and White
- Adoption: “Studies on How to Take Babies”
- An “Apology” for Abduction
- The Basic Facts of Pre-Birth Adoption Matching
- They admit it was illegal!
- This is what it’s like.
- “What Constitutes Coercion?“ (By “Write-A-Holic”)