Can We Understand why Mothers Relinquish Babies to Adoption?

Choices, even adoption, based on fear, are bad choices

After being  on the front page of Yahoo News in May, I have learned that the high of getting the word out is quickly dampened by the public response that follows.  Hence, I find myself with a bit of a stomach ache this AM after heading to the New York Times piece commentary.  It’s OK. I knew what I was opening myself up to and I have my big girl pants on.

In fact, I can even understand some of the criticism as I was quite limited by the amount of words allowed ( 300 to 400) and that I was asked to focus on the discriminatory aspect of the Adoption Tax Credit to original families. Adoption is much more complicated than I could ever put in 400 words. Obviously, I could have said a lot more and I still can, but rather than play the “defend my position in comments” game, I’ll do what I do best; write a blog post.

Mothers Don’t Relinquish JUST to Stay off Public Assistance

What was edited from the piece was still not enough, but there was a line that said:

“Having a child that you knowingly can’t afford and then relying on public assistance is often viewed as “not taking any personal responsibility.” A tax credit, on the other hand, is what “established” individuals partake in. This might seem like a shallow distention, but when compiled with the other promoted benefits of relinquishment, such as being seem as strong and selfless, helping to create a family, adoption becomes more seducing for all the wrong reasons.”

This thought was reduced to the following before being removed completely:

“A tax credit, on the other hand, is what “established” individuals partake in. This might seem like a shallow distinction, but it lends itself to becoming another reason that adoption appeals to mothers who really do not need to relinquish their children.”

That’s the whole crux of it in one sense the bigger picture of the adoption tax credit, and of adoption relinquishment overall , is our need to examine WHY we find it OK to separate mothers and children and under what conditions we support that separation.

Take a Minute, Open Your Mind and READ.

So what I will do now, rather than spend my day compiling all that I have learned in the past 12 years is to say this.

If you have just come over here from the New York Times and you think I am just WRONG about everything, before you go off with comments or dismiss me, take some time and:

Then come back here, take some more time and then tell me what you think.

Can You Question Your General Beliefs about Adoption?

Do you think that adoption is about finding homes for children who need homes?

I think that is what it is SUPPOSED to be about, but like communism, adoption looks really good on paper. In theory,  and often logically, adoption makes sense, but  it fails to take into human nature, human needs, the importance of mother child bonding, genetics, etc.

Do you think that children who are adopted are “unwanted”?

I believe that that is the marketing spin that allows us, as a society, to feel good about adoption. For me, there is a huge difference between an unplanned pregnancy and an “unwanted” child.   Studies have shown that approximately HALF of all births, including mine and possibly yours were the results of “unplanned” pregnancies.  Neither my brother nor I were planned, but I would never say we were unwanted.  With half our births unplanned, obviously somewhere along the 9 months of pregnancy we become “wanted” babies or else there would be much higher numbers of adoptees and relinquishment in the country.

Why in Adoption do we make “unplanned” into “unwanted”?

It gets a bit sticky here. “Unwanted”,  to me, implies “unloved” yet adoption mythology is filled with love as is the act of relinquishment.

How many times have we seen the typical adoption elevator line “Your Birthmother loved you so much that she wanted you to have the best life that she couldn’t give you”?  And while I question the reasoning, I do not question the motives or the emotions.   Take away the Baby Scoop Era of forced adoption, stake out the CPS removals, and yes, when women “choose” to voluntarily relinquish their babies to adoption they  relinquish  because they believe that it is best for their babies that they love.

So time to regroup: Half of ALL pregnancies are “unplanned”, a great majority of them become “wanted” and are just assimilated into the family life, birthmothers place their children out of love, yet adoption is about finding homes for children  who “need” homes.

OK, so why can’t Birthmothers provide these homes for  their children?

Does “unwanted” really mean “inability to parent”?

In adoption lore, yes, I believe that is what  we would like to believe.  In order for us, as a society, to believe that adoption is a good thing, then we have to believe that reasons a women chooses to place her child are solidly thought out and completely logical.  I don’t believe that any women places her baby for ONE single reason, but a multitude of personal issues that come together. However, whether those issues actually combine into a reasonable choice that leads to adoption? I find most of the arguments to place a child to be poor in judgment.

However, first let’s get out of the way the standard objections.

If a mother is so damaged herself that she is abusive to her child and her child is in danger, then she is unable to successfully parent.  While I do believe that prevention is vital, I caution that we should not assume that “unplanned” pregnancies result in “abused” children.  CPS removal of previous children is a red flag.  Past history of abuse to the mother is a good indicator, but not a reason alone to relinquish as many people DO break the cycle of abuse.  Being “young” and unmarried, “under” educated, poor does not equal abusive.

If a mother has addiction issues and is refusing to get help, then she is unable to parent successfully at that time.  I do not find that addiction alone  is reason to sever the mother child bond for life.  People recover.  While I do not think that a child should suffer while their parent gets their act together, I would much rather us as a society assist the family as a whole unit.  I understand that there are situations where this is just not possible and under these circumstances, placement of the child is beneficial.

If the mother is too young. Sorry, I just do not buy this one at all, but I will play with the most extreme example: Can a twelve  year old raise a baby? No. Not on her own, but can she successful parent with support? Yes.  Will she need lots of support? Yes, but she won’t necessarily need that forever. She WILL grow up and IF she had support, she CAN grow up as a successful mother.  Does it mean that HER parents have to step up to the plate? Yes, but that is what families are supposed to do.

How about a Teenage mother? Ah, the teen mom. First, let’s just break the stereotype that most  birthmothers are teen moms because they are not, even though I was.  Again, she will not be a “teen” mom forever, but she will be a birthmother forever should she relinquish. One scenario has her struggling for the first few years, while the other does have her in a permanent situation for the rest of her life.  I would rather see her work hard and have a baby in tow. The teen mom can still have a happy life.

What if the mother is just too poor to support the baby? We don’t usually see a case of extreme poverty in domestic adoption, but  cases where birthmothers are already parenting one or more children and find that they are just too strapped by the thought of adding another to the mix.  I personally find cases like this to be a complete outrage and part of my position on the Adoption Tax Credit.

I know that the pro-life contingents see these woman as saviors for “knowing their limits” and “choosing life”  like this:

“Our son’s birthmother was a young, minority without legal status in the US. She had no family other than one brother. She was separated from the birthfather and had a restraining order against him. She was already using food stamps and lived in a dilapidated trailer where she rented a room from a former boyfriend. She worked two low paying jobs. She had also recently sold her car and she did not have a high school diploma.”

My response is:  So she was in a bad place and needed help and you took her baby. She is still going to be in that bad place and now struggling to deal with the loss of her baby.  Did she love her baby? Did she want her baby? Would she hurt her baby? Or would her baby just be poor and struggle along with her?  I can’t agree that losing a child is a good recipe for life success and the way out of poverty.  If the idea is just to “give the child a better life” and leave the mother behind, then I find that cruel, as well, I ask: what do we value in this country?

Then we can get into the more subtle “reasons to relinquish”…


  • “I’m not ready to parent”: Look, I understand that people champion this by saying “Good for you! Only you know what’s the right choice at this time”. I am sorry, I don’t buy it. Let me preface that by saying, I SAID it. I believed it and I don’t buy it. It’s a cop out. It means  “I doubt myself. I am not sure. I don’t want to make the effort. I don’t think I can make the effort. I am afraid of failing. This isn’t my plan. I wanted things to be different.”
  • “I want my child to have a two parent household”:   I hate this one and do not support it at all. I don’t care what studies the say that children from two parent households do better and how we blame the fall of every civilization on the rise of the single mother, I find it completely illogical that a child must lose their one known parent to be raised by two strangers.  I don’t care if the two parents are Mother Theresa and Gandhi,  the biological mother has value to the adoptee.
  • “I’m not done with highschool/college”: Then finish, with a child in tow. Will it be harder? Sure, but it will be worth it.
  • “I don’t want children now”: Well, you are going to be a mother NOW, so this is a little too late.
  • “I want my child to have everything”: Your child doesn’t need to have Baby Gap and a matching car seat/diaper bag combo. That might be your fantasy, but your baby just wants YOU.

I am finding that I can go on and on about this, but it is just making me sad to repeat the same broken set of values and reasonings all over again and it probably won’t convince anyone to think otherwise.

Bottom line for me is when we relinquish, we believe these things and they are false. It is only after the true depth of the loss can be accepted that we see that we made a great error in judgment.  There is value in the connection between mother and child that cannot be replaced by monetary things and perceived life successes. There is value in being with our own clans and the biological connections that make us who were are. There is great pain and loss in adoption for both the original family and the adoptee no matter how beneficial their placement is. The adoption industry is just that: an industry and it is often corrupt and money driven.


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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine,, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

14 Comments on "Can We Understand why Mothers Relinquish Babies to Adoption?"

  1. *raises hand*

    I sent my son to stay with his paternal grandparents after having to put my husband in jail because Hubby got knocked down to bucky private and his pay was stopped, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to support my son on the piddly little barely-above-minimum-wage I was able to command at that time. I had to be able to work any hours, and most daycares don’t cover “any hours.” (The few that do charge a premium for the privilege.) My son’s grandparents took advantage, lied to the first judge about “needing” custody so they could take care of my son (they had an in loco parentis from me, like a power of attorney), and then told me that if I didn’t sign away my rights before the divorce, both I and my ex would owe child support. He was a convicted felon and I was earning little to no money at the time.

    I wanted my son–I had him completely within wedlock and I adored him. I was not allowed to keep him through events that were no fault of my own.

    And it was hard enough getting back on my feet after the marriage blew up. Depression over losing my son made it exponentially worse. I did not understand consciously that it was the loss of my son doing that to me. I thought I was just mentally ill for no specific reason. I went to something like five therapists in a two- or three-year period and NONE of them zeroed in on my loss of my son as the root of anything. Say the word “adoption” and people immediately lose 50 IQ points and all their empathy. Even people with degrees in this stuff.

    It amazes me that infertile people will get all crazy about being infertile and grieve children they have never even had, but then they don’t understand how much worse it is to have had the child and then have to lose them. How can anyone with that little empathy possibly be fit to raise a child?

    I found out later that not only were my in-laws getting back at me for turning my husband in but also, they’d tried to have a child between them for years (it’s my ex’s stepfather), only to suffer miscarriage after miscarriage, including stillborn quadruplets. When I wound up in trouble it must have seemed like a gift from God for them. Too bad I wasn’t put on this Earth to make babies for random other people. I’ll never forgive them, either.

  2. I noticed that there was not one single solitary mention in the comments of how the child might be affected psychologically and emotionally from being given up for adoption, from being raised away from his bio-relatives, his ancestry and his heritage. Or the consequences of not having an up-to-date medical history.

    The only time the child was considered at all was that s/he might have some material advantages as a result of being adopted. And we all know that this doesn’t always last what with divorce, job loss, death, etc. Most of the comments just reinforced to me what a classist institution adoption is. It is truly scary how little we value the natural mother/child bond in this culture. And I have a feeling that most of those doing the devaluing are quite secure in the knowledge of their own biological roots.

  3. “Say the word “adoption” and people immediately lose 50 IQ points and all their empathy. Even people with degrees in this stuff.
    It amazes me that infertile people will get all crazy about being infertile and grieve children they have never even had, but then they don’t understand how much worse it is to have had the child and then have to lose them.”

    Seriously! I was asked once if my relinquishment was a good experience. What?!! They were expecting a yes. Unbelievable.

  4. starr and robin i so agree. No one even considers that 20% is the estimate of adoptions that ‘fail’. the aparents decide they don’t like the one they got and ….mind you do not return the child … they drop them off at group homes or jails. many think they are better parents because they are extreme right wing and cause a deal of trauma. The pain of adoption is life time. I can’t believe the huge amount of people who read a bilboard and thought it was true.

  5. @Starr-

    “It amazes me that infertile people will get all crazy about being infertile and grieve children they have never even had, but then they don’t understand how much worse it is to have had the child and then have to lose them.”

    Actually, I do think they understand how much worse it is and they just simply do not care. I think in a sick, deranged way they get off to our torture and want US to pay for their infertility by projecting that pain onto us. In my child’s case it was her “supposed” infertility, because she ended up having her own son a few years later. She even stole the name I gave my son and gave it to hers. How’s that for empathy and compassion? Sick witch.

    Over the years this is what I have come to know, based on how my son’s adopter turned on me after she got her hands on him. She and her family have treated me with nothing but disdain, when it was I who lost while they all gained.


  6. As an adult adoptee in reunion, I am still trying to make sense (emotionally) of my relinquishment. I’m past the angry stage and the blaming, personally, but reading stuff like this just makes me mad. Birthmothers don’t forget. They’re still moms when they participate in adoption; they’re just mothers without their babies. I do communicate with adoption professionals, and adoptive parents. I try to be even-handed, but I’m sorry that so many birth moms have been made to feel marginalized, unimportant and guilty.

  7. I am 6 years into reunion now, and we are finally starting to connect on the primal level that we should have been allowed to connect on 22 years ago.

    I lived in the “fog” for nearly 20 years. Adoption is not good, or right in most ways. The only people that “win” are the adoptives. My son and I are irreparably damaged because my parents thought I was going to shame the family by having a child at 15, and his adopters were willing to take the first baby they found. The lawyer made a lot of money, and N and I have a lifetime of emotional scars and damage to try to figure out and hope that we will make it to the other side before the ends of our lives.

  8. thank you claudia, for EVERYTHING you say. i could not put it any better. i wish i could print your entire blog and hand it to people who are about to say something to me. and also this:

    “It amazes me that infertile people will get all crazy about being infertile and grieve children they have never even had, but then they don’t understand how much worse it is to have had the child and then have to lose them.”

    i will never understand it. it’s like infertility causes selfishness, and disregard for another’s grief. i wish i could tell all infertile couples considering adoption, you guys already have such full, happy lives and there’s nothing wrong with not having children! it’s not necessary to happiness! but losing a child will likely take away any ability to be happy, or to love, or trust, and how could you do that to someone? it just goes to show that people have no idea what it’s like. i don’t even know how to explain it someone, because i was the same way and i never thought it would be hard until it happened.

    i don’t even want to read the comment section of the NY times article.

  9. Claud, thank you for continuing to be your amazing, bad-ass self. I had to stop reading the comments after one man, the husband of an adoption case worker, stated “We should be making it easier to adopt and more difficult to keep a child when you are young, stupid and need to spend time gaining skills to be productive.” And seven people clicked the recommend button, which made me want to throw something at the computer.

    I am a “birthmother who changed her mind” and I make absolutely no apology for it. There is no such thing as a “failed adoption,” there is only a mother, parenting her child. My daughter is 15 now and has miraculously survived and thrived, even though I didn’t give her away to people wealthier than I.

    Person after person commented things like “if it were not for the tax credit I couldn’t afford to adopt” or “we wouldn’t have had the money to fulfill our dream of raising a child.” The irony is insane – single moms should not keep their babies because they don’t have enough money but adopters should receive financial compensation so they can have them.

  10. Thanks Claudia! Your article is getting some attention at Family Scholars…see the link:

  11. No one truly understand the pain that a birth mother experiences after giving a child up for adoption unless they have also experienced it. 32 years ago, I was raped and became pregnant. Because of my situation at the time, being young and unemployed, and because of the origin of her conception, at the time, I felt like and was helped to feel like giving her up was the best thing for her. The pain does not end. Having other children doesn’t make up for the loss. I have been in contact through a 3rd party and she doesn’t want to know me, but I do know that she is OK. It hurts that she doesn’t want to know me, but at least I can feel good about her well being. No one truly understands unless they’ve been there. Will I ever get to know her? Who knows at this point, I truly hope so, I just never want her to know how she was conceived.

  12. Love your article. Not loving some of the comments.

    The main problem I see in proponents of the adoption tax credit is a difference in views of how DIDs come to be. It seems that a lot of the commenters on the article are uneducated on the practices of coercion and manipulation in DIDs. They seem to like having their heads in the sand and choose to believe that these AP’s are providing homes for children who would otherwise be homeless and left in a dumpster. When you look at DID from that point of view, the adoption tax credit seems like a fantastic idea, but it’s just not the truth.

    It is nothing less than infuriating to me that some AP’s want the government to subsidize their adoption fees. Instead of supporting the tax credit, why not use your voices to oppose the ridiculous fees associated with DIDs? Why are they not outraged? Could it be, perhaps, that they aren’t outraged because somewhere deep inside they know that if it were not for all the $$ involved that there would be less infants available? That just maybe if adoption had minimal fees involved with no profit gained for agencies there would be real choices and options offered mothers facing an unplanned pregnancy and they might choose to keep their baby?

    It’s purely subjective, but in my particular situation, if someone had sat me down and explained all the programs available to me and my baby should I choose to keep him instead of pushing adoption as a “selfless act” and “the right thing to do for my baby” I guarantee things would have turned out differently.

  13. LOL I just realized I wrote DID’s instead of DIA’s throughout my comment, color me mortified.

  14. What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious familiarity regarding unpredicted feelings.

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