Looking into the Socio-Economic Status of Birthmothers and How Money Plays into Choice
I have had the phrase stuck in my head for some time, “The Rich Do Not Relinquish“, but wondered if that was something I made up or could be a reality of relinquishment. It has occurred to me that this single statement might be more than a catchy one liner, but, rather, was an example that could be used to show that the majority of women facing an unplanned pregnancy do not “choose” to relinquish at all.
As it has been said so long in the adoption truth community, many birthmothers attest that they did not want to make an adoption plan for their children. Proving that there is little or no choice in the process is much easier for moms during the Baby Scoop Era as the threats of forced adoption are well documented now and accepted by many more in society. But still, we fight the adoption industry marketing messages that birthmothers “these days” face a different face of adoption. These mothers “choose” to “make an adoption plan” for their children because they “love the so much and want them to have a better life”; leading into the heroic sainthood of birthmotherness especially in terms of open adoptions.
Of course, the counterattack of reality is that the adoption industry does target pregnant women at risk and then leads them down the primrose path of adoption glory. Whether it is outright coercion, or the eroding of her rights, or the creation of the adoption storyline, or the lies and false promises of a truly open adoption, or birthmother gaslighting, or biased adoption counseling , or withholding of the needed information that is required to allow a mother to make an “informed choice”; in the end, a vast majority of moms I have known over the years do attest that “choice” is only a word thrown around most haphazardly and does not adequately define her relinquishment experience. The word “choice” must mean that a mother has another option besides adoption.
Is there truly a choice to be a mother is a woman is facing the reality of homelessness with her baby? Is there much of a choice in “wanting to be a mother” if the economics of diaper buying is a tremendous obstacle? Is there really a choice if she is attending college and her grants and scholarships that she lives on are contingent on her maintaining a 3.2 GPA and missing classes or even a semester after birth is an impossibility? Is there a choice if her parents tell her not to “come home with that baby” or if she must work two jobs to support the child she does has. Is there choice when she is denied insurance and even the cost of the hospital for birth is insurmountable?
Now those invested in adoption will say that these mothers are choosing a “loving option if you are not prepared to parent your child” . Few adoption agency websites seem to delve deeper into the WHY a mother might not “be prepared” while cautioning all the ways that parenting is “big responsibility. It takes time, money, maturity and sacrifice.” While almost every adoption agency website around make huge points that being a birthmother is “free” and offer the perks of housing, medical care, counseling and legal services, few seem to actually see to come right out and say “you can’t afford to have a child.” Instead of pointing out what an expectant mother is lacking, they are all too keen to point out all the ways that their adoptive parents are bountiful in monetary and material means.
So the accepted mode of adoption is that a mother without recourses should relinquish her child to a couple who has more because that is the loving thing to do. And you know what? If the risks of adoption loss, genetic mirror, the importance of DNA, and her worth as mother has been withheld from her as almost every agency does, then yes, she will think she has relinquished out of love because she wants what is “better’ for her child. But that does NOT mean that she has “chosen” adoption or that her child is “unwanted” or that the baby was in danger of abuse or a life of foster care or that she WANTED to relinquish in any way. It means, really that there was no choice, certainly NOT an “informed choice” and it is truly a tragedy that we think it’s OK for a mother to have to do this.
93.33% of Birthmothers do NOT Want to Relinquish
I want to entertain the opposite thought for a minute. There are many folks who believe that there are “these birthmothers” who really WANT to relinquish and ask questions like this:
” What of the 30 year old successful businesswoman as the birthmother that walks into the adoption agency on her own will and chooses a family that will take loving care of her child because she wants to love her life as-is? Yes she will have an incredibly hard time with the process, but she feels this is the best option as both options would have been life-altering.”
So I do not believe that she DOES exist, but I also know there are exceptions to every rule. I know someone, someplace, will come and tell me a story about “their birthmother” who had every option and tons of support, but really wanted to relinquish no matter what. I get that there are exceptions to every rule, but I do believe she, the mother who wants to relinquish, is the exception, NOT the rule. And I do believe that if we, in the USA, had an ethical adoption system then, according to my calculations there should be under 1000 domestic voluntary relinquishments per year, not the 15,000. The simple break down there says that only 1 out of every 15 birthmothers would relinquish if they really had a choice.
That means that 14 out of 15 birthmothers, or 93.33% of all domestic infant adoption relinquishments, are not really what a mother would choose.
Honestly, the 93.33% really feels like all the moms I know.
Does More Wealth Equal More Options?
So thinking this one step further, let’s look at the more wealthy set of the social economic bell curve. I think we can pretty much all agree that if you have more money then you have more options and choices, right? You can afford to do what you really want because you can afford help, and diapers, and daycare, and to take a year off from school, etc. Now mind you, the emotions and the reproductive systems of the wealthy should not be any different that the poor, really, so that’s assumed equal. If anything, let’s look at a 20 year from a wealthy family facing an unplanned pregnancy verses a 20 year old form a lower middle class family. Perhaps the wealthy 20 year old has greater expectations to graduate college and make something of her life hence, has a greater propensity to be child free than the 20 year lower incomed woman who works in Target and takes a few classes.
Hence if adoption relinquishment is a valid and desired choice for a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, we should see more birthmothers from the higher end of the wealth bell curve, right? Like if it’s SO great, then the rich, who really HAVE the choices, should choose relinquishment. We should actually see MORE birthmothers who come from privilege.
I mean, that’s just following the logic of the “adoption is a loving choice set.”
Birthmothers From Wealth; Are They the Exception?
So I started hunting to see if I could find accurate studies on the socio-economic backgrounds of birthmothers over time.
First, I asked an agency of they had the data and there isn’t any that has been already collected, but my thoughts on money and relinquishment choices were supported by the conversation that entailed. Yes, there were a handful of “exceptions” where those from wealth did relinquish, but all of them were quite extreme and their stories, dare I say, also had a injection of last minute “panic” about them.
There were four examples she gave me.
One adoption agency director said: “Options look very different to expectant moms with bank accounts, vehicles, degrees and health insurance than they appear to moms in projects with food stamps, GEDs, bus passes and Medicaid.”
I plan on asking more agencies, if they have this data, but I actually do not expect that they collect it. Maybe I shall be surprised.
Then I asked another professional involved in adoption placements if they saw many mothers with wealth making adoption plans and she, too, could recall two; one of which was pressure by the father of the child and now suffers with great regret.
Then I went to the studies to see if anyone else had looked into this. The first study I found I have already shared here: The Culture of Poverty and Adoption: Adoptive Parent Views of Birth Families and it only looks at a limed set of data and they are adoptive parents, not the moms. The study itself is very interesting and provides insight into how adoption , especially the idea of choice in adoption is seen by the “adoption is a choice” set
“While birth parents do have individual level agency to make choices, it is important to note how those choices are limited due in particular to poverty (Gailey, 2010). Focusing on placing a child as a ―phenomenal gift, takes the emphasis away from the realities or issues that influence if someone places a child or not, such as inadequate housing, lack of access to quality education, and job market instability. The fact that adoptive parents cannot imagine placing a child for adoption emphasizes that an altruistic sacrifice was made, while creating a distinction between those who place and those who adopt.”
So while this study did not offer any real statistics as to the socio-economic status of the mothers who did place children to adoption, the overall feeling of the study was that all the birthmothers did come from a lower economic sphere than the adoptive parents: “This study found that adoptive parents recognized some structural boundaries that led birth parents to place, yet relied on culture of poverty arguments that blamed parents for making ―bad choices.”
Then I found a 2006 study “Coping Strategies for Adolescent Birth-mothers who Return to School Following Adoption” Now granted this study was looking at the educational performances of adolescent birthmothers, hence a certain level of economic limits is strongly applied. These girls had not yet completed height school when they relinquished. “Socio-economic status remained constant prior to and following the adoption, which meant that it could not really be counted as a factor contributing to the scholastic decline.However, it must be noted that 4 of the 5 respondents chose adoption for fiscal reasons.” That does not support that the rich relinquish at equal or greater numbers.
I also found the ‘International Advances in Adoption Research for Practice” which again, gives us a glimpse, though not a huge body of research. It looks to be the data form a 2007 study of 359 adoptive families, from 33 adoption agencies and ten states;
As I know that birthmothers are the most understudies and undeserved members of the “adoption triad”, I expected that finding this data would be extremely difficult , if not impossible, to find and I am not disappointed in that either. So far, everything I have read in the past decade and have continued to find, supports the fact that adoption does consist of transferring the children of the poor and resources-less to those parents who can pay for the privilege. However, surely it would be wonderful to have better data to support this, hence, I have a very non scientific little poll that all are welcome to partake it. Please feel free to share it where ever and with whomever you desire. Obviously the more that fill it out, better the body of information will be collected.
I strongly suspect that my initial statement will hold true: Despite how wonderful a choice those in the adoption industry would like the world to believe, mothers do not want to give up their babies for adoption and that can be easily seen as the rich do not relinquish.