I am revisiting this post and giving it a brush up and edit. The original was published on Jan 14, 2006.
People ask me what ARE the solutions to Domestic Voluntary Infant Adoption in this country. I have a few ideas about where we can start.
I concentrate my efforts on domestic voluntary infant relinquishment. While I have feelings on International Adoptions, and foster care adoption, they are not my “specialty”. I did not live them. On the other hand, I have lived the life of a birthmother for over 25 years now. I have been researching and learning about adoption for over 12 years now, so I have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about.
So, let’s make sure we are clear on some things first:
Standard Adoption Disclaimers
I draw a HUGE line between a voluntary placement and anything having to do with possible abused and CPS involvement. That is not to say that I think the mothers who are in such bad situations that their children are removed hurt any less, or love their children any less, but I can’t go and solve all the world’s problems. I am sticking now to the one closest to my heart, the one that I know. Plus I do NOT believe that this is a perfect world, nor that I can close my eyes to the fact that abuse happens. It does, and it shouldn’t and NO, children should not be in danger and made to suffer. So being anti-adoption, or a natural family preservationist as many prefer, is not anti child or supporting child abuse. Clear? Domestic Voluntary Infant Adoption does NOT save a child from potential child abuse.
Domestic Voluntary Infant Adoption is what we are discussing here. Women facing and unplanned pregnancy and “choose” adoption rather than parenting. Nothing to do with abortion. Nothing to do with abuse. This is the “making a loving adoption plan” that is under fire here; infant adoption as it is practiced in the USA. If you aren’t aware of adoption facts, then you might not be aware of the need for reform. Go read the link and catch up.
So How Do We Fix Adoption in the USA?
Well to begin with .. we look to Australia where they have managed to do all this and it has worked. In Australia the rates of relinquishment has dropped by over 95% when they reformed the adoption process.
1. Restore Adoptees OBC Access
I believe in restored access to the original birth certificate for all adult adoptees. Nationwide, across the board, no grandfather clauses, full identifying info available at age 18. Original birth certificates granted and full rights to adoptees to decide themselves, as adults, what they want to do. Forget this “protecting the birthmothers”. It’s a red herring. If nothing else, full medical records should be made available even if the adults can’t handle a relationship. Let’s give the adoptees their rights as humans to their history, their medical heritage and stop treating them like perpetual children.
On a side note; If the US would ratify the Un Declaration on the Rights of a Child, then we would HAVE to allow adoptees OBC access. But, the adoption lobby group don’t want Adoptees to know their truths so only the USA and Somalia have not yet ratified the Rights of a Child. Nice, huh?
2. Come Up with Something Better than the ABC: a Legal Lie
I would like to see the end of amended birth certificates that perpetuate the lie “as if born to”. A birth certificate says who you were born to, and adoption decree can state who you were adopted by. Why lie? I think something could work out with permanent guardianship, but people seem to be very shy of that wording. There have been suggestions that the OBC should stand and always carry the birth parent information, yet have listings for the adoptive parents to show legal parenting. . Don’t want to make a big deal out of the “adoptee is different” by a different document? OK, then the OBC is for BIRTH records and a legal parenting document is for custody. There can be different lines for genetic parents and legal parents. That would also take care of the donor assisted issues and same sex parenting as well. We can really be progressive and have areas for step parents right there or even domestic partnerships. I don’t care, but the lies on the ABC have got to stop.
3. Family Kinship Care First
If a parent cannot take care of a child, try to keep the child within the family first rather than offering it up to strangers. This is making adoption about the child, not about the desires for a child. Most child welfare advocates form UNICEF to the UN maintain that children do best when raised by their families of origin. It is the RIGHT of a child to stay within his people. The importance of identity, natural heritage, and genetics must stop being undervalued in out culture.
4. Standardize Adoption Laws Across the USA; No more Adoption “Friendly States”
Infant adoption now, in America, is a free for all. I hate “adoption friendly” states, and moving pregnant moms to take advantage of lesser revoke laws, using Utah laws to avoid the parental rights of fathers, etc. Let’s stop this state to state nonsense. Nationalize the whole thing. That would take care of a HUGE bucket of loose ends. Including…
5. No Pre-birth Consents
No pre-birth consents by fathers of mothers. You can’t decide if you want to parent an idea or an issue. Have the baby first. There are states like Arkansas where you can sign pre-birth to relinquish and shorten your revoke time form 10 days to five. Then you give birth and the clock starts ticking. By time you even can begin to think, it’s over.
6. No Signing Relinquishment Consents in the Hospital
No relinquishment papers signed until a week (minimum) after birth. Let the woman out of the hospital first! Let her feel for at least a week that she has some recourse, some power, some time to decide. Let her process her feelings after giving birth. Let the hormones settle down. I would like to see contact between mother and child, so they really KNOW what they are giving up. Let the child become a real thing, let the natural bond happen.
7. Six Week Revoke Period Across the Board
Make a standard of 6 weeks for relinquishment revocation. Now why six weeks you might ask? Well the way I see it, the Federal government already sees that a woman needs 6 weeks to recover after a normal birth. They give us 6 weeks of disability (9 for a C-section) before we are expected to rejoin the work force, so it’s kind of already established that a woman is still recovering from birth during that time frame. I would rather see double the time, but I can deal with 6 weeks. Now, I know that means that the adoptive parents have 6 weeks of wondering and being worried. And I am sure that that part of it will really suck for them, but…at least them you know that you have given some time for the natural mother to make a real decision, at least them you know that she is feeling that she can live without her child. I don’t know..I would think that 6 weeks of wondering would be better than a life time of wondering. I mean it’s not all about who gets complete legal control first, right? We aren’t making folks sign as quick as possible so we can thumb our noses at them and say “Nanny, nanany poo-poo! You can’t do anything about it now! Ha ha, mine, all mine!”
Plus, while I am getting slightly ahead, if there was no more pre birth matching, then the adoptive parents wouldn’t HAVE to worry at all. Once they got “the call” then the baby would be ready to adopt! Oh maybe it’s a 7 week old baby, rather than right from the womb, but 1) It allows for mother child bonding and breast feeding which are both important to the physical, emotional and mental development of a baby and 2) if it’s acceptable to adopt a 3 year old form China, why can’t you wait 6 or 7 weeks? They only pee, poop, sleep, cry and eat for the first weeks anyway. Get some sleep and be ethical at the same time. Wait for a longer revoke period!
8. No More Closed Adoptions
Enough with the secrecy and lies. If adoption is considered “just another way to build a family” then why and how do we turn around and deny the existence of all the parties that made it come about? Closed adoption should just not even be presented as a choice. Numerous studies have shown that it is healthier for children to know the truth rather than wonder. There needs to be serious pre adoption education and post adoption support for both birthparents and adoption families so they understand the realities of an open adoption, the benefits of the open contact for the child and the tools needed to navigate the relationships successfully.
9. Enforceable Open Adoption Agreements
Openness agreements must be enforceable. Now, I am not sure how that would be done. I don’t think jail time is really necessary except in extreme cases and I hesitate to really get the courts involved as they are overworked and I don’t have the greatest fate in them as it is. Plus, I can’t see how forcing people who are battling with each other to have to hang out does a child any good. Like that makes me think of the possibility of some really nasty fights at the “neutral ChuckE Cheese’s”. But, I hate it when I hear of parents closing an adoption “because it was confusing” or ” she was so upset and sad” or some other weird arbitrary judgments. Or they just take off and drop out because they CAN and the natural parents have no other recourse. Maybe a central data base were both adoptive and natural parents MUST keep their whereabouts current. This central data base would also make any future searches and reunions a heck of a lot easier in the cases of closed adoptions. Now in the cases where the original agreement needs modifications or someone is having trouble honoring it, I could see a panel of mediators involved to work it out and make a final decision. Kind of like the supreme court of adoptions? Say nine folks..three adoptees, three adoptive parents, three birthparents..no ties. Maybe they are elected “officials” from the adoption community..and they look at problems on a case by case basis and made rulings that were fair and ethical.
I think if open agreements were known to hold more weight than the paper they are written on, then we would see less lies and people would be apt to be more honest about what they would be willing to do.
10. Oversight of Agencies and Other Professionals
Adoption agencies, lawyers and facilitators MUST be regulated, credentialed, verified ,overseen and held accountable by a single entity. There should be nationwide standards that clearly state what is ethical and not ethical and make those standards enforced. There should be standards on what an adoption costs. A cap on fees. Non-profit needs to mean something real.. not a tax break and 2 million in assets plus paying the Executive Director 6 figures. Every domestic infant adoption should cost the same..and much less than they do.
That would eliminate the serious marketing for “happy” adoptions that we see now. Agencies would no longer need to attract “customers” to keep a constant supply of babies coming in and feed the coffers. The CPC Adoption agencies funnels would be moot.
11. Mandatory Independent Pre-Adoption Counseling
Those considering placement should have mandatory independent counseling. Information of the long term emotional ramifications to both the relinquishing family and the adoptee should be openly addressed. None of this “you’ll get over it, you’ll feel sad for a while” crap. Informed consent of possible PTSD, secondary infertility, panic attacks, eating disorders, depression, identity issues, latent anger, attachment disorders, etc, at al. Let them know for real what they are in for and in for life. Let them know what this might mean to their child, not just “I gave him more”. If they are really soooo bad, and it is really “better” to place,..then why hide the facts?
12. No More Pre Birth Matching
Pre birth matching makes an environment where the expectant mother becomes too involved in the happiness of the adoptive parents and transfers much of her possible happiness to them in an unhealthy and unrealistic way. I know too many who really wanted to change their minds but could not “be selfish” and hurt the “great couple who I just love”. That said, I realize that the ideas of trust and intimacy that need to be forged to build a healthy and respectful open adoption are often contingent on the early part of matching. I think this is where mandatory counseling and good ethical agency practices come into play. If matching is made with the ideal that it is an “adoption plan” rather than an implied promise. I think any adoptive parent going into such a situation needs to be informed, again and again, if necessary, that nothing is in stone until after the child is born and the mother remakes her decision based on her emotional fortitude. The adoptive parents should be just as supportive of her decision to parent as to place. Parenting a possible adoptable child should not be viewed as a failure.
13. No More Per Birth Expenses Paid
Birthparent expenses should come out of a general slush fund and not footed by individual prospective adoptive parents. The expected parents should not feel beholden for costs of living and food contingent on handing over their baby. I don’t even like the whole pre-birth expenses thing in general. There should be general services that allow an expectant mother to be pregnant and have resources for living because that’s the right thing to support in a society. Heck, many agencies already do this. They get the mom to be on the public Medicare rolls and then go back and get “fees” paid from the prospective adoptive parents. Guess who keeps the money? Take away the expenses and adoption just got a whole lot more affordable.
14. Adoption Agency Advertising MUST Stop
If there were unbiased crisis pregnancy centers that truthfully informed parents of all options then the need for advertisement would be moot. The choices should be out there, but with realistic truths, both positive and negative for all involved. Give all parties the actual research done on adoption. Things can be done on an individual basis, but with nationwide standards citing what is ethical and reasonable and real. Both adoptive parents and prospective relinquishing parents should be made aware of all sides and issues and possibilities. Nothing should be painted with rose colored glasses and money should be taken out of the equation completely. We cannot say a woman made a ‘choice’ if she is not given all the available information. No, she might not have had a gun to her head, but she had no idea what she was really agreeing to since most of any adoption agency website or information booklet is 95% marketing message and selling bullshit created to convince her to give up her child. We have truth in advertising laws already; apply them to adoption!
15. Take the Profit OUT of Adoption Completely
No incentives to place, no free ride if you give up your baby, no scholarships, no ride on the sainthood express to heaven for either parties. No more 30, 40, 50, 75 K fees for adoptive parents to be exploited out of by their desires to have a child. No more. And guess what happens when we take out the profits? We will see an end of corruption, of baby trolling, of forced adoptions, or the lies, of the broken promises because the agencies will have lost their motivation to make more adoptions happen.
Improvement Will Not End Adoption
I do not believe that we will see the end of adoption completely, but these solutions could very well produce a country like Australia where the relinquishment rates dropped about 95%. That is not unrealistic to me. Ideal, yes, but… People will want children that they cannot bare, and here will be people who have children who do not have any desire to ever be a parent. Yes, adoption will still be there, but let it be a safe guard that provides families for children who need homes rather than finding children for families that want them. Adoption relinquishment should be seen as the last possible choice and, as a society, I would love to see us honor the bonds of natural families and not think that children are so transferable. I think if that honor was bestowed on natural families, then the fallout would be that the adoptive family was also more respected and understood.
Maybe these ideas won’t work for ALL people, but I am trying to think of what works for MOST people..and make those standards of care across the board.
How Do We Get To A Better Adoptionland?
Now how to achieve all this…ah, that is the quandary.
I obviously, spend a lot of time talking about all this. I believe that we need to have open dialogue and understanding by all involved. I think we have to make ourselves rise to a higher standard of acceptance and understanding of each other as human beings and people. Ok. So the way I see it, until you get to know me and can understand and sympathize with me, as a birthmother, as a real live person, then how are you gonna care a lick about some pregnant teenager in Kansas when she might have the perfect baby for you? And it goes the other way too. I don’t want very adoptive parent to be the “bad guy”. I do want you to be on the same side as me..the right side ..because it is the better, more moral, way to be and we all want to sleep at night and be able to look our children in the eyes and not flinch. We have to work together, side by side, for the benefit of ALL our children and then the future children to come.
I spend a lot of time talking to those pregnant and considering; telling them what the agencies don’t want them to know. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. when they don’t then I spend time keeping them breathing and alive though the grief.
I spend a lot of time talking with other birthmothers trying to figure it all out. I have to admit, that my least favorite are the super “happy birthmothers” who are like walking talking billboards for adoption. And it is hard, because I know I too, walked around for 10 years parroting, “No regrets, I have no regrets! Squalk! Adoption good. Win-win situation!” Thank goodness I was pretty much cut off from the world and didn’t really talk about adoption, or I would have more to atone for. I did try to talk one of my friends into adoption once. I am very glad she didn’t listen.
I wrote a Congressional bill for adoption reform one weekend. It’s Called NIARA. It needs lots of work and revision, but I have a better idea now of what it could be, and how it could happen. I think it’s 70 something pages now and probably should be simplified. I wish there was more interest in it, but I do think that OBC Access for Adoptees must come first. Maybe then, it’s time will come one day. I have dreams.
So, do I have the ultimate solution? No, but ideas carefully collected over the years, careful listening, and gathering then up. They could be shaped into something more. It takes time and effort, but I think I have both.
I think something like this has to be designed on a grassroots level and then presented as something that we demand. That as a society, we expect something better than what has evolved to the modern adoption industry. There are lots of us..especially when you start to put the numbers together. If we all gather to one side, we can tip the boat over.
As I said, I dream big.