What Preplacement Adoption Counseling Should Look Like

 Birthmother Counseling Has a Very Long Way to Go

Most adoption agencies will offer free “birthmother” counseling as part of their adoption services. They sell it a part of the “birthmother package”; medical bills paid, free counseling, housing, possible living expenses, your choice of contact, dealing with birthfathers, maybe even a “birthmother scholarship”.

Some states require “counseling”  and some do not. While some agencies do have real social workers or therapists, many don’t. The definition of what “adoption counseling”  is can vary greatly from state to state and agency to agency.  Are three visits enough? Are ten?

Often counseling is “in agency” and therefore, not really nonpartisan. There is no guarantee that the “counselor”  is neutral and actually has the expectant mothers’ best interests at heart. Even if the counselor is not consciously pushing the pregnant woman towards adoption, she could have a favorable view of the process and the longterm outcome. Many people who choose to work in the adoption field are adoptive parents, adoptees or other birthparents. This can color the process. Many agencies use birthmothers that have previously placed as a sounding board for women considering adoption and this can run into a whole gamut of problems.   A mother that has previously placed, especially recently, has a greater chance of wanting to see other women repeat her decisions as a form of justification.

The goal of any legitimate counseling is to get the client to be aware of the issues and to help them find solutions that work for them.  A true counselor is supposed to advocate for their client, not the organization for which they work. Many of these disciplines, such as social workers, have quite strict codes of ethics which often is ignored in birthparent counseling.

Horror Stories from New Birthmothers

I’m not sure exactly why, but recently I have been contacted by a large number of new moms. Like seriously new moms who have placed within the last year, or even within the last month! What I am hearing is absolutely heartbreaking as well as blood-boiling. Once again, I see a whole new generation of moms who have “chosen adoption ” due to agencies and other adoption professionals withholding important information or a real failure of the “counseling” to provide a real service.

  • I know a mother who placed almost solely due to medical bills only later to find that the agency didn’t really cover them and her own insurance would have.
  • I know another woman who was facing homelessness after giving birth and the hospital would not discharge them with that possibility so a private adoption was forced at the mast minute.
  • I just heard from a mother who really just doubted her own confidence and then focused on what a wonderful thing she was doing for the adoptive family.

“But just because I wasn’t psychotic doesn’t mean I didn’t fully understand, how could I? This was my first child, I had no idea how hard this was going to be.”

In so many adoption stories that I hear, the “reasoning” for adoption was questionable at best, and downright faulty at worst. Most of the times it’s focused on fears, doubts and those temporary situations. A good counselor would actually help their maternity client explore those fears and see if they are factual and based on a real truth, not just doubt. A decision based on fear is never a good one.

I know in my own case, I was “counseled” by a licensed therapist, but she was also an adoptive mother as was pretty much EVERYONE in the agency. While she WAS a good counselor, meaning we did get along, (ie., she was kind and she helped with some of my issues), we didn’t talk enough about WHY I was placing. That was almost a given. We spoke about what I would do AFTER placing, dealing with my estranged mother, and making plans for the future sans Max.

Looking back now, with my own issues of abandonment from both my mother’s lack of support and my father’s abandonment, even with my on untrained eyes, I can see that I was projecting my feelings on  the unborn Max.  It’s so damn obvious, but we never touched on that, even though we talked about my parents a whole lot. This is a failure of the birthmother counseling process.

My biggest concern regarding mothering was far from “resenting” having a child. The irony is that I was GREAT with kids and small babies and always HAD been great with them. I was also mentally “done” with my wild and crazy life, especially since I started having fun pretty early.  Granted, after relinquishment I came home and went to parties and Dead shows etc, but I also worked, and had a 3.95 GPA. I think in some way the post-relinquishment “fun times” I had was because I felt obligated to have it. After all, if you give up your son to have fun, you better have a real good time to make it all worth it. It wasn’t worth it. What do I remember from that time? What great friends do I still keep in touch, with even on Facebook? The answer to both is just about zero.

What’s Best for Baby

I see a lot of adoption counseling focusing on what’s best for the child and in many cases, it’s the mother that is the “issue” and so, the self sacrifice is deemed as necessary. Adoption is not the enemy, the mother is. I see so many moms focusing on the positive aspects of what their child has gained from the adoption as they are taught to do by the agencies and professionals, but hardly any come away from the relinquishment understanding or even knowing what the adoptee has lost.

  • They don’t talk about how a baby KNOWS its mother by birth and WANTS her. Not another caregiver, but her own biological mother.
  • They do not discuss for real how many adoptees (no matter what they mentally understand) feel a sense of abandonment from adoption relinquishment. Does any mother considering adoption get counseled to read the Primal Wound?
  • They do not warn mothers that their child will lose their civil right to access their birth records and be discriminated against by the government.
  • They do not talk about the importance of genetic mirroring
  • They don’t inform moms of the stats that adoptees are overrepresented in both the prison system and mental health fields and that adoptees are more likely to get in trouble.
  • They don’t discuss how adoptees are different and have a whole new slew of issues; extra baggage that should be avoided, if at all possible.
  • They do not talk about the greater chances that a female adoptee will herself become a birthmother  in order to connect with the mother’s experience.

I know my own counseling did talk about what Max would need from me so he did not suffer. It’s the act of hopeful mitigation. If you do A,B, and C, then it will be “right” and you can avoid the “troubles”. I think many adoptive parents think this too.  If they do it “right” they think they will not have an “Angry Adoptee” on their hands.

What Every Mother Considering Adoption Should Know

After really qualifying and examining the reasons for placement and the real impact of adoption upon the child in question, adoption counseling also fails give mothers information to make a truly informed choice.

Over and over again we hear “I wouldn’t have done this if I knew it was so hard.” The intensity of grief is really glossed over.  Maybe we can never truly begin to understand this until we live it, but “feelings of peace and contentment” do not come close. Maybe if adoption agency counseling warned of blinding, toe-numbing, soul-clutching waves of grief and neverending tears that you eventually sort of get used to “living with,” then we could talk. I have yet to see that on ANY agency website, nor in their literature. How about we just begin to include BOTH sides of the coin with their “Birthmother Testimonials” so considering mothers get an idea of what COULD be the outcome.

  • The long term impact of the grief on all aspects of a birthmother’s life is also not addressed.
  • The impact on her subsequent parenting is usually a great surprise to many birthmothers.
  • The impact of a lost child to born or unborn siblings is a mystery.
  • The grief and loss of extended family members is regarded as “nonsupportive people in your life” and the way to handle them is to “educate” them or cut them out.
  • The higher rates of secondary infertility  for birthmothers is never mentioned.
  • The lack of enforcement for open adoption agreements is also a blind side. “They took my daughter and ran” is all too often what we hear.
  • The possibility of developing post traumatic stress disorder is not in evidence either.

I could go on and on…

Adoption Issues Not often Understood in the Mental Health Field

I have heard the preplacement and post-placement counseling horror stories of both birthmothers and adoptees wherein their therapist is completely clueless of the effects of adoption.  I know many friends in higher levels of study and they have NO training on the impact of adoption in both children and adults. One of the biggest issues I heard at a session at the 2010 St John’s Adoption Conference was how so many adoption-effected people doing research are subsequently rebutted because they are not “researching, but using it to validate their personal experiences.”  Once again, it falls upon those of us who have lived it to teach the professionals what they should know about the reality of either being a birthmother or being an adoptee.

I only hope that one day they will listen.


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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, Adopt-a-tude.com, 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 "What Preplacement Adoption Counseling Should Look Like"

  1. If any social worker needs a script or some talking points to start with, tell them to go here. White Flag Realities

    : )

    Great post. Agreed. Of course.

  2. I was just talking to my mother about this today. It is shameful that agencies don’t inform potential birth mothers about the life long consequences for both herself and the child she is supposedly giving up for a better life.

    In addition to everything you mentioned I think it should be mandatory for agencies to come up with a real life parenting plan for expecting mothers. I’m not talking about a pro and con list, but giving the mother all the information on services and support (financial and therapeutic) a mother could have access to if she were to parent. And present all this information in a positive light. All the social services available to women should not be presented as “hand outs” but as “hand ups.”

    It is criminal to me that there are no legal guidelines that these agencies have to follow. It is criminal that these expectant mothers are counseled by people who have a vested interest in the outcome of the pregnancy. Nevermind ethical, how can this possibly be legal?

    • Joyce Ramer | July 27, 2013 at 9:38 pm |

      You are so right! There is a tremendous amount of educating of social workers, doctors, nurses, trauma therapists, psychologists, psychiastrists & everyone else touching the life & decision of every single mother ….to be done, starting. yesterday!

  3. Anyone could look at me and think that I am the poster child for adoption. I make a nice appearance, I am a successful professional having graduated with honors from a prestigious university. I have never been fired, I have no criminal record and have never been in trouble with the law. But it is not always what you see on the outside or whether one has been in trouble.

    My adoption damage is invisible. Adoption has damaged my soul and caused an endless grief. I will never have the experience of living with my blood relatives, of growing up in my own family sharing holidays, family dinners and vacations. And I can never get that back.

    I am sure that none of these so-called counselors would ever mentions effects like this from giving up a child.

  4. read georgia tann… and you do get that once a mother has half died on the delivery table it is very difficult to get her to submit again. these statistics i think only represent those that can be questioned and reply in some honest form. I think there are a few in the system that feel they better say they are biological or the consequence is worse.

    • Joyce Ramer | July 27, 2013 at 9:43 pm |

      I totally agree, I am one who could not even think of going through that again to have another child….I was too traumatized! Still am, 50 years later!

  5. oh the adoption kookaid. Seriously I was asked to speak to expectant mothers and i was honest, but i also really appreciated the ones that chaperoned us to shopping or a movie and for once in our “shame” lifted a burden. so i wanted to be this kind of person too. you want to believe that aps took tons of classes, told children the truth and so forth, and it takes years sometimes to find out this is just plain not so. so having girls say that this is a solution is something they truly believe. And in the rare case it is true. so telling a mother who lost what is possible hurts like hell. once a child is taken is there a solution?

  6. Informed consent requires that the consentee is informed of the the possible negative outcomes and alternatives to what they are consenting to. I think there is very little informed consent to expectant and new mothers considering adoption. This in itself is unethical. Yet it happens every day….

  7. I was not counseled at all during my pregnancy. The agency did mention birthmother scholarships, etc. and the woman I talked to, a social worker, I believe, called herself my “adoption counselor”…however, all she would do is sit there and watch me cry during our meetings, say “I know this is hard” and then continue to ask me questions to get the adoption process rolling.

    I was told the agency would pay for therapy post-placement, and after one session, my adoption counselor told me the agency would only pay for three one-hour sessions…because THREE HOURS is clearly enough time to get over the loss of your child.

    The only person I’m in contact with now from the agency apart from occasionally the woman in charge of billing (5 months later they STILL haven’t paid my hospital bill), is the woman in charge of contact-also a birthmother, but one who has been ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ and told me I need to accept that my daughter has different parents now and to not be so resentful of them for closing down the adoption.

    They’re all a bunch of incompetent pricks over there, and I really hope no one ever goes through that agency and deals with their unethical bullcrap.

  8. Pffft…counseling??? Sitting around with the other pregnant girls, eating lunch provided by the agency, and listening to the social workers babble amongst themselves is what our weekly mandatory group “counseling” sessions consisted of. Once they *did* talk to us about placing an ad in the newspaper to notify the birthfather of his rights, but that’s all I recall. And the “one on one” counseling was the social worker taking information down about my family, illnesses, nationality, etc. Oh how I despise those “social workers” and the insidious ways they operated…

  9. Claud – you did it again. It has taken an hour to read this not because of all the information but because it was so triggering I couldn’t read it. I finally after 20 years feel as if others are getting it. Others that have experienced such a profound loss are acknowledging the pain that is adoption. We all lost. I lost, all of my children lost, my husband lost, my family lost. There can not be informed consent until we understand the mind altering loss that we have submitted to. The loss is always there and it will affect every generation after this. More things we are not informed of, every generation will be affected by this. How manytimes do we have to look in our childrens eyes and see their pain? My daughter that I lost to adoption has lost her first born to adoption. In 20 years I see the outcome of the one decision and how it affects evrything.

  10. I’ve said it before….Choice, true choice, implies informed consent.

    I doubt that very many of us birthmothers truly made a “choice”.

    If I had been informed of even one of the potential issues me or my daughter might face post-adoption, I would never, ever have done it. None of us would have.
    My “counseling” was done with my mother in the room. That screams confidentiality, doesn’t it? I guess a pregnant teen doesn’t even deserve privacy.
    My mom tells me now that if she knew how adoption practices really were, she would have never pushed me to relinquish.Too little, too late, for me anyway.

    Keep talking, Claud…it’s not too late to save other women from this life.

  11. damnedifido | July 27, 2013 at 5:16 pm |

    I am a FirstMom and have a Master’s in Social Work , and I can tell you that you are correct in reporting that social wokers did not receive training in adoption issues–at least not where I went. The only time it was ever mentioned was when I did a presentation, brought in books, did a survey, etc… Extremely funny because when I did an on-campus counseling internship, the people who were many times represented had experienced some problem with foster care and adoption. This was 15 years ago, and I have to seriously wonder if the Sw program could have changed in that amount of time. This was a large university with a well respected social work program. It was very sad for me in that I had just had reunion. Guess I was trying to prove something to myself, whatever it was it didn’t work. So glad for the dialogue on these birth mom blogs, it helps me stay sane. Guess the schools are the ones who need the education–so sad but true–wonder how many profs represent A Parenting? Well, it felt good to throw in my two cents while I was there, even though I don’t remember getting any significant feedback.

  12. Joyce Ramer | July 27, 2013 at 9:51 pm |

    This is very good educational information! We are making progress Ladies & Gentlemen! Thank all of you for your partisipation!

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