A Few Further Notes On Adoptions

For some reason, I’ve recently come across a whole bunch of personal essays on various topics relevant here.   A couple of recent ones  that I’ve talked about have been about adoption, both written by adoptive mothers.   (There was an earlier account of a surrogacy I wrote about and there are other personal essays on other topics that I just haven’t gotten to yet.)

Now I think the personal essay is valuable and can be a thought-prov0king read.   They offer us insights that are important.   But they can also be idiosyncratic and unrepresentative.   I don’t think you can take them as representative of the typical experience–after all, the person who chooses to write publicly about personal topics isn’t exactly typical to begin with

Neither do I present them to you all so that we can judge the authors worthiness, though this often seems to be the first reaction (and I’m sure I fall into that myself sometime.)   I present them because I think they do offer interesting and specific insights and sometimes they teach us to think about things differently–to broaden the range of experiences/reactions we consider.   I know that all of this is rather general but has been on my mind as I read the comments to the two earlier posts.

Anyway, there are two other recent pieces about adoption that I think warrant mention.  Neither is a personal essay so they add a different dimension to the discussion.

First, there is this essay from Nina Easton.  It’s also timed as a Mother’s Day piece.   I’m just going to quote the lead sentences as I think this pretty well sums up her point.

In today’s America, a single woman facing a surprise pregnancy is likely to consider just two options: abortion or single motherhood. The third choice, adoption, carries such a social stigma that domestic placement of infants has plummeted

The main idea here is that giving up your child for adoption is seen by many to be a shameful choice  and therefore fewer women choose to do that.    The author considers this view of adoption–that it is shameful–to be a cultural bias.

It’s an interesting point to consider.  One thing it highlights for me is that the judgment of what it means to give a child up for adoption is culturally constructed.   So for example, as being a single-motherhood becomes more acceptable (not to say that it is easy), giving a child up for adoption is less acceptable.   There’s no real firm right/wrong here.  It’s all about how we view things–what we, as a society, view as better/worse behavior.

Which actually brings me back to the observation I made earlier–about how willing we are to judge people based on limited knowledge of specific actions.   I think that’s an unfortunate tendency, really.   Generally we cannot know whether it is right or wrong for a young woman to give her child up for adoption, because we do not fully know/understand her circumstances, her perspective and her life.

There are two other things that strike me here.  One is that we often over-estimate the extent to which having options means having freedom of choice.  Here, too, I have written before.   Choices are constrained by social circumstances.   Women may be free to give their children up for adoption, but there may be substantial pressure not to take that option.   That’s what this essay is all about, really.   On the whole, it reinforces my inclination to be wary when people invoke the rhetoric of choice.    At the very least, the context in which choices are made deserves a closer look.

The second thing is really a question.   Is Easton right in her description of things?   Is giving a child up for adoption stigmatized these days?   The emergence of the organization mentioned in the essay suggest it might be, but I honestly don’t know.  Certainly some of the rhetoric here–referring to adoption as abandonment, say–suggests that it might be so.

And one last note on a different topic.  Some time ago I listened this interview on Fresh Air.  (Regular readers will have figured out that I’m a big fan of Terry Gross.)    Kathryn Joyce has written a book about the impact of the evangelical movement on overseas adoption.   It’s called The Child Catchers:   Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption.   The disturbing thesis is that as promoting overseas adoption has become a priority within the evangelical Christian movement it has lead to increased demand to adoption which in turn has fueled less-that-laudable practices in some countries.   (It’s that whole “if there’s a demand we need a supply” thing.)   It’s worth a listen and, as I say, it is troubling.

14 responses to “A Few Further Notes On Adoptions

  1. I am not denying if there is a social stigma, because I just don’t know, but I think the biggest factor is that if they don’t have to, most women just don’t want to go through pregnancy and birth if they aren’t going to keep their child – it is too physically and emotionally difficult. As long as abortion is legal, probably the vast majority of women who choose adoption will be those for whom an abortion is not morally acceptable.

    • when one chooses adoption , they are admitting being unable to care for their own child. surely there is a great sense of shame and failure

      • I think it is nearly inevitable that there is some shame, but surely we can make it be more or less. Shame can be magnified/enhanced or not by the reaction of the community within which one lives. These things do change and can be changed. After all, being gay/lesbian has gone from being shameful to a pretty ordinary choice in some families/places (but by no means in all).

    • I am sure there is research out there about the various factors that go into adoption/abortion/parenting decisions when there are unplanned pregnancies. Each option actually brings with it unique social consequences and all the options are somewhat stigmatized. Choosing to be a single mother, choosing to have an abortion and choosing to place a child for adoption are all actions that are likely to be judged and they are judged differently by different people.

      Anyway, I don’t know what the research shows as what is most important/least important, but on an individual level surely the choices vary. The communities in which a person making this choice lives must matter, it seems to me. This means that the general research may not tell you much about individual cases.

      On the other hand, surely we can say with confidence that the more shameful one option is seen to be, the less likely it is to be chosen? And I do think we (individually and collectively) can change how much shame attaches to particular choices. To take an extreme example, if we recoil in horror when a person tells us they’ve decided to do something that probably conveys our disapproval and, if we’re important to that person, then it might have some impact on the final decision.

      All of which is only to say that this is all very complicated. I’m not sure we ought to deliberately make shame a part of the calculus, however.

  2. Also, it sticks out to me she quoted A Act of Love, a Utah agency involved in several sketchy adoptions, including one recently overturned by the Utah Supreme Court, as well as the previous Baby Emma case.

    • I’m so glad you noticed that—I didn’t, Perhaps there is a line to be drawn here. Some Christian groups encourage adoption for a variety of religiously-oriented reasons. (And some adoption agencies promote adoption because they make money from it.) From their point of view, there aren’t enough available children in the US. This viewpoint suggests that adoption should be an easier option for people to choose, which would mean there would be more kids.

      These are, from my point of view, unsettling reasons to want to encourage women to give their kids up for adoption. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t also good reasons. I think for some people it is the right choice and it ought to be one without shame–or without undue shame. But in fact, all these things are interwoven and therefore complicated.

  3. I haven’t read the article yet, but, yes, there is a social stigma when it comes to placing your child for adoption (not “giving up”). Read any birthmother blog and they’ll address that topic.

    The women who consider/choose abortion are not generally the same who consider/choose adoption. There are some great articles and blog posts about this topic too. Unfortunately, I don’t have any bookmarked to provide here.

    • Abortion also carries a huge stigma but you dont have to tell anyone you werw even pregnant… still stigmas can be self ansorbed even if no one,actually knows.

      • I think it is quite common to keep both courses of conduct (having an abortion/placing a child for adoption) secret. That suggests (to me, at least) that both are seen as somewhat shameful, although they are also understood to be private matters. I agree, though, that one can feel stigmatized even when something is secret. There’s a lot of writing about stigma and spoiled identities and the like. It’s powerful stuff.

        I don’t mean to constantly return to the same outside example, but I really do think one can learn something by thinking about the modern gay rights struggles. Once being gay was stigmatized widely. People kept it a secret and that meant folks paid a very high cost. Now in many settings being lesbian/gay is fine–it isn’t stigmatized. And there are lots of studies that show this has lead to improving health (mental and physical) for those who are lesbian or gay–something that is attributable to diminishing stigma. Indeed, one might say that now there is stigma developing around being intolerant–to expressing the view that it is sinful to be lesbian or gay, say. Is that a bad thing? I think a person who expressed racist views might find themselves stigmatized. Is that a bad thing? Maybe there is an argument that people shouldn’t be stigmatized, even though their opinions can be rejected as unacceptable, but I’m not sure.

  4. we often over-estimate the extent to which having options means having freedom of choice

    So much this.
    That particular sentence neatly describes most of the fertility options available to me as an adult.

  5. Julie – all sides/groups have bias. All choices must be available but they should be provided in a clean non-directive manner.

    I do think that countries that provide non-directive options, and a social safety net for at least the first year, or two, provide the most unbiased choices. The ability to really do what is best for you. The link below shows what I mean by that…


    I’m reading The Child Catchers and it is fascinating. Quite a few adoptive parent bloggers are very supportive of the hard questions asked in the book, if you are interested I can provide links.

    • Yes, it’s true that it is impossible to escape bias. Perhaps one can hope to do as you suggest, though. And I think different people will make different choices because situations do vary.

      I think I should put the Child Catchers on my reading list. If you wanted to post a couple of links that address that topic that would be swell. I figured it had generated some response.

  6. Variety of responses:

    Well-known long-term adoptive parent blogger – apparently first of two posts…note she links to Troy and Tara Livesay (Haiti) in the post who did a blog post about it as well from on the ground perspective.


    Adoptive parents from Wales who lived in, or are living in Uganda – who now work for family preservation there. They have spoken up for a long time on problems that need fixing in adoption, and this post is an interview with Kathryn Joyce.


    This is from one of the adoptive parents in the book.


    This is from one of the board of directors of Bethany adoption agency (huge agency) – he isn’t impressed…


  7. “The second thing is really a question. Is Easton right in her description of things? Is giving a child up for adoption stigmatized these days? The emergence of the organization mentioned in the essay suggest it might be, but I honestly don’t know. Certainly some of the rhetoric here–referring to adoption as abandonment, say–suggests that it might be so.”
    To set you stright on the National Copuncil For Adoption, it is not an emerging organization but one that has been around for several decades. It’s aim has always been the promiton of adoption as the correct ethical response to an unwanted pregnancy. It’s a prolife group that has been embraced by conservative religious groups since the end of WW2.
    They have been the primary groups that have constructed the idea that keeping one’s baby is based on selfishness and have adopted the shaming techniques to place pressure on women to surrender their children to adoption. Notice I don’t say “give” the child to a good family. That’s my bias as someone who has had countless conversations with birthmothers about the intense pressure they experienced in the days of homes for unwed mothers, run by Catholics, Baptists, and ohter groups. If the bias is now against adoption that is a result of thousands of women who have exposed the coercive tactics of these groups, which the NCFA still fight for adoption as a choice against abortion as well as denigrating the choice of single parenthood. Whether some situational differences make adoption a “good” choice such as pregnancy in one’s early teens, such differences do not make the abortion/adoption dichotomy any less polarized. I have not seen any group try to stigmatize adoption as a bad choice. That’s the NCFA spin on the trend to fewer adoptions. In fact, there seems to be no correlation between increased abortions as adoptions fall. I suggest that the exposure of coercive tactics in adoption counseling has opened the eyes of women who do not accept the shame of single motherhood. International adoption is another kettle of fish altogether. Please do some reading among the publications of The Evans Donaldson Adoption Institute for a less polarized view of adoption realities than you would get from the NCFA.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s