Tag Archives: adoption

Reclaiming a Crisis: Backline is Working to Open the First All Options Pregnancy Center

20 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

If you dare utter the initials CPC in a room full of pro-choicers in a positive light, you better be prepared for some backlash. Talking about crisis pregnancy centers as a positive institution among reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and reproductive health advocates elicits a room full of negative reactions.

CPCs manipulate women at a vulnerable time in their lives.

CPCs don’t educate people about all their options.

CPCs hurt women.

So imagine my surprise when I was talking to Parker Dockray, Executive Director of Backline, about how she wants to emulate the crisis pregnancy center model.

“The model that CPCs have developed is valuable,” said Dockray, “but pregnancy  centers should not be deceptive.”

Dockray and the board and staff at Backline have decided to embark on an unparalleled mission, to create the first all options crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers are some of the most available institutions out there for women who are unsure about their pregnancy. Indiana has over 80, and they are one of 34 states that funnel money directly to crisis pregnancy centers. But they are full of misinformation and missing information.

However, as Dockray told me, CPCs often appear to meet the needs of women, even when they clearly don’t. Backline wants to reclaim the CPC model and create a brick and mortar place for the people of Indiana to turn to for support and community.

For the last 10 years, Backline has been answering the phone and offering support to people looking for options and judgment free counseling surrounding pregnancy. The Backline Talkline answers hundreds of questions each month about pregnancy options, parenting, abortion, adoption, pregnancy loss, miscarriage and other reproductive health topics. While the phone offers confidentiality, a new model could provide women with tangible support.

“The prochoice movement is not always great about visibly supporting parents,” said Dockray. Dockray hopes Backline’s new initiative will become a tangible place to demonstrate support for women across all options. Backline wants to create a place for women and their partners to receive counseling on abortion, adoption, and carrying their pregnancy to term as well as carrying diapers and other items for people to support their partners.

Opening the center in Indiana strikes a cord in a new way. The center will find its home in the middle of a red state, in a college town, surrounded by fields and conservative ideals. Reproductive rights, health and justice organizations are too siloed from each other, with each sticking to their own areas without much overlap or conversation. Backline’s All Options Pregnancy Center would bring these together under one roof, without agenda or pretense. Instead of being siloed, they are setting up shop amidst the silos in America’s Midwest heartland.

Bloomington is a town divided, one side of town is home to Hannah House Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the other is home to Planned Parenthood of Bloomington. Backline would create a middle ground, a place for women and their partners to go for real information. At a time when the middle ground seems like an impossibility in American politics, the Backline All Options Pregnancy Center will be an oasis. An oasis of information, moderatism, and choice, at a time and in a place where that hasn’t existed in a long time.

Welcome to the Midwest, Backline. If you want to help Backline build some walls, knock down some silos, and give people a place do go; click here if you’d like to donate, and click here if you live in Indiana and would like to join in.


The Legacy of Georgia Tann: When adoption looks an awful lot like kidnapping

26 Jul

Georgia Tann is among history’s lesser-known villains. It seems like the role of director of the Tennesse Children’s Home (from 1924-1949) should be played by a mild-mannered, hard-working, well-meaning social worker. And indeed, that was the image that Tann projected during her thirty years playing that role. She was saint and savoir to thousands of orphaned and abused children, tirelessly finding stable middle-class homes where they would thrive.

Except she wasn’t a saint, and they weren’t orphaned or abused.  Instead, she was a kidnapper on the largest scale.

Tann removed children from safe, loving, but frequently poor, homes. She did this by taking them from doctors’ offices and telling their parents they were sick – and after selling the child, telling the parents the child had died.  She fabricated reasons to take them directly from the home “for the child’s welfare.” She stole the children of single parents from nursery schools.  A criminal with a flair for manipulation, she frequently placed children in adoptive homes with many of Memphis’s more powerful figures, so that they would feel an obligation to uphold the legality of the adoptions.  Across the country, Tann arranged adoptions for actress Joan Crawford, writer Pearl Buck, and New York governor Herbert Lehmen (who, as governor, closed adoptee’s access to their original birth certificates).

Many of the secretive policies around private adoptions in the United States have roots in the precedent that Tann set, and in the laws and court decisions that she worked (and bribed) to push through. Sealed birth certificates? High payments from adoptive parents? For-profit business models? Lack of birth family rights? The direct transfer of children from poor families to richer ones – for the good of the child? These are all part of her legacy.

This is coercive baby-stealing, corruption of the highest degree.  But isn’t it a thing of the past?

It isn’t for Encarnacion Romero.  Romero is an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who was arrested in a raid on her Missouri workplace. While detained, a judge ruled Romero’s “lack of visitation” was tantamount to abandonment. Her son was placed in foster care, her parental rights were terminated, and her son was adopted by a married, white American couple.  An investigation by Colorlines.com indicates there are over 5,000 children either in foster care or with adoptive families from the same reason.

It isn’t for Erin Yellow Robe. Yellow Robe lives on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One day a social worker called to tell her that she was going to be arrested for using drugs, and that her children were going to be taken into foster care. Even though Yellow Robe denied ever using drugs, even though the threat was made based on the accusation of one person (who turned out to have a grudge against the family), and even though her mother was willing to care for the children, they were taken away – in violation of both logic and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Yellow Robe was never arrested. The Crow Creek tribe, to which Yellow Robe belongs, has lost 33 children to white foster homes. There are only 1,400 people on the reservation. An NPR investigation indicates that approximately 700 Native American children in South Dakota are removed from their homes every year under similarly dubious circumstances.

Unlike the in Tann’s story, though, these removals and adoptions are public ones, meaning they are conducted by the state through the foster care system. This is no longer about one dangerous woman; it’s about an abusive system.

For these families and those like them, the legacy of Georgia Tann isn’t a historical footnote. It’s a tragedy that they live every day.  The legal system continually allows parents to be deprived of their parental rights for crimes either nonexistent or disproportionate to the response, and those in power seem to let it happen “for the good of the child.” It’s no coincidence that the children are removed from poorer families and families of color, and placed with white, middle-class foster and adoptive families. Who is more likely to have access the resources and power when it comes time for a court to make its final rulings? Perhaps it’s time that we reassess what is for the good of the child. And perhaps our first answer, barring evidence to the contrary, should be with the family from which they came.

It is disingenuous to entirely conflate these coercive tactics and adoption, and that is not what I am trying to do.  There are ethical people who work in the adoption system, and there are ethical adoptive parents who work hard, every day, to live in adoptions that respect their child’s birth family and support their child’s complicated journey through life as an adoptee. But as long as adoption is, in part, a systematic way of transferring children from families with less privilege to families with more privilege, we should not be surprised to find these abuses hiding within that system – sometimes in plain sight.

The Adoption Process is Actually Really, Really Hard

12 Apr

This posts starts with a story – the story of a quote I found one day that became the story of how I concluded that not only is adoption really hard and complicated as a process, but that the ways we have of conceiving of and talking about adoption and the process of adoption are in and of themselves problematic.

The other day I found what I felt was one of the most inspiring, moving stories I have ever read. It’s about Mariska Hargitay, star of “Law and Order: SVU.” Go with me on this.

Ms. Hargitay has two children, both of whom are adopted. However, in this article, she speaks about the adoption process and the early pain she experienced when trying to bring a child home. During their first adoption attempt, she and her husband brought a child home, and named them, clearly considered them a part of their family and were ready to settle in to a life together – when the mother of the child changed her mind.

When we brought my cousins home from the hospital, we had the whole extended family together, aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, and that moment of becoming a family was so special. If someone had come back and taken that child away from us, I can’t help but feel like it would left a hole that might never have been filled. It would have been so indescribably painful. And in the long-term, I wouldn’t have my cousins, and I cannot imagine that life.

But this is what Ms. Hargitay, who is now one of my role models, had to say about the experience of having the person who gave birth come back to reclaim the child she was ready to raise as her own:

“But … this is what I’ve come to understand about life: It was probably the greatest, happiest ending. I mean, it was so painful for us, but it was deeply joyful and deeply right for her.”

I think Ms. Hargitay is absolutely right. For the mother to ultimately be able to make the decision that raising her own child was the best thing for both of them is “both deeply joyful and deeply right.” I am of the (possibly permanently) childless variety that thinks having a child and/or raising a child is always an act of untold bravery. But I also think it’s valid to discuss the ways in which this decision caused pain for the couple trying to adopt. The fact that the decision caused Ms. Hargitay and her husband pain does not make the decision any less the mother’s decision to make. It doesn’t make it wrong or bad in any way. But it was obviously difficult and hurtful, painful enough for Ms. Hargitay to describe it and remember it years later. I can still remember and describe the exact process of adopting my cousins as well. Bringing them into the family was an emotional investment, and it involved a series of ups and downs. We were told one of the adoptions wouldn’t go through, then that it would, then that it wouldn’t – and then, finally, we brought my cousin home. I think it is good and right to conceive of a child you are bringing into the family as your daughter, your son, your niece or nephew, your grandchild – but it is incredibly emotionally stressful to then be told that no, maybe not. Maybe. Maybe not. Invest emotionally – oh no, don’t do that. You’re waiting for another child. This one is not yours.

This situation highlights something that, in terms of reproductive choice, gets a lot less play than prevention and abortion: adoption is really, really hard. Lately, as anti-choice rhetoric filters through our culture, you see ladies in the media who get pregnant and have “two choices”: keep the baby or give it up for adoption. Really, that’s it. Examples of this now-pervasive notion that “choice” means only the choice between keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption, with abortion never even getting a mention, include: most episodes of “Sixteen and Pregnant” (there was recently a beautiful and poignant episode highlighting the challenges of abortion, but we were excited to watch it because it’s so damn rare), all conversations about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, anything on the ABC family channel, including “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and recently, most especially, ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” which has incredibly problematic portrayals of motherhood, choice, and adoption all-around. All of these fervent claims that adoption is a primary option for pregnant people who cannot parent or do not want to parent obscure the reality of the process. And while pro-choice advocates often mention that the world is overcrowded and adoption is an expensive, raced and classed process to which not everyone has access, which leaves many children world-wide without homes, there are so many more dimensions to this decision.

Carrying a child and giving birth are no joke. While there are certainly situations such as that of the oft-critiqued Juno in which someone knows that carrying a baby to term and giving it to a loving family is exactly the right choice for them, more often the process is fraught with a range of less easily packaged emotions. Many people who give a child up for adoption want to raise them, but simply feel they can’t. When they want to raise their child but cannot offer them what they believe they need or deserve, it can be wrenching, and can certainly lead to feelings of inadequacy and resentment. Ultimately, what they are giving is an incredible gift, and more and more adoptions are very open, allowing them contact with their biological child as it grows up. But someone else parents that child, provides them with a home, attends school functions, spends holidays with them, and has a life with them. And that is an intense decision to make. Were I to ever get pregnant, my options are abortion or parenting. Adoption is off the table. That is not something I could ever go through, and not a decision my large extended family, whom I love very much, would be alright with. It wouldn’t be their decision, but I am close to my family, and in a decision so big, what they want does matter to me.

In writing this post, I ran into a number of difficulties. One of our abortion gangsters objects to the term “birth mother.” I use it because I personally think it’s a sign of respect. I believe that parenting makes you a parent, and gendering the process of parenting makes you a “mother” or father” – I believe that giving birth makes you someone that has given birth. But if someone has been pregnant or given birth and thus conceives of themselves as a mother, I would certainly be the last person to tell them that they’re wrong. I don’t really get to decide who’s a mother, or what makes a mother – but I do have to make decisions about how I will discuss these things from my own perspective, or we cannot open up these conversations. And then, for me, even using the term “mother,” in any of these contexts, is problematic, and I would prefer “birth parent,” since I don’t know how the person in question identifies. They may not prefer those gender pronouns.

What I am saying here, then, is that the process of writing this post demonstrated to me the extremely problematic nature of the discursive framework of adoption and the adoption process. And while all of the issues raised with my drafts of this post, and, I am sure, whatever issues are raised in the comments, were valid and had their own reasoning, I found many of them problematic as well, mostly because I feel like the discursive framework within which we’re working is problematic.

As a member of a family in which other members are adopted, passionately hate the qualifier “adopted.” I absolutely hate when people refer to someone’s child as their “adopted child,” their sister as their “adopted sister,” etc. No disclaimer or qualifier is needed. The word “adopted” is a way of making that relation other, different. As someone who has that relation, let me please tell you, IT IS NOT OTHER OR DIFFERENT. IT IS THE EXACT SAME. It doesn’t matter how someone became family, once they’re in, they’re in. In a way, I find the relationship between my biological family members and adopted family members even more significant and beautiful, because we chose and found one another.

This assertion raised yet another issue with the post – that being adopted is different. Let me clarify. I don’t believe there is a “normal” family, or a normal or regular way of creating a family, so I don’t believe that qualifiers of this kind, when discussing familiar relations, are ever necessary, unless someone requests them. Many of my friends refer to people as parents who are not their biological parents, and they require neither the words “adopted” nor “step.” If they prefer them, I’m happy to use them, but I continue to go qualifier-free until otherwise requested. This is not to invisibilize adoption or the other processes that go into making biological and non-biological, “normative” and “non-normative” family units – it is to instead suggest that all family units are non-normative, and each process of creating and living within them different and unique in ways visible and invisible, requiring its own set of challenges and negotiations. I keeping with my general concerns about the discursive framework, I believe the net-terms of “adopted,” “biological,” and “step,” when used as qualifiers in these contexts, may mask they many differences contained within these constructed categories, and lead to a false set of assumptions or understandings about what is always, contained therein, a universe of individual differences, samenesses, and experiences.

Another of our gangsters pointed out to me that in earlier versions of this post I used the phrase “keep the baby” as opposed to “continue the pregnancy” and “choose to parent.” I think these corrections were totally spot on. She also pointed out that I used the phrase “give up for adoption” when “choose adoption” might be better. There, my feelings are more complicated. Yes, “choose adoption” is absolutely a less loaded, and even, given the context, less judgmental phrase than “give up for adoption,” and for that reason, I infinitely prefer it. I am judging no one here. I think choosing to adopt is brave, choosing to parent is brave, choosing not to parent is brave, choosing to discuss birth control options with your partner so you don’t get pregnant is brave. In short, I believe learning about your options as a reproducing human being of any gender and making conscious decisions regarding those options is a brave and admirable undertaking. But I also believe that putting a child up for adoption is giving up the idea of parenting that child, and choosing instead not to parent, choosing that someone else should parent instead.

I believe, when it works out, that adoption is one of the most beautiful, amazing ways to make a family, but it is not foolproof. As it stands, to decide to give a child up for adoption, and to decide to adopt, are flipsides of the same very challenging coin, and not everyone can do it. That is why I believe a holistic approach to reproductive justice is so very necessary. It is so important that people be made to understand that they have many choices to prevent pregnancy, and then they must be educated about them, and given access to them. Then, if they do get pregnant, whether intended or unintended, they must understand their choices, and again, have access to them. And then, all of these decisions have to be acknowledged as taking place within already-problematic, raced, classed, and gendered structures of power, and those frameworks need to be constantly challenged and examined. We must move towards a framework in which all of the “choices” are structured with the ultimate goal in mind of creating loving family units, however traditionally or non-traditionally, however normative or non-normative those “units” might be. It sounds utopian, but really, how wild and crazy is it to want people to be able to make families?

Choosing Life: Thoughts on National Adoption Month

15 Nov

“Choose life” is a favorite slogan among those who, of course, focus only on the “life” part while ignoring the “choice.” For those women who do choose life, the vast majority are also choosing parenting. Yet, for those women who are pregnant but don’t want to parent, anti-choicers offer one seemingly simple solution: adoption.

But it’s not simple, not even close. Historically, adoption in the United States was built on stigma, shame, and frequently coercion. When faced with unplanned pregnancy, young women had no good options. Single, nonmarital motherhood was shamed to the point of invisibility – it virtually did not exist among White, middle-class women. Women who wanted to have and raise their children were ostracized from their families and communities, and were told their children would be taunted on the playground as a “bastard,” and were denied information about public services that might have helped them establish greater self-sufficiency and venture out on their own – a feat which would have been an anomaly, with or without children. Women could also choose to have an illegal abortion, if they knew where to find one and were willing to take a serious risk with their health and safety. And finally, there was adoption, which before Roe v. Wade was the most common response. (At least among White women; black women almost always raised their children. Single motherhood has a longer history of acceptance in Black communities, and there was no market for Black children, and thus no financial incentive for the adoption industry to reach out to Black women.)

Adoption before Roe v. Wade was predicated on emotional and financial coercion. I have interviewed many women who were funneled into maternity homes where they wished and begged for better options, where they were shamed and ridiculed by those purporting to “help” them, and where they were promised they would walk away after giving birth and soon forget about their child.

I spoke with these women nearly half a century after their adoptions, and they were still traumatized.

These abuses are anti-choice, and today’s adoptions have evolved from this anti-choice history. In some places, at some agencies, adoption has evolved far more than in others. But there are still many, many fundamental problems with the way the adoption industry is set up. (Please note that I am specifically discussing voluntary domestic adoption here – international adoption has further complications, and foster care adoptions are a whole different story. Because adoption is so complicated and good discussion of it requires such nuance, I’m limiting the scope of my discussion to be able to do it some amount of justice.)

So, what does pro-choice adoption look like?

1. Pro-choice adoption is not-for-profit. Yes, adoptions will always cost money – there are legal fees, medical fees (if the mother is uninsured), and travel costs that the agency, and consequently the adoptive parents, usually cover. And the level of post-adoption services that birth parents and adoptive parents deserve will require skilled professionals to administer them. This is not about making adoption inexpensive; it’s about removing any potential for profit-motive from the adoption system. (Yes, there are still for-profit agencies and private lawyers. How will this influence their ability to present young women with whom they’re working with all the available options?)

2. Pro-choice adoption should be open. Open adoptions, where there is ongoing contact between birth family and adoptive family after the adoption placement, are essential to improved outcomes among all members of the adoption triad. Openness is not just for the benefit of the birth parent – it also helps the child know where they came from (which all adopted people hope to know), and can increase the stability of the adoptive family by building trust and opening lines of communication. Openness is not easy. It requires a lot of emotional (as well as logistical) work. It requires trust where society presumes there should be conflict. And it requires a new idea of what a family should be – not a nuclear, isolated core, but a group of people bonded by different degrees of biology, legality, and emotional connectedness.

To achieve openness, adoption agencies must recognize that when the child is placed, their work is only beginning. They need to provide professional support in navigating and negotiating openness, in keeping lines of communication open, and helping resolve conflicts if and when they do emerge.

What about the women who would choose a closed adoption? I acknowledge that there must be some birth mothers out there who prefer closed adoptions, but I have met and interviewed many, many birth mothers over the years, and I have never met one. Futhermore, among those who were initially interested in a closed adoption but were encouraged (either by the agency they were working with, or by the adoptive parents they chose) to have a more open adoption, they welcomed and appreciated the openness after the adoption was finalized. Perhaps most tellingly, none of the women I’ve interviewed have wanted less contact with their child after the adoption. We should respect a woman’s desire for a closed adoption, but we should also recognize that it is easier to have periods of limited contact in an open adoption than it is to open up a closed adoption – working towards greater openness preserves more options for women throughout the course of their lives, as they live out the adoption.

Finally, there should be some legally enforceable degree of openness. Some states allow this; some do not. This prevents either party (though it’s usually the adoptive family) from completely ceasing communication with the other, especially without legitimate concern for the child’s safety or well-being. (Please remember that no adoptive parent would be forced to actively include an abusive or seriously unstable birth parent in their child’s lives; enforceability would simply require that they – at minimum – maintain some level of contact with their child’s birth parents.)

Openness is not easy, and it will not solve all of adoption’s problems. But it is a necessary first step.

3. Pro-choice adoption recognizes the problems with adoption’s past and present and seeks to fix them; specifically, it advocates for open records and against child-trafficking.

Currently in many states, adult adopted people who were raised in closed adoptions do not have access to their own original birth certificates. This denies them access to their own legal records and to their own original identity. Those in support of keeping records closed say that birth parents where promised anonymity – this is fundamentally untrue. In fact, most birth parents were never promised anything (other than, of course, that they would forget) and were forced to make the promise that they would never search for their child. In my experience, most birth parents want to be reunited with the (now adult) children they placed for adoption. In states where records are open, birth parents are allowed to place a hold on the records if they wish to maintain the secrecy around their adoption; less than 2% have done this.

Regarding child-trafficking, there is much to say that goes beyond the scope of this post. I will simply state the manipulative adoptions, child stealing, and baby selling are not solely in our past (particularly in international adoption), and that advocating for their investigation and prohibition is absolutely necessary to a pro-choice concept of adoption.

4. Pro-choice adoption supports unbiased counseling. This one is pretty intuitive, but adoption counseling should not be solely within the realm of anti-choice advocates working out of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (the modern-day equivalent of the maternity home). If a counselor doesn’t feel comfortable providing a woman with accurate information about abortion and parenting, that counselor has no business talking to a woman about adoption.

5. Pro-choice adoption does not glamorize or create a martyr out of the birth parent. Birth parents are simply people trying to make the best out of an incredibly difficult situation. Narratives that present them as especially selfless, as “giving their child something better” makes, by inverse, the mothers that choose to parent selfish or even irresponsible. While it’s true that many birth parents do choose adoption because they want their child to have a different life than the one they can provide, this usually (but not always) boils down to two things: having two, married parents and money. If we consistently frame two parents as always better than one, we’re stigmatizing single mothers. And if we’re framing more money as always better than less – well, then should we all just be transferring our children to a family with more means? All of these narratives create martyrs of birth parents in a way that also highlights their inevitable shortcomings and denies them of any capability.

There are other, more specific policies and practices that can go in to building a better, more pro-choice adoption industry. I’ve refrained from discussing all of them because I’ve already said a lot that I hope you’ll think about, and because there’s less consensus (within the birth parent community) over those specific ideas than those that I have chosen to discuss. For example, pre-birth matching: some birth parents find it coercive to have to select adoptive parents before the child is born, it can create an obligation which they must fulfill and denies them the room to freely make a choice once the baby arrives; other birth parents find it necessary to select adoptive parents while they’re still pregnant in order to feel in control of the situation and be able to make a long-term plan and discuss what the adoption will look like. This one example highlights how diverse birth parents are – they are not a homogenous group, and they certainly do not agree on everything. This is just another reason why we must focus more on listening to their experiences, not just within the context of adoption, but in speaking to a larger, reproductive justice framework.

I wanted to reiterate that there are some agencies out there that are actively working towards pro-choice adoption, but adoption still has not been embraced as a core issue by the larger choice community. This National Adoption Month I encourage you to consider the ways in which your concept of choice is accountable to women who choose adoption, and how we can work to build a better model of a respectful, safe, accessible, pro-choice adoption system.

Glee Perpetuates Adoption Stereotypes

28 Sep

Confession: I watch 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom like it’s my job (because it kind of is).  I pay careful attention to how teen pregnancy and young parenthood are portrayed in the media, because I think it’s incredibly important how we think about these young women and their families; their portrayals provide insight into how we, as a society, think about teens and sex, relationships, reproductive choice, and public support for families in need.

Two years ago, I had Glee on that list of must-watch shows because Quinn Fabray, perfect-cheerleader-turned-Glee clubber was pregnant.  Despite the convoluted conception story and contrived “Who’s the father?” subplot, I actually liked the way Glee handled Quinn’s pregnancy.  Her friends at Glee club came together and supported her, and those that rejected Quinn (her own mother, the cheerleaders) were the bad guys.   At the end of the season, Quinn placed the baby, Beth, for adoption – without a lot of clear development about why she made that choice – and then no more.

Last season, Quinn wasn’t 16 and pregnant.  She was a birthmother.  And the adoption was hardly ever mentioned.  Quinn walked away from the adoption, didn’t look back, didn’t grieve, didn’t communicate with her daughter’s adoptive mother.  Instead, she recreated her former golden-ponytailed self with Cheerio tenacity.  To be frank, I stopped watching the show for a while because I was so frustrated they’d turned Quinn into a Juno.

That’s right, a Juno.  In my analyses of how birthmothers (and sometimes birthfathers) are portrayed, I’ve come up with four clichéd, awful stereotypes, which are not mutually exclusive.

1. The Juno, brought to you by the blockbuster movie that shaped a generation’s opinion of birthmothers as people who make an adoption plan, walk away, don’t look back, and conclude “I think he was always hers.”  While there are some women who might choose closed adoption and move on quickly with their lives, I’ve spoken with a lot of birthmothers, and I’ve never found them.  (This doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  I’m sure they do.  But I think they are a minority.)  In fact, the walk-away-and-forget myth is a dangerous one for women that was used to justify coerced adoptions during the Baby Scoop era before Roe v. Wade.

2. The Crackwhore, brought to you by American conservatives.  Most usually, the crackwhore (and I cringe to write that word, believe me) stereotype is used not in voluntary adoption placements, but in instances where social services intervene and place children in foster care or public adoptions.  Despite this difference, the stereotype is used to portray birthmothers as epitome of the bad mother, incapable of caring for and wholly unworthy of raising her children.

3. The Birthmartyr, brought to you by Dr. Drew and the folks at 16 and Pregnant.  When Dr. Drew says the young women who choose adoption are “so incredibly mature” and “selfless” and turns to the birthmother dealing with post-adoption grief and tells her to “move on for the good of her child”, that’s the birthmartyr trope in action.  On 16 and Pregnant, the young women who chose adoption are self-sacrificing heroes, while the young women who chose to parent are (according to Dr. Drew) immature and poor decision-makers.

4. The Baby Stealer, brought to you by Loosing Isaiah and every adoptive parent’s worst nightmare.  As open adoption (where birth and adoptive families have ongoing post-adoption contact) becomes more and more common and society continues to not understand that relationship, the continuing presence of the birthparent is seen as a threat – either metaphorical or literal – to the bond between adoptive parent and child. Indeed, open adoption should (and often does) foster a relationship of mutual trust and respect between all the child’s parents that alleviates any such worries, yet we still represent birthparents as constantly scheming to regain custody of their child.

On last night’s episode, Shelby, Quinn’s daughter’s adoptive mother returns and invites Quinn and Puck (the baby’s father) into Beth’s life.  Early in the episode, I was pleased: Open adoption! An adoptive parent recognizing that contact with birthparents will benefit her daughter in the long run!  But things were messier than that, as they usually are in adoption.

Did Quinn and Puck want contact?  Because actual adoption was glossed over so quickly, it’s hard to know what the terms of their agreement were.  In my research, I’ve found that most birthparents do want contact, but they also deserve some degree of control of that contact.  Being blindsided by an adoptive mother showing up at their school, expecting them to be grateful for a brief glimpse of an iPhone photo, does not represent a mutually respectful arrangement.  Furthermore, for most birthparents, the first few years after the adoption are often the hardest.  Perhaps they needed time to process their decision more before contact was made.

Does Shelby have the right to put stipulations on Quinn and Puck’s contact with Beth? Yes, she does.  She is Beth’s adoptive mother, and she has an obligation to protect that child.  If Quinn represented a threat, or even a very bad influence, perhaps Shelby would be justified in setting limits, but she seems to be rejecting Quinn because she has pink instead of blonde hair and a snazzy fake nose ring.  If, as an adoptive parent, you want your child’s birthparents involved in their life (and research shows you probably should, to some extent), you need to accept them as a complex person with flaws and phases, as someone who is living a life different than your own.  And you need to be accepting of a young high school girl acting out by dying her hair and wearing grunge clothing – especially when, as Shelby (and all the other characters) did, you believe the behavior changes are, for the time being, her way of processing the adoption.

Of course, by the end of the episode, we realize that Quinn isn’t a Juno.  She’s a baby stealer.  She tells Puck, “I have to get her back… We’re gonna get full custody.”  Not only is this a legal impossibility, Glee has swapped one damaging stereotype for another.

Most people don’t know (or don’t know that they know) any birthparents, so they really rely on these TV and movie representations to help understand who places children for adoption. If we don’t actually know what birthparents look like, we don’t really know what adoption looks like and don’t really understand it as the complex, loving, messy, sad, and beautiful lifelong process that it is truly is.

And if we don’t understand adoption, we can’t protect it as an important reproductive choice that all women should have access to, without judgment, without stereotype, and with a clear understanding of the long-term commitment and consequences involved.

Adoption, Abortion, or Parenting : What Matters Is Access and Choice

19 Jul

Last week, MTV aired another “16 & Pregnant” Special, but instead of following young women that elected abortion or parenting, this special focused on adoption. The hour-long program followed three young women as they shared they heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories about how they came to choose adoption, what form of adoption is available and how their lives have changed as a result.

Previously, we’ve posted on how important it is that women have agency, have a choice – that includes abortion, adoption, or parenting. What’s key here is the choice is not a reality unless you have the ability to make the decision for yourself. Forced abortion is wrong, forced adoption is wrong, and forced parenting is wrong. Additionally, some of the  amazing bloggers here have shared their personal stories about the egg donation process, child rearing, and abortion. All of that is to say we here at Abortion Gang aren’t just “talking the talk,” we as women and men have been through the struggle, know the peaks and valleys of reproductive justice, and don’t just walk around pointing at young women thinking, “she should abort!”

Back to the adoption special on MTV. Three young mothers chose adoption, but perhaps the most familiar of the three is Caitlynn. Her case is an interesting one because of the three young women profiled, Caitlynn is the only young woman to not come from an affluent and privileged background. Her access to resources was limited, but with the help of the show, she was empowered to choose adoption. She was able make the best decision for herself.  The other women were aided by their families in both the decision making process and financial considerations. Navigating the landscape of abortion, adoption, or parenting is hard for anyone, but can be especially intimidating for a young woman without access to emotional and financial support.

The point here is that adoption isn’t something that is accessible to everyone. For adoption to be successful, from selecting the right parents, access to pre- and post-birth counseling, and coping with the bevy of emotions in healthy ways, the sheer amount of financial, social, and cultural support is absolutely crucial. Without support, the ability for a mother and the adoptive parents to find success  becomes much less likely.

Of course, this goes for abortion as well. But the emotional needs after an abortion are different than those after an adoption, and of course, both differ from those when parenting. In each case, however, a complex combination of social support, cultural support, and financial assistance are required in order for a women have all reproductive options available to her. In many cases, however, women do not have access to enough resources to make the reproductive decision she wants to make.

Far too many women in the U.S. don’t have what Caitlynn or the other women on MTV’s adoption special have. There are so many barriers preventing them from making the choice they want to make, and so, they are forced into an option they otherwise wouldn’t chose, trapped, alone, and suffering. Any piece of legislation or pop culture phenomenon that supports limiting a woman’s access to cultural, social, or financial resources, I am going to call out for doing just that: restricting a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her body and her future.

It’s not about whether a woman decides to parent, abort, or place for adoption. It’s about whether she has the ability to make the decision at all  that really matters. MTV is trying to make that point clear, although many times they fall short of projecting the obvious: that without their help, many of the women featured on their shows and specials would not have the ability to make the choices they have made. It would be another positive step forward for MTV to make that point aggressively, because  it is no longer enough to help  the women on their television programs get to a position to make the best choice for themselves. If MTV, Dr. Drew and others affiliated with the “Teen Mom” and “16 & Pregnant” projects really care about advocating for increased awareness and options for the reproductive rights of women, their next step has to advocate for increasing reproductive health access in all communities,  not just project a story of modern teen pregnancy on our TV screens.

What My Foster Puppies Taught Me About Choice

22 Mar

Anyone who knows me knows that for the last five weeks, I’ve been fostering the most adorable pit mix puppies. So adorable that I created a blog to chronicle their adventures and mischief. The pups came to me at 5 weeks old, three pounds each, and left at an admirable 15-17 pounds. I grew completely attached to these babies, waking up multiple times a night to care for them, buying them little doggie toys, taking them to the neighborhood dog park and watching them gallivant with their friends. Without a doubt, these puppies became the center of my universe and I loved (almost) every minute of it.

Then they got their 10 week shots, and their spay/neuter surgeries, and it came time to start looking for homes for them. I screened people with an intensity that rivals Harvard’s college admissions. If people had so much as a single spelling or grammar error in their application, I cast them aside. Only the best for my puppies! We ended up finding wonderful homes for each dog, and I can say with certainty that they will be loved unconditionally and spoiled rotten.

And yet, my heart is broken into tiny dog-sized pieces. Everywhere I look in my apartment, I think of the dogs. My bedroom floor has dog hair all over it. One of their toys is stuck under my fridge. My bathroom smells like wet dog.
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