A CASE FOR ADOPTION
By: Cheryl Kreykes Brandsen
Those who work with young people must present the alternative of adoption in an enlightened, positive, and knowledgeable manner. Society as a whole and, more particularly, families, churches, schools, and communities must recognize adoption as a legitimate choice, affirming it as something good and positive for birthparents and their children.
Adoption has been meeting the needs of children at least since baby Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter on the river bank. For Christians, adoption has a very special significance in that only through this process are Christians incorporated into God’s family.
In spite of its history of serving children and in spite of its being a biblical concept instituted by God, adoption now seems to be viewed by many as a less than acceptable alternative to an unplanned pregnancy. The number of young people choosing adoption has dropped markedly through the years. Twenty years ago this choice was selected in 90% of cases, whereas today fewer than 10% choose this alternative. Young people experiencing an untimely pregnancy are sometimes thought to be unloving if they consider adoption. If they do make an adoption plan, some struggle to maintain self-respect and self-esteem. Rather than being at peace with themselves, they live with guilt feelings and unresolved grief.
Falling adoption rates have been attributed to abortion and the diminished stigma associated with out-of-wedlock pregnancies. However, there are other factors operating which reduce the acceptance of adoption as a positivealternative. First, child placement agencies and those involved with independent adoptions have not always been aware of or sensitive to the concerns of birthparents. Birthparents have not always been treated with respect. Some have not experienced genuine concern and support from their counselors, but only pressure to release their child. Some have not been helped to see that their decision to release was one they could feel good about, rather than guilty. Some birthmothers have been patronized, told that they need not worry about where their child would be placed, because the counselor “would be sure she got good parents.” These attitudes have led to feelings of helplessness, loss of control, and continual anxiety about the whereabouts and well-being of the released child.
Some of these seeming insensitivities have actually been deceptive manipulations by agencies or adoption intermediaries. However, some have also been characteristic of well-meaning but misguided people, people genuinely concerned about the welfare of children. The fault of these well-meaning but misguided counselors is that they fail to realize that what was once considered sound practice for all birthmothers in all unplanned pregnancies is no longer appropriate today or in every circumstance and that greater flexibility and birthparent involvement are necessary.
There is another reason why adoption has increasingly become the unconsidered option. It is perhaps the primary reason, and certainly a more difficult one to remedy: adoption has become encased in its own mythology, a mythology that arises from personal opinions or attitudes. Adoption is an emotional issue for many people, regardless of their experience. Adoption touches people at levels they may not be consciously aware of, such as the need to love and be loved and the fear of being abandoned. It is difficult at times to be rational about such intimate issues, and, therefore, misunderstandings arise. However, accurate discussion and a balanced view of adoption will only be possible as people become aware of their misunderstandings. It is imperative that all those involved with adoption begin to rationally examine and correct their misunderstandings about it rather than reacting to it only on the emotional level.
The material that follows is designed to help counselors present adoption in a positive, informed manner to young people facing unplanned pregnancies. Three major areas will be addressed:
1. The counselor’s responsibility to deal with all available options in an unplanned pregnancy.
2. The attitudes that perpetuate a negative view of adoption.
3. Concrete ways to develop adoption as a positive response to unplanned pregnancies.
Ultimately, reestablishing adoption as a viable choice for women with unplanned pregnancies requires that agencies assess past policies and change them if necessary. It also requires that emotion-laden misunderstandings about adoption be uncovered and that the reality of adoption be revealed.
THE COUNSELOR’S RESPONSIBILITY TO PRESENT ALL OPTIONS
It is important to recognize that single parenting can be a successful choice in an unplanned pregnancy given a supportive environment and resourceful, determine participants. To determine what makes single parenting successful is not the intent here, however. Rather, this information is presented to convince counselors that adoption should be presented as another viable alternative to an unplanned pregnancy.
Some have asked why it is important to present adoption as a positive option to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. If single parents are doing a fine job of parenting – and many are – why should they receive information about adoption? Why confuse them if they feel comfortable with single parenting?
First, for many young people in today’s society, the decision to parent is really not a choice but, rather, an assumption. The assumption is that because one is pregnant and does not choose to abort, one must parent. This expectation is expressed in both subtle and blatant ways to pregnant young women. An example of such an expectation is seen in a report presented to the New York State Department of Social Services. In this report, many of the problems associated with teenage parenting are noted, including failure of mothers to complete high school, welfare dependency, health risks for mother and child, and high incidence of abuse and neglect. The report concludes by recommending many tax-supported services for teenagers who give birth. However, only once in this 50-page report is adoption mentioned as an alternative.
Nationwide the experience is similar. Even those who counsel pregnant young women – those who should be particularly sensitive to such situations – often neglect to present adoption as a viable choice. A recent study by Edmund Mech reports that nearly 40% of pregnancy counseling available fails to include adoption as a choice. Also reported is the fact that few counselors believe that pregnant adolescents want information about adoption. Quite likely, the study indicates, this “short circuits presentation of adoption as an alternative.”
Secondly, it is important to promote adoption as a viable and positive response to an unplanned pregnancy because single parenting is not as problem free as many believe. Increasingly, research is revealing unsettling and alarming concerns about teenage parents and their children. Statistics show that teenage mothers are likely to remain uneducated and dependent on welfare and are likely to raise large, unplanned families. At least eight out of ten adolescent mothers never finish high school. Ninety percent of these young women receive welfare payments at some point in their life, whereas among women who complete high school, only half are likely to receive welfare payments.
If the mother is under the age of sixteen, these problems are intensified. Ninety percent of these young women do not complete high school, and 60 percent become pregnant again before the age of eighteen. Furthermore, these women are unwittingly committing themselves and their children to lives of poverty. Sixty percent of all welfare payments go to families in which the mother gave birth to her first child when she was still a teenager. Again, the problem is intensified for younger adolescents: women who first give birth at age sixteen or seventeen are twice as likely to face poverty as those who are at least twenty when their first child is born.
There are serious concerns not only about teenage parents, but also about the children they raise. Recent research suggests that single-parent homes are often unstable and unable to provide for a child’s educational, emotional, and financial needs to the same extent as two-parent homes are. A recent report presented by the Wilder Foundation suggests that even when the socio-economic status of two-parent and single-parent families is controlled, several important distinctions emerge regarding the children. Among children reared in single-parent families, females hold lower-status occupations, and the annual incomes of nineteen-to twenty-nine-year olds are lower. Children from single-parent families are also more likely to receive welfare, to divorce, to have a child born out of wedlock, and to have their first child earlier than children from two-parent families are. When socio-economic factors are not controlled, twice as many children from single-parent homes do not have a high school diploma or the equivalent, and more physical and psychological problems are reported in children from single-parent homes than in their two-parent counterparts.
Like single parenting, marriage is also often not a healthy solution to an unplanned pregnancy. Sixty to 75% of all teenage marriages end in divorce. When pregnancy is the major cause for marriage, the failure rate goes up to 90% within the first six years of marriage. Further complicating the marriage option is the fact that the young mother will likely drop out of school to care for her child, while her husband works. As a result, she will find herself with no education and no job skills – and a 60 to 75% chance of being divorced within six years.
Whereas past societal values tended to result in women releasing children for adoption, current attitudes coupled with today’s counseling produces single parents. Ironically, the end result is sadly the same: women unable to live with themselves and the decision they have made. Their marriages often end in divorce, and single parenting is seldom as glamorous as presented by their friends, the media, or their own imagination. These situations might have been avoided had they been thoroughly informed about all their options.
Therefore, not only is it acceptable for counselors to present adoption as an alternative, but also it is their responsibility. It is the difficult task of the competent counselor to inform birthparents of the enormous responsibility they will be assuming if they choose to parent, and to respect their right to choose this option if they wish. It is also the task of the counselor to help women who give birth but are not ready for motherhood to consider adoption as seriously as parenting. It is the responsibility of the counselor to present birthparents with all available choices and to help them explore the consequences of each choice for their lives and the lives of their children. By doing so, the counselor is allowing birthparents to make informed decisions regarding their lives and the welfare of their child.
MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT ADOPTION
When a counselor listens closely to birthparents in their struggle to plan for their child, the counselor will often hear them voice some misunderstandings about adoption. It is essential that the counselor respond to these misunderstandings with sensitivity and gentleness, recognizing that these are some of birthparents’ very real fears about letting go of their child. It is also important, after listening carefully and being certain their particular concerns are understood, to educate birthparents about the reality of adoption as it is today. This will help them to become aware of their own emotion-laden misunderstandings and, with the counselor’s support, to begin to re-evaluate the validity of such beliefs for the important decision they are facing. After careful thought, some women may choose to make an adoption plan, whereas others may choose to parent their children. The important thing, however, will be that birthparents make a rational, informed decision, based upon both cognitive and emotional responses rather than upon emotional responses alone.
As these misunderstandings are addressed, specific attention will be given to the task of the counselor in helping to correct them. General comments will be made later about how counselors can present adoption positively.
Misunderstanding #1: A birthmother who cares about her child would not think of adoption.
It is possible that this misunderstanding causes birthparents the most suffering. They think others will view them as cold, uncaring, ruthless people if they release their child for adoption. Some question themselves during their pregnancy, wondering if they are indeed unloving people for considering adoption. To some, adoption seems extremely unnatural. The wonder of feeling life, the miracle of birth, and the joy of seeing a newborn child seem incompatible with the decision not to parent. How can such a paradox be explained except by the belief that a birthmother making an adoption plan just does not care?
Birthparents, of course, will express this dilemma in different ways. As they are struggling with guilt feelings which condemn them for rejecting and/or abandoning their child and with self-esteem problems that lead them to conclude “I am unloving,” “I am no good,” it is the counselor’s task to continually reassure birthmothers that they are indeed loving people and that adoption can be a loving decision for a child.
How might a counselor do this? Although there may be many ways, a few suggestions follow:
1. Believe wholeheartedly that birthparents who release are loving people making a difficult choice and that adoption can be a very caring decision. If counselors are uncertain of this, their lack of assurance will be communicated to birthparents. The genuineness, sincerity, and warmth counselors display as they work with birthparents will be a primary tool in presenting adoption positively.
2. Explore with birthparents the source of their belief that a mother who releases her child is not a loving person. Perhaps this message has come from parents, friends, someone at school, television, or an adoptee. Counselors must help birthparents assess whether it is really important to have the approval of their particular information source. If approval is necessary, birthparents may need to discuss why the information source feels adoption is not good. Chances are the information source will also be operating on misunderstandings. In the case of birthfathers and parents who view adoption negatively, it is important to involve them in counseling also. Those birthparents who choose to release and who face opposition for this decision from significant people in their lives will require consistent support and encouragement from their counselor.
3. Assist birthparents in recognizing the feelings of care and concern they have for their unborn children. Doing so may be difficult for some birthparents because they deny many such feelings in order to avoid emotional attachment to the children. Allowing a child to be born is certainly one of the greatest expressions of love a birthparent can give during a time when it is so convenient to dispose of one’s “mistake.” Many birthmothers are very conscious about good nutrition and regular prenatal care. Many birthparents acknowledge, often with embarrassment, that when they are alone, they talk to their children about their pregnancies, their plans to release, and their hopes and fears regarding this. It is important for birthparents to recognize that these acts of protecting, nourishing, and nurturing their unborn children are deeds of love. It is also important that birthparents see adoption as a response to strong maternal instinct just as surely as parenting is. Most birthmothers who release love their children in a self-sacrificing way. Their love is so great that the needs and best interests of their children are considered primary.
4. Exchanging gifts and letters between birthparents and adoptive parents or contact with others involved in adoption. These will be discussed later.
Misunderstanding #2: A birthmother will never know anything about her child and his/her adoptive parents in the following years.
Some birthparents find adoption undesirable because they fear a future of never knowing anything about their child’s circumstances. To lovingly carry a child for nine months, give birth, and then release the child to strangers seems irresponsible, unloving, and frightening to many birthmothers.
It is not difficult to understand where this misunderstanding originated. During this century in the United States, secrecy in every part of the adoption process was thought to be best for everyone. Adoptive couples, knowing nothing of the child’s background, could more easily think of the child as their biological child. Birthparents could relinquish their child, leave the experience, and go on with their lives. Adoptees could be spared from the illegitimate status assigned to them and not have to deal with the fact that they have two sets of parents.
What has become apparent, however, is that this policy of secrecy has not been best for everyone. In fact, such total secrecy has been harmful to many. Adoptive parents who chose to ignore the fact that their family had been formed in an alternative way and who consequently refused to deal with adoption issues that arose as their child grew experienced many difficulties in their families compared to those who faced the adoption honestly. Some adoptees have expended a great deal of psychological energy trying to answer “Who am I?” rather than using this energy for the normal process of growth and development. Finally, for birthparents, secrecy has robbed them of the assurance that their decision was a good one for themselves and their child.
Correcting the misunderstanding that total secrecy is an inflexible, essential characteristic of adoption will be a matter of education by the counselor. Mandating total secrecy is one of those errors made by intermediaries in the past. Today such secrecy is seldom practiced. Rather, information sharing in adoption ranges from secrecy on one extreme to full disclosure of all identifying information on the other. Many birthparents position themselves somewhere in the middle of the closed-open continuum. Birthparents should be encouraged to talk with adoption agency social workers about the type of adoption plan they believe to be best for their child and themselves.
The level of openness decided upon will determine whether a birthmother will see her child, receive nonidentifying information, exchange gifts and pictures, participate in the selection of an adoptive family, meet the adoptive family, and exchange names and addresses. It is the task of the
counselor to be knowledgeable about the particular policies adoption agencies hold in regard to openness. For instance, suppose a birthmother indicates she is opposed to adoption because she believes she would not be able to participate in selecting the adoptive family. The counselor, after discussing with her why she believes she could not participate, could acknowledge that, while there was a time when agencies made all the decisions, that no longer is true. The counselor could then refer the young woman to an agency which would honor her requests. Many birthparents are surprised and delighted when they learn they may be involved in decision-making regarding their child’s placement. Such participation, when handled properly, without compromise to professional ethics, can reduce the guilt and helplessness birthparents experience and can indeed make adoption a very positive event for them.
Exchanging non-identifying information, gifts, and pictures are activities that can also be suggested to birthmothers struggling with secrecy concerns. Again, these will be discussed later.
Misunderstanding #3: Adoption is an irresponsible solution to an unplanned pregnancy.
Some birthmothers struggle with adoption because they believe that by not assuming responsibility for the children they conceived, they are behaving irresponsibly. They feel they must suffer the consequences of parenting for their mistake of conceiving. Some see parenting as their just punishment for becoming pregnant or for being sexually active. Therefore, passing the responsibility of caring for their children on to adoptive parents would be not only irresponsible but also morally wrong.
This attitude is not easy to overcome. These birthmothers often feel very guilty about releasing. Some may acknowledge that while they really have no
desire to parent the child due to their own limited resources – psychological, financial, and spiritual – they feel it is their duty to parent anyway.
In dealing with this misunderstanding, it may be helpful for the counselor to discuss the following questions with birthmothers:
1. What has been the “mistake” in this situation? Has becoming pregnant
been the mistake, or has the sexual activity been the real error?
The purpose of discussing this question is to help the birthmother clarify her “mistake.” The answer to this will, of course, depend on the birthmother’s particular value system. What the counselor will often find is that even though the birthmother is genuinely sorry about the pregnancy, she is also feeling guilty about her sexual activity. A relationship that she has hoped would meet certain needs and bring happiness has instead brought pain.
2. What has been/will be the irresponsible behavior in this situation? Is choosing not to parent irresponsible? Was becoming pregnant irresponsible? Was the sexual activity, regardless of whether pregnancy occurred, the behavior that was irresponsible?
The purpose of this question is to help birthmothers identify the exact reason for an often vague feeling of irresponsibility. It is important to help birthmothers attach the feeling of irresponsibility to the appropriate experience. While some will believe that choosing not to parent causes the feeling of irresponsibility, others will find that this feeling is more closely associated with indiscriminate sexual behavior, premarital sexual behavior, or carelessness with or failure to use contraceptives. When this sense of irresponsibility can be identified with a specific experience, some birthmothers are able to begin putting this misunderstanding into perspective. They realize that what they are feeling irresponsible about is not necessarily the parenting decision but, rather, other factors.
3. What is irresponsible behavior now that I am already pregnant?
By discussing this question, counselors will be exploring with birthmothers what irresponsibility means to them. It may be necessary and helpful for counselors to gently challenge a birthmother’s definition of responsibility if it is a particularly narrow definition. Is it responsible to parent a child without financial or psychological stability or few support systems? Is choosing to parent a responsible decision when a birthmother has so many unmet needs herself that it will be difficult for her to view her child in any way except narcissistically?
In such situations, choosing to parent may not be a responsible choice. It may be helpful for counselors to help birthmothers broaden their definition of responsibility. Suzanne Arms, in her book To Love and Let Go, suggests that “giving up a child out of love and respect for its needs is one form of mothering and a most legitimate one.” Birthmothers must be helped to recognize that responsibility is not limited only to the rearing of children.
4. What should birthmothers consider themselves responsible for?
This question closely follows the third, given that parenting may not be a responsible decision for all. Birthmothers must consider what they need to be responsible for. Birthmothers need to be responsible in their decision-making as they plan for their child’s future. Responsible decision-making requires being knowledgeable about all of one’s alternatives, recognizing the consequences of each choice, and, finally, making a plan for the child considering what is in his/her best interests. Making decisions impulsively or based only on emotions is not responsible decision-making.
A final thought for birthmothers who feel the need to parent as punishment for their sexual activity or pregnancy: eighteen years of parenting when one is unprepared is a rather severe punishment. Most birthmothers choosing to parent for this reason feel they have paid their dues after a year or two. The problem then exists of what to do with a child who has been treated so unfairly. In such situations it would be helpful for the counselor to talk with the birthmother about forgiveness. Particularly if she is a Christian, the birthmother can be reminded of God’s forgiveness and God’s desire that she continue with her life as a joyful, forgiven person. God does not punish birthmothers by sentencing them to a life of parenting when they are not ready for it. Rather, God forgives.
Misunderstanding #4: A birthmother will eventually forget about the child she released for adoption.
This fourth misunderstanding also continues to perpetuate a negative view of adoption. A birthmother does not forget the child released, nor does she want to forget. What she does want, however, is to be able to continue with her life, not forgetting, but not being crippled emotionally by her loss. She wants to remember her pregnancy, the birth experience, and those first precious hours or days with her child in the hospital. In her remembering, she wants primarily to feel the assurance that she has made the most loving, mature decision she could possibly have made, given her unique circumstances at that time in her young life.
When birthmothers are expected to forget their loss, adoption continues to be cast in a negative light. Many tragic experiences can be recalled by birthmothers of ten, twenty, or more years ago who did release a child. They were expected to forget their child and to continue with their lives. They suffered in silence. They were seldom encouraged to grieve, and, therefore, it was difficult for them to reach a healthy closure. For them, adoption has been a very painful and lonely experience. When young women
who are pregnant talk to these women, it is no surprise that adoption is presented as an undesirable choice.
To challenge this misunderstanding, counselors have two primary tasks. First, they should be aware of the resources of adoption agencies to which they refer birthmothers. Counselors must be aware of the post-release counseling services available through a given adoption agency. A birthmother will need support from trained counselors not only during the decision-making process but also during her grief following the child’s birth. If an agency is not as completely committed to counseling following birth as it is to pre-birth concerns, the counselors would do well to refer birthmothers elsewhere. Birthmothers should only be referred to those agencies which are as concerned about the birthmother’s well-being as they are about the child’s adoption.
Second, counselors should be sensitive to the tremendous loss birthmothers experience and be willing to share this pain with them. Counselors must be aware of the significance of a birthmother’s loss in a release and be willing to help her grieve. It is not possible to deal with this subject in depth here, but the adoption agency should have professional social workers able to assist in this process when needed.
There are some things counselors can do to help grieving birthmothers even without an extensive understanding of the grief process. These include:
1. Educate birthmothers about feelings they will experience after their child’s birth. Some birthmothers, eagerly looking forward to the end of their pregnancy, assume they will feel only relief once their life can continue as before. They are surprised when tears come at the thought of leaving the child. They interpret their sadness as a sign that their decision to release was not a good one. A birthmother must know that, regardless of how she may feel at the end of her pregnancy, she will experience pain. If she has loved her child, as most do, grief will be an inescapable part of her decision to release. A birthmother must also be told about postpartum depression and the effect this may have on her emotions. It is important to remind her that her feelings are normal and that the intensity of her feelings will lessen with time. Although a birthmother will never forget her child, she will be happy again. This education, begun before the child is born, will most likely need to be reviewed in the days and weeks following birth.
2. Be available to birthmothers during vulnerable times, particularly during their hospital stay and in the weeks following their discharge. Visits and phone calls are usually appreciated. Also, flowers, cards, or anything else that lets a birthmother know she is being thought of by the counselor will be helpful. Birthmothers will need the support of their counselor more than ever after the birth of their child.
3. Take cues from the birthmother as to what she is needing. Many counselors, unable to deal with the suffering of birthmothers, set their own agenda for a visit, based on their own needs rather than on the concerns of the birthmother. For instance, some counselors, not able to sit through the silence grieving parents often experience, give birthmothers a lengthy pep talk about the “rightness” of their decision, and leave. This type of insensitive visit is inexcusable. A touch or a hug would be more appropriate and helpful at a time when words do not exist for the pain being felt.
4. Do not try to “cheer up” a birthmother. Any loss is difficult. Often, out of personal feelings of helplessness and inadequacy, a counselor tries to cheer the birthmother with comments like: “Think how wonderful it is tomake some childless couple happy.” While this is undoubtedly true, creating families for childless couples is not the responsibility of birthmothers. Such a statement gives the birthmother the message that feeling sad over the loss of her child is not acceptable and possibly quite selfish, since others will benefit. At a time when birthmothers need nurturing themselves, they should not be forced into a situation of caring for others. Feeling sad after the birth of a child one will not parent is a healthy response, one which the counselor should not try to stifle.
5. Be willing to support a birthmother in her desire to see her child if the birthmother chooses to do so. Some counselors feel that after seeing the child a birthmother will change her mind and choose to parent the child. Actually, spending time with a child is necessary for many. It facilitates the grief process. Counselors can help by commenting on the good health or alertness of the child, thus reassuring the birthmother that she has indeed taken excellent care of her child. Counselors can also help by identifying characteristics common to both mother and child such as, “She has your eyes.” This can help a birthmother begin to accept the child as her own. Only then can she begin to “let go” and eventually release. Not all birthmothers will want to see their children, and this wish, of course, should be respected.
Those precious times with the child will provide the birthmother with loving memories through the years. A birthmother will not forget her special child. However, by facing her pain openly with support from those who care, a birthmother can be reassured that her decision was indeed a wise and loving choice.
Misunderstanding #5: All adoptees will grow up to have serious psychological problems.
Variations of this misunderstanding include such comments as: “All adopted children grow up to abuse drugs or alcohol” or “All adopted children have trouble getting along with their adoptive parents.” Many birthmothers are deeply concerned about the mental health of their children and fear that by releasing they will be assigning to their children lives of emotional instability.
Recent research does not support the misconception that adopted children are psychologically at risk. Many studies through the years have shown that no differences exist between adopted and non-adopted children in terms of adjustment, delinquency, or mental health. A comprehensive study published in 1982 found that adult adoptees are not over-represented among persons receiving psychiatric services nor do psychiatric diagnoses assigned to them differ from those of the population at large. No relationship between psychopathology and adoption could be proved.
That adoptees experience more intense family problems than biological children also could not be verified. Stella Chase, a child psychologist and researcher in the field of temperament development, has stated: “In general the problems that arise between parents and adopted children are the same as those that would arise given the same personalities and circumstances if the children were not adopted.” In other words, differences in temperament between parents and children often underlie family problems, not the fact that one is a biological or adopted child.
While parents who have adopted will not experience more problems than biological parents because of the adoption, they will be faced with different parenting tasks. They must tell their child that he/she is adopted, and they must help him/her form a positive self-image and identity based on dual heritage. Openness, honesty, and a sensitivity to the feelings each has are essential in this process. Research has shown that adoptive parents who fail at this task, that is, those who ignore the issue of adoption or feel uncomfortable discussing it with their children, are more likely to raise poorly adjusted children. Adoptive parents who are comfortable with adoption and with their child’s different heritage will likely have well-adjusted children.
The task of the counselor in dealing with this misunderstanding will largely be one of educating birthmothers that adoptive children are not at a greater risk psychologically than are biological children. With birth-mothers who do believe this myth, counselors should explore the experiences behind the birthmother’s opinion. Perhaps she knew of several adoptees who have experienced such problems. Counselors should remind birthmothers not to generalize that all adoptions are unsuccessful based on a few personal experiences. It may be helpful, depending on the maturity and intellectual ability of the birthmother, to give her written information regarding the mental health of adoptees.
It is very important for counselors to deal honestly with birthmothers’ concerns regarding this misunderstanding and not to become defensive when adoption is accused of producing emotionally disturbed children. While it is unfair for birthmothers to judge all adoptions as unsuccessful because they know some troubled adoptees, it is also unfair for counselors to deny that adoption has not caused problems for some. Some adoptees have experienced psychological difficulties because of the inability and/or unwillingness of their adoptive parents to face the fact that their family was formed differently than most other families. Perhaps such parents have not come to terms with their infertility, with their child’s biological heritage, or with their child’s natural curiosity about genealogy. When parents deny a child information regarding his/her heritage, they are denying that child information crucial to the development of a positive self-concept and a sense of completeness.
It is imperative that the counselor be well informed of an agency’s role in preparing adoptive parents to receive a child. Are family assessments adequate in determining the readiness of a family to receive a child? Has the couple dealt honestly with their infertility, and do they feel that a family formed by adoption is just as acceptable as one with biological children? Have issues of openness and search been discussed with adoptive families, and do they understand the dynamics involved? Is the agency committed to providing accurate, detailed information to adoptive parents about birthparents regardless of the time and expense involved? Does the agency provide ongoing support services to adoptive parents to deal with possible difficulties? When those involved in placing children are sensitive to these concerns and willing to assist adoptive parents in their special challenges, adopted children are at no greater risk psychologically than are biological children.
Misunderstanding #6: A birthmother will have serious emotional problems if she relinquishes her child.
Some birthmothers view adoption negatively because they fear they will never recover emotionally from such an event. Some describe the fear as one of “going crazy” or “having a nervous breakdown.” Some feel they will never again be happy.
This is not so much a misunderstanding per se, but a reaction to releasing a child for adoption. If such concerns are expressed, the counselor should explore what would make a birthmother “go crazy.” The question might be asked, “What is there about adoption that would be so painful for you that you would never again be happy” (or “go crazy,” etc.)? The counselor will likely learn that one of the previously mentioned misunderstandings about adoption is actually causing the birthmother pain. For instance, a birthmother might report that never knowing anything about her child would be overwhelmingly difficult. Another birthmother might feel that never being able to forget and, therefore, living with that memory on a daily basis would cause her to “lose her mind.” If it appears that misunderstandings about adoption are resulting in the birthmother’s fear of continuing emotional struggles, the counselor should deal first with the troubling misconception and then attempt to present a balanced view to the birthmother.
Some birthmothers fear continued psychological problems if they release
their children because they have already experienced such problems in the past. If so, the birthmother may have realistic fears about what will happen to her emotionally if she releases. The counselor should not treat these fears lightly or give glib reassurances. Rather, it is important to learn as much as possible about previous psychiatric care. If it appears that the birthmother is particularly vulnerable to loss, either she or the counselor, with consent from the birthmother, should inform the social worker at the adoption agency of these concerns. This will enable the social worker to more effectively help the birthmother in making her child’s adoption plan and will assure the birthmother that she too will be taken care of during the adoption process.
Some birthmothers have no apparent reason to fear continued emotional difficulties, but this fear may still be present. Sound information given by the counselor can dispel many of these fears. There is little evidence to suggest that emotional difficulties will occur if a birthmother releases. A birthmother will grieve over the loss of her child, and that grief can be painful. However, the ability to grieve is a sign of mental health, and there will be an end to the grief process. Grieving and the emotions involved in this process should not be equated with or mistaken for mental illness. In terms of mental health, there is often more reason to be concerned about young people who parent than about those who choose adoption.
Misunderstanding #7: No one can love a child as much as the birthmother.
A final misunderstanding which makes adoption a difficult choice is the belief that no one can love a child as much or encourage growth and development as well as a biological parent. The prevailing sentiment says that being raised inadequately in a biological family is better than being raised by adoptive parents. This misconception is perpetuated in part by the recent emphasis on the importance of the delivery experience and the bonding with the child which occurs immediately after delivery. The message communicated is that if, together, parents and their child miss this important event, the child will face a life of emotional poverty. Some birthmothers, then, invest heavily in Lamaze and La Leche techniques, believing that somehow a positive birth experience will compensate for whatever shortcomings exist in their parenting abilities and will certainly give them an advantage over any adoptive parent.
The counselor’s task in dealing with this misunderstanding is one of education. Adoptive parents can love a child as fully and selflessly as biological parents. The ability to be a good parent has no relationship to one’s ability to give birth. Adoptive couples can be competent parents because good parenting is a matter of consistently and continuously nurturing and loving a child, not a matter of biology.
The counselor may also have to educate the birthmother about bonding. No one can underestimate the importance of bonding in those first few minutes of life. Those are very special and intimate moments for the new family. However, there is nothing magical about bonding, and this experience will not ensure a biological parent success at parenting if he/she is lacking in financial, emotional, spiritual, or psychological stability. Furthermore, it is important for birthmothers considering adoption to understand that bonding is not a one-time event that some experience and others do not. Rather, bonding is a process that is ongoing throughout one’s life.
These seven misunderstandings about adoption appear to be the most common. Although more may exist, most of what counselors will hear can be categorized under one of the above misconceptions. It is hoped that from the ideas given above counselors can formulate responses which will help birthmothers begin to examine their faulty assumptions and clarify their thinking.
DEVELOPING ADOPTION POSITIVELY
Challenging assumptions about adoption by giving information is certainly one way to present adoption in a more positive light. However, more may be needed. Younger adolescents, for instance, do not have sufficiently developed cognitive abilities and, therefore, are not always able to consider the future realistically. For them, information only, without some kind of experiential learning, may have no impact on their decision-making. In the next section, general comments will be made about how adoption can be perceived more positively.
Counselors must assess their own thoughts and feelings regarding adoption.
Birthmothers will not be comfortable discussing or selecting adoption if they sense a hesitancy in the counselor to do so. Likewise, a counselor so outspoken on the benefits of adoption that she cannot listen with sensitivity to the very real doubts a birthmother expresses about adoption will probably find the birthmother dropping out of the counseling process. Therefore, it is imperative that counselors take inventory of their own feelings and thoughts. Questions they might ask themselves include:
1. What are my feelings when I hear that someone has released a baby for adoption?
2. What do I think of adoption as a choice? Am I operating on any misconceptions about adoption? If so, what must I do to avoid hindering the discussion of adoption with birthmothers?
3. What personal experiences have I had with adoption or single parenting that color my perceptions of either? Am I an adoptive parent? Did I have a child out of wedlock? Have significant people in my life experienced adoption or single parenting in any way?
Asking oneself such questions can help counselors become aware of their own biases about adoption and parenting. While counselors must allow birthmothers to make their own decisions, all have biases and preferences regarding the choice a birthmother makes. When counselors become aware of these, they can allow birthmothers to struggle with decision-making concerns while monitoring their own thoughts and feelings so that these do not intrude upon the decision-making process of birthmothers.
Counselors must have accurate information about adoption and the agencies to which they refer birthmothers.
While information presented so far has been directed at providing counselors with accurate information, counselors cannot assume they know everything about adoption simply from reading this manual. Laws vary from state to state regarding placement procedures and the termination of parental rights. Policies regarding openness, financial assistance for medical expenses and housing, pre- and post- release counseling, and a host of other issues differ greatly among various agencies. A recent study by Edmund Mech reported that counselor’s knowledge of adoption was only 60% accurate. The 40% error and uncertainty rate indicated that many counselors did not have sufficient knowledge about adoption to offer clients. Counselors must have a thorough understanding of all aspects of adoption if they are to speak intelligently and positively about it.
Correct terminology must be used to describe the adoption process.
Language is a powerful tool in presenting adoption either negatively or positively. The words a counselor selects when discussing adoption must be considered carefully. A sensitive use of language will avoid the use of the following terminology:
Giving away a child for adoption – Something is usually given away when it no longer has value to the owner, is worthless, worn out, or no longer works the way it should. Such a term therefore is inaccurate when describing a carefully planned, legal adoption and the child involved. “Releasing a child for adoption” or “making an adoption plan” is a more appropriate and positive way to describe the adoption process.
Unwanted child – Most birthmothers want their children, but given the circumstances of their lives, recognize that they cannot parent in the way they desire. For birthmothers who hear their children described as “unwanted,” their sense of abandoning their children or shirking responsibility is only reinforced. Fortunately, no child is unwanted. Loving adoptive parents are able to provide nurturing and care to children birthmothers are unable to raise. A more appropriate term to use might be “unplanned child.”
Unwanted pregnancy – Although a legitimate case can be made for using this term, for women who perceive their unborn children as persons (and most do who carry a child to term), there is little distinction on an emotional level between an unwanted child and an unwanted pregnancy. Again, a more positive term might be “unplanned pregnancy.”
Natural or real parents/children – Such terms refer to the biological/genetic relationship between parents and children. However, the opposite – unnatural and unreal – is the message communicated to children who have been adopted or parents who have adopted. When parents must distinguish between their children (and that should be as seldom as possible) or when adopted children must distinguish between two sets of parents, the terms “biological” and “adopted” are more appropriate.
Put up for adoption – This is a very dated phrase. It refers to the late nineteenth century when orphans were brought by train to cities and towns in hope of finding families. Townspeople would come to the town hall or church where the children were placed on stage for viewing. Children were literally “put up for adoption” in a place of high visibility. More appropriate phrases to use, and ones which more accurately reflect the thoughtfully planned nature of adoption, include: “legally released,” “placed for adoption,” or “termination of parental rights.”
Style and Timing of Presentation
The particular manner in which a counselor discusses adoption with a birthmother will be important in helping her understand adoption as an expression of caring. Before decision-making is approached, it is imperative that the counselor have good listening skills. Developing these skills is beyond the scope of this manual. It is assumed that most counselors have had training in this. Counselors must be able to listen and, by listening, help birthmothers clarify their thoughts and feelings about being pregnant, first of all. After a birthmother knows that her preliminary concerns have been understood, she will then be able to share with the counselor her struggle to make a loving plan for her child’s future.
An informational style is often the most effective in opening the door to discussing adoption. Relate the facts of adoption in a straightforward, non-threatening way. Pressure to consider adoption is not helpful. Rather, encourage birthmothers to be informed about the choices they make. Birthmothers should not make a decision regarding their child’s future based on feelings or impulse. They must be encouraged to thoughtfully and carefully explore all alternatives, one of which will be adoption.
The appropriate time to discuss adoption with birthmothers will vary among situations and persons, Some may have already decided upon adoption and are in the process of finding an agency which will develop a loving adoption plan with them, best suited to their needs and desires. Some will come seeking information about adoption. They have already recognized it as a viable choice and are actively seeking information which will help them choose between adoption and parenting. When birthmothers come seeking information about adoption, counselors can be most helpful by providing accurate information about adoption and affirming with birthmothers that it can indeed be a loving choice. It would also be wise to ask birthmothers, regardless of how confident they appear, if they have any uncertainties about adoption so that these can be addressed before the child’s birth.
Introducing adoption to birthmothers who really do not care to consider adoption requires careful timing, which takes sensitivity on the counselor’s part. The need for counselors to discuss adoption as a choice was discussed earlier. Often it is helpful for the counselor to lay the groundwork for discussing adoption in the first appointment with a birthmother. Although the words may vary among counselors, a message such as follows can be one way to introduce adoption for consideration:
“We’ve agreed to meet together weekly for a while. You want to begin making some plans for your child’s future, and you are very interested in parenting. So we’ll begin talking about some of the very important decisions you’ll have to consider next time we get together. You’re going to be making a decision that will radically affect the rest of your life. Because of that I would like to also give you a little information about adoption one of these weeks, if you agree. If you choose not to consider it, that’s okay. However, when your child is born, you can then be confident that you have considered every choice available and made the best plan.”
Such a message can begin to help birthmothers recognize that they do have choices to make during their pregnancies. Parenting should not be merely an assumed task, but a chosen one. It is important that birthmothers recognize the tremendous significance the choices they make will have on their lives and the lives of their children. Adoption as an alternative can be introduced in a nonthreatening way, and a birthmother can be made aware that the counselor sees this choice as a legitimate one worth discussing.
When adoption has been introduced in this way at the onset of counseling,
it will not be difficult to reintroduce the subject later. It is best for counselors not to begin the next session by giving adoption information. The birthmother wanting to parent will likely be eager to discuss that alternative. If counselors follow their own agenda then by discussing adoption, it will only alienate the birthmother. Some birthmothers who recognize the importance of being fully informed about all choices will initiate a discussion of adoption themselves in subsequent sessions. Having come to appreciate some of the difficult demands of single parenting, they will be receptive to discussing adoption, particularly if the counselor has mentioned it earlier as a loving choice. At that point, the counselor can begin to give information about adoption and explore with the birthmother her concerns and fears about adoption. Many of these concerns will be based on the misunderstandings discussed earlier.
When birthmothers do not initiate a discussion of adoption, the counselor will have to reintroduce the concept. The following introduction could facilitate a nonthreatening discussion:
“We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about your plans to parent. I think it’s important for you to be informed about all your choices, because this is such a tremendously big decision. So I would like to spend part of our time today, if it’s okay with you, talking about adoption.”
Most birthmothers will agree to this. The information then given should be concise and accurate. Sometimes it can include the misunderstandings people commonly have about adoption and clarification of these misconceptions. Sometimes information giving can include a discussion of the birthmothers’ involvement in selecting adoptive parents or an explanation of how an agency screens, selects, and educates adoptive parents. The information shared with birthmothers should be geared toward their concerns about adoption, many of which the counselor will know or be aware of through messages given earlier by birthmothers. The emphasis should always be on adoption as a loving decision that concerned and sensitive birthmothers can make for their children.
After adoption has been discussed with a birthmother, it may be helpful to ask her how she is feeling about such a talk. Does she feel she is being pressured into releasing her child? Does she feel the counselor is disagreeing with her decision to parent? Does she feel the counselor believes she will not be a good parent? If so, the counselor should ask what she did or said to give such an impression. Such questions can give the counselor feedback on her presentation. It can also allow the opportunity for the counselor to clarify any misperceptions the birthmother is experiencing about the discussion and to emphasize once again that the intent of the discussion is for the birthmother to be fully aware of all of her choices.
In the counselor’s presentation of adoption, particularly to birthmothers who are not eager to discuss it, it is important not to speak hesitantly about adoption as a choice. Some counselors fear being accused of pressuring a woman into releasing, Some fear they are being too directive, feeling as though they may be jeopardizing a birthmother’s right to decide. Therefore, they sidestep the issue or apologize for mentioning adoption. When adoption is presented with excuses and apologies, it is no wonder that few birthparents see it as a positive choice.
Some workers err when initiating a discussion of adoption by describing the adoptive parents in terms of the wonderful personal qualities they possess and the opportunities they can provide for a child. While this may be true, beginning a conversation about adoption in this way does several unfortunate things. First, when counselors highlight adoptive parents’ capabilities, birthmothers often feel as though their personal inadequacies are being highlighted as well, even though this may not be the intent of the counselor. Self-esteem, which is already low, is dealt another blow. One way to make oneself feel important and needed, albeit ineffective in the long run, is to choose to parent. Birthmothers must be helped to recognize that being inadequate as a parent does not mean being inadequate as a person. To achieve this, they need support and affirmation from their counselor. In the counseling relationship, there will come a time when it is appropriate to discuss the qualifications of adoptive parents. However, beginning with this subject is often very threatening to birthmothers.
Secondly, when adoption is introduced by describing the needs of the adoptive parents and the opportunities they can provide for a child, some birthmothers receive the message that their responsibility is to help create families for infertile couples and that they must “take care of” adoptive parents. Providentially, it is a wonderful thing that children released for adoption can be place in loving, adoptive homes. However, it is mot the responsibility of the birthmother to meet these needs. Emphasizing “adoptive parents” at the beginning of a discussion about adoption can give the impression that counselors are concerned only about the adoptive parents and not about the birthmother’s dilemma.
To sum up, an effective presentation of adoption will include accurate facts about adoption presented by the counselor in a confident, straightforward manner. The counselor, while being sensitive to the concerns of the birthmother, will act responsibly by introducing adoption as a loving and mature plan.
It is possible that adoption is not considered as a viable alternative by the birthmother because of unresolved issues in her relationship with the birthfather, not because she perceives adoption in a negative way. When a child is used to resolve difficulties between birthparents, the child suffers. Ultimately, this proves to be an ineffective way of defining the relationship. While it is not possible here to address at length the relationship between birthparents and the possible dynamics at work regarding the decision which must be made about the child, some considerations follow.
Although a birthfather may not be involved in counseling, counselors must not overlook his significance in the birthmother’s life. The counselor must assess the relationship between birthparents to clarify whether decisions are being made in the child’s best interests. This must be done with sensitivity and discretion, recognizing that discussing this relationship is difficult for many birthmothers. It will be important to understand the history of the relationship and the birthmother’s feelings toward the
birthfather. Anger is the predominant feeling for many. Feelings of rejection or exploitation may also be present. Counselors must help birthmothers identify their feelings and support birthmothers as they work through these.
Counselors must then help birthmothers evaluate how their feelings toward the child’s father will affect decision-making. A birthmother, being angry at the father who requests adoption, may choose to parent to “get back” at him. Some birthmothers not able to accept that the relationship has ended, may choose to parent in hope that the father will feel responsible for the child and therefore continue a relationship with the mother. Some birthmothers who might otherwise consider adoption choose to parent because of promised financial and emotional support from the father. Counselors must help birthmothers evaluate whether the father has the means to help and whether he will be a suitable parent. In short, a birthmother must be helped to recognize that her child is not an extension of the birthfather. Rather, the child is a separate identity, someone for whom the birthmother must responsibly plan a loving and secure home.
Some birthmothers, particularly those in whom hypothetical reasoning and abstract thinking are not developed (typical of, but not limited to, younger adolescents and those who have experienced emotional deprivation), will benefit from structured contact with other birthmothers, adoptive parents, and adoptees. Younger adolescents, being at the greatest risk for parenting, will often “choose” to parent precisely because of their difficulties anticipating consequences of present behavior. They consider only the helpless, innocent-looking infant and cannot fathom relinquishing the child. They cannot imagine frustrating and difficult times.
For such birthmothers, group experiences with others who have either released or parented and with adoptive parents and adoptees can be valuable. Such experiences can help birthmothers see the reality of parenting beyond infancy. Group experiences can expose them to peers who have chosen to release and who are at peace with themselves for such a decision. These experiences can also allow them to question adoptees about their perceptions of being adopted and their feelings toward birthmothers who released. Finally, a group experience can introduce them to adoptive parents. Spending time with people who have adopted and observing them as
they care for their children can speak powerfully to the fact that adoption can be a loving choice.
Group sessions should be structured to address the particular concerns of birthmothers and according to the resources available. Some pregnancy centers have established groups consisting of birthmothers who are actively considering all alternatives. During meetings, issues in adoption and parenting are explored with the help of people who have experienced both alternatives. When it is not possible to offer a group experience, however, counselors can still develop a resource list of single parents, women who have made an adoption plan, adoptees, or adoptive parents who would be willing to meet with birthmothers.
Letters, Gifts, and Pictures
Letters, gifts, and pictures can be helpful in presenting adoption as an acceptable alternative. When a birthmother writes non-identifying letters to her child or her child’s adoptive parents, several positive things can happen. Through letters, a birthmother has an outlet to express her very deep maternal feelings for her child, emphasizing for herself and her child that the decision to release was one rooted in love and in the child’s best interest. Letter writing can also assure a birthmother that the important events in her life and her pregnancy will be made known to her child. Writing letters can help a birthmother focus on the reality of the loss of her child. When a birthmother is able to say good-bye in her letter, she has taken a significant step toward healing and moving forward with her life. When adoptive parents respond to a birthmother’s letter, she can receive the assurance that her child is well cared for and loved. She can know that her decision to release was understood and respected by the adoptive parents and that they will present her in that way to their child. In short, many of the misunderstandings about adoption can be refuted through non-identifying letter writing.
Gift-giving can serve a similar purpose. When a birthmother is allowed to leave a gift for her child, she is affirming for herself and her child the love she has for the child. Likewise, the perception of birthmothers as loving, caring young women is reinforced for the adoptive parents when a thoughtful gift is given. This understanding of the birthmother can be communicated to the child through the years. Both letter-writing and gift-giving are actions that allow birthmothers to do something concrete and positive for their children, thereby reducing their feelings of helplessness and preventing useless guilt feelings.
Giving the birthmother pictures can also make adoption a more acceptable alternative. While verbal communication through the counselor can let a birthmother know that her child is healthy and progressing well, for some, a picture of a smiling, alert, healthy child at age one is the best assurance. Pictures sent throughout the first year can help a birthmother reach a closure in her grief. When a birthmother sees a picture of her child, she, like most people, will begin identifying features of her child that resemble herself. Through this process, she is accepting that child as her own. As was discussed earlier, acknowledging ownership and then comprehending the meaning of the loss is part of “letting go” and, therefore, one of the very essential tasks in grieving. A birthmother who chooses never to see her child or receive pictures may have a difficult time believing she has ever had a child. For her, the grieving process is longer and may never be completed.
A difficult question to answer regarding letter-writing, gift-giving, and picture-receiving is how long they should continue. One year is a time period suggested by many involved with adoption. Some birthmothers request the freedom to send letters and gifts and ask for updated information from the adoptive families throughout the years. Some adoptive families, of course, are very willing to provide this ongoing information, and ideally these families could be matched at placement time with birthmothers who desire ongoing contact. It is the task of the counselor to be knowledgeable about the policies of various agencies on this issue so that a birthmother can be directed toward those which will honor her request. The counselor should also be convinced that the agency will follow through with the agreement made with a birthmother. It is possible, particularly in a private adoption, that a birthmother will be assured of whatever she requests for the sake of placement, though the mediator has no intentions of meeting her requests.
Encouraging birthmothers’ involvement
Allowing for and encouraging a birthmother to be active in the selection of adoptive parents is another way to present adoption in a more acceptable manner. While some birthmothers prefer that an agency make the adoption plan, others prefer to be involved. For some involvement may mean indicating particular characteristics a birthmother would like to see in her child’s adoptive parents. Some may prefer to select the adoptive family from non-identifying profiles provided by the agency. Such involvement reinforces for the birthmother that she is indeed being responsible in her plan to release and, again, reduces feelings of helplessness, loss of control, and irrational guilt.
A further way to encourage a birthmother’s involvement is to have her develop a family history file of nonidentifying information to be given to adoptive parents. The counselor should impress on the birthmother just how important such information is to adoptive parents and to the child, particularly as he or she begins to understand adoption. When a birthmother understands the purpose for a complete history, she will supply a detailed summary about her life, medical history, and reasons for making an adoption plan. Some birthmothers submit pictures of themselves and their children’s fathers for the files in the event that it might be appropriate to share these at a later date. Some birthparents have kept their agencies updated regarding their whereabouts and circumstances through the years in the event more information is needed by the child or adoptive parents.
Another approach now gaining wider acceptance is open adoption, in which birthparents choose the adoptive family based on identifying information and draw up a plan for continued contact between birth and adoptive parents after placement. For birthparents this provides the assurance of direct participation in the adoption plan, and first-hand knowledge of the environment in which their child will be nurtured. The nature and frequency of contact between birth and adoptive parents, documented in a written agreement, will reassure and protect both parties.
Finally, many states have established mutual consent registries to facilitate future contact. While laws differ among states, the potential for future contact exists. Counselors should be knowledgeable about their particular state’s registry and share this opportunity for involvement with birthparents.
When birthparents are allowed to become involved in their child’s adoption, they recognize that they are important persons in their children’s lives even though they choose not to parent. This involvement also helps them to be at peace with their decision. Encouraging birthparents’ involvement should be done, but only to the extent that they feel comfortable and in a way which does not compromise professional ethics or sound adoptive practice standards.
Adoption is not a one-time event but, rather, a lifelong process for all involved. Because of this, services to birthmothers, adoptive parents, and adoptees should not end at the time of legal release or the placement of an infant into a home. Rather, supportive and educational services should be available throughout the lives of all participants. While this is a very expensive service for the agency to provide, if adoption is to be an acceptable and positive solution to an unplanned pregnancy and to creating new families, post-release services are essential. Post-release services can help promote adoption as a positive choice in the following manner:
For birthmothers – Post-release services affirm for the birthmother that those who placed her child recognized that her decision was a difficult one, made for life. Therefore, the concerns that arise as time passes or as the healing process continues will be met with professional care and sensitivity, even if it requires a lifetime. Providers of post-release services are in a sense saying, “We know you love your child deeply. We know your decision was a difficult one. We know you will not forget. We are committed to making this adoption work and to helping you in any way possible be assured that your decision was the best and most loving choice. We are committed to helping you continue with your life, feeling good about and at peace with yourself.” Given the kind of pain a birthmother can experience when she releases, it is no wonder that adoption is viewed negatively when such ongoing support is not available or recognized as being important.
For adoptive parents – By providing educational and supportive services to adoptive parents through the years, difficulties can be avoided. As discussed earlier, families created by adoption will face special challenges as their children grow. Education addressing these normal developmental stages of life and offering suggestions about how to best handle adoption issues can help families move successfully through each phase. Education can also include dealing with openness and search concerns, issues which can be troublesome for adoptive parents. The opportunity to meet with other adoptive parents can offer support. Professional counseling, if necessary, will be available through an agency which already knows the family well.
For adoptees – With the agency as mediator, post-release services can provide the adoptee with non-identifying information about birth parents as the need arises. Adoptees will differ in their need for information. Some will naturally be more curious than others. The information given to adoptive families at the time of placement of their child will often suffice. However, some adoptees will not be satisfied with this. They will want to know more about their biological heritage. They will need special help as they begin to face identity issues and integrate their newly learned information into their current lives. Post-release services can help adoptees successfully complete this task in a way that will not be threatening either to birth or adoptive parents. When adoptees can be assisted in this way, adoption becomes a positive and satisfying experience.
Adoption may not be the right choice for every pregnant single woman. However, far too frequently, counselors will experience frustration when a young woman with limited resources – no money, no support systems, and limited ego strengths – decides to parent. Often she will have unrealistic expectations about parenting a child, yet she will assume one of life’s most challenging responsibilities. There is no magical way to present adoption so she who lacks the ability or desire to parent will view it as an acceptable solution.
However, a change of heart often begins when a counselor who recognizes the advantages of adoption presents it in a knowledgeable and sensitive manner as an excellent choice. Financial security, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually mature parenting, and the involvement of a loving father are very precious gifts that a birthmother can give to her child through adoption. When such a loving decision is made, one in which a young woman sacrifices her own desire for the welfare of her child, an event that began as a calamity can have a happy ending.
Much work must be done so that adoption can again be recognized as a loving, life-giving choice. Counselors who have accepted the challenging task of helping young people through an unplanned pregnancy can be instrumental in effecting such a change.
(The above material was published by Bethany Productions, Grand Rapids, MI.)
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