Monday, June 4, 2012

"Good" Adoption States, Loss, and Ethics

This is mostly a rant.   Just to let you know up front.   It's full of opinion and experience.  Here you go:

Once upon a time, there was this couple who wanted to adopt.   They were THRILLED to learn that in their lovely home state of IL, a birth mother could sign TPR at 72 hours.   At that point, unless some legal catastrophe happened, TPR was final.     BIG  SIGH  OF  RELIEF.     What an adoption-friendly state they lived in!   At least if the mom "changed her mind," they'd only have to wait a few days to find out....and if she did change her mind after 72 hours and she'd signed TPR, well, too bad, so sad.   Just get into the safe zone, baby, and then live happily ever after.  No looking back.

I hate to admit that I know this couple well....because it was me and my hubby!  

I am sickened when I hear adoptive families talk about "good" or "friendly" adoption states.  Translation:   adoptive-parent friendly states.

But, if you really think about it, in states where TPR can occur at 48 or 72 hours, these states aren't really even adoptive-parent friendly, and here is why.

Think about this:   Do you really want to parent a baby whose birth parents decided, after a few days without their child, that they made the wrong choice?   Do you want to keep a baby from his or her biological parents because you just can't possibly bear to give the child back?    The baby you've been holding and bonding with for two, three, four days?  A week?  A few weeks?   What heartache that would cause!   

Shoe on the other foot----can you imagine spending a lifetime without your baby, all because in the "heat of the moment" you made the wrong choice to place your baby for adoption?   Because influential people in your life---your boyfriend, your social worker, your mother----were telling you to choose adoption because it was "best" for the baby and it was the only "unselfish choice"?     Can you imagine living every single day without your baby, the child you bonded with for nine months, the child who looks like you, the child who has your blood pumping through his or her body?

(Have you ever read or experienced what it is like for a woman post-birth? Her hormones are all over the place. She's still raw from childbirth. Her world is upside down and inside out. And nearby, there's a social worker thrusting paperwork into her face, asking her to make the most difficult decision of her life despite all the emotional and physical effects of childbirth.)    

Then can you imaging mustering the courage to tell your social worker, I made the wrong choice.  I want to keep my baby.   I am sorry that this will hurt the adoptive parents, but I just cannot do it.

The imagine the adoptive parents, who are legally the parents, saying no to you?   Saying no, I just can't bear losing this child I've had for three days, the child I've waited three years for.  NO.   NO.

Adoptive parents---your heartache cannot compare to the birth parents' when it comes to loss.    I've had this discussion MANY times on online message boards with adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth mothers.     The argument is that loss is loss.   How can one loss compare to another?   Isn't loss relative?   Perception is reality, right?  

I'm not trying to say that adoptive parents don't have tremendous and raw loss in their journeys.    My loss shouldn't be minimized.    Type I diabetes drastically and permanently changed my life.    My opportunity to have biological children was pretty much torn away from me the day I was told I had my disease.  However, I can't and shouldn't make that my crutch---my excuse---to not do what is right.

Ultimately, after much adoption education, I decided this:  I do not want to parent a baby who is not meant to be mine.  No way, no how.   Even if I have to cry many tears.  Even if I want to believe it's not fair.  Even if I had to wait five years for a baby.  Because I am not entitled to someone else's child.   Because the "other" in the situation (be it the child or the birth parent) is a real person with real feelings, and just because the birth parent made some bad decisions leading to a crisis pregnancy situation, it doesn't mean they are stripped of their humanity.

I truly believe that when agencies charge a (taking it back old school) a butt-load of money to make adoption possible to adoptive families, they are sending a powerful message:   You (adoptive families) are those whom we serve.   Fill out the check-list.  Order up!   We serve you.    Please, be entitled.  Be demanding.   Put yourselves first.   The customer is always right.   


If you are a waiting adoptive parent, I want to stop and evaluate your own hearts.    Ask yourself the hard questions.    Choose an ethical agency that supports birth parents and doesn't push them to choose adoption at ANY point in the process.     Birth parents need attorneys who will explain to them, clearly, the legal process of an adoption.   The agency should clearly state that they will, no matter what, support the birth parents' decisions, whatever and whenever they may be.

And adoptive parents, you have to "go there."   Have that conversation, and ask "What if?"   What if, after having a baby for a few days or even weeks, the birth parents decide they want the baby back.   Would you do it?    Why or why not?  

And what can you do as you wait, as you battle those fears of a failed adoption?   I highly suggest that if you are a person of faith, you pray.  And I don't mean, "God, don't let them change their minds because I've had infertility issues for ten years and all I want in life is to be a mommy to a precious little baby."   I mean, "God, I am actively pursuing an ethical adoption.   Let me be a witness and a support system to all I meet.  Help me to support a birth parent's choice, whatever it is, whether it is adoption, choosing another family, or parenting.   Help me deal with my doubts, my fears, and my insecurities.   Help me be strong when it's easier to self-serve."  

Even in the days between when we were chosen and when we went to court to gain custody of our children, I asked God to help our girls' biological parents and to give them the courage to "change their minds" if they needed to.   

One woman I know did take home a baby, gain custody, and got a call from the birth mother asking for her baby back.   This woman was tearful, heartbroken, and scared, but she did it.  She gave the baby back to her biological mother.     I find this action to be incredible and selfless.  This adoptive mother recognized that though painful, she couldn't possibly keep a baby who truly wasn't hers.  She couldn't keep a baby from her mother.

Adoptive parents----don't put on an unethical mask when it comes to adoption.  Don't check your ethics at the door because you feel you are entitled to do so because you are paying big bucks for an adoption process. Don't use your pain, your loss, as an excuse to trample on someone else and scoop their baby up as your own.    Stop.  Think.  Pray.  Breathe.    Act.

You can do this.



  1. We are waiting adoptive parents I thank you for writing about a raw and painful adoption topic. The fear of further heartbreak does not compare to the devestation a birth mother would feel if denied her baby after she changed her mind. Adoption is beautiful and messy. I hope to be an adoptive mother who can make the right decisions even if my heart gets broken but ultimately I pray God will be glorified no matter what our journey looks like. Thank you again for your post and your blog!

  2. Well said, Rachel. Thank you for having the courage to write this honestly. I think a lot of adoptive parents (myself included) are so doe-eyed about being new parents that they can't think beyond that. Many have also never been confronted with these ideas. I know I did not start thinking about birth parents, etc until after I had become an adoptive mom. I tried to gently express these feelings to a new adoptive mom once and she just could not comprehend what I was talking about. You did a great job at being clear.

  3. I get what you are saying. But I think this is another example of how each adoption case is different. I've said it a million times in regards to adoption - what may be wrong for one person is what is right for another.

    In our case our daughters birth mother wanted TPR to move quickly. She was on board for our daughter to be moved to a different county than where she was born so that the process would not drag on for 6 months. She asked for that. We made the best decision we could and moved our daugther so TPR would be done in days rather than months.

    Each and every adoption situation is unique. Sometimes what is best for one set of birth parents isn't what is best for another.

  4. Rachel, great post, as usual. As an adoptive parent, I'm a strong advocate for ethical adoption practices and adoption agencies with a strong sense of ethics.

    I think one of the reasons many adoptive parents get anxious about the so-called "adoption-friendly" (or "adoption-unfriendly") nature of their states is wildly careless cases such as the Baby Richard case, which played out in Illinois courts a few years before Linda and I adopted in 2001. (Actually, it came to a head in 1995; I just looked up the details.) The Illinois Supreme Court ruled, in the end, that the three or four-year-old Richard had to be taken away from the only parents he had known (his adoptive parents), since the birthmom had lied to the biological father about the baby and the bio father had not had an opportunity to exercise his parental rights and prevent the adoption shortly after the child's birth in 1991. (I believe the birthmom told the father, who was in Eastern Europe during much of the pregnancy, that the child had died at birth or that she had lost the child in utero.) While I am very sympathetic to a birth father's right to parent his child, even after all these years I am convinced that the Illinois Supreme Court ignored the best interest of the child in removing him from the only home--the only family--he had known. At some point, the child's right to a stable family and continued relationships with those he loves (i.e., the people who have been there every morning, noon, and night for him for the past three years) needs to be factored into child custody/parental rights decisions.

    The flip side of this complicated situation (the Baby Richard case) was that the adoptive parents had dragged their feet by appealing earlier custody rulings that went against them. In all honesty, though, I can't say for certain that I would not have done exactly the same thing had I been in their shoes. As you well know, Rachel, when you adopt, you embrace your child(ren) fully, and there's a fine line between respecting birth parent rights and getting on with the business of fully committing yourself to the needs and the life of THIS child, who is in your midst and very much in your heart and soul as well.

    In the end, though, I want to commend you for your comments on prayer in this post. I think many of us (adoptive parents and everyone else, too) get really busy with "gimme" prayers to God, as though God is a delivery person and we're ordering take-out. One of the toughest things I find myself having to learn and relearn all the time is that one of the main purposes of prayer is to open my heart to God's will and seek God's grace to deal with the situation at hand, rather than order up a different situation.

  5. I loved this post and your heart! I try to communicate these same thoughts to friends who are interested in adoption!

  6. But how can you really speak to it, if you haven't had failed placements?

    Not that I'm saying that a birthmother should have a child she doesn't want to give up ripped out of her arms, but the longer you have the child, the more attached you are going to become. That's why placement happens in the first few days... Yes, it's bad timing with hormones, but that's why you spend the prior 9 months (hopefully) discussing and making these decisions and being sure about it.

    I've watched multiple couples go through failed placement through failed placement through failed placement.

    Your daughters biological parents come to you NOW and say they made a terrible mistake... You'd give them back?

    I hope the answer is heck no! They are your children!

    What I have seen is that many birth mothers would like TPR to happen quickly so they are not forced into bonding with their children when they know they do not want to parent, or are incapable of doing so, or aren't able to, etc.

    I think it would be so much harder on them and their families if there was a minimim, say, 3 week waiting period where they were forced to spend time with their babies when they did not WANT to. The shorter time periods are not just for the adoptive parents. They protect our birth mother's hearts too.

  7. Actually Emily, our son was with US, the adoptive parents for almost 6 months before TPR happened. Just because TPR doesn't happen immediately does not mean the baby is with his/her first mom that whole time. Many states have "legal-risk" placement meaning the baby is placed with you immediately but the legal risk is still there until TPR, no matter how long that takes. Or there is interim care... again, baby is not with first mom but in a temporary home specifically for this time period. I am most comfortable with a longer period of time prior to TPR because it allows first mom the time to examine her decision a little bit longer before signing away her rights forever.

  8. The other thing that has to be factored in, though, is the biological father's parenting rights. Thankfully, in the year 2012, we recognize that men can and do play important roles in their children's lives. Sometimes, however, adoption is discussed as though it were only a "mom to mom" situation, or more appropriately, as a triad of birthmom, child, and mom through adoption.

    However, there are dads through adoption who are full partners in their child's upbringing, and even in terms of the adoption process. In our case, I was the one who did most of the early research and paperwork in our adoption and wrote most of our "couple" biography for the homestudy; when we became parents, I (like a great many other dads and moms) was incredibly happy (if groggy) to get up for four a.m. feedings and diaper changes and all the rest. Just so, there are biological dads (who may or may not be present at the birth of the child) who also want to parent their child instead of seeing the child adopted. Those dads have legal rights -- thankfully. Discussion of the TPR issue should probably include them. No, they are not affected by pregnancy-induced hormones at the time of birth and in the days after, but certainly their feelings and beliefs about their ability to parent (or desire to parent) may be in flux in the weeks before delivery and the days, weeks, and months after birth.

    This simple yet inescapable fact complicates things in significant ways. What do we do, for instance, if the birthmom decides to sign the TPR, but the biological father decides not to? Is every adoptive family ready to give equal weight to the biological father's right to parent his child and not go along with the TPR? If folks are talking about respecting the birthmom's right to change her mind over the course of the first month or first six months, I don't know how they're going to get around the rights of the child's other first parent.

    In our family's case, our adoption was international, and that brings with it somewhat different yet equally compelling ethical challenges. We did our best to ensure that everything about our child's adoption was ethical (and still is ethical -- ethics always comes into play in terms of how we talk to children about their adoptions, and how we talk about their culture of origin and the degree to which we make them aware of what's going on over the years in that community or that country). I find the questions surrounding ethical adoption both important and fascinating -- no matter the type of adoption one is discussing.

    I'm a bit dazed, however, by how frequently birth fathers are written out of the picture. Some of them, obviously, don't want to be involved in the child's life in any way. Yet many men DO want to play a role, sometimes a big role. And even when the bio father is unknown, chances are still good that the child will ask questions about that man or at least wonder (perhaps silently) about what he is like. He's part of the child's existence, whether or not the other adults in the adoption mention him or acknowledge his rights or not. Discussions of adoption that set aside the biological father as though he never existed are problematic. And mighty frequent!

  9. Wonderful blog post! When we went through the adoption process one of my main concerns was making sure that our son's Birthmom was aware of her decision and felt that she was making the choice herself. I always said that if she fought against the TPR in court that I would not fight her. I am not sure where you live but here in Iowa we are also a 72 hour wait before TPR can be signed. Then 6 weeks later a court hearing is held to officially terminate. However, the birthparents do not attend. I would never have wanted to have a child that was not meant to be mine.

  10. Great post . You sound very ethical.

    I've just been reading on an adoption forum where the bmother signed an irrevocable TPR at 24 hrs after birth and seems to have almost immediately regretted it and asked for her baby back. The APs have been fighting it for 2 months now.

    Though many might disagree, I personally feel the APs should have given the baby back at the time - I think it awful that states can have irrevocable TPRs so soon after birth, there should be a revocable period.

    I can understand APs not wanting to return a baby if the mother is drug addicted or has major psychological issues. However, the bmom in the case I mention seems to be a nice woman with no real issues.

  11. With adoption there are so many shades of grey and like parenting there is no manual. You can read every book/blog/forum out there but until your told your (adopted) child will be taken from you, you cannot know what emotions will race thru your body. You may say you'll be gracious and show birthmom mercy and God's love but will your pain and loss be too overwhelming? Especially if you know the situation and have an open adoption (again - grey area since there are so many levels of openness)? I can tell you that the loss of my biological premature son cut just as deep as my 3 day failed placement. The hopes and dreams I had for my children were torn away, my love remains. My only comfort is that my son is safe in the arms of Jesus. Having had an open adoption and knowning some specifics of why birthmom changed "her" mind at the last minute, I cannot find comfort in knowing and seeing what the future of my failed placement child holds.

  12. Oh yeah.. I love you. That's it. I totally have a girl crush on you now.


Comments are moderated and published upon approval. Your thoughts and questions are also welcome via e-mail at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com.