I recently considered a question that someone had asked me about adoption – “How can I be a better adoption advocate?” As an adoptee and birth mother, I am always open to educating others and answering questions from my adoption experience. Through that, I have learned that there are so many other ways to support the adoption community around me. Being involved is the first big hurdle, so you’ve already begun. Welcome! Next, through my top five ways to support the adoption community at large, I hope that you find a way to be a more involved advocate.
Oftentimes, I hear adoptive parents or hopeful adoptive parents sharing that the reason they want to adopt is to expand their family. It’s a common reason and there is nothing wrong with that, but expanding a family should not be the only reason someone pursues adoption. And a pregnant woman considering placing a child for adoption should put great thought into her decision. It should not be an impulsive decision on either end.
Adoption is full of complexities and unfortunately, that is not always the perception of those embarking on an adoption journey. The widely dispersed message is that adoption is beautiful; a child was chosen, or even saved, and it’s a fabulous way to start a family. The reality though, is that it is founded upon grief and loss.
While it is also beautiful and a great option to consider, make sure you research the trauma behind adoption. Before you seriously pursue adoption, research the grief birth mothers face, how to intentionally and consistently instill transracial adoptees’ cultures in their lives, the possible behavioral issues adoptees might face, or how adoption works. Even if you already have ties to the adoption community and think you are well educated on the subject, there is always more to learn so do the work with some research. Knowledge is power and it will help you make the best choices in the long run.
Speaking of education, the more that we bring light to the lesser-known topics within adoption, the more we can create change. The way that we speak about adoption, birth parents, adoptees, and even adoptive parents matters. There are a lot of views out there on positive adoption language and it can be controversial. But from my experience and through talking with other adoptees and birth mothers in my support network, I have found that positive adoption language is appreciated by those in the adoption triad; your words matter to them.
There are many changes that can be made in adoption verbiage but one of the most prevalently misused phrases is “put up or gave up for adoption.” Those statements suggest that a baby was not wanted, quickly discarded, an inconvenience, and never thought of again. Why does that matter? Adoptees can hear this and think they were not valued, loved, or cared for. While there are some exceptional situations, the reality in modern adoption is that adoptees are cared for, loved, and valued. Because of this, their birth mother made an incredibly difficult choice that she believed would benefit her child’s life.
Again, there are opposing views out there which I will quickly touch on. Some adoptees do feel this way and prefer using these “negative” terms. They are against positive adoption language because they believe it is a misrepresentation and only sugarcoats an industry that profits off of babies. A lot of them believe that the main agenda of the positive adoption language movement is to make agencies look better. Their feelings are valid but I do not share them.
As a birth mother, I believe that replacing “put up or gave up” with “placed for adoption or made an adoption plan” matters because I did not give up my baby. I did not flippantly decide that I was not going to parent. It was the hardest choice I ever made and I want the respect of people labeling the choice I made for my child as an intentional process. Language matters, so be mindful of how you talk about adoption.
Part of the positive adoption language helps break the stigmas that are also so prevalent. Hollywood and misconstrued views of adoption as a taboo matter have contributed to some ugly labels, for birth parents especially.
A few about birth mothers that I have to deal with on a regular basis are:
- Birth mothers will take the baby back from you so don’t get too close to them.
- These women are selfish.
- Birth mothers do not love their babies.
- They are just women in crisis that didn’t need to parent anyway.
Every single one of those tainted views hurts and does not represent reality. As a community, we should be working harder to break the stigmas that birth parents, adoptees, and even adoptive parents face. One way to do that is by listening to and reading as many birth parent and adoptee stories as you possibly can. They are everywhere. Articles, podcasts, books, videos, posts on social media, and so many other places. I have learned so much from other people in the adoption triad just simply by following them on Instagram. There is so much good knowledge, perspectives, and stories worth soaking in. The more we learn, the more we are able to see people for who they truly are. That birth mothers, for example, are worthy, selfless, grieving, and resilient mamas doing the best they can.
Adoption Ethics and Reform
I put these two together because they really go hand in hand. Adoption reform is the movement and discussion surrounding adoption and how it needs to change for the better. Adoption ethics discuss the specifics happening in adoption practices and whether they are ethical or unethical and why. Both of these extremely important topics get a lot of buzz in the adoption community these days, especially from adoptees.
One of the main topics that first led me into researching adoption reform talks was how adoptees do not have rights to their birth records automatically. There are still so many adoptees who are fighting and struggling to obtain something that has rightfully always been theirs. In my own personal adoption journey, I saw just how difficult it was to obtain my adoption records and original birth certificate. I had to pay a ridiculous admin fee to obtain my adoption record from the agency I placed with. Because I didn’t have the money and am super stubborn, I found a $10 loophole and got a court order to unseal my records. I still had to wait on the agency and deal with the fuss they caused, but I eventually got them.
Honestly, it shouldn’t have been so difficult for me to do, but since 1935, closed adoptions have caused obstacles for adoptees in gaining access to their birth certificates. In the 1970s, this was alleviated a little and according to Adoptee Rights Law Center, nine states have unrestricted rights to get their birth certificates. Those states are Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Alabama, Kansas, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska. Texas, where I live, is one of the restricted states where you can only obtain an original birth certificate through a court order.
However, as of February 2, 2021, Representative Cody Harris filed House Bill 1386. If it passes, this will allow all adoptees born in Texas to gain access to their original birth certificate without restrictions at 18 years of age according to the Texas Adoptee Rights Coalition. So things are changing and the adoption community is being heard in that topic of discussion not just in Texas, but other states as well.
Another thing I found interesting in my research was the findings from a study conducted by The Donaldson Adoption Institute where it was found that “our [adoption] system focuses on adoption as a point in time, rather than a lifelong process.” They further point out that as of 2014, only 17 of 49 states had substantial post-adoption programs. While that surely has improved in the past seven years, there is still much work to be done. Part of the main efforts of adoption reform is to change the system. We should not be looking at adoption as a transactional moment of a “gotcha day” but rather as a holistic journey with an extended family and a lot of complexities that need more ethical practices.
What can you do? You can follow adoption reform hashtags on social media, follow what your state is doing for adoptee rights and adoption laws and write or call representatives to help encourage bills, and raise awareness of the dated logistics of adoption that need to change, to name a few things.
The next big chunk is to pay attention to adoption organizations and agencies in and around your community. Are they striving for excellence in ethics and actually caring for the women who cross their doorstep? Or are they pressuring clients and pushing agendas? One of the biggest red flags that I am seeing in adoption organizations is the silent, and sometimes blatantly obnoxious, pressures they are putting on women who might be considering adoption during their pregnancy.
This can simply look like calling a pregnant woman considering adoption a “birth mother” versus the ethical “expectant mother.” The difference between these two (see, here we are with language again) is that labeling a woman who has not signed legal documents to relinquish her rights so that her baby can be adopted is automatically putting pressure and assumption on her that she is moving forward with placing her baby for adoption. When rather, when we use the proper term of “expectant mother,” we are empowering her by emphasizing her right to choose.
To take that even further, an ethical adoption organization would then give her resources for each option and encourage her to take as much time as she needs to decide what is right for her and her baby’s future. To take it even further, if that woman decides to parent, an ethical adoption organization would congratulate her, support her by pointing her towards the next steps in parenting, and not try and coerce her back to the adoption discussion. Watch for things like this when you are working with or hear about agencies and organizations in your community.
Are you considering adopting a child through an agency? Ask all of the questions that you can think of. See what views they hold, what proactive practices they enlist to protect an expectant mother’s choice, what post-adoption services they encourage birth parents to utilize, and how they holistically focus on the entire journey and not just placement. While there are so many other things worth unpacking in this section, it’s a lot to unravel. I myself am chewing as fast as I can to digest the vast world of adoption reform and ethics.
My last piece of advice about how to be an impactful adoption advocate is to donate. There are so many post-adoption services organizations, adoption agencies, lobbying groups, and community-focused adoption groups that are doing some amazing work. Dig into your community and see what is around you, then research that organization/group. If you feel compelled, go donate to them. Many of these groups are in desperate need of funding, especially those who are working to help birth parents and adoptees post-placement. If your heart tugs towards a particular one or their mission just speaks to you, follow that instinct. Help support their efforts within your community.
Being an adoption advocate is all about being an ambassador for adoptees and birth parents. It’s a worthy cause. I hope that after reading these ways to be more involved, you are inspired to elevate your current efforts in the passion you have surrounding adoption. There is much to be done but it’s all possible with the network we are building as an adoption community.