"Addressing the Stigma of Adoption."

So let’s just get some adoption stigmas (those things that run through the mind when someone brings up adoption) out in the open! There are three main areas to consider, each member of the adoption triad: the birthmother, the child, and the adoptive parents.

There has been a shift in adoption stigmas – not that they have disappeared, but they have changed. Many years ago, adoption (and at its source, unwanted pregnancy) was a talked about in hushed tones. Most everyone knew of someone that had an unwanted pregnancy and then was shuffled out of sight (out of sight out of mind!) for the duration of their pregnancy. This might have been a trip to an out of town relative or to a home for unwed mothers or perhaps dropping out of school. What was important was removing this pregnancy from sight – and from the minds – of everyone. There was a stigma that the girl/woman who was pregnant was wrong and that keeping them around was a reminder of her poor decision.

By the same token closed adoptions were most common and combined with the ‘removal’ of the pregnant person during the pregnancy reinforced the idea that there was something shameful in the situation and that it should be kept quiet. Research is now telling us that this has led to a generation that was taught to be ashamed that they “gave up” their child and a generation that has struggled with the idea that they were not wanted or that there was something wrong with them that made them unworthy of being “kept.” There are numerous cases of adults that have struggled with their closed adoption leaving them feeling anchorless – and left to wonder so many “why’s.”

At the same time adoptive parents were put in a position of being told how lucky their child was to be adopted. How they saved the child. How they made a difference in their lives. And how an adopted child should be told again and again of their luck and how grateful they should be. Again, the thought process is understandable, however it leaves out some key components.

Adoptive parents, of course, responded to this “conventional wisdom” in a variety of ways: some chose to hide the adoption and raise the child as a biological child until adulthood; some chose to refuse to bring up the situation surrounding the adoption, leaving it cloaked in secrecy; some seemed to relish the role of the savior. Finding the right answer in the societal environment that saw the whole situation starting with the unwanted pregnancy as a negative thing led to an uncomfortableness that was not easily overcome.

The conversation around adoption has since evolved. There has been a significant change in the way unwanted pregnancy is looked at and talked about. Society has moved in the direction of finding a solution in terms of both financial and emotional support so that a mother is better enabled to choose to parent if she wants to.

As with any societal pendulum, there is often an overcorrection before finding the median. In this case, we have seen the stigma of treating unwanted pregnancy as a bad thing largely disappear and a newfound respect for single parenting appear. With this, the choice to place the child for adoption is seen as unacceptable by many: “Why give your baby up for adoption when there are so many resources to help you parent?” Of course, this makes mothers who do choose to place their child for adoption feel judged, needing to justify why they are “being a bad mother.”

It’s shameful that, despite the reduced sense of disgrace surrounding unplanned pregnancy, the “disgrace” of placing your baby for adoption remains. The choice to place a child for adoption is not an easy one, and mothers considering their options have a lot of pros and cons to weigh out when making this decision. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and many come to their decision from very different points of view.

The bottom line for a birthmom is to decide if she feels she is ready and willing to parent a child. Does she have a support system in place for herself and a child? Can she meet the financial, physical, and emotional needs of a child? Is she at a place in her life where this makes sense for her? Does she want something different for her child than what she knows she can offer? There are so many questions to consider when making the decision to parent or place the child, and mothers should not feel ashamed when they make what they think is the best choice.

Society’s condemnation of adoption makes even less sense considering the how commonplace open and semi-open adoptions have become. These kinds of adoptions have resulted in better outcomes for everyone involved: birthmothers, adoptees, and adoptive parents. The mother can communicate her reasons for choosing to place, and most commonly we hear things like “It is not because I don’t love you, but because I DO love you and I am not in a place in my life right now to give you what you need and deserve”. This combined with knowing about their birthparents – from medical records, to interests, to physical features – creates an environment where the child can know their personal history as well as the familial history of their adoptive parents.

As for the adoptive parents, this shift toward openness has allowed many to feel that they can be open about their decision to adopt a child. There has been a shift from them being viewed as a savior to their being the recipient of a great gift. Adoptive parents feel they are the ones who are blessed by their son/daughter. They do not distinguish them as their “adopted kids” vs. “biological kids” – they are simply their “kids.” To continue to draw a line between them makes a mockery of the family they are.

Undoubtedly views on adoption will continue to shift and change as society changes. Fortunately, it seems like the trend is moving in the direction of respecting women who are trying to make the best of challenging situations.

Society’s concern should not be making hasty judgments about complicated circumstances; we should only be concerned about the direct effects of the decision at hand: the wellbeing of the birth mother and her ability to make a decision for the best interest of both herself and her child, the wellbeing of the child and his/her ability to be able to know his/her value as a person and an amazing part of his/her biological as well as adoptive families. And the hearts of the adoptive parents who have made a decision to welcome and care for another member of their forever family.