When defending a woman’s power to abort her child in May, Alabama state Rep. John Rogers, a Democrat, made remarks before the legislature that took a dark turn. “You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair,” Rogers said. “So, you kill them now or you kill them later,” reported the Washington Examiner.
Rogers’ remarks incurred anger from people on all sides of the abortion debate, but the resulting maelstrom did not address the most damaging part of his argument: the assumption that “unwanted” is synonymous with “unloved.”
In the late 1980s, my birth mother placed me for adoption, making me one of around seven million adopted Americans counted today by Adoption Network Law Center. I was raised by an incredible couple who gave me all the love I could ask for, and taught me the life skills I needed to be successful—and, although this fact ought to be fairly obvious, to avoid any contact with an electric chair.
I may have been adopted, but with the exception of more limited knowledge of my medical background and a keen fascination with how other children resemble their parents, I grew up no differently than my non-adopted friends.
My parents never let me doubt that my birth mother had placed me for adoption because she loved me. It was part of the language they used every time we spoke about how I became their child. Their assurances rung true when, as an adult, I was given the letter my birth mother left for me after I was born. “If I loved you a little,” her letter said, “I would keep you. But I love you a lot so I’m going to give you up.”
Like many adopted children, I was interested in finding my birth parents. I was in my mid-twenties and early thirties when I met my biological parents for the first time. As long as I live, I will never tire of telling the stories of those reunions. Without exception, my experience never ceases to generate enthusiasm and joy, whether I discuss it with neighbors, colleagues, family members, or friends.
The circumstance is very different, however, for my birth mother. Even from the trust and safety of close friendships, the sharing of her story, and of our meeting, has been met with judgment, and anything but joy. After several unsatisfying attempts to open up to new friends, my birth mother decided to keep the story of our meeting to a close group of trusted confidantes so that the negative reactions of others cannot taint her own happiness.
“It’s a good story,” she explained to me while discussing her experience. “But you can’t tell it.”
Eliminating the Stigma Against Birth Mothers
My birth mother’s situation is not anomalous. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s 2013 factsheet on the Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents, the sensation of loss birth parents experience is often misunderstood by outside individuals, who lack “an appropriate level of sympathy because the loss is viewed as a ‘choice.’”
How much of our deep societal shame about adoption can likewise be traced to our callous, guilt-ridden lexicon? For example, we say that a birth mother got herself in trouble; that she gave up her child; that her actions left a stain on the family. If we could reframe these same actions, and view them in a more positive light, perhaps we could begin to eliminate the stigma.
What if we saw the birth mother as possessing the opportunity to make an incredible choice, and described her as having placed a child with a loving couple who were more prepared to be parents? Imagine the power of a family telling their child that they know she has ultimately made a brave and loving decision.
In a brief overview of adoption statistics, American Adoptions debunks a number of misconceptions about adoption and birth parents. Countering the belief that mothers who place children for adoption are “irresponsible,” “lazy,” or “selfish,” the group posits that birth mothers “are among some of the strongest, bravest and most successful members of society.”
Their statement is grounded in a study published in 1998 that determined birth mothers are “more likely to finish school, and less likely to live in poverty and receive public assistance,” are at a greater likelihood of being employed a year after birth, and are less likely to be divorced than “mothers who parent their children.” Granted, according to the Adoption Network Law Center, 1.3 million babies are aborted each year, and only 4 percent of unwed mothers choose adoption for their children.
Other Barriers to Adoption
For adoptive parents, adoption is already impeded by a number of difficulties, high among which are financial barriers. According to Adoptive Families’ annual Adoption Cost & Timing Survey, the cost of a domestic newborn adoption finalized between 2016 and 2017 was, on average, $40,000. To make adoption affordable for more Americans, Sen. Roy Blunt (R–Mo.), Sen. Bob Casey (D–Pa.), and Sen. James Inhofe (R–Okla.) are working on a bipartisan bill to ensure tax credits for adoption are fully refundable.
However, even with the possibility of some barriers to adoption being lifted, still other barricades are being implemented. Chief among these is the targeted predation against religious adoption organizations, which are instrumental in placing children in loving homes.
I was adopted through Catholic Charities. When my birth mother was pregnant with me, Catholic Charities ensured she had a safe home with a wonderful family who fed her and cared for her, and with whom she remains in close contact to this day. Catholic Charities covered her medical expenses, ensured she had access to counseling before I arrived, and continued to provide counseling for a full year after I was born. At my birth mother’s request, she was even allowed to choose my parents.
The sets of possible parents presented to my birth mother had been subjected to a series of interviews, home visits, and group counseling sessions before they were considered fully vetted. When my birth mother sent me a scan of the profile of the parents she chose, which she kept in a memento box for two-and-a-half decades, it was clear that Catholic Charities had heeded my her deepest wishes. The profile indisputably, and with heartwarming accuracy, describes my beloved mom and dad.
In spite of the work that Catholic Charities does to care for pregnant mothers and find stable, loving homes for children, the group is now under attack. In Michigan, Attorney General Dana Nessel came to a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union that forces the state to terminate contracts with private agencies that refuse to place children for adoption with same-sex couples. Nessel’s agreement contravenes a previous “child-protection law specifically allowing faith-based agencies to operate according to their religious principles,” according to a Detroit News editorial penned by Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, a legal adviser for The Catholic Association Foundation.
The group targeted by the ACLU’s lawsuit, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, is entrusted with the care of 450 foster children each year. The Federalist’s Nicole Russell reported that in 2017, St. Vincent Catholic Charities “recruited more new adoptive families than nearly 90 percent of the other agencies in its service area.” If Nessel is successful, according to St. Vincent Catholic Charities’ CEO Andrea Seyka, she “would close down Catholic foster and adoption programs across Michigan.”
More Love Than I Know What To Do With
Although I cannot speak for other adoptees, my experience of being adopted, and reuniting with my birth family, has been one of immeasurable love. In fact, now that I have reunited with my birth parents, I sometimes find myself in receipt of more love—and more relatives—than I know what to do with.
Possessing such a diverse and unique family is a physical reminder of the countless unique people who have, in some way, shaped my being. The outpouring of love shines on me like the brightest of lights, and I know it is my duty to shine it into dark places. Sadly, some of those dark places surround my birth parents, the very people who gave me that capacity to love, who have faced judgment and misunderstanding when conveying their story to those around them.
While the nation continues its intense debate over abortion, perhaps we can all shine a bit of light on the stigma about adoption, and recall that the placement of a child is an act of purest love and bravery. If we can focus on removing the barriers that make adoption difficult, and on changing the cultural stigma against those who place children for adoption, then instead of more women shouting their abortions, perhaps we can have more amazing strong, resilient, loving women shouting their adoptions.
The author has written for The Federalist before and requested anonymity to preserve family privacy.