Adoption Ethics and Birth Parents

Dawn Davenport


Adoption Ethics

It is difficult to read these stories of adoption fraud.

Some blogs write themselves. Words and thoughts flow in perfect harmony. Writing other blogs is like walking uphill in ill fitting boots. I have found that the uphill blogs are usually when I lack clarity or am struggling with what to think. This is one of those blogs.

I have posted three disturbing stories lately on our Adoption in The News page. One was a video segment produced by the Australia Broadcasting Corporation showing an agency going into villages in Ethiopia and “recruiting” families to give up their children for adoption. Another was an article in the LA Times about “over quota” babies being forcibly removed from their families by population planning officials in China. And last was a story about over zealous (or cruel depending on how gracious you’re feeling) crisis pregnancy centers in the US pressuring woman to place their children for adoption. These stories shake the ground under adoptive parents everywhere—including me. How do I assimilate their reality into my life and, most important, into my children’s lives?

Adoptive parents have always known that along with our overwhelming joy in adoption, a heart breaking sadness coexists for our children’s first parents. We can live with that because we believe adoption is best for our shared child. Most of us also believe that on some bigger level, we were meant to be this child’s everyday mom or dad. In most cases we know that our child’s birth parent made the wrenching decision that they were not in a position to raise this child, and we live with a daily appreciation for their selfless love. To even contemplate that our child’s first parents were coerced or tricked into placing their child is every adoptive parent’s nightmare—for us, for them, and for our child.

I have no doubt that these particular stories are true, or at least partly true. The decision to place a child for adoption is always a complex one—usually part willing and part unwilling. I’ve talked with first mothers in the US, Guatemala, and Korea and most regret some aspects of the decision and the process. They regret the circumstances that led to the decision, they regret the timing, and they regret that they could not or should not raise this child. Some find solace in blaming something or someone for the unfairness and unbelievable pain of being in the position of having a child that they can’t parent. And yes, in some cases, they regret the decision itself.

But knowing that regret and blame are human nature doesn’t come close to explaining the acts committed against the woman in the news stories. The woman and their children were treated as commodities, which undermines the foundation of the inherent goodness of adoption. These articles serve as a good reminder for me. Coercion and trickery do exist in adoption, and the first step to stopping it is acknowledging its existence.

Unfortunately, the reality of adoption is far from black and white, and I suspect even these cases that I posted are riddled with shades of gray. Crushing poverty exists, social stigma against unwed mothers and their children exists, alcoholism and abusive husbands exist, and the difficulty for children being raised in any country by a poor single woman also exists. The existence of these conditions makes it not only hard for the first mother, but potentially harmful for their child.

So how do we live with the ambiguities? Some would say that because I have personally benefited from adoption, I am biased. They’re right. I firmly believe that adoption is good for kids. Happy successful adoption stories aren’t news worthy, but my experience shows that this is the reality in most cases. More important, so does the research. But adoption is not good for kids if their first parents were tricked or forced into giving them up. It is not good for kids to grow up wondering and worrying. There is a whole generation of kids from Guatemala, Cambodia and Vietnam that are growing up right now with this question hanging over them. They don’t deserve this, and neither do their first or their forever parents.

I’m still far from clear on what these stories mean for adoptive and first families. I do know that those of us who love the institution of adoption have to take a zero tolerance position on any type of adoption fraud. We can’t turn a blind eye to treatment of birth mothers. It’s not only cruel to women; it’s bad for our kids. Adoptive parents also have the obligation to honor not only the letter, but also the spirit, of any openness agreement they made with the birth family. Even if it is not a legal obligation, it is a moral one.

In an ideal world each and every child would be able to be raised by her birth family. Each and every child would have parents that could afford to feed, clothe and educate them. In this ideal world, abuse, neglect, and overpopulation wouldn’t exist. In this ideal world, there would be no need for adoption. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And regardless of these recent stories of adoption abuse, there is a very real need for adoption. But adoption should only be one arrow in the child welfare quiver. For our aim to be true, we also need to provide support to keep families together. Good adoption agencies, domestic and international, do just that. I have always said that a good adoption agency should look a lot like a child welfare agency. Take the time to find one.

P.S. We talked about the story of “harvesting” children in Ethiopia on the September 23, 2009 Creating a Family radio show on Adopting from Africa with representatives from leading adoption agencies working in Ethiopia.

Image credit: Brian Auer

13/10/2009 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 12 Comments

12 Responses to Adoption Ethics and Birth Parents

  1. Avatar karlinda says:

    Very well put. It’s vital that we, as adoptive parents, do everything we can to make sure our agencies are ethical.

  2. Ann-Marie, what a complex dilemma. Would you be comfortable with sending the info directly to the birth parents without an agency as intermediary? If so, could the licensing agency that I would assume was responsible for shutting your agency down, help you get contact information?

  3. I feel for my daughters birth family because her agency was closed due to illegal activity and I have no place to send pictures and letters as was requested and agreed upon. I wish I could find an attorney to sue for the birth parents rights to receive pictures and letters, I think that they should have the right to expect what was agreed upon.

  4. Avatar Tara James says:

    This is great timing for me Dawn. I'm seeing the social worker on Thursday as part of my home study to discuss open adoption. Your blog gives me more to think about.

  5. Avatar Gina Fimbel says:

    Thank you for this and everything you do.

  6. Avatar Gaia says:

    Just becasue there are people who do bad things in adoption does not make the whole adoption “industry” or “community” or “business” bad. Adoption does way more good than bad. I am an adoptee and am very thankful to both sets of parents for what they gave to me. I have a relationship with my first family and of course with my real (adoptive) family. I am one lucky woman.

  7. Wow – great post on a subject I’ve been thinking about A LOT lately. I love adoption (I work with foster children) but hate thinking about any child not being parented by their first parents unless it is completely neccesary and of the first parents’ free will. First steps are sometimes the hardest!

  8. Avatar Mom Wanna Be says:

    Great and thoughtful post. I have been so confused lately with all the talk about adoption ethics. It seems like no one has much clarity. I know you say you don’t, but I’ve been reading a lot and so far this post is the clearest thing I’ve seen. Thank you so much for what you do. I have recently discovered the Creating a Family radio shows. They are absolutely great. I’m working my way through the last 2 years. Some don’t apply to me, but the ones that do are great.

  9. Avatar Mrs. Gamgee says:

    This is a great post. As a ‘pseudo’ adopted child, I can speak to the benefit of being adopted by a family that has the means to love and care for you. I am saddened to read and see reports of adoption agency abuse continuing. But I do agree that these terrible situations are not the norm, just as in the IF world people like Octomom and the Gosselins are not the norm. I really hate that the media chooses those stories to be news-worthy, with never a mention of the countless families that struggle to achieve even one singleton pregnancy.

  10. Avatar Renee says:

    You always give me something to think about and I appreciate your honesty. I don’t know why it makes me feel better but it does when you tackle the hard issues in adoption. I’m an adoptee and an adoptive mom and a step mom. I worry like you do and like you I believe in the institution of adoption. I wish it were more perfect, but that’s not going to happen as long as people are involved. Again, thank you for being open with your uncertainties.

  11. Avatar Krystal says:

    This is great information. While we are adopting our son through the foster care system (which, as you know, is a different experience entirely), it is great to hear news articles and blogs about this! Thanks for upping my awareness of this issue!

  12. Avatar Guera! says:

    This was an excellent post. I am here for ICWL-(getting an early start.)

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