Are Friendships Between Adoptive & Expectant Moms Coercive

Dawn Davenport


Are friendships between Adoptive Parents and Expectant Parents coercive?

It is common practice in domestic infant adoption for expectant parents to meet with prospective adoptive families, choose the family they want to parent their child, and very often continue a relationship both pre and post adoption. Many adoption agencies and adoption attorneys also have a “giving ceremony” where the birth family gives/entrusts the infant to the adoptive family to love and raise.

Should Adoptive & Expectant Parents Get to Know Each Other

The practice of allowing expectant parents to meet and form a relationship, maybe even a friendship, with the adoptive parents pre-birth evolved in the last 10 or so years. It was seen as a win/win/win for all sides of the adoption triad.

  • Getting to know the adoptive family would help the mother choose the right family and give her peace with her decision post adoption.
  • Knowing birth parents would be good for adoptive parents because they would see them as real people, would appreciate their loss on a visceral level, and can share what they know with their children as they age.
  • Forming a relationship pre-adoption between the two sets of parents would facilitate a healthy open relationship post adoption, which would benefit the children both in the childhood and continuing into their adulthood.

Baby-Giving Ceremony

Baby entrustment or giving ceremonies were begun as a way of symbolizing the trust that birth parents were putting in the adoptive families. Both families would see the love that they shared for this child and the adoptive family could see the grief experienced by the first parents. It is hoped that these ceremonies will provide healing closure for first families for the decision they had made. The pictures would serve as a visual reminder to the children of the shared relationship between their two families.

But is it really good for all involved?

Are friendships/relationships between prospective adoptive parents and expectant parents coercive and maybe even a little manipulative putting undue pressure on the expectant mom to not change her mind about placing her child for adoption?

Is the baby-giving ceremony a little creepy–like giving or selling a child? Is it torture for birth families and hurtful to adopted people with the over-focus on all the excitement and joy felt by the adoptive families?

These were issues that Dr. Marcy Axness, an adoption therapist and adult adoptee, covered in an interview she did several years ago with Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. This is the second part of the interview. You can read the first part at our blog: Should Adoptive Parents Be in the Delivery Room. We had over 180 comments on that blog and the discussion was mind expanding– I highly recommend. I’m looking forward to the discussion on this one.


Marcy Axness: A colleague of mine is not in favor of having a pregnant woman who is contemplating adoption, establish a relationship with prospective adoptive parents.

Nancy Verrier: I agree. It’s too coercive.

MA: She feels that the expectant mother’s work at that time is to really be thinking about how she is or is not going to be able to parent this child, and what shouldn’t enter into it are any thoughts about how great these people are, they’ve got so much more than her, etc.

NV: Or that they’ve gotten into such a close relationship that she can’t possibly tell them no. That she owes them that baby. No, I have changed my mind 180 degrees about that. There was a time when I thought it would be better for the baby to have heard the voices of the adoptive parents, and have the baby-giving ritual that some people talk about, which [adult] adoptees just absolutely abhor. I’d been trying to find a way that maybe somehow, unconsciously, that baby would have a better feeling about it if there were a ritual around it. But adult adoptees have pointed out to me that it seems like a ritual sacrifice, and they are the ones being sacrificed.

So I have changed my mind about that. I think it would be just for the adults, not for the baby at all. And it isn’t even for all the adults. It’s only for the adoptive parents, because the birth parents, if you’ve ever seen them at any of those rituals, are absolutely in agony.

MA: Speaking as an adult adoptee, when you mention those adoption rituals, it does make me squirm. It seems like something good to do, and yet it somehow rubs me the wrong way. Like it’s all about this miracle, this joy, and nothing is mentioned about the great losses involved.

NV: And isn’t that what most everything has been? That’s why my book was such a bombshell for some people because I did tell about loss. Every other book that I’ve ever read would touch on the abandonment, they would touch on that wound, and then back away really quickly from it.


So, what do you think? Beneficial and humane vs. coercive and cruel? Or somewhere in between?

P.S.#1 Creating a Family had many resources on the primal wound theory put forth by Nancy Verrier in her book. One of the best was an interview I did with Dr. Marcy Axness and blogged about at What Adoptive Parents Needed to Know about the Primal Wound.

P.S.#2 Nancy Verrier can be reached at Marcy Axness, Ph.D., is the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, has taught prenatal development at the graduate level and has a private practice coaching parents and “pre-parents” around the world. You can find her at

P.S.#3 If you’ve found this blog thought provoking, please share with others using the Share Buttons below (or the old fashioned way–cut and paste).

Image credit: Aina Vidal

02/03/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 26 Comments

26 Responses to Are Friendships Between Adoptive & Expectant Moms Coercive

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    What happens if the birth mother is your sister whom you have a close relationship with and she is reliant on your support during pregnancy (living with us) and considering having you adopt the child? One answer doesn’t fit every situation.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Dear Anonymous,

      Yes, you are right. There is no one way to answer many of these questions. Every expectant woman is different, with her own ideas and feelings on what she wants. It’s important to have those conversations and craft a relationship that suits all the parties, taking into consideration their circumstances and how they wish to navigate them. Offering the respect of that time to listen and learn will go a long way toward helping the prospective parents foster a healthy relationship – in whatever form it takes – for the sake of the child. Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. Avatar Natalie says:

    I fully believe that natural and PAP’s should not meet until well after birth, only after any adoption consent is finalized. Only when the child is free for adoption, should the meeting occur between the mother/father and adoptive parents.
    This is the only way that adoption can be totally free of coercion from potential adopters.
    Yes, the child will have to remain with its family, or remain in foster care, while the revocation period is in place. This is far less traumatic than the life long impact of a child being unnecessarily separated from its natural family because there was coercion from the adopters. It means that the decision to relinquish is made in total isolation from the decision about who will parent the child – as it should be.

  3. Avatar Jasmin says:

    I think that having a “friendship” between the adoptive parent(s) and the expectant mother is unnatural and crosses personal boundaries. It is only right that the expectant mother got to meet who the adoptive parent(s) of her child and is provided adequate information, but the adoptive parent(s) developing a personal close relationship with her would be done for the wrong reason, namely, around the hope that she will eventually place.

    I am an adoptive parent – have adopted two infants privately and an older child internationally, from China. To me, the best interest of the child always comes first. I did not meet the birthmothers of my two domestically adopted children before birth, and it was perfectly fine so, on both sides. My children were not negatively affected by that in any shape or form. Over the years, I kept in contact with their birthmothers who both lives in a different state, and it works well. I have never met, nor will I ever meet, the birthmother of my Chinese son. It does not bother him nor me at this point, but I do wish that at some point in his life, we would be able to locate her and let her know her that he is doing well, is happy and that his medical need is taken care of.

    So I guess my opinion is that meeting before birth or developing a “friendship” is not a developing a genuine relationship, and one can do without it. But I do think that further down the line, it can be valuable to develop a relationship and have ongoing contact with the biological family, if it is safe to do so and if family boundaries are properly respected. As somebody said above, we adoptive parent are not a second best choice, or some kind a “last resort” option, for our children, just because we do not share DNA with them. We have every right to our children, and our family union is as sacred as the union between biological children and parents.

    • Avatar JackieJ says:

      Jasmine, as an adult adoptee, I would like to explain that you need to stop speaking for your adopted children. They have emotions and thoughts that you know nothing about. They may be struggling and never let on with you because you’ve made it very clear how important your delusional narrative is to you. That delusional narrative that “they weren’t negatively impacted one bit!”…that your adopted son from China will only search for his mother to “let her know how happy he is.” WOW! It’s like you’ve done zero research about adoption trauma. You seriously need to shut up and listen to what adult adoptees have to say, remembering that your children will grow to have their own opinions about what was done to them.

      PS – In no way is your tenuous attachment with your adopted children as sacred as the natural bond between mother and child. Adopters can never fully replace that bond or heal that wound. The sooner you learn that, the better.

  4. Pingback: Anonymous IF – The Question of Pre-Birth Matching | Musings of a Birthmom

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      I highly recommend this thoughtful and insightful blog on pre-birth relationships between an expectant mother considering adoption and a prospective adoptive family.
      She gives a different perspective and I loved reading how she evaluated it. She also points out that it is not unheard of for prospective adoptive parents to “fake” a friendship and then change abruptly after the baby has been placed. They might not go in with the idea that they are faking it, but their commitment to maintaining the relationship is mighty shallow once they get the baby. It’s an uncomfortable fact that many adoptive parents don’t want to face.

      • Avatar Anonymous IF says:

        Since this blog post was built on one of my comment, I would like to respond. While I understand her POV and even agree with some of it, I think that her overall response to me and my comment was below the belt . Who do you think you are that you can judge me and my readiness to be a parent just on the basis of a single comment. At least I didn’t resort to name calling(“entitled B****”-such maturity in that little closing comment-we should all be in awe of the enlightened mind that this pearl of wisdom came from!) and typical of the blogs and opinions that have so unfairly coloured my view of adoption. I would like to anticipate being friendly (if not a friend) to an EP that was considering me and my husband in an adoption plan for her child. I would like to think that that is possible, and maybe it is. But not if the EP is going to treat either of us like doormats just because we could only become parents through adoption and not through natural means. I have reached a point in my research where I, like Sara, I am sick and tired of being told to swallow the vitriol and childish unwillingness of Bparents to accept the responsibility for the part that they will play in their child’s adoption. PAP’s are just as human as anyone else and we cannot help loving a child that we have been told (not promised, told) might, just might be ours one day. If it turns out that this child will not be ours, we will be hurt, and the choice of the EP is the cause of that hurt. This cannot and should not be diminished. Neither should the pain of the EP’s who do follow through with an adoption plan. But the pain comes from the choice that is made by the Bparents-not the PAP’s. I don’t believe that an EP’s parental rights should be terminated before birth-that is twisting my words to suit your agenda-but if an EP does decide to parent and not follow through with an adoption plan that included a particular set of PAP’s, the EP should make that decision knowing that the hurt and pain of the PAP’s is a real consequence, and they should have to deal with it like a mature adult-if that is even possible. If you are so certain that parenting is right for you and your child, you need to accept the consequences of your decision. YOU invited these other people and their dreams of parenthood into your situation. it was YOUR choice all the way. It is not right for you to blame that choice on others just because you don’t like how the choice made you feel once it was over.
        And BTW-I am fully in touch with the pain of my IF. I just don’t passively aggressively blog about it and blame it on the world like some others do with their pain around their adoption choices. I am just tired of being blamed for the choices made by other people to place their children for adoption, just because I would one day like to provide one of those children with a loving home, where they and their birth parents will be treated with the utmost care and respect. If Sara’s comment is any indication, I am not the only IF/PAP who feels this way. Also, I will never know the pain of having to choose adoption for my child because I am IF. You will never know the pain of IF because you were able to get pregnant and give birth through natural means. Please do not presume that you know ANYTHING about the pain of IF-how would you know how it compares to the pain you yourself have suffered? You wouldn’t so keep quiet on that issue. Thank you

        • Avatar Anonymous IF says:

          I also wonder about the blogger’s “hurt” at no longer being the centre of the PAP’s attention once the child is placed in their care. Shouldn’t she feel good about that-that the focus of the new parents has shifted from her to the child? Isn’t that something that is expected of ALL new parents-that their priorities change to the needs of the child? Why would a birth parent who truly cared for the well being of her child expect anything different from her child’s caregivers? Unless her ego couldn’t handle not being fawned over like a celebrity by her child’s adoptive parent. I dare to question whether someone with such attitudes would be a good parent in the first place, even to a child that she conceived and gave birth to. Would shared DNA and no primal wound be enough to make up for that kind of narcissism? What would happen to the child if the EMom kept him/her and then she grew tired of “playing house” when it became clear that this child might not automatically grow up to be one of her many admirers? Something to think about…
          I would like to believe that friendships between EP’s and PAP’s are possible, but the balance of power is too great. A friendship is only possible if both sides respect each other. Said respect must be earned by both sides. I would fully respect any EP who wanted to include me in an adoption plan, but I would expect nothing less than that I and my future family be respected as well. It’s called having healthy boundaries and self respect. I should not have to leave my expectations of such standards at the door in order to become an AP.

          • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

            Anonymous IF, I think there is a difference between expecting to be “fawned over” and expecting to remain an important person in the new families life. I also think we have to look at the uncomfortable fact that some prospective adoptive parents fain a level of friendship with expectant moms and then abruptly shift their attitudes once the revocation period is filed. I don’t know how common that is, but what I see more commonly is valuing that relationship so little that they are willing to terminate it over acts that they would not terminate other relationships over. Again, I don’t know how common that it, but it definitely happens and we hear about it a lot.

          • Avatar Astrid says:

            Thank you for confirming my initial feelings about you. I am the parent to four other children. And a wonderful one at that. I do not expect to be fawned over like a celebrity. You’ve totally missed the point. [edited slightly]

          • Avatar Anonymous IF says:

            Dawn-please post this as my response rather than my earlier one to Astrid’s last post. it is closer to what I want to say
            Astrid-your blog post and your response to my illustrate the point that I was trying to make exactly. How can any PAP feel safe in having any kind of ongoing relationship with their child’s birthparents after coming face to face with the hateful language and attitudes that you and some of your fellow birth parents put out there into cyberspace for anyone to read and judge all birth parents by. As PAP’s or AP’s we come away from those readings feeling like there is nothing that we can do to satisfy you. If we’re friendly with you we are trying to coerce you, if we are not friendly with you we are not respecting you and treating you the way you feel you deserve to be treated. And yet you and your cronies in the BP community feel free to paint all PAP’s and AP’s with the same brush and treat us hatefully for taking on the job of raising the children you chose not to raise and then devoting ourselves to it 100% And we who are PAP’s and AP’s are advised to listen to you and take your abusive attitudes seriously. Well, I for one am finished with this. I really don’t care what you and your fellow “bitter” birthparents think of me. You are coming from a place of deep immaturity and inability to accept responsibility for the role you played in your decision to place your child for adoption. I feel sorry for you, but that doesn’t mean that I have to take your abusive attitudes to heart. Fortunately I know that not all birth parents are created equal, and I know that you do not speak for the vast majority of birthparents. I hope that if and when I do decide to enter the adoption process, I will be matched with someone who is a little more mature and humane than you or some of your fellow birthparents are. You and your type of birthparents might want to look at how you present yourselves to the world and then ask the question why you may not be as welcome in your child’s life as was originally promised. And then ask yourself why you expect your child’s parents to take your abuse without question. Because that is what your rhetoric is-abuse. If such things were said in any other relationship, no one would question why the person who was being spoken of in such a hateful manner would immediately cut off contact with the person who held and expressed those views-i.e if a husband were to refer to his wife in the way that you speak about PAP’s or AP’s, would you blame the wife for filing for divorce,even if there were children involved in the relationship? Would you suggest that the wife stay in the relationship “for the sake of the kids”? Or would you respect her decision to cut such a toxic person out of her family’s life for good? Why are PAP’s and AP’s not entitled to the same sense of self preservation? Because we committed the “crime” of parenting while IF?
            Until you Bparents learn to express your feelings like grown up adults and not like petulant children, even in your own blogs, I despair that there is not much hope of friendship or even civility existing between BP’s and AP’s. You and your poorly expressed views, Astrid, and the similar views of your peers in the BP community, sadly confirm this for me. PAP’s and AP’s just are not safe from that type of hatefulness yet. And we won’t be until you all grow up and accept responsibility for the part that you play or have played in your choice of adoption for your children. To close I would like to echo the last paragraph of Jasmin’s comment. Any relationship between BP’s and AP’s must be based on safety and respect for boundaries. You and your fellow angry BP’s prove time and again that you have a LOT to learn about those two subjects.

  5. Avatar kp says:

    Wow. this is interesting.

  6. Avatar EJB says:

    Adoption is tricky-period. Just like everything dealing with people, there is no one blueprint that fits every situation. I know 2 adult adoptees, one who knows who her birth mom is and one who knows nothing about either of her birth parents. Neither of their adoptive parents had a relationship with the birth parents. Both of these women are against open adoption and feel that it is too confusing for the child.

    My husband and I have just recently adopted a child out of foster care. She has been with us for almost 2 years. We know her birth parents. In fact, we know her birth mom and extended family rather well. We supervised weekly visits with them for over a year. They are good people.

    Mom made lots of progress during her child’s time in foster care, but ultimately the foster care unit and the judge terminated her parental rights. She initiated an appeal, but then decided to rescind her appeal and expressed that she felt making an adoption plan for her child (with us) would ultimately be in her child’s best interest.

    There is no doubt she loves her child and her child loves her. There is equally no doubt that we love her/our child and she loves us. We plan to have an open adoption with frequent visits with the birth mom’s family. Is it the right thing to do? We have no idea. We research, pray, follow our gut feelings, cry, wonder….Ultimately, we do not know what is best. Is it confusing for our 4 year old. Yes. Do all parties try to make it natural? Yes. When she is older, will she be more secure or more stressed by it all? We just do not know.

    We try to always ask ourselves, “What is in the best interest of our child?” and work desperately to put all of the adult needs and feelings aside. It is not easy and is not clear.

    I have no idea what is best.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      EJB–This was such a powerful comment!! You are absolutely right–we do our best, but ultimately we have no idea what is 100% guaranteed to be right.

  7. Avatar Northern Star says:

    There is no one size fits all for any situation. Do what feels natural and right. Practice empathy and compassion. What’s “coercive” in one situation is “supportive” in another.

  8. Avatar Robyn C says:

    I’m pro-matching whenever the expectant mother wants to match. If that’s at 25 weeks, fine. If that’s after birth, also fine. I think the match needs to be driven by the expectant parents, with the understanding that nothing is definite. It’s like an engagement – sometimes, engagements end in marriages. Sometimes, they don’t.

    I can’t imagine giving my child to someone I didn’t know. Personally, I think knowing the PAPs is crucial. You can only tell so much from a profile scrapbook or whatever the agency intake notes are. I think developing a relationship before birth can absolutely be a positive experience for all involved. It can also be eye-opening for the expectant mother, who may decide that the people who looked so great on paper are actually toads. And I think it’s better to figure that out pre-birth than post-placement.

    As for the placement ritual, I’m not personally a fan. However, I can see why someone would be. I don’t see them as sacrifices, but more like weddings, when a father “gives his daughter away.” I don’t like that custom either, and I didn’t do it at my wedding, but plenty of people do.

    Anecdotally, it seems that people who have relationships pre-birth have better relationships post-placement. I know so many people who have matched post-birth or close to the birth, and they’re all about “so much is going on, how do we set healthy boundaries?” They didn’t have time to get to know one another and talk about what open adoption would look like for them.

    As with so many things in adoption, I’d love to see more mediation and guidance by a counselor or another impartial party.

  9. Avatar Beth says:

    the part that struck me was this: “She feels that the expectant mother’s work at that time is to really be thinking about how she is or is not going to be able to parent this child.” Most birth parents I’ve talk to take this work very seriously and it is only after they truly feel that work is completed (ie they have made their decision) that they begin to look at adoptive families. It doesn’t make sense to me why “this work” would need to continue up until and after birth. Yes of course the birth of the baby is very emotional and undoubtly can have an effect on the decision. But not always. I guess the part that bothers me is this is really generalizing all birth families. I believe strongly that some birth families are and will be general helped by a relationship pre-adoption and some won’t. Therefore it’s not right to say the practice is wrong in all cases or right in all cases. Both statements are equal wrong in my opinion and the interviewee is clearly saying the former.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Beth, I too struggle with the generalizations Nancy Verrier made about both birth families and adoptees.

    • Avatar JackieJ says:

      Especially for first time mothers, the idea of her child is very different from the physical child in her arms. She has no concept of the mother love that will wash over her after delivery. Mothers need to be free to deliver, meet, nurse, and spend time with their child before making any decisions. She shouldn’t need to factor in the assured disappointment of the HAPs. Additionally, I’ve seen several instances where HAPs contact, manipulate, and plead with a mother after she’s changed her mind. I saw one situation where they had the abusive ex-boyfriend/father text the threat that, if she did not surrender her child, he would fight for full custody. These are the lengths to which people will go to get their hands on a womb-wet infant. Expectant and new mothers should not be burdened by HAPs’ acts of desperation and entitlement.

  10. Avatar Sara says:

    Adoptive parents are *never* going to get it right no matter what we do. We’re told to build a relationship w/the birth parents, but no that puts too much pressure on them. We’re told that w/out early bonding children will be messed up for life, but we need to stay out of the picture until the birth parents have made their final decision. We’re told that no matter what we do our children will always have this empty place that can only be filled by a relationship with the people who birthed them. We’re just not enough and we should go sit in a corner and think about how terribly, horribly awful we are to want to parent a child we didn’t birth.

    • Avatar Anonymous IF says:

      I echo your frustration, Sara. It’s funny how even though we as PAP’s are the ones with no rights whatsoever in a pre adoption arrangements, we are the ones who need to be warned and watched carefully to ensure that we do not coerce or unfairly influence the decision of the expectant parents. An expectant parent who makes an adoption plan that is yet to be followed through on (if it is ever is) is not only deciding whether she is going to be a parent, she is ultimately deciding if the PAP’s are going to get to be parents at all. That is where the imbalance of power lays in this scenario as far as I can see. I wish there was a way to protect PAP’s in this scenario by leaving them out of the equation entirely until the expectant parents have made their decision entirely on their own, without sacrificing the child by having them live in limbo until they are placed with their new family. A child needs to bond with the people who are going to be raising them from day one IMO, but I don’t see how this is possible if the expectant parents’ insecurities are going to be made the top priority.
      As for the notion of EP’s and PAP’s being friends, I don’t think I would feel comfortable being friends with an EP who had the idea of including me and my husband in an adoption plan for her child. First of all, as someone who is IF, asking me to become BFFs with a pregnant woman seems like cruel and unusual punishment. Just seeing a pregnant woman causes me great pain, I don’t think I could then turn my deepest dreams of parenthood over to someone who has the potential to shatter them without consequence or remorse . Second of all, from all of the “birth mother”, “first mother”, “natural mother”, “real mother” blogs I have read over the course of my research, I don’t think that I could truly trust a person like this to not use me as a scapegoat once all was said and done. Even if a woman chose adoption free of coercion or undue influence, she might have regrets due to the grief she felt at having placed her child for adoption. I do not want to be the lightning rod towards which she directs all of her feelings of bitterness and resentment that come from her regret and remorse over her freely made choice. How can someone build anything close to a friendship with that potential bombshell waiting in the wings to explode? I hope that any adoption my husband and I would be part of would allow us to keep the EP’s at arm’s length until a decision has been made. Only then could a place of trust be built between us.

  11. Avatar Linda Kats says:

    Coercion via emotional (albeit unintended) manipulation is present and active when rebirth matching takes place. Moms don’t want to disappoint adoptive parents by changing their minds when their baby arrives. Adoptive parents are stressed and on “pins and needles” anticipating the child becoming “their own.” The only relationship that exists before the baby’s birth is one who anticipates losing and the other one anticipating gaining. One is completely dependent on the other to create a family. This cannot possibly offer an “out” to parent her baby when she is expected to place her baby to the emotionally dependent adoptive family.
    A better situation, although this isn’t an endorsement, would be to determine adoption placement status well after the birth and mom has recovered from the birth process. Looking at potential matches at that time would be far less coercive.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Linda, I can see your point about waiting until after birth, and can definitely see some advantages. But it seems that beginning the process after birth doesn’t allow much time for the mom to weigh her options. I also worry about the baby living in limbo while a mom considers her options. I suppose you have to weight that against the concern that she will make a better decision waiting a longer period of time after birth.

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