What do experts have to say about whether adoptive parents and expectant parents should get to know each other before birth?
A few months ago I published an interview between Dr. Marcy Axness, an adoption therapist and adult adoptee, and Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, titled Are Friendships Between Adoptive & Expectant Moms Coercive. It was controversial and spurred much discussion.
Go back and read that blog first to fully grasp the arguments, but in short Verrier and to a lesser extent Axness were arguing that meeting and getting to know the prospective adoptive parents put undue pressure on the expectant mother to go through with the adoption plan, and therefore should be avoided.
We thought it would be interesting to see what adoption professionals, and a birth mother and adoptive mother think about whether adoptive parents and expectant parents should get to know each other before adoption. Their responses may surprise you.
(We have published another interview between Axness and Verrier at Should Adoptive Parents Be in the Delivery Room. Highly recommended.)
Jim Gritter, author of The Spirit of Open Adoption
The key thing is to have a professional on hand to protect the birth parent’s right to change course. I worry much more about these things if there is no professional involved (or if the professional is aligned particularly with the adoptive parents.) Odd as it may seem to some people, we [in our program] were glad the first time a birth mother changed her intentions. It told us that she really did feel the freedom to change course.
All this should be talked about in advance and a process spelled out. This makes the idea of exiting the adoption quite vivid and it creates a reasonable, respectful, and healthy process for getting the job done. Prior discussion makes a change of heart less awkward.
I believe very strongly in the value of adoptive parents being there to see the anguish of the birth parents. This has to be witnessed to really sink in. The pain is love, and adoptive parents need to experience it. As I point out in The Spirit of Open Adoption, when the child some day speculates that his birth parents didn’t give a rip, the adoptive parents who were there will flinch. The flinch says everything. Being there turns adoptive parents into ferocious defenders of birth parents, and I think that’s a great thing for the children.
So, while I understand the concern and think it is often merited, I very much disagree [with Verrier’s position on that]. Those prenatal connections have laid the foundation for lifelong relationships whose entire nature has been to celebrate children.
Jim Gritter, M.S.W., child welfare supervisor/open adoption practitioner formerly with Catholic Human Services in Traverse City, Michigan; author of Hospicious Adoption and The Spirit of Open Adoption.
Bill Betzen, Openadoption.org
Nancy’s responses have a frightening ring of the truth in them. I think that the factors she speaks of are real and definitely should be addressed by every adoption practitioner/counselor. Pre-birth meetings are probably the major manipulation technique used in the many semi-open, long- distance adoptions that are happening every day in the U.S. There are adoption practitioners who train people how to counsel toward adoption—and the forming of an attachment with an adopting family is one of the approaches they train people in. Meeting an adopting family is used by many to help manipulate toward adoption.
There are no easy answers to this issue. Nancy Verrier has very good reason to have her strong opinion against a parent-to-be meeting the adopting parents prior to birth. Hopefully, in the hands of an ethical, values-based open adoption agency, the adoption/parenting decisions can be made freely right up to the last legal moment if there is a change of mind. It is not easy. It is very good for Nancy and others to continue to raise this issue.”
Bill Betzen LMSW, ACSW, Domestic Infant Adoption Advice Page, www.OpenAdoption.org/bbetzen/index.htm
Lois Melina, co-author of The Open Adoption Experience
For every birth mother who feels coerced by meeting and developing a relationship with the people who might be adopting her baby, there is at least one birth mother who feels supported emotionally, and relieved to know that if she chooses adoption, her child will be raised by people whom she knows and trusts. I think rather than trying to [have a blanket position] it’s better to look at the variety of experiences and say, ‘What are the risks here, and what are the benefits?’
Sometimes there is a very fine line between coercion/manipulation and support/guidance. I’m a firm believer that there needs to be a third party who can provide some kind of ‘detached’ observation and management of what is obviously a very delicate situation. This person needs to let the birth mother know what the risks and benefits are of having contact, and provide some guidance or act as a sounding board along the way. And, the same needs to be available for the prospective adoptive parents. Someone needs to be able to say to the prospective adoptive parents, ‘This is how what you are doing could be interpreted,’ or to say to the birth mother, ‘You might want to consider that if you do this, later you might feel…’”
Lois Melina, adoptive mother and co-author of The Open Adoption Experience
Brenda Romanchik, a birth mother
I do find [one of Verrier’s positions] condescending, to me: ‘You don’t know how you’re going to feel; you might say you feel this way, but I know how you feel better than you do.’ But I think there does need to be some education around the whole obligation issue. I think that birth parents need to be told, ‘If you do meet and develop this relationship, you need to be aware that this is a danger. Are you going through with [the adoption] because you feel obligated, or because this is what you really believe is right?’
I think it’s really important to have communication [with the adoptive parents] before the baby’s born. I don’t think you can gather that amount of information after a child is born, I just don’t think that’s possible. If you are going to make a fully informed decision, it’s good to know what you’re deciding.
What I really think is a good idea is for birth parents to take the baby home and care for it at home for two or three weeks. In Montana [at Catholic Human Services adoption program] they were doing that, as standard practice, and they found that the birth parents who placed were a lot more secure in their decision. And as far as I know, it did not change the rate of birth mothers who decided to parent their babies.
As far as adoptive parents being in the delivery room, I absolutely agree with Nancy on that point. I have a problem with adoptive parents being in the delivery room, because I think that’s the domain of the birth mother. I mean, she hasn’t made a full decision yet, and that’s her time. That’s her time to be a mom.
In my mind the most important thing is that everybody be really clear that no final decision is made until after the baby is born.
Brenda Romanchik, editor, openadoptioninsight.org
Jana Wolff, adoptive mother and author of Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother
Suggesting that adoptive parents should steer clear of a pregnant woman who could choose to become a birth mother is actually insulting to all parties involved. Enlightened adoptive parents are not rotten, manipulative fanatics: we want to be able to tell our children their stories with respect for all parties intact. Being present at the birth of my son assures that I would never kid myself into thinking he’s ‘as if he had been born to me.’ I was there; I saw him emerge from another woman—his mother—and would never dishonor that memory. Having been present at my son’s delivery gives me the opportunity to answer his questions about his birth. I am more attuned than I might have been to his losses and to the losses of his first mother. Adoption is not always a happy plight, but it can be handled in a healthy way.
Jana Wolff, adoptive mother and author of Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother
What are your thought?
P.S. For more information about Nancy Verrier, go to NancyVerrier.com. For more information about Dr. Marcy Axness, author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, go to marcyaxness.com.
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