Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is There Choice?

Cedar, over at Adoption Critique, has a post up about coercion and adoption and one of the things that struck me most was this quote . . .

--“Coercion” describes any practice designed to remove a mother’s freedom of choice by the use of influence, persuasion, fraud, or duress. A coerced “choice’ is not a “choice” at all.—

See, I believe MANY First Moms and Adoptive Moms, want to . . . need to . . . believe that there is choice in the world of Domestic Adoption. Not only, because it is much easier to accept and hold on to, but because it is also carefully woven into our society through the Adoption Industry itself. A careful calculation of using our media and current culture to feed into our belief system that adoption is the perfect answer for unplanned pregnancy.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post, , Birthmother, Good Mother about the publication the Adoption Industry uses to teach others how to “convince” a pregnant mom that adoption is the “loving” option. Ultimately, their goal was to learn, through in-depth research, how best to ensure that more women “choose” adoption for their unborn babies. It was a study on the right things to say to a confused, frightened pregnant mom facing an unplanned pregnancy so that she might actually consider giving up her baby and walking away believing it was her “choice” to do so.

In their own words they clearly state . . .

--This interviewing methodology brings awareness of the motivations and perceptions that affect the decisions that people make and enhances understanding of how emotional needs guide behavior.—

In other words, they studied and learned the right things to say, the best tactics to use, in order to “guide behavior” in the way most beneficial to them. And then they collected these studies and presented them to those working personally with women facing unplanned pregnancies in the hopes of arming them with the best weapons available to ensure the encouragement of more babies given up for adoption.

And how does this translate to what is being fed into our society and said to women facing unplanned pregnancies?

Well, for the first it’s clear, as there really is no question how the majority of society views adoption. And when you read this from their own words . . .

--Deliver the message . . . choosing adoption is what it means to be a good mother. Use the media and public relations to help potential birthmothers understand adoption in advance of unplanned pregnancy.—

. . . It’s not hard to see why so many pregnant women are so quick to believe adoption is the right answer since the industry very carefully “uses” the media and public to ensure this very thought exists in women long before they even may become pregnant.

So they already have their hand in the pot before a women may ever face an unexpected pregnancy. They are already playing the coercion game long before anyone recognizes it.

But what about when a woman then does find herself in an unplanned pregnancy? Do their suggestions in Birthmother, Good Mother, carry over into the real life situations she faces?

For that answer, really, all you have to do is talk to First Mom’s who have lost their children, listen to what they were told and travel the internet, read what so many adoption agencies say on their pages in their “claims” to help a woman decide what is best for her and her baby.

Nine times out of ten, you will find yourself hearing an eerily similar script repeated over and over again, matching that which came from their research on how best to convince a mom to give up her baby.

But if you really want to break it down, there is a book out there, So I Was Thinking About Adoption, that is targeted for pregnant women facing unplanned pregnancies. The author, Mardie Caldwell, is touted as being a “nationally recognized authority on adoption.” She also founded Liftetime Adoption Center in 1986 and serves as their CFO.

And so does, she, this “authority” on adoption take the time to get to know each woman’s personal situation? Does she take the time to offer them EVERY option available to them and counsel them each individually by their own circumstances?

No. Of course not. She follows the same script to ensure more babies are given up for adoption.

In Birthmother, Good Mother, it is suggested that one way to ensure a mother will give up her baby is to . . .

—Help potential birthmothers see that choosing adoption can be what it means to be the best mother possible, for them, given their circumstances. Encourage them to consider their babies needs and their own desire to do what is best for their babies.--

And how does Mardie Caldwell, our authority and author of the book do this . . .

--Babies are hard work. You’ve got to feed, change, bathe, amuse, protect and clean up after them . . . your baby needs time and attention twenty-four hours a day. But what if you are not ready to give up your life?—

And if that doesn’t work, she continues on, asking what kind of parent the woman would be . . .

--Is the father of your baby likely to help you money-wise and emotionally? If not, will you be able to cope by yourself?

--Do you have school or work that will take up a lot of your time?—

--Can you give your child the kind of life he or she deserves? The kind of life you want for them?

--Are you truly ready to give up your life to become mom to your baby?

And if all that fails, she encourages the “list.” The one so many of us First Mom’s were told to make to show just how little we have to give our child and how much more another, more deserving, couple can offer. Even in her own book she shows an example of such list. On one side is what the mother can offer and the only thing that is listed is love. But on the other side, on what the adoptive parents can offer it goes on and on and if you could see it, imagine two pages, one close to empty from what a mother could offer her child and the other full to the bottom of what adoptive parents could offer.

Birthmother, Good mother also suggests . . .

--Make sure the potential birthmothers understand the extensive screening procedures that are followed in selecting adoptive parents so they will believe that their babies will be cared for.—

And Mardie Caldwell, in her book, promises just that . . .

--Your adoption professional will screen and pre-qualify all the adoptive families that are working with them . . . you can be assured that your baby will be raised within a loving and safe family environment.—

It is almost a word for word translation. The research shared in Birthmother, Good Mother, repeated over and over again in this book, claiming to help a woman consider her choices and come to the best decision. Except where is that decision if every word is already carefully scripted to ensure she will give up her child.

Birthmother, Good Mother tells adoption professionals to . . .

--Encourage birthmothers to write their own stories. These stories can be placed with adoptive parents and/or agencies to be given to their babies later in life.—

And the book, So I Was Thinking About Adoption, does just that . . .

--You may wish to write a letter or send photos to your child or children, letting them know how you made this decision out of your love for them . . . this letter can be given to your child when he or she is old enough to understand.—

Do you see the connection? Do you see that choice cannot be a part of it when First Mom’s are told whatever it takes to ensure they give up their baby. When those who claim to care for them and only want to help them are telling them EXACTLY what the research states will have the best results?

Where is the choice in that? Where is the individual circumstances, taking into consideration one’s situation over another?

There is none. When you repeat, over and over again, what you have learned is the best way to convince a woman to give up her child, you are, without question, using coercion and manipulation in your attempt to get her baby.

There is no other way around that fact.

When research tells you . . .

--When birthmothers realize that they can influence the selection of the adoptive parents, they are much more open to adoption.—

And an adoption professional turns around and tells a frightened confused pregnant woman . . .

--You can be actively involved in the adoption of your child.

--You can choose the adoptive parents and meet them in person.

--You and the adoptive family will continue to build your relationship throughout your pregnancy. It is a good time to learn about each other and share with each other.

It is clearly not about caring about the woman on an individual basis. But instead about telling her the “right” things that you have been reassured work best in leading her in the direction of giving up her baby.

And worst of all, since the research contained in Birthmother, Good Mother encourages continuing to use First Mom’s to encourage even more adoptions . . .

--Include birthmothers in messaging by having them speak directly to pregnant women considering adoption –

And So I Was Thinking About Adoption is full, from cover to cover, with messages from other First Moms such as . . .

--Now I can go on and make a better life for myself. It was a tough choice, but I know I did the right thing.—

They are no longer only satisfied in getting babies from frightened and confused mothers facing unplanned pregnancies. Now they have found a way to continue using them afterwards, realizing, in their research, that they can prove effective in helping to convince even more women to give up their babies.

We, as a society, want to believe there is choice in adoption. I understand that, really I do.

But what I don’t understand is how we can believe that choice really exists. Not when it is very clearly stated that the industry wants women, before even facing an unplanned pregnancy, to believe adoption is the answer.

Not when they have studied, researched and learned just what “works” to convince a woman to give up her baby and professionals use this as their way to “help” pregnant mothers. They take what is suggested, twist it and shape it until it truly does appear that they care only about the pregnant mom and what is best for her and her child, never once sharing the fact that what they are saying, suggesting, and offering comes directly from carefully organized research that has proven to get more women to give up their babies.

Cedar says, in her post, that coercion describes any practice designed to remove a mother’s freedom of choice by the use of influence, persuasion, fraud, or duress and that is exactly what happens over and over again, to the majority of every first mom who has given up, or will give up, her child.

They are using influence and persuasion in the most blatant of forms. From using the media and public to alter our thoughts and beliefs from the beginning to using the research given to them to convince a mother that not only is adoption the “loving” option, but that it is completely her choice, when that is so far from the truth.

Choice involves no undue influence from anyone. Choice involves honesty and respect, not dollars spent on research to ensure someone does as another desires.

In adoption, choice is removed long before a women ever becomes pregnant. Choice becomes nothing in the name of research and studies.

Yes, it might be easier to believe it exists. But, the fact is, if you take the time and truly look at all the factors weighing against a woman from before she ever gets pregnant to the point where she gives up her child, it is clear that choice doesn’t, and never has been, a part of adoption.


  1. What an excellent post and how 'the adoption industry' has it covered on all fronts, in all must be one of the largest and most profitble industries in the world.

  2. Hello, Cassi,

    As always, thank you for a very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I always appreciate your candor.

    One thing that I wondered after reading this post is just this: are you giving enough credit to mothers who are considering adoption?

    What I mean is simply that - even in a challenging situation like an unplanned pregnancy - what I wonder is don't women today recognize when they're being marketed to?

    As you know from previous comments - I come to adoption from the "other" side as a prospective adoptive parent. As such, I am working with one of the agencies that is part of the adoption industry. One of the things that I like is the fact that our agency has "adoption" right in its title and that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is. There isn't any language on the website or in the materials that pretends to offer other options. It is clearly for people who want to adopt or for mothers who are considering adoption. Is there marketing language in the agency's materials designed to convince all involved that adoption is the best and most wonderful option for everyone? Yes. Am I taking everything I read from the agency at face value? No.

    But, of course, I'm coming to this from another place entirely than an expectant mother. Still, I can't help thinking that even if I were an expectant mom dealing with an unplanned pregnancy that I would recognize what this agency is. That I would recognize that -of course - they're going to talk to me only about the benefits of adoption. They're going to try to persuade me that this is the best option and the best agency.

    Somehow, I think what I've written has come off sounding harsh - and if it has, please know that I didn't mean it to be so and please accept my apologies. I'm not feeling especially articulate today. Perhaps if I were in the situation of having an unplanned pregnancy and was feeling desperate - I don't know, maybe I would want to believe every single word.

    But - is every expectant mother in this situation really not capable of discerning marketing research and sales language from reality? Are we all just dumb pawns - victims of an industry gone crazy? Are we not smart enough to have our own thoughts about plans for the future?

    As always, Cassi, thanks for giving me the space to share my thoughts. And again - I hope this didn't sound too argumentative. I didn't mean it that way and I am truly interested in any further thoughts you or other reader might have.

    Best and peace.

  3. Jennifer wrote, "But - is every expectant mother in this situation really not capable of discerning marketing research and sales language from reality?"

    I would argue, no, they do not see it as marketing language. When talking to a social worker or a counselor it is natural to assume that this person is a neutral party who is there to help with social and psycholgical issues; most people would not assume that those who work in these professions are "salesmen." Just like we don't consider nurses and doctors to be "salesmen." (And if an adoption social worker admitted they really are just selling something, then wouldn't that make them guilty of flesh peddling?)

    We also need to take into account that most people want to believe in people who claim to be acting ethically and in our best interest. Add in the pregnancy hormones that naturally cause bonding and this desire to go along with people who are influencing your decisions is even more powerful.

    How's this for a non-adoption comparison: financial consultant tells Elderly Woman that investing in XYZ will secure her savings and protect her income for life. Financial Consultant has an impressive education, understands complex financial products and has great brochures proving what a great option XYZ is for her savings. Elderly Woman invests in XYZ and six months later all her money is gone and Financial Consultant is long gone (Bernnie Madoff, anyone?) Now, do we blame Elderly Woman for not recogizing the slick marketing language? Do we tell her "tough luck, you should have known better?" Or do we investigate Financial Consultant to see what actually happened to the money?

  4. "...expectant mom dealing with an unplanned pregnancy that I would recognize what this agency is. That I would recognize that -of course - they're going to talk to me only about the benefits of adoption. They're going to try to persuade me that this is the best option and the best agency."

    The problem is that there are several things that are stacked against women realizing this.

    1) The first is that women are encouraged to do to agencies to "find out about adoption." Even the BC govt' website for example, tells women to go to agencies to find out about adoption, implying pros/cons/objective-facts. So they have NO idea that what they're being given as soon as they walk into the door is a sales-pitch.

    2) Agencies advertise themselves as being "nonprofit," which implies to mothers that they are objective, encouraging strong trust that they are unbiased and acting solely in the mother's best interest. "Non-profit" in this case is a total lie in that profits ARE made -- only they are paid as bonuses to staff and not as dividends to shareholders. BUT this is not common knowledge.

    3) The terms "social worker" and "adoption professionals" also encourage trust.

    4) The salaries of employees ultimately rely upon the fees paid by adoptive parents. And as you know these can be $25,000 or more per transaction. These workers thus have a huge vested financial interest in ensuring "sales" occur. A minimum number per year are necessary for the business to break-even, Anything above that is profit. Mothers are NOT aware of this conflict-of-interest. The term 'baby broker' is very applicable here.

    Again, all this is stacked against any pregnancy-hormone-affected mother who goes thru the doors, surfs to the website, or reads the mailed-out "Birthmother Package" material.

  5. Hi Jennifer.

    I think both Maybe and Cedar have given great answers to your questions.

    Something else to think about too is that most pregnant moms aren't walking into adoption agencies because they are "choosing" to give up their babies, but instead because they feel as if they have no other choice but to do so for whatever reasons they have come to believe, or have already believed, such as being single, not enough money, education, support, etc . . .

    I will tell you, I have never come across a mom yet, who hasn't said, in some form or another, I wanted, or wished, I could have kept my baby but . . .

    And as Cedar and Maybe pointed out there is a trust issue when you meet with adoption counselors in these agencies. The agency who handled my son's adoption also had the word "adoption" in it but I trusted, from the start that my counselor was truly concerned about what was best for my baby and I. It was also a non-profit and knowing that, I believed, since my son's aparents were NEVER asked for any money for mine or my son's expenses (including his birth) that no money ever exchanged hands. It wasn't until a few years ago when I learned that my son's aparents actually paid the agency $15,000 - back in 1987 - to adopt him. That's a heck of a lot of profit for a non-profit agency.

  6. And to me, one of the problems I see with any form of "Marketing" being used against a pregnant women is we are talking about living, breathing human beings here. We are talking about a separation of mother and child that has created loss and grief for both Moms and their children. To not be honest about this, in the form of "marketing" to someone to give up their child, is, to me, wrong.

    I don't expect that a woman should be given only the doom and gloom but I do expect it to be required, without question, for her to be given any and all support she needs to keep her child, to be informed of this support and given the same guidance as she is given to give up her child.

    And every mother has the basic, moral right to know the risks of adoption and should never even be allowed to consider going that route until she is aware of closed records for adoptees, of open adoption not being legally enforced, of the emotions and problems First Mom's and adoptees have gone through.

    And she needs to be told the truth - that adoption does not guarantee that her child will get a better life, just a different one. It does not promise a two parent family for life, wealth and stability.

    Marketing, to me, no matter if it is recognized or not, has no place in such an emotionally full, painful experience as separating mother and child.

  7. when reading this it makes me think of the profile books we were requried to do as potential adoptive families, i used to wonder why it was sooo hard to do them and now i know, because it is a tool to put you in the "running" for a baby, to compete, to say ha ha look what I have and yoooouuu dont, look how many degrees I have and how big my house is and how much I love my niece and nephew and my husband and oh wait, poor me I cant have kids and here are even pictures of my empty baby room, and yes I did it, and it was stuff that was ture and heck it was required to be approved and NO I did not think it was wrong at the time. sure I think that the expectant moms should be given info if they are placing but I really think it should be more facts and philosphy on things and not a profile with our best faces on and where we vacation!

  8. Mama Bear - I had to read through this twice and, right now, all I can say is THANK YOU for you honesty. That is all I ever ask for and try to do myself.

    I'm sorry. I know this is short and sweet and might not make much sense but again . . . THANK YOU!

  9. Caldwell's list is so retarded-I mean how many married Mothers are there out there that have had a baby and then gone back to work or continued in school. And how many widows started to work or went back to school. No one tells them that they are giving their children a terrible life. No one tells them to give their children to married stay at home Moms. Especially in today's modern world, where most Mothers DO work and further their education, this group of questions is from outer space. In my day, children were expected to help the family unit-do chores, and take care of younger siblings and do as much for themselves as they could to help their Parents acheive what they needed to achieve for the family. Caldwell's mindset not only hurts "birthmothers", it hurts children as well as they are overprotected, undereducated in how to run a household and end up lazy to boot. Self reliance is lost and so are important lessons about being a human being and about life.