In all the years I've been a part of the fight for adoption reform and family preservation, in all the different First Moms I have come to know, the many stories and experiences I have heard, there is one overwhelming similarity we all share . . .
We wanted to keep and raise our children but, for whatever reason, unique to our own experiences, we believed giving our babies up for adoption was what we had to do. We didn’t have the confidence in ourselves, the belief in our own importance to our child, and were left with feeling as if we couldn’t possibly raise our own child and the only solution was to give our sons and daughters away to someone perceived as better than us.
Of course, like in all things, there are the exceptions, the minority . . . those few . . . who truly just don’t want to be bothered with parenting. Who, even with all the support and help they could have possibly been given, would still give their baby away because they have no desire to take on the responsibilities of being a parent.
But they are so far from the norm. So far from what I hear, over and over again, in the world of adoption . . .
“I wish I could keep my baby . . . but . . . “
Though so many have tried to do so, you cannot dismiss or weaken the natural, primal instinct that exists inside a mother to care for and love her child. She’s not a fish, a reptile, an insect, who simply lays eggs and walks away. She’s a mother. One who nurtures her child’s life inside her body. Who is already prewired with hormones that connect her to her child in a way that can never be replicated with any other relationship.
But in adoption, where I have often said all logic goes away, there are those who believe you can coerce or force a mother into doing something that is natural and instinctive – keeping and raising the baby you have carried for nine months inside of you. Your child, who is a part of you in a way no one else ever can be.
They claim every mother should have the “right” to give up her child if she feels she is incapable of raising him or her. Which, okay, in the broadest of terms, perhaps, to some, this sounds acceptable. But if you are going to carry that belief, then shouldn’t it pass to all mothers of all ages of children?
What about that mom, newly divorced, just lost her job, with a fourteen year old son who is in and out of trouble? We wouldn’t want to force her to parent, would we? We should give her the same encouragement and support to give up her troublesome son as we give the mothers who are still pregnant and haven’t yet even had the chance to try parenting their children.
We wouldn’t want to coerce her into parenting if she feels she just can’t do it. We should instead give her that same right so many are fighting for pregnant mothers to have – to go to an adoption agency and be reassured how brave she is for recognizing her failures as a mother, guaranteed that another, better couple will be found for her child.
All of her bills, from that point, should be taken care of until a hopeful adoptive couple is found and she signs away her rights to her teenage son. She should be offered temporary housing, perhaps college tuition and even presented with gift baskets and blankets to honor the wonderful sacrifice she has made by knowing she is incapable of taking care of her fourteen year old son and “choosing” to give him away to a “better” couple.
And if we are going to go by the terms of what is considered coercing or forcing a mother to keep and parent her child, we cannot judge this mother for giving her child away while she is facing a hard time in her life. We cannot tell her anything about the damage she will cause him or even suggest that he will feel pain from such a loss.
She will have to be restricted from hearing from any mothers about the pain they suffered from being where she is . . . in the midst of a crisis, feeling as if they had no choice and believing giving their child away was the only answer. And she will have to be protected from hearing from others, who were also given up by their mothers as a troublesome teenager, if they have anything to say that doesn't praise the separation they suffered because nobody wanted to "force" their mother to keep and raise them.
This mother can also not be offered help and support to keep her teenage son. And if she is offered such things, she needs to be made aware that those who are offering to stand by her won't keep their promises and won't be there when she needs them.
See, that's the thing. If one truly believes that the majority of mothers can be forced to keep their children, then they have to carry that belief for ALL mothers and offer the same encouragement and support for every child to be given away whenever their parents face a hard time in life.
Since the claim is that it's not about the demand for infants that persuades others to fight for the right for a mother to "choose" not to parent, then it shouldn't matter the age of the child she is giving up. If he or she is fourteen years or fourteen hours old, there should be that assurance that there is a "better" couple willing to adopt them and raise them as their own.
But that just isn't the case.
The myth of mothers being forced to raise their children only lasts as long as that child is of the young age where they are still sought after to meet the demand of hopeful couples willing to pay to adopt them.
Once the children are past a certain age and are no longer considered "adoptable," the rights of all those poor mothers being "coerced" to raise their own children suddenly changes.
It then becomes more of what you would expect to hear . . .
How could a mother not take responsibility for her child and just want to give him up because times are hard?
How could she do that to her own son?
Is she aware of how much damage she will do to him by giving up on him instead of doing everything in her power to help him, help herself, and get past whatever troubles she is facing?
There wouldn't be any question about forcing her to parent. Society, as a whole, would expect her to get help for her son, for herself. To take responsibility as a parent and not give up just because times are hard.
It's an interesting dilemma, isn't it?
Depending on the age of the child, we either encourage mothers to give up their responsibility and give their children away. Or we expect them to stand up and be parents to their children and think of the damage they will do if they abandon them just because they are facing a hard time in their life.
And yet, the reality is, every mother, no matter the age of her child, deserves our help and support to overcome whatever it is leading her to believe she can't care for her own son or daughter. She deserves empowerment to be the best mom she can be. Encouragement for how important she is in her child's life and the knowledge to know that at a day old or a decade old, her child will suffer a loss if he or she is separated from his or her mother.
That isn't coercion. That isn't forcing a woman to do what comes naturally - care for her own child. That is stepping in when a mother feels so desperate, so lost, she sees no other choice but to give up on parenting. It is offering the guidance needed to work through the problems in front of her so that she isn't left with the most unnatural thing a mother can do - give away her own flesh and blood.
Yes, there is always the sad reality that there will be mothers who resent their children. There will be mothers who truly just don’t care to parent and want nothing to do with it and will give their children away no matter how much help and support they are offered.
But they aren’t the norm. And they should never be reason to try and suggest mothers don’t have a natural, primal instinct to care for and raise their children.
We SHOULD expect mothers to step up and be the best parent possible to their sons and daughters. We SHOULD provide help and support for those who find themselves in a place where they feel as if they are unable to do so.
We should be empowering them, not discouraging them. Be truthful with them about the very damage they and their child could face by being separated. About the fact that there will be those who believe, for their own gain and benefit, in encouraging a mother to view herself as a failure and incapable of parenting while being led to believe that a complete stranger to her child would do better than she ever could.
It’s not coercion. It’s not force. It’s human kindness. It’s caring about the well-being of families . . .
And it’s supporting and believing in the very natural process of a mother’s desire to keep, love and raise her child without outside influences trying to convince her otherwise.