By Sarah Whedon, BADP doula and blogger
I was so moved by the vulnerable, honest storytelling around adoption at the Salon on Situating Adoption in the Reproductive Justice Movement.
The evening’s discussions focused on the experiences of birth mothers, and framed adoption as a reproductive choice. We heard from Susan Collins
about the experience of relinquishing her eldest son; from Gretchen Sisson
about her sociological research into birth mothers’ experiences; and from Randie Bencannan
about her work as Co-Director of Adoption Connection, a pro-choice, open adoption agency.
Gretchen opened the evening with a disclaimer that the topic was far too big to be covered in a short evening, and that language around adoption is often tricky. Since the topic is new to me, I hope I’ll be forgiven if I misstep with my language here.
Susan’s story really brought home for me the intensely personal experience of birthing and relinquishing a baby. I won’t attempt to re-tell a story that belongs to her, but I’ll share what she said were some things that that helped her on her path: she had a choice; she had good counseling including after placement; she was able to explore a lot of information; and her counselor strongly encouraged her not to make any final decisions until after the baby was born.
“My adoption experience is more than a moment in time. It’s woven in to my life.” – Susan
Gretchen then put Susan’s story into historical and sociological context. She said that pre-Roe adoptions were nearly all closed and coerced, and that these were traumatic experiences for the birth mothers. Before Roe about 20% of unplanned pregnancies resulted in this kind of adoption.
After Roe adoption numbers dropped a lot, but adoptions still remained closed. Adoption started shifting to semi-open in the mid 80s, and today most adoptions are at least partially open, generating new ways of thinking about family.
According to Gretchen, birth mothers considering relinquishing their babies are often in circumstances (money, age, relationship status) that will change later, so she raised the question: to what extent are these good reasons and to what extent should activists work to change the external factors so birth mothers can choose to parent?
Most women Gretchen has spoken with said that under different circumstances they would have kept their babies.
Randie explained that her agency does 100% some form of open adoption. She said that, “It would be deceptive to say that open adoption takes away grief,” but that it is generally better for parents and especially children to live with a sense of honesty and knowledge about where they came from.
Randie said coerced relinquishment is something they are very careful to steer away from, and she can sleep at night knowing that women don’t give up their babies if it doesn’t feel right to them.
I am grateful to the Salon organizers and presenters for creating a context where I could learn a great deal about adoption. For me, questions remain about how doulas can best bring compassionate care to all parties in an adoption. Have you done adoption doula work?
Want to learn more? Check out Adoption Connection’s Blog Post about the event.