Editors’ Note: The following essay is the third of three by Theresa Marcroft published in The Prickly Pear. This series is an important contribution addressing the crisis of unplanned pregnancies in America. The first essay, Weekend Read: How Abortion Hurts Women, presents the very real long-term physical and mental health dangers prior abortion causes, largely ignored and denied by pro-abortion advocates. The second essay, Weekend Read: The Harsh Reality Behind Single Parenting, discusses the very difficult job of raising a child or children without a spouse, predominantly as single mothers. The high percentage of poor outcomes for children of single mothers, i.e., fatherless homes, is tragic and a major factor in the breakdown of America’s social and cultural fabric. The Prickly Pear is proud to publish Ms. Marcroft’s presentation of a win-win solution, truly The Gem of Unplanned Pregnancy Options: ‘Open’ Adoption.
This article is very timely in that November is National Adoption Month – truly a celebration of life and the essential role of loving families in the lives of all children.
Each year, almost three million American women face an unplanned pregnancy. When a pregnancy is unwanted, and those involved are not ready, willing or able to parent, that is a dilemma with no perfect solution.
The obvious options for one facing an unplanned pregnancy are abortion, parenting and adoption, but few among us know much about the pros and cons of those three options. Let’s explore that third option.
Adoption Practices of the Past
What most people know today about adoption is based on preconceptions rooted in the past. Before the 1990s, most US adoptions were ‘closed’: the woman who gave birth was not allowed any information about the adoptive family. She was not permitted to have any ongoing relationship with her child, and vice versa. In many cases, the adoption and the very existence of this new person were carefully guarded secrets, and all involved shared an unspoken pact never mention it again.
Some adoptions were closed as a way to protect the privacy of the birth mother, as well as the birth father and their families. Closed adoption meant no fear that the child could someday find them and ask questions or interfere with their lives.
In those days of closed adoption, the decision to place or to parent typically was not made by the pregnant woman herself: She was often forced into choosing adoption by her own parents who didn’t want the embarrassment. “What would the neighbors say?” The pregnant girl was sent far away to live with a distant relative until the baby was delivered and “given up.” Then things could return to “normal.”
Sometimes a closed adoption was the preference of the couple adopting because they wanted to pretend that the child was theirs from conception onward. The adopted child was often not told that they were adopted. He or she grew up assuming—or being told—that their story was no different than any other child born to any other couple. But the adopted child knows that something is off. It’s just hard to pinpoint exactly what. Since families are not good at keeping secrets, the adoptee would usually learn the truth eventually. With that revelation comes a tidal wave of feelings of betrayal: “My whole life has been a lie!” “My parents did this to me??”
Secrecy was the hallmark of closed adoptions. And secrets are nearly impossible to keep.
Whether the closed aspect of the adoption was the will of the birth family or the adoptive family, it was a path often chosen out of fear—a fear that being honest would somehow result in rejection, shame, confusion or disapproval. For a myriad of reasons, the adopted child’s true story was buried and replaced with a carefully crafted tale.
As a result:
1. The woman who placed her baby was never able to grieve. Imagine going through the trauma of parting with your child and never being able to talk it out, receive needed help, or heal. She was not able to know the next chapter in her baby’s life or to stay in touch and see how her baby fared in the new family she made possible. Nor did that new family even acknowledge her—or the gift she gave them.
The story just ended, abruptly and without any closure.
2. Many adopted children eventually feel a desire to find and connect with the birth parents. All children want to know where they came from. It is an innate curiosity that causes children to want to know their story. For many, some milestone in their lives sparks the search. It might be their wedding, the birth of their first child, or the marriage of a child. Many search and wonder for years; many never find any results or closure. Many adoptees only find their birth parents after a great deal of research and effort. That long and painful search is a by-product of closed adoptions.
The search often leads them to sealed adoption records. Each state has different laws about opening these records. Recently, several states have chosen to “unseal” records. Other states do not allow adoption records to be unsealed and released. Sometimes the records are forever lost—destroyed in fires or moves. In these cases, the curious adoptee is left with many unanswered questions that can be painful for the rest of his/her life.
That is trauma layered on top of trauma. It’s no wonder that adoption horror stories abound.
We have come a long way since then.
We now know the harm that was caused by the practice of forced, closed, secret adoptions. Thank God those days are gone! Adoption has successfully evolved into something entirely different today.
A massive shift has taken place. The practice of adoption has completely flipped — from the closed adoptions of the 1950s, 60s and 70s to the almost entirely open adoptions of today. If there is such a thing as a “typical” infant adoption scenario in the US today, that new norm nationwide is called open adoption.
What does open adoption really mean?
It is actually a continuum of openness: Each family navigates the waters until they find the balance of contact and distance that works for them. Visits and privacy are a tradeoff, and geographical distance between the parties will require more work and planning to stay connected. Some want more contact, gathering regularly to celebrate holidays in person. Others are satisfied to exchange letters, photos, or social media posts.
At the core of open adoption is a world of possibilities. There are an infinite number of ways to structure any ongoing relationship. And adoption is no different. A continuum of options are possible. And when a family structures these new relationships in the way that works for all, inside the limits of their comfort zone, they know it. They can feel it.
Open adoption means ‘possibility’…
For the Birth Parents
Open adoption means peace of mind. The birthparents can rest assured, knowing that their child is thriving with parents who overcame many hurdles before welcoming their new child into the family. Ideally, the transparency and openness of the adoption allows the birth parents to stay informed about the child’s progress. It often includes ongoing communication between the birth family and the adoptive family. In some cases, this is worked out gradually and informally. If both the birth parent and the adoptive family want an increased level of contact and visits, they can arrange that. In other cases, adoption agencies actually require a set schedule for birth family visits to be included in the adoption contract. Sometimes there are negative experiences when the birth family and adoptive family have different expectations and cannot find a compromise. Open adoption works best with open communication.
For the Adoptee
Open adoption means that the child’s questions are answered.
The child will first ask, “Why did my mom choose adoption for me?” The reasons for that choice are as different as each woman who places her child, but the theme running through those stories is that the birthmother was not able to parent at that time in her life, and she loved her child so much that she wanted the best for him or her. She chose to place the child’s best interests above her own. It’s a brave and selfless act of pure love. Learning that the decision was extremely difficult and made from a place of love is very reassuring for a child.
For the Adoptive Parents
Open adoption means information.
Some adoptive parents are lucky enough to share the last few months of the pregnancy with the birth parents—they get to know them and gather some insight into their stories. They can also access genetic and medical information to best care for their child in the future. They will be able to provide doctors with fuller history so they can then choose the right course of treatment. It’s also possible to gather and preserve cord blood at the birth. It’s also helpful to know ancestral histories of various medical and genetic conditions and proclivities, such as alcoholism, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, heart conditions, and certain types of cancer. All of that can be very helpful.
There is no ideal level of openness. As with any ongoing relationship, work and communication are required in order to strike the balance that works well for the adoptive family and the birth parents.
The basic idea underlying open adoption today is transparency. In most cases today, children are aware of their background stories. They know they were adopted and why they were adopted. Their birth mother chose adoption at a time in her life when she felt she could not parent; she was not ready, willing, or able (perhaps all three) to parent well. So, she made the very difficult decision to go forward with her pregnancy, then thoughtfully chose parents for her baby, and then intentionally placed her child with them. The reward for making that huge sacrifice is knowing that she has helped to create a family, and being able to watch her child grow up, maybe even be treated like a member of the family.
Even when a woman doesn’t face pressure to place her child and the adoption is 100% her decision, it’s still quite challenging. Most birth mothers describe adoption as the most excruciating, difficult decision they have ever made, but one that they knew, with all their heart, was right.
These women go on to describe the rewards of seeing their baby raised in a happy, stable family. The ability to stay in touch and remain a part of the child’s life is one of the key benefits of open adoption. Observing the child’s upbringing is also a large part of the healing process for birth parents. After a necessary initial grieving period, the visits and other forms of communication can be helpful to both the birth mother and birth father, knowing that their child is well-loved.
In addition to providing transparency, another pillar of open adoption is ongoing communication. The open relationship makes this possible, but whether or not all parties opt to communicate regularly is up to those involved. This usually evolves over time. Some need distance in the first few years after the birth; some bond quickly and become a new extended family sooner. There are many possible scenarios, and there’s no “right” way to do this. Each open adoption is as unique as the humans that comprise it.
The bottom line is open adoption offers options. It offers connection. It offers answers. The people involved can forge the path and set the new traditions that work for them because everything is possible. Staying in touch is possible. Communication is possible. Loving relationships are possible.
And in this world, who would turn down one more person to love them? And one more person to love?
Current US culture presents two choices for women with unintended pregnancies with two choices and paints an unrealistic picture of both: abortion as a safe, quick, painless answer, and (often single) parenting as a glamorous, empowering adventure. Then we dupe women into believing this mirage of “solutions” by withholding the rest of the story.
But there is another choice!
More widespread education about open adoption is needed to enlighten the public so they can better advise, assist, and advocate for open adoption. Understanding the upsides of adoption done well, and openly is key. It has changed drastically in the last three decades and is a much healthier practice today. Understanding the downsides of both abortion and single parenting is another piece of the unplanned pregnancy puzzle.
The women and men who choose adoption for their babies do so out of a powerful love. They do work through the difficult times and often emerge stronger on the other side, proud of themselves and ready to embark on life’s next journey. Often the birth parents are happy that their child is being raised by people who are ready, willing, and able to parent well. And, they are often quite happy to become a part of the family they’ve helped create.
Terri Marcroft is an adoptive Mom to her 24-year old daughter. Terri is the Founder and Executive Director of Unplanned Good, an organization dedicated to promoting open adoption for women facing unplanned pregnancy.
For more information, please see unplannedgood.org/. The article above is a condensed excerpt from her book Pro-Choice Pro-Adoption: It’s Time for a Loving, Positive Response to Unplanned Pregnancy published in 2022.
Photo Credit: Pixabay Free Stock
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