The number of domestic infant adoptions in the US is at an all time low, and presents a dramatic contrast to the overall fertility of this country. In round numbers there are 4,000,000 live births annually in the US. Add to this, 1,250,000 induced abortions and about 500,000 spontaneous miscarriages. In 1996 there were 23,537 domestic infants adopted in the US. By 2002, it had declined to 22,291.1 For every 1000 non-marital live births in 1996 there were 18.7 adoptions. In 2002 it was down to 16.3.2 How many are there compared to induced abortions? Compared to 1,000 abortions in 1996, there were 19.4 adoptions. In 2002, it was 17.3 Are babies unavailable? Well, this is the first thing we would think of. But there are 114,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted, and as the number of infant adoptions declined, the number of children in foster care rose sharply.4
There is a myth that the only babies that are adoptable are white, healthy, newborns from college-educated mothers. However, there are even waiting lists for babies with Down syndrome, and with spina bifida. There are waiting lists for children of African-American parentage.
Why are there so few babies? The main reason of course is abortion. Before abortion was available, often her only choice was to place her baby for adoption. But with the legalization of abortion, maternity homes across the nation collapsed like houses of cards. Probably the other major factor in limiting the number of adoptive infants has been the rather radical societal change in attitudes toward unmarried mothers. Increasingly there has been widespread acceptance of non-marital births in our society.
Let’s look at other reasons why she may not want to place her child for adoption. She may well feel that to not keep her child would make her an unloving or incompetent mother. She may worry that her child will later feel that she abandoned him, that she did not love the child. She may worry that having “given away” her child, he will think poorly of her as he grows. She may worry that adoptive parents would not take good care of the child, would not love the child, or at worst, might even abuse him. She may feel that in her whole lifetime she will never be able to get over the pain of relinquishing the child. She may also think that other people will condemn her for abandoning her child.5
No single one of the above is usually even true, much less the dominant reason, but cumulatively, they often have a profound effect on her decision-making.
On the other hand, she may have very mixed feelings about keeping and raising the child. Often she is young, immature, or in no position, by her judgment, to parent a child. She may well feel that a child must have a mother and a father, and there is no father in this picture. Even though acceptance of single motherhood has certainly improved, she may still have very real feelings that others will look down on her for being a single mother. The economic future could be scary. Will she be able to provide for herself and for her child? Might this mean she must drop out of school? Will she be able to spend enough time with her child if she is employed full-time? Will she be able then to nurture the child, to give the baby the love that a child needs? Might she basically drop out of the society that she is in as she sees it? Will she lose her identity or future? Will this child monopolize her life, changing her entire lifestyle?6
The conflicting feelings continue. Basic to all of this is a question of what is best for her and what is best for her baby? If she tilts toward choosing what is best for her baby then what are the positives of making a plan for adoption? In a single word, it can be, and often is what’s best for the baby. This gives the baby a mother and a father. She will feel good about fulfilling the dreams of the adoptive parents. In recent times, she often has a part to play in choosing the adoptive parents. Placing the baby allows her to regain control of her life and her future, stay in school, pursue her job, etc. She is certainly entitled to see it as a responsible decision that will enable her to reconcile with her family and community. If she sees the baby as a gift from God, then doing what is the best thing for the baby follows directly. By doing what she sees as the best thing, the most loving thing for her child, she then regains her self esteem, and can see herself as a good mother. She made a mistake in becoming pregnant. This redeems that mistake and turns a negative into a very positive development in her life. She is a good mother and a heroine.7
The requirement or desirability of lifetime-confidentiality in the adoption process works both ways. Many mothers do not want to place their children unless they have some future contact or continuing knowledge of them. On the other hand, unless guaranteed lifetime-confidentiality, some women who require this will rather choose abortion than risk having their illegitimate pregnancy revealed later in life.
The negative side of what is called open adoption was taken to its extreme in Great Britain. There the birth mother has continued access throughout the entire childhood and life of the baby. This has resulted in a precipitous drop in adoptions, which are now considered in effect only long-term foster care.
Not too many years ago, “surrendering” a baby meant that she would never see or hear about her child again. Sometimes this was not done with her full and generous blessing, and rather than leaving her with good feelings, she was left with a great void inside. Much has been done to correct this. Today it is common for her to select from a list of potential adoptive parents. Sometimes she will even meet the couple, and, for several years, share future exchanges and photographs.
The above, however, has a less positive side to it if pursued too far into the child’s development. One of the worse things for the mature development of a child would be to have two mothers.
There is an answer for open adoption, mutual consent registry, now available in most states. If a mature child (plus 18 years) wishes to seek his or her birth mother, they go to the probate court and sign a document attesting to this. If a birth mother in later years would like to seek her child, she also signs such a document. If a match occurs, both are notified and a reunion arranged. If however only one seeks and the other does not, then confidentiality is retained. This has been the answer to the often-fought issue of open records.
Another issue that needs to be faced is the putative father issue. There was a time when only the mother had rights to keep or to place, and the putative father had none. This has been changing and now fathers often also have rights.
There is no question that adopting a child into a secure mother-father home is, in most cases, far and away the kindest and most beneficial thing you can do for this baby. Taking nothing away from the hardworking, sincere and competent single mother (or father), nevertheless, two parents are better and more desirable. As an adoptive father myself, and adoptive grandfather of two more children, I can personally attest that adoption is not just a marvelous thing for the child, but a deeply fulfilling thing for the adoptive parents. We also remain forever grateful to that unselfish birth mother who loved her baby so much that she did what she felt was best for the child.
1 National Council For Adoption, Adoption Factbook IV, p. 6, 2007.
2 Ibid., p. 10
3 Ibid, p. 9
4 Ibid, p. 333
5 Published in, Birthmother, Good Mother: Her Story of Heroic Redemption, 2007.