Where is the compassion in adoption?

I was fortunate recently to spend time in person with an online friend. She is an optimistic, energetic, positive and inspiring woman. Being around her is like being around an intense shot of firey, bright sunshine.  She is also a mother who relinquished her child for adoption. As we sat in a diner on a cold afternoon sipping hot, comforting beverages and swapping stories, I found myself wondering why the most basic human compassion is so often not offered within the context of crisis pregnancy, infertility and adoption.

My friend conceived under not-ideal circumstances. Taking in her words and seeing her tears as she spoke so honestly with me, I couldn’t help but note that while not-ideal, her circumstances had not been horrendously dire or insurmountable. A little bit of basic human compassion–a simple offer of help, a word of encouragement–could have empowered her to overcome the barriers. Those offers of help and words of encouragement were never offered, however. Instead, her deepest fears and insecurities were confirmed repeatedly by adoption agency representatives and she relinquished her child.

My heart broke for her as I thought about how I conceived my first child under the most ideal circumstances and still felt many of the same fears and insecurities she expressed. But because I was a married homeowner with a steady job and family support system, my fears and insecurities were met with words of encouragement. You can do this, people told me. You’ll be a great mom, I heard. You are exactly what your child needs, I was assured. For us adoptees, these are not the words that many of our mothers heard. You can’t take care of a baby, they were told. You can’t be a good mom right now, they heard. These other people who are unable to have children of their own can give your child what you can’t, they were assured. The same fears and insecurities that are calmed and discouraged with mothers who conceive under the “right” circumstances are instead confirmed and encouraged with many mothers who conceive under the “wrong” circumstances.

That afternoon in the diner, I told my friend that I’m so sorry that her fears and insecurities were encouraged. I told her that she would have been a great mom and that her child would have been just fine with her. And I wondered what would have happened if just one person had offered those same words to her all those years ago. I also wondered what would happen if we changed the more common societal responses to the fears and insecurities experienced by others involved in adoption.

What if we asked an expectant mother in crisis “What do you need? How can we help you?” instead of “How do you plan on caring for this baby on your own?”

What if we told an expectant father “We support your right to raise your own child.” instead of “You don’t matter.”

What if we told couples facing infertility “We acknowledge your struggles. This must be really hard for you. We’re listening.” instead of “Hey, you can always just adopt.”

What if we told adoptees “We know that losing your family and identity is hard. What do you need to feel healthy and whole in your sense of self?” instead of  “You should be grateful. You don’t deserve to be treated the same as non-adoptees.”

What if we asked all of these people “How can we support you?” instead of telling them to “Move on and get over it.”

Adoption is so often considered to be the answer to a multitude of fears and insecurities. The truth is that adoption as it is currently practiced–with falsified birth certificates, large sums of money changing hands and unenforceable contact agreements–is actually the source of a far-reaching and long-lasting perpetuation of fears and insecurities that go unresolved and unacknowledged. Current adoption practices are part of the problem, not the answer. The adoption industry does not operate in a manner that is compassionate to those involved. After all, there isn’t much room for compassion when the supply of human babies isn’t meeting the demand or when it is legal and acceptable to charge thousands and thousands of dollars in fees in exchange for a human being.

We all need to consider what would happen if those experiencing crisis pregnancies, those who are facing infertility and those who have been adopted through a uncaring industry were to demand compassion. Perhaps radical compassion would force the need for more ethical and respectful adoption practices.Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160Compassion is a verb.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

35 thoughts on “Where is the compassion in adoption?

  1. Beautiful and truthful post. Adoption harms adopted people. Maternal and child abandonment by society is the problem; adoption should be the final, last-ditch solution to a catastrophe. Adoption is never “wonderful.”

    • Thank you for sharing these thoughts Nicole. Current adoption practices are so lacking in compassion that it is, indeed, difficult to feel respected.

      • The comments alone here are evidence of the adoption industry’s lack of compassion. The best we can do now is offer each other compassion while also working together to demand reform and ethical, respectful adoption practices. Thanks for your comment Mary.

  2. What an interesting article. I absolutely agree, though as a birthmother myself, I do know adoption was the answer for my family. But I come in contact with so many who have regrets or were pressured and really just needed those around them to band together and help and love. Not every situation could be solved that way, but I can’t imagine how many would be. 😦 After I got married and we had our son, you’re right- the same fears and insecurities and even financial struggles to an extent were still there. For me personally though, parenting now has further cemented the confidence I have in my decision because I see what all it requires. Some young mothers simply do need more time, experience and maturity before they can give their child the best possible parenting. But because every person is different, I think the point of your message is so true- we need to stop assuming adoption is the ideal solution for every unexpected pregnancy.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts Crunchy Christian. You are definitely onto something important when you write about making assumptions. It is my feeling that compassion allows us to consider individual circumstances and provide the appropriate support without bias or agenda.

  3. 29 year old married almost-homeowner when I went in for my first appointment. After the nurse learned it was an “unplanned” pregnancy, she asked about adoption.

    I never went back to that office. I was horrified. While I was freaked out about impending motherhood, adoption did NOT ever cross my mind NOR should it have, but the propoganda of adoption-is-wonderful and for “unplanned’ pregnancies is SO pervasive…not to mention it’d be a healthy white infant…

    • When I was expecting my first child, people I hardly knew would take a look at my swollen midsection and ask me if the pregnancy was planned. I was shocked! I’m even more shocked to hear that adoption came up during a medical appointment just because your pregnancy was unplanned. It shows a lack of compassion for the complexities of adoption.

      • Yeah, not to mention the whole idea of what a “planned” pregnancy really looks like. The fact that we were married, not using protection, I was temping to get a baseline for fertility and were were going to “try” officially in a few months. I say “unplanned” because it wasn’t scheduled. AND unplanned doesn’t mean unwanted or incapable of raising.

  4. Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    “What if we told adoptees “We know that losing your family and identity is hard. What do you need to feel healthy and whole in your sense of self?” instead of ”You should be grateful. You don’t deserve to be treated the same as non-adoptees.”

  5. I was solicted by my own doctor in 1977 who ‘arranged’ a private adoption,only to find out 29 years later that he had profited from the ‘transaction’ and sold my child to a couple he went to college with. The perfect couple divorced 3 years later and my daughter grew up in the welfare system where she is today. No education, no security. Just a lifetime of pain and loss.

    • Thank you for sharing your story Marcie. The assumption that adoptees will automatically have some sort of “better lives” through adoption is, as many of us know, often proven to be inaccurate. And yet the adoption industry promotes this assumption despite the fact that there can be no guarantees of anything. This is yet another example of how the adoption industry bypasses basic human compassion.

  6. i love this. maybe if people said the things you suggested more often, there would be fewer unnecessary adoptions.

    whenever i hear “the right thing,” “brave,” “loving,” “selfless,” i know that all they are saying is “you would’ve been an inadequate mother, so good job for recognizing that.” and yet, there are women with children who go to school and have similarly low incomes, and no one tells them they should’ve given their children up. funny how that works.

    • I know what you mean ulva. Without having done anything to anyone, adoptees are treated as second-class citizens when it comes to accessing our own birth certificates. This is far from what I would consider to be basic human compassion.

  7. As an adoptee I am wondering how your adopted child would feel about what you are saying and how would you deal with their needs if they fog.d you?

      • My comments were addressed to crinchie Christian. I don’t know how I would have coped if my mother had thought it best to adopt me out. Please see comment above

      • As an adoptee, I understand the feelings you are expressing here kitty. The truth, however, is that some mothers do feel that adoption was the best option available to them at the time. The compassionate course of action under such circumstances might be for the mother to consider how this truth might impact her child and for the rest of us to offer support and understanding to both of them. It is my feeling that adoptees facing such circumstances need even more support and compassion in order to process and make sense of their narratives. Thank you for sharing these honest thoughts.

  8. This ‘asking expectant mother what they need’ is exactly what I do. I have a FB page titled Ws Birthmom ( please read the about section of the page before being offended), and it is used to help women looking into adoption because they feel it is their only option, find the support and resources that they need in order to parent and keep their children as that is really what they want to do.
    This is a fantastic post, and the adoption industry will never do this as it will put them out of business. Then no one makes any money which would not be in the industry’s best interest. Thank you for this post, it is spot on. Our voices are getting louder as the information superhighway is bringing us all together to tell our stories and speak our truths and educate the masses.

    • wsbirthmom, I am very familiar with your efforts which are a wonderful example of compassionate response. You are not just calmly saying “How can I help you?” You are raising your voice of compassion loud so that it can be heard over the ones of those encouraging fear and insecurity. Mothers who truly wish to raise their children should be supported and met with the compassion you are offering.

  9. Well my above comment got screwed up! I’ll try again. They do consider us criminals. Baby bastards. Most of us were conceived and born in states where fornication was ILLEGAL. Look it up. Adultery was illegal to. Many people today still believe we deserve life in prison through sealed records. That is rot of course, not to mention gross discrimination. (Could you please delete my first comment @ 11:42? They think we are stupid enough as it is. Thank you).

    • Thanks for the comment anon. I understand the frustration of not being able to access a document that all others can access. It does feel as though we are guilty of being adopted–something over which we had absolutely no control.

  10. I am a birth mother I placed my son for adoption seven years ago I was never put in this type of situation I made a choice on my own the one that was best for my son. I am not ashamed of what I did but I do love and miss him every day I have an open adoption so I am one of the lucky ones I guess my son has always known me and who I am I now have other children and he knows them as well I am deeply saddened to see so many against something so beautiful I wish you all the best of luck

    • Thank you for sharing Brandy. Your comment is a reminder that everyone’s experiences and stories about adoption are different. What seems beautiful for you might not be beautiful to others. It is my hope that you will offer compassion and understanding to your son should he experience some of the post-adoption issues that many of us do. Even in the most optimal of adoptions, conflicting feelings can arise as adoptees mature. Just as they can for birth parents and adoptive parents. And I would argue that no adoption is fully optimal so long as the adoptee is forced to use a falsified birth certificate. You gave birth to your son, not his adoptive mother. He should be allowed to live in truth instead of in legally fabricated falsifications of the facts.

  11. Julie…I have always known that I was a compassionate person. But since the truth of my life before adoption is now known to me I have grieved more and more intensely than I ever have, but I also feel more deep joy, see things with more clarity, love more intensely and have even more compassion than ever for virtually everyone I come into contact with regardless of their circumstance. I am just and ordinary person, and I am not exactly sure what has happened.

    You are right…so many people don’t know how to “do” compassion. How can people learn it? How do we teach it?

    • Oh wow Lee. What a deep and insightful comment. I can most definitely relate to what you have written here. Discovering our own truths and backgrounds can broaden our view of the human condition. Stuff happens. People have sex. Women get pregnant. Adoptions happen. Birth certificates are falsified. Once we are able to view it all through a lens of understanding, perhaps we do become more compassionate toward those around us. We are all capable of this. You have offered a lovely reminder of what we are all capable of doing.

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