Adoption Coercion: Taking Away a Mother’s Right to Make a Decision

What is Adoption Coercion?

Adoption coercion is any form of overt or covert pressure, manipulation, convincing, force, fraud, human rights violation, or withholding of services that results in a woman surrendering a baby for adoption.

It includes any practice specifically designed and intended to ensure or significantly increase the odds that a mother will surrender her baby for adoption. It also includes any practice designed to restrict or remove a mother’s freedom of choice by the use of influence, persuasion, fraud, or duress. A coerced ‘choice’ is not a ‘choice’ at all. There is no “decision” where there is coercion.

Perpetrators of adoption coercion may include anyone in a position of trust, authority, or relative power in relation to the mother.  Examples are: adoption industry employees, hospital staff, medical professionals, prospective adopters, social workers, government social policy makers, the mother’s own parents, clergy and nuns, etc.

The Purpose of Adoption Coercion

All in all, coercion is a deliberate way to eliminate a mother’s decision-making ability, not for her own benefit or that of her baby, but because others want to separate her from her baby and “free-up” her baby to be then adopted.

The Risks to the Mother from Adoption Coercion

When a mother has been coerced into surrendering her baby for adoption, she faces high risks of multiple lifelong repercussions.  These consequences can include severe unresolved grief, depression, PTSD, relationship and parenting difficulties, self-esteem issues, and physical health complications resulting from the stress.  She may feel exploited and used – especially if later on she realizes how she wanted to keep her baby and learns what was done to her to manipulate or force her to surrender.    Her baby might grow up feeling unwanted, rejected, “given away,” and “not good enough to keep.”   If she has other children, it may be difficult to convince them why she will not give them away as well if times get tough.  For her child she surrendered, it may be difficult to explain to him or her why she kept her other children but not this one.

The Effect of Coercion

 Coercion removes the mother’s decision-making ability.  When coercion is applied, the mother has not made a decision because there is no there is no freedom of choice.  She has not “placed” or “given up” her baby for adoption.  Her baby has been taken by others who manipulated her actions to produce the result they wanted.

The Importance of Informed Consent

 Informed consent is necessary for a surrender not to have been coerced.  Informed consent to adoption can only be given once the mother has recovered from childbirth (usually considered a minimum of six weeks).  This is to ensure the following three necessary prerequisites to informed consent:   (1)  The mother is not being affected by pregnancy and birthing hormones, (2) Any postpartum depression she might have has been diagnosed and is being treated, and (3) She has been able to get to know her baby as a “real person” and not just a hypothetical idea and now knows her feelings towards her baby, whether she loves and wants her baby or does not.

The Necessary Prerequisites for an Actual Adoption Decision:

 A decision about whether or not to surrender her infant in order to make that infant a “legal orphan” and thus available for adoption purposes can only be made in the absence of coercion.  It is also necessary for the mother to give informed consent.

 The following are necessary prerequisites to be able to make a decision regarding the adoption of her child.  If any of these prerequisites are lacking, then the mother cannot make this decision and inquires should be made as to who in her life stands to benefit from her surrendering her baby for adoption and has worked towards this end.

  1. The mother must have recovered from childbirth and have had access to her child in order to get to know her baby as a person, her son or daughter.
  2. The mother must have had the opportunity to engage in a mother-child relationship with her child, with adequate support and mentoring.
  3. The mother’s physician should be aware of the chance of postpartum depression and should screen the mother for it.  If there is indication that the mother has postpartum depression, the doctor should ensure that the mother is diagnosed and treated.
  4. She must be fully informed of the risk of lifelong emotional consequences to herself and her baby.
  5. She must be instructed on the realities of the legal institution adoption:  Filiation will be severed and she will no longer be legally related to her child, open adoption agreements are not legally binding and she may never see her child again, and a new birth record will be issued stating that the adoptive parents gave birth to her child.  Depending on the jurisdiction, her child may never be able to obtain a copy of his/her original birth record.
  6. There must be no financial coercion, either in the form of (1) poverty, financial insecurity, or lack of resources, or (2) having fallen prey to entrapment practices such as having received gifts or money during her pregnancy with the expectation of handing over her baby in exchange.
  7. There must be no prior contact with (and thus influence from ) people who hope to adopt her baby.   This is because of the high risk of emotional coercion resulting from this contact (e.g., fear of hurting or disappointing them by keeping her baby, feeling they deserve her baby more than she does, falling in love with them due to high oxytocin levels during pregnancy and birth, etc.).
  8. There must be no influence during her pregnancy or before recovery from people or agencies who have a financial interest in getting her to surrender and who ply her with materials that misrepresent adoption to her, encourage her to surrender, or withhold key information about the consequences of adoption.

When Adoption is Truly a “Decision”

 Only when all these elements are in place, a woman can truly make a decision regarding adoption, not an act based on coercion having been applied to her, but a decision based on her feelings concerning her child.   If, despite all this, she does decide that she neither loves nor wants to keep her baby, then it is time to look into substitute care for the child.  This could include kinship care, permanent legal guardianship, or adoption by unrelated strangers.

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