Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Evan B. Donaldson Institute: More Protection Needed For Mothers

The Evan B. Donaldson Institute, in observation of what some have called National Adoption BewareNess Month has published a White Paper titled "Safeguarding The Rights And Well-Being Of Birthparents In The Adoption Process."

This White Paper was immediately picked up by The New York Times and MSNBC.

A nugget from the Donaldson paper:

Research on birthparents in the era of confidential (closed) adoptions suggests a significant proportion struggled - and sometimes continue to struggle - with chronic, unresolved grief. The primary factor bringing peace of mind is knowledge about their children's well-being.

The Donaldson White Paper is a sea change for the reason that it publicly acknowledges what has been known privately for decades:

The body of literature and research on women who relinquished their children when adoption was a highly surreptitious, stigmatized process demonstrates the ongoing, negative impact of their experiences on many areas of their lives, particularly by causing chronic grief, difficulties in intimate relationships, and/or complications in the parenting of subsequent children.

Women (like this writer) whose parental rights were contravened by adoption agencies between 1945 - 1972 (also called the Baby Scoop Era) have lived for decades with the results outlined above. Although it is my opinion that the report does not go far enough in stating the sequelae, which can include a PTSD like condition, severe recurrent depression even to the point of suicidal ideation, secondary infertility, and other ills, I wish to salute the Evan B. Donaldson Institute for finally stating what we and our families have known for decades. Chronic, corrosive and irresolvable grief is the result of forced child loss to adoption. Not only does the woman who loses the child suffer these ills, but her husband and subsequent children are at high risk, as well.

For further documentation in the form of oral histories of women who sustained such losses, please see this 50 minute movie. (WARNING: this is a large .wmv file that will download to your hd.)

The focus of the Donalsdon White Paper is protecting the rights of mothers who may be considering surrendering a child for adoption. This writer surmises the reason for this is the human toll taken on women who lost children to adoption in the past, and whose suffering is outlined in the White Paper..

The Donaldson paper contains 7 recommendations that if implemented would partially correct the flagrant denial of parental rights that were so common during the Baby Scoop Era, and which continue in a more covert form today. The recommendations are not specific enough, in my opinion, and their intent can be easily frustrated by people intent upon securing infants for quick, for-profit adoptions.

Recommendation 3 falls short specificity-wise. It addresses providing two sessions of non directive counseling in order to fully inform a woman of her rights and options regarding her child's future. But is is far too general. It does not specify that the counseling should be done by a neutral third party. It does not specify where the counseling is to take place, or who should pay for it. The tone of such counseling and the conditions under which it may occur can greatly affect the outcome. There are no recommendations as to what will be included. There are also no recommendations on how to enforce such a requirement, nor any outline on possible penalties for failure to comply with the counseling requirement.

Recommendation 4 of the paper specifies a minimum waiting period of one week before surrender documents can be signed. It also recommends longer revocation periods after the documents are signed. The Institute is to be congratulated for recognizing that hurrying a mother who has just given birth, into signing surrender documents, is coercive at best. These women aren't "birth" mothers. They are mothers with full parental rights. They have signed nothing. First time mothers especially may not realize what it is to give birth to a child. Before birth, the child is still an abstraction; after the birth, a living, breathing reality. A new mother needs time to learn what it is she is agreeing to surrender.

That means time alone with her child. Allowing potential adoptive parents into the delivery room and the mother's post partum room should therefore be should be strongly discouraged. Recommendation 4 stops short of specifying a
sheltered, private time alone for mother and baby, without the undue influence of individuals who may wish to raise her baby themselves.

In a related vein, prebirth contact with a couple desperate to adopt a healthy white infant is common in adoption practice today. Such contact between a needy woman and a desperate couple can set up dynamics in which the pregnant woman comes to feel obligated to the couple. Prebirth financial arrangements also can taint the context in which a decision to surrender is made -- or not made.

Protecting parental rights means protecting women from people who would use her neediness as a pathway to gratify their own.

This writer salutes the Donaldson Institute for the groundbreaking aspects of this White Paper, but hopes for more specific guidelines to assure that parental rights are well and truly protected in domestic adoption practice. In the current political climate where a doctor who believes that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy is appointed to the post of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs such protections become more critical than ever.

Original draft of the diary crossposted at Daily Kos. Updated version crossposted at Mother Talkers

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