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Adoption Manifesto–It’s Go Time

by Laura on May 15th, 2013

I’ve made peace with my adoptee status; I’ve emerged from my own adoption fog. I had have post-adoption issues, and yet, I love both my moms. Yes, I said “both.”

That doesn’t mean that I like adoption as an institution as it is practiced today. That doesn’t mean that everyone will agree that I’m out of the fog. But each person’s fog is their own. I’ve turned adoption fog into adoption clarity …

But I’m still learning, I’m still evolving.

I love being a part of my adoptee community, but I also love being an ex-dancer, a PhD dropout, a mom, a wife, a writer, a domestic goddess, a non-exercising-yoga-pants-wearing-fashionista, an armchair psychologist, an un-believer, a friend, and someone who tries to be a good person but admittedly, doesn’t always succeed.

It’s complicated. … And …

This is my Adoption Manifesto.

A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer.

A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made.

My views on adoption might not make very much sense to someone who’s read only one or two posts of mine. I say I hate that adoption agencies make so much money off of adoption.

And yet … I go ahead and publish an article about motherhood [click here] … on Mother’s Day … written by an adoptive mom, who is vice-president of the Adoption Council of Canada.

It’s complicated.

Here’s the truth: ACC is a largely volunteer organization, they do not charge fees to adoptive parents. Also, I’m a type A good student adoptee, who did and does do her homework.

I advocate for change in the way adoption is practiced, I support adoptees, I want to see adoption reduced worldwide.

And yet … I write guest posts for adoption agencies [click here]  (!).

I believe in family preservation, giving a hand up instead of taking away a baby.

And yet … I’m not gonna tell someone else how to create their family. I’m not gonna say to an infertile couple: it’s unethical to adopt, ever.  That’s not for me to say. I’m going to help educate them, answer their questions, steer them towards ethical practices.

What happened to the “blasting away of adoption fog”?

So … following the aforementioned Mother’s Day post written by Deborah Brennan [click here], I was accused of being a brainwashed kool-aid addict who hates first moms. Not a fog-blaster after all. But you know what? It’s complicated. My views don’t fit neatly in one camp. This process of understanding adoption involves actually turning on my thinking cap critical thinking, and answers are not always simple or straightforward.

Some would say that I’m in the adoption fog because I know that there will be women (a small minority, but still, they exist) who, given all the support and resources in the world, truly don’t want to parent and do choose adoption.

Some would say I’m in the fog because I know that there are first moms who have rejected their son or daughter. The school of thought that says first moms are merely rejecting their pain does little for an adoptee who hears “Don’t call me again, ever.” Or, the first mom who posts on her Facebook page … “I’m so happy to have my two daughters in my life,” when the third (adopted out) daughter can plainly read this magical thinking.

That’s rejection in my book, folks.

Some would say that I’m in the fog because as a matter of reproductive justice, I do not think that adoption should be illegal.

Here’s what I do believe:

Should coercion in adoption be illegal? Yes.

Should adoption agencies be strictly regulated, subject to governmental standards, and not allowed to charge fees to adoptive parents? Yes.

Should a neutral third-party be in charge of evaluating adoptive parents, as opposed to adoption agencies? Yes.

Should post-adoption services provide support for first moms, frequent check-ups into the adoptive parents and help for the adoptee? Yes.

Should a waiting period be instituted, providing mothers time to bond with their child before relinquishment? Yes.

Should mothers have a time period in which to change their minds about relinquishing? Yes.

Should women who want to adopt process their infertility loss before jumping into adoption, lest the adoptee have to compete with “the missing biological child they were never able to have”? Yes.

Should open adoption agreements be legally enforceable, modeled on child custody agreements in matters of divorce? Yes.

Should adoptees have open, unfettered access to their real, accurate, original birth documents? Yes.

Here’s a fog-free thought: Adoption is going to happen. It’s up to us–those who’ve been there, done that–to say how and when and if adoption should be practiced from a policy and advocacy standpoint.

Let’s look at Deborah’s motherhood story …

Did Deborah tell the story from her adoptive parent perspective?

Yes, and that’s okay. We should listen to her perspective and engage in the areas that we see need change. To wit:

Are Craigslist ads and other direct expectant-mother-to-prospective-adoptive-parent contact unethical? Yes.

But you know what? Crucify me now. I stand by my statement that Deborah’s story was adoption fog-free. Why? What? How?

First of all, let’s remember, each person’s adoption fog is their own. One person’s fog is another person’s clarity. [See above regarding those who believe I am in the fog.] Deborah stated:

When the chances of another pregnancy for me became remote, we focused our efforts on adoption … We were also hoping for an open adoption.

Here’s the plain truth. I said it before: I’m not going to say to a woman how she should create her family. In Deborah’s case, yes, she had a biological child; but she wanted a sibling for him. Who am I to say Deborah should have endured rounds of invasive medical procedures to have another biological child? My husband and I wanted a sibling for my daughter. That’s a decision between us.

Some of my readers took offense to Deborah’s method of finding a baby by placing an ad in a college newspaper. I admit, I didn’t like it either. But. And here’s the big fog-free but: she admitted her actions to us. She didn’t hide it. She opened herself to scrutiny. She also stated that it was “against my very conservative judgment.”

This is where we can engage in a dialogue with adoptive parents. We can create change going forward, so that this type of “benign coercion” doesn’t happen in the future.

Look. I don’t know if Artrina was coerced or not. This wasn’t Artrina’s story, this was Deborah’s story. I have plenty of friends who have adopted children in open adoptions … who were there in the hospital, if not the actual delivery room. I do believe women recovering from giving birth need more time to make their final decision. But I’m not going to go on the attack against adoptive moms who were there to bond with the baby they plan to adopt. It’s not a productive conversation.

For Mother’s Day, Lori Holden, author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, has open adoptions with the original mothers of both her children from infancy … from the hospital. She posted in I’m Raising Someone Else’s Children

Those early days of gaining my footing in the mom arena were a challenge. I felt like an imposter. In the moments when I was overwhelmed by the new responsibilities of motherhood, first to one child and then to two, I wondered if there had been a giant mistake. What divine entity thought it was a good idea for me to raise somebody else’s children? (Oddly, it must have been the same divine entity that I bowed to in gratitude on a daily basis.)

Lori sees it as a both/and situation–both women are the mothers. The adoptee is part of her biology and her biography.

The fact that Deborah was acknowledging first mother pain is important. But. Let’s remember from Deborah’s story: she wanted more openness, and Artrina was unable to be there early on. It was too painful. And I get that. I truly feel for original mother pain.

But should a legal agreement have forced Artrina to show up more often, in spite of her own grieving process?

I don’t know the answer to that.

As another reader pointed out: But it’s about the adoptee. It’s true, one thing that Deborah really didn’t talk much about was her daughter’s pain and loss. Through all of this, we should remember that it’s about what’s best for the child.

Creating a family is more complicated than a mere line drawing.

So which is better? Open or closed adoption?

Here’s the complicated part … I don’t have the long-term study results, and so my views are still evolving.

Are open adoptions less traumatic for the child than closed ones?

What about open adoptions (no secrecy and lies) but without original-family contact? Is that better? At least the adoptee would have her accurate records and medical health information. 

Is it better for the adoptee to experience the ongoing pain and confusion of seeing his original mom periodically, but wondering why he doesn’t get to live with her?

I don’t have the answers, and the few teenaged adoptees who grew up in open adoptions don’t seem to have much peace about it, either. One adoptee I spoke with loves seeing her biological half-siblings, but aches because they live far away and she can’t live with them. She loves her adoptive mom, too, but wished she had been raised with her siblings as siblings. She feels conflicted.

Then there are the adoptee late-teenage brothers who are struggling to maintain their mental health. Their shared first mom has a drug problem that she can’t seem to kick, their birth fathers are not around, and the boys are struggling to find their place in the world. Their adoptive mom is at her wit’s end. Of course knowing is better than not knowing, but each time the boys see their first mom, their behavior is sent into a self-destructive tailspin.

Things that need to change in adoption

Personal stories aside, let’s talk activism.

Adoptees and first moms must demand a place at the table. Here we have the vice-president of the Adoptive Council of Canada being very open and forthright. Let’s engage, not name-call. Let’s come up with best practices and try to change the unethical ones.

From the ACC website regarding their values:

Recognizing the differential distribution of power in adoptive relationships, we are committed to the establishment of equitable relationships.

Coercion must play no part in the facilitation of an adoption.

The ACC believes in demonstrating consideration and respect for all members of the adoption constellation, and in the fundamental right of all persons to have open access to adoption records and to their birth history.

The Board of the Adoption Council of Canada encourages you to comment on these principles and to offer your suggestions. Our e-mail address is

There ya go–if you have something to add, email the council.

Change comes within, but true change needs buy-in from the top.

If we acknowledge that adoption is going to happen, we need to engage with the still dominant voice of the adopting parents, with the adoption agencies who still run things to a large extent. I think we can find common ground.

Most adoptive parents don’t like the exorbitant fees charged by agencies, either. Most adoptive parents realize that home studies are a joke.

Government policies should encourage family preservation, but they should better regulate adoption and adoption agencies. There needs to be oversight when it comes to maternity homes–in which expectant mothers are isolated from their friends, family and support network … just to wait as if mere gestational carriers.

Overall, adoption needs to be a last-restort option, a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Expectant mothers should be given support to keep their child. Women shouldn’t be coerced. Oh yeah, and fathers should have a say, too.

Let’s make changes to improve the way adoption is practiced–so that the child benefits. So that if a child is placed for adoption, he is raised in a loving, sane, stable home that honors his biology, his ethnicity, his heritage, and his pain.

*  *  *  *  *

Where do you stand on all of this? What do you love? What would you add to this Adoption Manifesto? What do you disagree with? Please … comment below.

“Clouds,” “Adorable Girl Drawing Her Family” by Phaitoon and “Family Icon” by digitalart from


From → Adoption

  1. Loved this, Laura.

    So many times I've wanted to express that reform needs to be less about butting heads and more about having open conversations, but I am scared of turning people off. There is SO much pain, or joy (for the adoptive parent), involved people want to hold on to their own beliefs and do not want to listen to anything other than adoption is absolutely wrong or adoption is absolutely right. However, there are no absolutes, as my husband likes to remind me when we talk about adoption. We will never get anywhere in our fight to help children if we maintain these attitudes.

    When I first started our blog, I was totally against any kind of adoption because of our experience. After learning more, I understand adoption is always going to exist, and we need to focus on making it better for the child and the adult they will one day become.

    • Kellie,

      Ohhh! Don't get me wrong, I was super scared of turning people off! Mostly, I'm finding that those who take exception to my posts are actually ones who would never be willing to see my point-of-view. And I agree with you — I've grown up, but now I need to engage those adoptive parents who are STILL raising their kids … so that maybe those adoptees will have a supportive community.

      I appreciate you!


  2. I am so emotionally tired right now I have no insightful comment to give except to say I read this, and just when I think I can't love you any more than I do…there I go again, loving you more.

  3. Donya permalink

    Adoption has good and bad points. As a first mom I find I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I find peace knowing the 2 children I couldn't raise myself are in wonderful loving families and they both seem well adjusted. I am in reunion of sorts with my oldest son and it comes with it's own set of emotions to deal with. Everyone's experience is different and I can't judge anyone parent or child for how they feel. I am happy my children love their adoptive families I want them too, but it also hurts when they show indifference to me as the one who chose to give them life. I don't want anything except acknowledgement from my children and their families. I wish you the best on your journey and enjoy your insights.

    • Donya,
      Thanks so much for commenting, I really do appreciate it. And YES — adoption does inspire very mixed feelings. I hope your relationship with your son improves, and I'm sorry that it's not in the place where you'd like it to be. I hope you'll keep me updated as the reunion evolves, and if/when you're able to meet your 2nd adopted out child.
      Very warmly,

  4. There will be unbalanced extremists is every camp. When a person makes choices that leave them in conflict, (for lots of reasons, but shame, hurt and anger are common) the easiest way to cope is to turn to aggression. Lashing out at people who are working (like you and Lori Holden) toward a productive and meaningful change in adoption policies and practices does absolutely nothing to help anybody, least of all the angry party. I echo your manifesto. Reasoned dialogue is necessary and mandatory to effect change. One must be able to listen if one expects to be listened to. Keep on keepin' on, Laura. Your manifesto is noble and good.

    • Corie,

      You're so dead on on this — I feel for the first moms who feel they were given NO choice, whose children were taken from them. Which is all the more reason to set aside for a moment their anger and talk about how to make sure that it never happens to another woman.

      I'll keep on keepin' on, thank you!!


  5. Deborah permalink

    Thank you Laura, I appreciate your writings, and your attempt to clarify on my behalf the larger conversation here. There's nothing that I wish more, than for adoptive parents, first parents, and adoptees to be able to coexist in rooms and talk honestly with one another in an effort to stop the marginalization of " groups" and understand and empathize with on another.

    This is why ( as I mentioned to you) that I do attend conferences and workshops that really are catering to adoptees and first mothers…I've been called a predator in these forums as well. Not pleasant I can tell you. I just wish more first mothers would attend meetings where adoptive parents are, where the dialogue can occur face to face.

    The agression and anger is not helpful in trying to progress the conversation.

    • Barbara Thavis permalink

      Hi Deborah,

      What steps is the Adoptive Council of Canada taking to support women in crisis pregnancy to gain confidence and resources so they can raise their own infants?


      Barb, a mother coerced out of raising her infant

  6. Oh, yes, this.

    "Here’s a fog-free thought: Adoption is going to happen. It’s up to us–those who’ve been there, done that–to say how and when and if adoption should be practiced from a policy and advocacy standpoint."

    I started my own manifesto many years ago, and if I recall, the post didn't get much attention. Lemme find it. Oh, here:

    • Lori — thanks for this link — I love these:

      "-An expectant mother considering adoption is given the opportunity to be paired with a first mother mentor, someone who has been through the process herself. This mentor serves as a volunteer. This community maintains a list of qualified (i.e. not having an adoption agenda) first parent volunteers.
      -Agency/professional provides ongoing grief counseling for up to two years after placement."

      I think this is where first mothers can have the greatest impact — helping another young mother through the process.

  7. Laura, your adoption manifesto is really great . . . and you admit it is a work in progress as it should be as we learn and grow, we decide what fits and what does not. I believe your manifesto is fair and balanced and it mirrors my own feelings and beliefs. There really is no black and white in adoption. All birth mothers are not coerced. All APs are not child-catchers and all adoptees are not serial killers. There is so much middle ground and the only way to understand each others viewpoints is to discuss and see how we can learn from each other. I did want to comment on this:

    "But should a legal agreement have forced Artrina to show up more often, in spite of her own grieving process?"

    I believe the answer is no. The law does not require that parents visit in divorce law. They are given visitation and it is up to them to use it. You can't force someone into a relationship. If the relationship was too painful for Artrina, that reality should be respected by the law and others.

    Is this avoidance hurtful to the child? Possibly. Or maybe not. I don't think we have all the answers yet about open adoption to decide.

    Just my two cents– thanks for your insights:)


    • Lynn,

      Ah HA. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hadn't considered this — if we can model it on divorce law, then yes, visitation is set up, but you can't force someone into a relationship. Good call. …


  8. Keep going all, everyday someone new 'gets it' and takes a step foprward.

    • Von — YES! Everyday, someone DOES seem to get it, and we can all move forward — together. Thank you so much for reading!! Love, Laura

  9. Greg permalink

    Awesome piece, great job as always.

    As an outsider (pre prospective adoptive parent) who has zero life experience with adoption, this all makes sense. As a society we need to change our attitudes about infertilty, third party reproduction and adoption. We need to educate the uneducated. We need to make people aware that infertility exists and not just for people in their 40's and its not anyone's fault. We need to make people aware that there is no shame in third party reproduction as long as the child knows how it came to be in this world. We need to make people aware of the corruption and coercion that exists in adoption.

    The way we can improve things is by working together and not taking an extreme angry position that will get us no where. Corie is right there are going to be biased extremist in every camp. But we can learn from them as well to prevent future groups from having experiences that lead to them having extremist positions.

    • Greg,

      Yes, learning from the extremist positions is important — that is a great point. I know that a lot of these first moms are experiencing such an immense amount of pain and anger and grief and loss, it may even feel like a betrayal for me to call myself adoption fog-free, and then to feature the words of an adoptive parent.

      I appreciate your support!


  10. zygotepariah permalink

    This is wonderful.

    I fully agree with at least attempting to resolve infertility issues pre-adoption. Unresolved ones I feel have a huge impact on how adoptive parents feel about the "ownership" of the adoptee. I spoke once with my step-mother about infertility. She immediately described the conditions both my parents had (it was never determined who was at "fault"). I found that interesting. My father didn't remarry until I was 17. So clearly it was still talked about, still mulled over.

    Open adoption illustrates the "yes, but" dichotomy that can exist in adoption. Although I didn't learn it until I was 26 my mother wanted to keep me. So I console myself with this fact ("yes, but"), but I had no background growing up.

    In open adoption I'd have had contact, background history, etc. ("yes, but"), but the knowledge that *my mother still chose to give me away*.

    As for fathers, I was told he ran away. In fact, he never knew and was devastated to learn he had a daughter no one told him about. So I grew up rather hating men . . . for no reason at all.

    It is my hope that by having these discussions and listening to each other we can foster understanding, avoid mistakes made in the past and, as you say, come up with the best practices.

    • You're raising some important questions … you grew up thinking that your father ran away, when really he never knew about you … so you grew up hating men. And here's the YES BUT — if he had known you, what would have happened? Would he have done the right thing and kept you? Would he have tried to see you? There are so many heart-breaking What If's when it comes to adoption, and well … they suck.

      • zygotepariah permalink

        Well, nothing. He was 18, a drug addict and living at an alternative school. Not sure what he could have done.

        My point was, whoever told my mother that shouldn't have lied. Or if she didn't know and made it up, that shouldn't have happened. There should always be truth. Nothing wrong in saying "I don't know". (Sorry, sometimes I get emotional and forget to actually make the point I was trying to make.)

      • Nono, I agree — truth is always best, if APs don't know the truth then an "I don't know" is in order. It's just that I was thinking how those "yes buts" you'd mentioned … that's all … I TOTALLY understand getting riled up :) Happens to me all the time.


  11. Barbara Thavis permalink

    I'm assuming, because I had issue with your last post that I am the extremist you are referring to.

    I agree with your manifesto. And I am still shaking my head that you write that women should not be coerced, yet on Mother's Day (of all days) you highlight an adoptive mother who did just that. If she had a Mea Culpa written into her post my reaction would have been 100 times different.

    Regardless of what the (original) mother feels about it today, Deborah's actions of shepherding her through the pregnancy and being at the birth were coercive. I can get that at the time she may not have know what she did was coercive, but with research and being vice-president of the Adoptive Council of Canada she should realize that this is the case.

    I know many, many adoptive families that would be better examples of "Fog-free" stories. Just because she doesn't like Gotcha Day and hasn't slammed shut the open adoption (She get's lots of credit for that) doesn't mean she is fog free.

    I'd be very interested to learn what steps the Adoptive Council of Canada is taking to support women in crisis pregnancy to gain confidence and resources so they can raise their own infants. Now that is fog free in my book.

    • Barbara,
      I'm so sorry that you thought I was "name calling" you … Actually, I truly did/do appreciate the time and effort it took to delineate all of the points that you did. We need more critical thinkings like you (there I go inadvertantly name-calling again) to make sure that we look deeply at the way adoption is and was practiced.

  12. Elizabeth permalink

    Barbara, I don't believe anyone is entirely "fog-free", especially when it comes to such complicated ethical situations as relinquishment and adoption.

    What Deborah wrote was an explanation of how she felt and acted *at the time*, an apologia in the original sense of the word. I don't think expecting a "mea culpa" is a very productive approach, especially considering how many first mothers also believed they were doing the right thing for their children when they relinquished (whether they've changed their minds since or not).

    I'd be much more interested in knowing if, with benefit of hindsight, Deborah would do things differently now.

    Coercion can be a very subjective thing, and the only one who can say if Deborah was intentionally coercive is the first mother herself. To insist that she was (coerced) is speaking for her, and heaven knows, there are far too many people speaking for adoptees and first mothers already.

    Laura, I appreciate that you are trying to build bridges. Don't let others tear them down.

    • Yes, you're right — "there are far too many people speaking for adoptees and first mothers already." Thanks so much for your support!

  13. Though I agree there are definitely women who didn't want to parent, I still feel that they need to be identified correctly, i.e.with proper counselling that helps them as people, not just as pregnant women. At present, I think it can sometimes be hard to tell which bmoms genuinely did not want to parent from those who have come to that decision after "counselling". Also, even with those who say they want to place their child, I think counsellors still need to ascertain the reasoning behind this (note – I'm not necessaril saying change their minds but just find out what is on their actual minds) rather than just thinking "well, that makes gour job easier". Also, many emom do disassociate themselves while pregnant and that to me isn't healthy and shouldn't be encouraged.

    I don't think adoption should be illegal but there certainly should be stricter laws. I personally would ban private adoptions, I would ban all "stand alone" adoption agencies and only allow adoptions through human service agencies (state and/or NGOs) – this is how we do in in my state in Australia. All counselling for bparents, adoptive parents etc would need to follow certain guidelines. Personally, I don't think adoption agencies should be allowed to advertise but if they do, then there should be strict guidelines. I am assuming Canada must have some laws re agency advertising as opposed to the US because almost every Canadian adoption agency site I've visited has been less coercive than the US ones.

    Btw one thing I wasn't sure about from Deborah's article was whether her child's bmother had received independent counselling and advice before the adoption? I do think Canada does seem to have stricter laws re adoption than the US but am unsure of the laws re private adoption there.

    I am not anti-adoption but, at the same time, there is something about the Western form of adoption that will always create difficulties as it involves separation and new identifies rather than the informal flow of more traditional adoptions like Polynesian adoptions. In fact, some people from those places that practise the more traditional type adoption find the Western form rather bizarre.

    There are many great APs out there and they deserve to be heard. However, I do feel part of the problem is that many APs (and to be honest,many adoptees and BPs) who just can't separate the issues. For example, I certainly do think that one's PERSONAL reasons for adoption should certainly including wanting to raise a child to adulthood – however, the entity of adoption should ONLY exist to provide homes for children who need them. However, I've come across way too many APs who feel that the entity of adoption should exist to provide children for people who want them. Every time I hear an AP say "but if adoption didn't exist, how would I be able to become a parent?", I think "what does your wish to become a parent have to do with the reasons why adoption should exist?". That's not saying I don't have sympathy for those suffering from IF because I do. However, adoption shouldn't exist for that reason.

    In the end, I can't see things changing in the US because as much as people talk about wanting more ethical adoptions in the US, many of the same people still don't won't to have to wait too long to adopt either.

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