Friday, May 21, 2010

Birthparent Letters: Predatory and Unethical?

In light of my feelings of having to “market myself” through birthparent letters I was interested to find some blog posts which addressed the very topic of birthparent letters. I had some issues with one post in particular which basically labeled and accused any adoptive couple or adoption agency that uses birthparent letters as a way of contacting potential birthparents as “predatory and unethical” since “any time you are making an emotional appeal to someone for their child, it is predatory and unethical, even if you don’t realize it.”

What could compel somebody to use such strong, negative language to describe that aspect of the adoption process? Well, to understand where the author is coming from, it may be helpful to learn that the post was written by a birthmother who felt like she was coerced into placing her child for adoption years ago, and, as with others who have “problems”* with adoption it sounds like she consequently has a hard time believing that birthmothers are capable of choosing to place children for adoption on their own free will, without being “coerced” or “manipulated”.

*I’ll refrain from labeling this woman “anti-adoption” as I try to give others the benefit of the doubt and she actually states in another post “I am not anti-adoption. I am pro reform in adoption”

I went on to read the rest of her post and had to laugh when she was making fun of one birthparent letter in particular (whether real or not I don’t know) which said, speaking of the prospective adoptive parent’s hobbies:

“they both love to take vacations to experience new places . . . Their favorite was the trip to the Grand Canyon. They are planning another vacation this year to Hawaii.”

Guess whose birthparent letter mentions traveling to both The Grand Canyon and Hawaii? GUILTY! What can I say- we like to travel.

And by the way, you don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy traveling, Enter (I mention this because there is a stereotype out there that all adoptive couples are financially advantaged and the birthmother who wrote this letter apparently believes in this stereotype as well as she asserts that it is further unethical to force women to “compete with financially blessed, advantaged couples”).

This disgruntled woman’s solution to the “unethical emotional aspect” of letters and profiles is to create a “fact sheet":

“The fact sheet lists very basic information about an adoptive couple and includes one picture of their current family. It includes things like age, ethnicity, education, careers, religious affiliation, degree of openness sought... It is a very bare bones introduction to the couple. This would allow for the woman viewing the fact sheet to base decisions completely on the facts. There is no emotional appeal, no flashy pictures, no talks of vacations or mention of how long the couple has longed for a child. And honestly, it takes the pressure off the adoptive couple because you can simple list the truth about yourself with no competition to make the best book or say the right thing or stand out from the rest of the waiting families. You are what you are. :) Once the expectant mother has found fact sheets that coincide with her initial criteria, she can then request some more detailed information about those families.”

Great idea, but DUH!- Are there really any adoption agencies out there that don’t use fact sheets to give birthmothers basic information about a prospective adoptive couple before letting them narrow their search down to specific families who meet their “initial criteria”?

More of her post:

“I can tell you as a person who has given my child to another family, I don't give two hoots about how much your husband loves to do sparklers with your nephews on the 4th of July... I want to know how you would PARENT my child. What would you do to shape the life of the person I am giving to you? So often the only thing that is really offered in Dear Birthmother letters is the promise to love and care for the child. Well, I would do that myself, so that is not anything that is going to convince me that I should give you a person! It kind of makes me laugh when I read that! Most people would want to know more from the veterinarian caring for their dog than they offer of substance in a profile or letter. I don't know if that is because they just don't know WHAT to write or if they are just too nervous to really bare who they are . . . I'm not ragging on adoptive parents (really?- ‘cuz I’m starting to feel like you are) I know that these profiles and letters are required very early on in the process.

It was educational for me to hear about the process of “choosing” a family from a birthmother’s perspective.

BUT, from my own perspective (and in my defense) . . .

Granted, we don’t talk about discipline techniques (yawn) or how my husband and I handle conflict in our birthparent letter. Is this important information? Of Course! Those are the kinds of questions that adoptive couples are required to answer in interviews and in the mountain of paperwork we fill out during the “screening process”. But it’s important to remember that the Birth Parent Letter is only 2 Pages- it is in essence an “introduction” rather than a couple’s complete autobiography or philosophy on parenting. Therefore, if a birthparent has additional questions for an adoptive couple that is precisely what the “Contact Us” page of their online profile is for!

Your thoughts on birthparent letters?


Jill Elizabeth said...

I was prepared to be quite disgruntled when I read the title of your post. I was relieved to see that those weren't your words!

So, yeah, the person who wrote that stuff? Issues, much? As a birth mom - note that I don't refer to myself as a person who has given my child to another family, because that sounds rather cold - I can't fathom making such an important decision with no emotions! Also, I read the post on the link, and I disagree that letters and scrapbooks "discourage parenting." Obviously, if a pregnant woman is looking at them, she is already considering adoption. Not only that, I don't think a woman can actually be guilted into adoption. I read plenty of Dear Birthmother letters and I still took my baby home from the hospital.

I've noticed that it's always people who are anti-adoption or who have had horrible adoption experiences who want to change or ruin things for other people.

I think you've hit it exactly - the letter is an introduction. If I want to know your disciplinary philosophy, I'll contact you!

I think the "emotional appeal to someone" line is misleading. Because it's not as though you're writing the letter to one woman in particular. You're writing it to all potential birth moms. The fact that your focus is so broad removes the possibility of you being manipulative and predatory at all ...

Sorry to rant. I've got issues with birth moms who want to ruin adoption for the rest of us!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, though. Well said!

Unknown said...

Great post! Good luck in your endeavor!