What Is Adoption Coercion?

This guest post is by Pamela, an adoptive mother. 

What constitutes adoption coercion?

In the light of recent events in Adoptionland, such as the arrest of Paul Petersen, an adoption attorney in Arizona who has been indicted on 29 counts of fraudulent schemes and three counts of conspiracy, theft, and forgery, we should talk about adoption coercion and what exactly that means. 

In the case of the 29 Marshallese women coerced by Petersen, coercion is an exchange of money for the placement of a child for adoption.  Coercion can be much more subtle than that.

I often hear hopeful adoptive families refer to a woman they have “matched” with as a “birth mom”.  I also see that term used on hundreds of adoption agency websites being used in reference to a woman who is pregnant and considering placing her baby for adoption.   

A woman who is still pregnant or who has custody of her child is NOT a birth mom.  Let’s say that again for the folks in the back! She is NOT a birth mom. 

She is maybe an expectant mom, she is definitely a mom, she is even a pregnant woman but she is NOT a birth mom. 

A birth mom is a woman whose parental rights have been terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily, permanently. 

When we read or say that placing your baby for adoption is a selfless act or is a gift or even that God meant for this child to be raised by someone other than his/her biological parent—that is all subtle coercion. 

It is telling women that they are not meant to parent their child.  It is telling them that they’d be selfish to parent their child. 

It is telling them that their child deserves better than them—that they are not good enough for their child.  This is coercive.

Providing housing for a woman in crisis who is considering placing her baby for adoption sounds like a great idea.  But actually it is coercive. 

You see, the minute she states she does not wish to place her baby she loses that housing.  I spoke with an agency that actually bragged that they place all their “birth mothers” in agency-owned apartments and that they would buy her a bus ticket to come to the town where the apartments are. 

They went on to tell me about how they bring the women to the doctor, movies, mall, etc.  All of this is coercive.  The agency controls all aspects of her life and provides this care and community under the conditions that she places the baby for adoption. 

They admitted to me that if she told them she had changed her mind she’d be kicked out with no ticket to return to her hometown. But if she placed they’d give her a plane ticket back home after she signed the consents.

Another form of coercion is allowing or encouraging hopeful adoptive families to be in the hospital—and sometimes, the delivery room—in order to meet the baby before the consents for adoption have been signed. 

People are often very happy with this arrangement. Heck, I coached my son’s mom through labor. But this puts undue pressure on the mother to place–she sees how happy the hopeful adoptive family is with the thought that this will be their baby. 

This is coercive! Being as she has been told that placing her baby is selfless, if she now rips this baby from that hopeful woman’s arms she is now selfish.

There are many other forms of coercion both overt and subtle.  I hope these few help you to start thinking about the importance of your actions and language in pre-birth matching.

Pamela is a special educator, literacy coach, mother of two boys through (private) open adoptions, and a former foster parent. She is the owner of 2Boys Adoption Social Media Marketing and has been teaching teachers and adoptive families how to use the internet to connect with others for more than 7 years.

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