Adoption Planning for Pregnant Adolescents

March 7th, 2021 by dayat Leave a reply »

The deepest human bond is between mother and child. It has a sacred aura. Our instinctive response to mother and her newborn baby is awe and empathy. We view her baby as her own flesh and blood even though the fetus actually was not a part of her body. This response underlies the legal framework that protects family privacy and parental rights. It also means that the image of a baby as a mother’s possession can override recognition that a newborn is a separate human being. As a result, the question of “true mother love” is seldom raised today, as it was in the proverbial wisdom of Solomon:

Two women claimed the same child as their own. Solomon offered to cut the baby in half to settle the dispute. One woman replied she would rather forfeit the child than see him killed. Solomon judged her to be the true child’s mother and awarded her the child.

The core of assessing a mother’s love is whether that love is self or baby oriented. Does she view her baby as her possession or her responsibility? Does she see herself as an owner or a custodian of her baby? Which is foremost: what her baby can do for her or what she can do for her baby? In essence is the baby’s purpose to fulfill her desires or to develop as an autonomous person?

These questions must be raised with adolescents and dependent adults as they consider continuing a pregnancy to childbirth. Are their motives egocentric or centered on the best interests of the unborn child? Although the phrase “in the best interests of the child” is commonly used, too often the phrase “the least detrimental alternative” more accurately describes a given situation. Still our focus now is on the best interests of the newborn baby and the adolescent parent.

Enhancing an Adolescent’s Personal Growth
Approaching pregnancy with a problem-solving attitude can enhance an adolescent’s personal growth. Adolescents can learn how to question and resolve their egocentric desires and gain self-respect and self-confidence in doing so.

Adolescence is a critical time for learning how to resolve personal problems in ways that uncover and serve true self-interests. Self-fulfillment can’t occur without growth in awareness, knowledge, wisdom and long-term planning. Deferring individual wishes and urges for the benefit of others is character building. When adolescents acknowledge that becoming pregnant unintentionally or intentionally was a mistake, they can make decisions that avoid grave consequences for everyone.

The decision-making process can be particularly crucial for dependent persons who are in a position to reverse inter-generational cycles of academic and social failure. They need help seeing that, contrary to their predecessors, they can build self-respect and self-confidence through achievements other than childbirth. They can be empowered to face and master the challenges of adolescence without the responsibilities of parenthood.

Involving Families
A dependent mother’s family is crucial to the course of her pregnancy and its aftermath. A family can choose to assist in childrearing. However, this can be complicated by an adolescent parent’s mental and emotional problems. Family members shouldn’t assume responsibilities for a dependent mother’s baby without having the decision-making authority accorded by legal and physical custodianship of the baby.

Even then, parents of dependent parents can’t be presumed to be competent. Parental involvement might not be desirable when incest, abuse, alcoholism or drug abuse is involved. Intervention might be necessary to obtain a legal and physical custodian for the dependent mother herself and for her baby. A Parenthood Planning Team can assess whether or not relatives are capable of assuming childrearing responsibilities for a dependent mother and for her baby.

Adoption Planning
Prior to the 1970s, adoption was the most frequent outcome of adolescent childbirth in the United States. Now it seldom occurs. Still, the process of adoption through an agency comes as close to assuring parental competence as any method currently available. Contrary to what many people believe, adoptive parents are available for babies born in the United States as indicated by the large volume of international adoptions. Barriers to trans-racial adoption are no longer significant.

Still, the word adoption can evoke a variety of emotions: sadness over separating children from their genetic parents; fear of placing children in strange families; shame and guilt for resorting to adoption; and anger at professionals who might seem to treat children as commodities. The process also can evoke gratitude and affection in adoptive parents, in adopted children and in genetic parents who have seen their children thrive in adoptive homes. A mixture of these feelings is common.

Adoption commonly is viewed as providing children for parents who want them. A more appropriate view is providing competent parents for children who need them as psychiatrist Denis Donovan shows in The Choice Model: A Values-Based Logic-Driven Approach to Adoption. A child-centered view focuses on the needs of children. Children’s needs for parents are far more important than adults’ needs for children. Adults can thrive without children. Children cannot thrive without competent parents.

Babies adopted at birth have the genes of their conceiving parents along with prenatal and postnatal interactions with genetic mothers. But their personalities have not yet formed. They don’t have reciprocal attachment bonds with anyone and have no family identity. Their first reciprocal attachment bonds are with the parents who adopt them… their real parents. They are the real children of their real parents. They haven’t lost their identity or been saddled with unresolved emotions.

The Mystique of Blood Relationships
The popular assumption is that blood ties are the deepest and most enduring of all human relationships. Parents and children love each other because they share the same genes. Adopted children presumably seek their biological parents because of a genetically determined attraction. In fact even when parent-child ties have genetic proclivities, their depth is determined by life experiences. The strongest human bond is between a genetic mother and child because of the bond’s experiential basis rather than because of genes.

The mutual affection shared by genetically related persons is based on their relationships. Some adopted children and stepchildren have gone through life believing they were their parents’ genetic offspring. They didn’t suffer adverse consequences.

Without DNA testing, fathers have no definitive way to determine parentage other than what they believe to be true. The perception of being blood relatives defines their relationships, not the actual sharing of genes. Babies do not connect with their genetic fathers unless interaction creates an attachment bond between them. A father’s reaction to discovering that a child is or is not his own also is based on his perceptions rather than his genes.

Babies and children form reciprocal attachment bonds with parents who interact with them. Children who discover they were adopted react to that information but they don’t shift their bonding relationships from adoptive parents to genetic parents. Their reactions are determined by their experiences and their attachment bonds.

Genes are designed to take their cues from nurture. The more we lift the lid on the human genome, the more we see how strongly genes are influenced by experience. Life experience is the basis for parenthood, not genes.

Negative Attitudes toward Adoption
Neuroscience suggests that when people must choose between a risky outcome and an uncertain one, the tendency is to make the risky choice. This is especially true for adolescents.

For high-risk adolescents, short-term incentives for becoming parents outweigh long-term incentives for not entering parenthood. They gain financial benefits, counseling, educational accommodations, childcare and even status with families and peers. The prospect of adoption is unappealing because they must part with their babies and they might possibly evoke disapproval from families and peers.

Adoption bears a stigma despite decades of experience that proves its benefits for children, genetic parents, adopting parents and society. As the social stigma of unwed pregnancy and single parenthood diminished, young mothers became more reluctant to make adoption plans. This is especially true if their families are willing to help with childrearing and financial support and are guided by beliefs like the following.

Adoption is Irresponsible
The negative aura of adoption might be fueled by the belief that a genetic mother and father must enter parenthood and take responsibility for their actions. This belief compromises a genetic parent’s education, social life, career and financial independence. It adds the burden of childrearing to their families. It makes adoption a shameful choice for a girl and possibly for a boy, especially when this belief is shared by their families and peers.

Adoption as Abandonment
Making an adoption plan might be considered child abandonment. Families and peers therefore might criticize the choice at the time. An adopted child, this belief claims, might grow up to feel betrayed by the genetic mother.

Irreparable Wounds
The depth of feeling evoked by adoption is poignantly revealed by this woman:
I am one of the millions of mothers and children of adoption wounds. Many of us are sick or dying young from the grief of having our children taken from us by adoption brokers. Only in America will a community tell a mother and adopted person that have lost each other to coercion to be grateful. Adopted persons and mothers have committed suicide due to the trauma of adoption. Many adopted teens are in treatment centers.

A radical feminist view on the adolescent baby adoption prevalent in prior decades states:
In the past, experts recommended that the girl and her family must arrange her disappearance from the community. Then the unwed mother must undergo intensive psychological treatment; and most important, she must agree to relinquish her illegitimate child to a married couple, for without a husband, the young woman was not a mother, according to the ideology of the era.

Maternity homes were considered a reform over the days when unmarried pregnant women were stigmatized. The new, professionalized staff rarely imagined the devastating, lifelong consequences many unwed mothers of that era suffered for having been shamed and coerced into relinquishing their babies.
Fortunately, these views do not reflect the experience of the vast majority of people who make adoption plans. The separation involved in adoption doesn’t cause mental illness. The event of adoption often is incorrectly used to explain unrelated, often pre-existing, emotional and psychological problems of mothers who make adoption plans.

Open Adoptions
Open adoption has become the dominant form because genetic parents find it attractive. Since it is a relatively recent practice, little is known about its long-term outcomes.

Many adoption agencies offer free Parenthood Planning Counseling and emotional support during pregnancy, at delivery and after birth. These agencies approve families waiting for children. Genetic parents can receive assistance with medical care and living expenses. A counselor helps the genetic mother relinquish her rights to the child so that adoption can proceed. The baby usually goes home from the hospital with the adopting family. The genetic father usually receives notice of the adoption. If his cooperation cannot be secured, his parental rights are terminated at no cost to the mother.

Impact on the Children
At one end of a continuum stand children who were adopted early in life and whose lives are the same as those of children raised by genetic parents. At the other end are those who suffered the consequences of deprivations and disruptions before their adoption later in life.

Adoption is an issue for most children. Most young children, including those who have been adopted, experience the “family romance” fantasy. They imagine they have different, usually idealized, parents. For an adopted child, this fantasy can idealize the genetic parents. How much of a child’s response to adoption is based on a family romance fantasy and how much is based on the adoption might be difficult to separate. Children who were adopted commonly raise the following questions:

• Why was I not wanted by my genetic parents?
• How did my parents get me?
• Will my parents keep me no matter what?

These children might feel the stigma of adoption. But with the support of their parents, most cope with those feelings. Some build a unique identity more fully than children who weren’t adopted.

Adoption is preferable to other options such as institutional rearing, foster care, or incompetent genetic parents. A child’s pre-adoptive experience, age at placement, family dynamics and demographic factors determine the outcomes of adoption. The following generalizations have been made about children who were adopted:

• The vast majority do not have significant adjustment problems.
• They have far less behavioral and psychological problems, less adolescent pregnancies and higher educational attainment than those in similar circumstances at birth who were not adopted.
• Those not adopted as newborns are at somewhat higher risk of having school-related behavioral and psychological problems than children raised in two-parent genetic families. These issues are often attributed to genetic factors and adversity earlier in their lives prior to adoption.
• They might struggle to make sense of issues raised by adoption especially during middle childhood when children are trying to understand their lives.

Adoption as a Sacrifice
The prospect of separating a mother and her family from a baby runs counter to the natural intent of reproduction. Relatives of the mother and father also experience pride and affection for the baby. They view the child as a possession that extends the family line. No wonder mature judgment and courage are required for any mother to make an adoption plan.

For pregnant adolescents the choice is simple: to enter parenthood or not to enter parenthood. This shifts the focus from the baby to the real-world obligations of parenthood, from the idea of being a parent to the personal obligations, responsibilities and sacrifices of parenthood. Accepting and living with these sacrifices defines motherhood and fatherhood.

It is likely that mature adolescents and dependent adults with adequate financial and educational resources will terminate their pregnancies or make adoption plans as Laura did:

It was a warm and sunny day in May that changed my life forever. The words “you’re pregnant” ran through my head incessantly. How could this be? I was a 23-year-old college student who was getting ready to graduate in one month. As soon as I stopped feeling sorry for myself, my attention and energy turned to my unborn child, who was due in five months.

For me, adoption was the only real option. As much as I hated to admit it, I was not ready, or able to give my precious child the life he deserves. I wanted him to have a mother and a father, and all of the things that go along with being a real “family.” I was not able to give him those things at that time.

So, I contacted several adoption agencies and chose the one that I was most comfortable with. My social worker was my rock, the one who helped me get through it all. She worked tirelessly to find the perfect parents for my baby. She was there for me before, during, and after the birth, doing all she could to make me feel comfortable, happy and loved.

My son’s parents and I have a semi-open adoption, and I love seeing our son grow up through pictures and updates. I thank God every day for my son’s adoptive parents. They are the most wonderful people I have ever met. I am so grateful for their generosity in allowing me to see my baby grow up. We have developed a very special relationship: one that I hope will last for a long time.

For me, adoption was definitely the best option. There are still tough days emotionally, but you must believe in your heart that you are doing the right thing for your child. And I know that my child will grow up knowing that his birth mother loves him very much and only wanted what was best for him.

Ironically, the mothers who would benefit most from making an adoption plan are the least likely to do so. They are the immature, emotionally wounded and vulnerable adolescents and dependent adults. They are dominated by fantasies and short-term urges that undermine thoughtful decision making. When these urges are accompanied by uncertainty and misconceptions about adoption, girls prefer to raise their babies, usually with the help of their relatives. For all of these reasons, Parenthood Planning Counseling for each pregnant adolescent helps to ensure that decision making meets the interests of everyone involved.

The Decision-Making Process: Parenthood Planning Counseling
In order to seriously consider whether or not to enter parenthood, a girl needs help choosing the most advantageous course. She needs to understand that her baby is not her possession and is a human being with a separate life. She needs help envisioning her future and the future of her baby. Then she can distinguish her self-interests from her baby’s interests. She can see that parenthood would deprive her and her baby of vital opportunities. She can see that her parental responsibility can be fulfilled by ensuring that her baby has a family that can provide a fulfilling life.

Choosing not to enter parenthood and to make an adoption plan allows young people to develop as responsible, caring individuals. They realize they aren’t ready to enter parenthood. They know they can compensate for past mistakes by not making another. They can act in the best interests of their babies, the innocent parties. They mature by planning ahead and making painful decisions. They gain satisfaction from mastering a confusing emotional crisis. They heal painful feelings by creating a better future for themselves and their babies. Sixteen-year-old Stephanie chose to make an adoption plan:

I’m not a selfish person. A selfish person would have wanted to tough it out with her child and end up on welfare. The only thing I could give my child is love. I couldn’t give her all that she needs. A mother who really loves her baby puts her up for adoption. I’m not going on welfare just to raise my child.

The sacrifice and altruism involved in adoption enables genetic mothers to see themselves as mature persons whose decisions serve their own and their babies’ interests.

What Should We Do?
It is possible to mandate counseling through Parenthood Planning Teams since the newborns of minor and dependent adult parents do not have legal and physical custodians. Dependent parents are under the custody or guardianship of others and, therefore, cannot be the custodians of other persons – their babies. Such a team can be activated by family planning and prenatal services that have access to pregnant adolescents and dependent adults. A mandated reporting process can be triggered as soon as an adolescent or dependent adult learns of her pregnancy and decides to continue to childbirth.

The first professional who becomes aware of a dependent person’s decision to continue a pregnancy would contact the child welfare system. A Parenthood Planning Team would be formed and activate a parenthood certification process based on the Parenthood Pledge. Federal law already requires in-hospital paternity acknowledgment programs to establish a baby’s paternity at birth. A Parenthood Planning Team would begin this process when the pregnancy of a dependent person is first identified through Parenthood Planning Counseling.


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