I am a product of the closed adoption system that was the norm due to the secrecy and shame that surrounded adoption and sex outside of marriage in 1968 when I was born. I was in foster care as an infant and, shortly after, adopted. In a closed adoption like mine, typically the adoptive and birth parents don’t know each other’s identity, which means the adoptee also doesn’t know her identity because the original birth certificate is sealed. I have never seen my original birth certificate. I am one of the millions of adoptees harmed by this secrecy who searched for their birth family.
I met my birth mother’s family 15 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter. I found them by hiring Kinsolving Investigations, a private detective agency specializing in adoption. I never met my birth mother, because she died in 1978 from breast cancer. I met my birth father and family, including a sister and brother, last year through Family Tree DNA. My reunions have been overwhelmingly positive, which, as I understand from the adoptee community, is unusual.
I have a lot of feelings about adoption. My belief is that families belong together, yet I know sometimes that’s not possible. For instance, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care of which approximately 25 percent are available for adoption and in need of, and deserving of, warm, loving families. While some of those children were removed from their families due to abuse, others were removed as a consequence of poverty. Families should not be separated because of a lack of resources, or shame, or secrets. And families should never be separated as a national policy designed to deter immigration, as traumatic separations cause psychological distress for both parents and children that is equivalent to torture.
As an adoptee and a feminist, one thing that really irks me is when people and organizations use adoption as an excuse to be anti-choice. Over the course of my life, I have heard arguments about adoption in general, or directed at me specifically, that adoptees should be grateful that we weren’t aborted, and in my case, that I should be grateful that abortion wasn’t legal in 1968.
With the new restrictive abortion laws being passed, I’m seeing a resurgence of this message: Choose adoption, not abortion. However, adoption is not a solution to abortion. Adoption is a choice about whether or not to parent. My birth mother, like many birth mothers, preferred to parent me, but couldn’t because of a variety of reasons that included mental illness and lack of family support.
The decisions we make about reproduction are the most personal decisions we will ever make. Who should make those decisions? You, with or without your doctor? The government? And how much of a choice is abortion or adoption when you don’t have any other choices?
Access to safe, legal, and free or affordable contraception and abortion, informed and sensitive adoption policies, comprehensive sex education, and ethical and compassionate immigration policies that don’t criminalize asylum seekers are all examples of reproductive justice issues. Reproductive justice is a framework for considering your ability to control your reproduction and your destiny, safely and with dignity. This framework was developed by black, brown, and indigenous feminists who used an intersectional and human rights lens to analyze reproductive issues beyond abortion.
Although there are positive perceptions about adoption, the rates of adoption in the U.S. are relatively low. Adoption isn’t a popular choice for pregnant people, because it is distressing and traumatic for birth mothers to relinquish their children, even in open adoptions, which don't solve all of the complications and differing interests that can occur among families, post-adoption. There was a brief decline in adoption rates for white women after the passage of Roe vs. Wade, but the steady decline overall isn't because of Roe v. Wade, but because of cultural changes that have resulted in less stigma for single women who become parents. Framing adoption as an alternative to abortion is not supported by the reasons women choose either abortion or adoption. Policies that try to promote adoption in an attempt to reduce abortion rates are misguided and misinformed. Instead, policies should reflect a reproductive justice framework that ensures that we all have rights and access to resources that support pregnant people's choice to parent or not, and promote safety, dignity, and well-being.