Support and Options: The Missing Components in Birth Mothers' Decision-Making Process
Purpose: Expectant parents making the decision to place a child for adoption plan often experience conflicting emotions and grief throughout the process. Some expectant parents may feel pressured to place their child by partners, family, friends, adoption agencies and adoption professionals. This pressure may be exacerbated for expectant parents who have limited social, emotional, and financial support. Few studies have examined the impact of support on expectant mothers’ decision-making process. Therefore, this paper presents the findings of a qualitative analysis further examining the role of isolation and inadequate support on the relinquishment decision-making process.
Methods: Individual interviews were conducted with birth mothers (n=28) who had placed a child for adoption within the last 25 years. In-depth, semi-structured telephone interviews explored the context in which participants made the decision to place their child, the extent of available support, as well as advice that birth parents may have for adoption professionals who work with expectant parents considering adoption. Data analysis was conducted using Atlas.ti. A conventional content analysis approach was used to guide the analysis. Member checking and peer debriefing were used to establish trustworthiness of the identified core themes.
Findings: Many birth mothers reported receiving little to no support from peers and family members during their pregnancy. For many, the lack of sufficient resources and supportive individuals during this period rendered them vulnerable to pressure to place their child for adoption. In addition, while some participants reported positive interactions with supportive adoption professionals, a notable proportion of the participants reported interactions ranging from a failure of the adoption professional to assist them in fully exploring their options to adoption professionals who treated them as secondary to the prospective adoptive parents’ interests. In these instances, participants reported that the adoption professionals often failed to provide sufficient support and care throughout the entirety of the process.
Implications: The limited support experienced by many of the birth mothers during their pregnancy increased their vulnerability to pressure to place their child for adoption. For some, this vulnerability was exacerbated by the lack of bias-free options counseling and supportive services offered by their adoption professional/agency. Addressing the social, emotional, and financial support needs of expectant mothers and improving the standard for bias-free options counseling can help ensure that expectant mothers’ decision-making process is unbiased and as coercion-free as possible.