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.
“We are going to talk more about the pros of adoption”: A Qualitative Examination of Options Counseling by Adoption Professionals
Purpose: Despite the ethical and best-practice implications of ensuring bias-free options counseling, no research has been conducted to determine the manner with which agencies and other adoption practitioners provide expectant parents with information about the full range of options (e.g., parenting, placing the child for adoption, termination of the pregnancy, placement with relatives). This study sought to explore the overall context in which options are discussed with expectant parents, as well as advice that adoption professionals have for expectant and first/birth parents.
Methods: In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with adoption professionals (n=20) via telephone. Participants were recruited using a variety of methods. Conventional content analysis was conducted using Atlas.ti qualitative software. To identify core themes, transcripts were reviewed for overall accuracy/completeness and then coded by two researchers using an iterative coding process. Member checking, reflexivity, and peer debriefing were used to establish trustworthiness of the results.
Findings: Nineteen of the 20 participants were female; ages ranged from 25 to 73 (M=40.95, SD=15.10). Participants were from 15 different U.S. states. Over two-thirds (n=16) reported having a master’s degree or higher. While some professionals discussed practices with expectant parents that suggested a thoughtful approach supportive of their clients’ right to self-determination, a reoccurring theme identified in most of the interviews was one of implicit and unacknowledged bias towards adoption as the intended outcome of their work with an expectant parent. With few exceptions, implicit bias was noted in the way that participants discussed, and in some instances, did not discuss information with expectant parents. Furthermore, less than half of participants specifically reported discussing information relating to parenting or how parents might access financial/logistical resources needed to parent their child should they be inclined. It was also noted that very few participants reported that they discuss termination of the pregnancy as an option.
Implications: The tendency of adoption professionals in this study to favor adoption-related content during discussions, coupled with the lack of national and international guidelines regarding the types of information and support that should be made available to expectant/birth parents by agencies and other adoption professionals, greatly inhibits the ability of expectant parents to experience a bias-free decision-making process. Furthermore, adoption professionals who serve dual roles, working on behalf of both the expectant parents and the prospective adoptive family, may over-identify with one side at the expense of the other. Implications for adoption practice and policy will be further examined.
The ties that bind: relationships in open adoption
One of the implications to come from open adoption is a new type of parental relationship where there is the possibility of two parental bodies (birth parent and adopted parent) being involved in an adopted child’s life. This differs from the socially constructed norm of a family unit where the parent-child relationship is dyadic. Because this newly evolved triadic relationship is not strongly role-modelled in society, a new set of rules and norms has needed to be constructed by the adoption triad as they negotiate and define their family unit. The primary aim of this qualitative research was to explore how each part of the open adoption triangle adapts to the adoption status of their family and how the relationships are developed and maintained. The secondary objective employed to achieve this aim looked at exploring the notion of family and parenthood; how those who are adopted integrate their biological and adoptive families; and the participant’s perceptions of the role of the social worker.
To achieve this a phenomenological approach was employed to explore the lived experience of those involved in open adoption. Three adoptive parents (two couples and one mother), three birthparents (two birthmothers and one birthfather) and three adoptees were interviewed with the purpose of exploring the dynamics in their open adoption relationships.
Through these interviews the following five conclusions were drawn and will be presented. First, there are clearly definable stages that the adoptive parents and birthparents go through in adapting to the adoption status of their family. Second is the observation that the adoptee in particular, is tasked with accommodating and integrating both their adoptive and biological families. Thirdly, communicating expectations, setting of firm boundaries and agreeing upon what form the adoption might take all aid in obtaining greater satisfaction in the adoption relationship. There is a level of trust required by all parties that this will occur, especially in a quasi-legal situation where there are no legal mandates for contact to occur. The fourth area of import highlighted that despite challenges faced and feelings of grief and loss experienced, open adoption remains the preference for all the participants. The fifth finding highlighted the role, power and influence of the social worker, as observed by the participants and how this can affect the potential openness of the adoption.
One thing that is clear through this research is that open adoption is not a panacea. There is still grief and pain. What was overwhelming clear however, is that for the participants, the benefits far outweighed the struggles.