Monday, August 10, 2015

The roots of adoption stigma

Above: the socially acceptable face of adoption
Adoption is a loving option. Many people wait years before they can adopt a baby. Adoption is the greatest gift you could give to a waiting family. Adoption is noble, courageous, beautiful.

It seems to me that American society accepts these messages... but only when the biological mother is a teenager.

I'll grant that this is an entirely unscientific way of looking at the problem, but consider two hit movies from 2007: Juno and Knocked Up. In Juno, our titular heroine is a high school student, played by a then 20-year-old Ellen Page. In Knocked Up, the lead character is Alison Scott, an adult woman with a career in entertainment news, played by a then 29-year-old Katherine Heigl.

Both consider abortion and reject it. But while Juno chooses adoption, it's not even on the table in Knocked Up. Once Alison has chosen life, it's treated as a given that she will raise the child herself, despite the fact that the pregnancy resulted from a one-night stand.

Look around. Do you know anyone who has made an adoption placement after the age of, say, 21? When you encounter a pregnant person in the workforce, do you assume that the pregnancy was planned? Does it even cross your mind that she could be pursuing adoption? If she said she was, would you find that weird?

These attitudes matter, because the vast majority of abortions are not done on teenagers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008, 33.4% of abortion patients were between the ages of 20 and 24, 24.4% were between the ages of 25 and 29, and 24.6% were 30 and older.

When a teenager gets pregnant, people immediately understand why she may not feel equipped to parent. The reason for the adoption plan is obvious and we empathize. When a more established adult gets pregnant, she may be just as unequipped to raise a child for any number of reasons, but the general public can't tell.

If an adult chooses adoption, once she becomes visibly pregnant, she will be bombarded with congratulations and faced with the prospect of explaining herself over and over again. In a pro-life world, it ought to be enough for her to say "Thank you. I am placing this child for adoption and the adoptive family is thrilled." But people can be nosy, judgmental, and cruel. Or maybe it will be fine. She really has no idea what to expect, because, well... adoption is just something teenagers do, right? She looks to the media and sees no representation of her circumstances.

A Secular Pro-Life supporter messaged me saying:
I did volunteer for a pregnancy care center years ago. The main reason that adoption was seen negatively: no support from friends or family. 
"Giving away a baby: WE don't do that, we take care of our own." 
"You go through 9 months and then lose the child anyway." 
"You would go through all that for someone else's PLEASURE?" 
These are all quotes I remember.
Of course, abortion is stigmatized too. But at least nobody has to know. And so adoption is passed over and a child dies.

We have a responsibility to fight the roots of adoption stigma. Share this article and start a conversation with your friends. Talk about what adoption means for your age group. And let us proclaim from the rooftops that we will support any mother making an adoption plan, whether she's a ninth grader or a CEO.

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