“While there is no longer the stigma to single parenting there was forty years ago, the new stigma seems to be for the woman who places her child for adoption,” says Cynthia Arnold of the Ontario Adoption Unit.

Today, of the single women who decide to go to term, less than ten per cent are releasing their children for adoption.  In a recent American study, Edmund Mech found that “nearly 40 per cent of all crisis pregnancy counseling fails to include adoption as a choice.”

Yes the research on adolescent mothers is grim.  Perhaps the most chilling statistic involves child abuse in Manitoba in 1985-87.

“70 per cent of all infant abuse deaths were of children whose mother was a teen when her first child was born.  The infant’s mother was not the direct perpetrator of the abuse.  Usually it was a male in a relationship with the mother who was charged.”

One U.S. study found that eight out of ten adolescent mothers never finish high school.  Of others under 16, nine out of ten never graduate.  Half of teen mother’s experience a second pregnancy within three years. (Simkins 1984)

Option for life

Given these statistics, shouldn’t we be presenting the life option of adoption more effectively?

Joan Kosmachuk, director of Jewels for Jesus, a private Christian adoption agency, thinks we should.  She and Iris Wood, former director of the Mississauga agency, have written Adoption: How to Present it Positively.

“Even if a woman chooses to be a single parent she will feel more confident in her final decision if she has looked clearly into the adoption option,” says Joan.

Suzanne Ball, a counselor with Jewels for Jesus, agrees.  “My responsibility is not to talk clients into adoption but to talk to them about adoption.  I’m there to give them information, not to change their minds.”

Even when Suzanne is counseling 14-year-olds she never feels abortion is the answer: “I truly believe the child is in the hollow of God’s hand.  You are helping this girl make the best decision.  The choice between adoption and single parenting is rough but it is not life and death.”

If a client opts for single parenting, a myriad of issues are worked through.  What goals does she have for herself? What goals does she have for her child?  How can she in practical way realize those dreams?

Jewels for Jesus will support the client no matter what her choice.  The earlier that issues can be worked on and plans made the better.  Last minute decisions, either to adopt or to parent, are the most unstable.

Adoption process

The adoption process has changed dramatically.  Forty years ago there were certainly more babies to adopt.  But because babies often went to the couple on the top of the waiting list, a list of mismatches occurred.  The baby was whisked away, often unseen by the birth mother.  The need for the birth parent to grieve her loss was not understood.  She hade little or no knowledge of what kind of people adopted her child or what sort of home he went to.  There was far more secrecy and shame.

Little medical or social history was passed on to the adoptee about his birth family.  Nor was there a recognition of the adoptive parents’ need to grieve their infertility first, before they set out parenting.

Today, the birth mother can choose the parents she wants for her baby.  She knows a tremendous amount about them and may have even met them on a first-name-only basis.

But Joan Kosmachuk does not believe in totally open adoption in which the child knows the full identity of his birth parents and continues to meet them.  “There has to ‘closure,’ a sense in which the adoptive family becomes a complete unit.  Free visitation for the birth mother may make it hard for her to move on with her own life.”

But Pat Fenton, of the Adoption Council of Ontario and herself an adoptive parent, would love to meet her eight-year-old daughter’s birth mother.  “At the time of the adoption we thought we received plenty of information but now there are so many questions our daughter is asking that we can’t answer.  Does she have any brothers or sisters?  What are her birth mother’s hobbies? (Some adoption agencies update their files to include not only new medical but also new social information).

At 18, the adoptee may place his name in a disclosure register.  If a birth relative also registers; This is a passive register: no contact is established until both parties indicate interest.  Some provinces have active registers only the adoptee needs indicate interest and a search will be started.  Private organizations such as Parent Finders also actively search.

Searching for relatives

Currently about ten per cent of adult adoptees are searching through official routes, but Parent Finders estimate that as many as half go searching.  Joan Kosmachuk feels the desire is greatest in those who have no information.  “The more all parties know about each other (short of identification), the more comfortable they will be with the adoption.  The adoptee will have a strong sense of his own identity while the birth parents will draw comfort from choosing the family for their child.

Parent Finders notes that important events such as marriage or a child of their own often prompt adoptees to search.  Says Heather, an adult adoptee.  “A search is never taken lightly.  You have to be emotionally ready.  And at each stage you need to take time to digest the information received.

Who, then, are Heather’s parents?  They are my adoptive parents, the ones who have nurtured me all along.  They are always your parents.  Your found birth parents are important but they are there for you as friends.