The Birth Mother Stigma

Illustration for article titled The Birth Mother Stigma

Newsweek's Raina Kelley poses an interesting question: what if Bristol Palin had decided to give her baby up for adoption? The fact that this might have severely hampered her mother's campaign reveals how we still stigmatize birth mothers.


Kelley writes, "our culture still seems to show so little respect and support for the women who choose adoption in the face of an unexpected pregnancy." She expands:

Don't believe that we're so biased against birth moms? Do a little thought experiment with me-imagine it's the 2008 presidential race all over again. What do you think the response would have been if Bristol Palin had announced she was having her baby but placing it for adoption? Something tells me she wouldn't have been hailed as a real-life Juno but as a selfish promiscuous tart who doesn't care about her baby.

It's a good point — could Sarah Palin really have run her vice presidential campaign, so reliant as it was on her close-knit and photogenic family, if her pregnant daughter had openly planned to, as we somewhat negatively put it, "give up her baby"? And could Bristol Palin, now a prominent face on PSAs and TV shows alike, have gained so much post-election exposure as the birth mother of an adopted child, rather than as a single mom? For all the (mostly conservative) talk of adoption as an alternative to abortion, women who decide to give their children up often face almost as much stigma as those who choose to abort. Basically, women with unplanned pregnancies are judged no matter what they do — try to raise the baby yourself, and you're called too young and too poor to give your baby a good life; abort, and of course you're a murderer; choose adoption, and you're, well, "a selfish promiscuous tart who doesn't care about her baby."

Kelley makes a strong case for correcting that last notion: she writes, "by indicating that placing a child for adoption is a selfish or painless choice when it's not, or talking about birth mothers as if they were all crack-addled prostitutes or at the very least wayward youth, we not only limit a woman's right to choose but also shut out the possibility that there are other people out there who would love to adopt." She's right that destigmatizing adoption might make practical improvements in the lives of both birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents, but there's another important reason to remove the shroud of judgment from the practice: to expand on Laurie Penny's argument yesterday, girls and women are supposed to look and act sexy in every area of life, from before puberty until death. But if the sexy sex they're supposed to be ever courting (but maybe not actually having) leads to pregnancy, they suddenly can do no right. This is one of society's biggest injustices, and one that a greater acceptance of adoption might begin to remedy.


Birth Moms Deserve Our Respect [Newsweek]



Adoptee AND birthmother here, so this article, and the comments, hit very close to the heart. I was 24 and on a break from graduate school when I got pregnant (yes, educated, bright, but going through bad depression which led to some really poor judgment for a while). I chose adoption because I wasn't equipped to care for my child the way he deserved, and that's what had been chosen for me. However, the difference was that I was able to choose open adoption. There's a whole other layer of stigma on that one! I've actually heard someone say about open adoption that it was lazy, that a woman was just giving someone kid to raise, but she still wanted to visit! How rude!

The placement of my child was incredibly painful. The relationship we have because of open adoption has grown, and is now incredibly healthy and happy. My son is now an adolescent. I have since married and have two daughters, who know they have an older brother in a city about an hour away. The adoptive family also adopted another child. We visit several times a year. Really, it's like extended family. It's such a good relationship all around that we pretty much take it for granted, which we shouldn't. Not all adoption stories work out this well. The adoption agency we went through has had me talk to prospective adoptive parents, from my perspective as a birthmother. The prospective adoptive parents are usually terrified of the very idea of open adoption. While I can understand that to some extent, it really needs to be promoted more as a healthy option for everyone.

There's a lot more I can say on this topic. Anyone interested in open adoption can PM me.