Policy for Ethical and Legal Protection of Mother and Child

 

Prior to and During the Adoption Process

A surprise or unintended pregnancy does not mean disaster; it only means a baby is on the way. Our society normally celebrates the anticipation and arrival of a baby. Sometimes the exception to celebration is when a mother is unsupported and single. A crisis situation can be created if the mother does not have the support to find solutions that incorporate her pregnancy and her baby's arrival into her present life situation. It is important that a mother is supported during her pregnancy and is made aware of her significant, irreplaceable role in the life of her unborn and newly born child. The majority of mothers successfully raise their own children, despite some of them having difficult circumstances during the child's growing years.

 

Canadian Council of Natural Mothers

UN Declaration on Child Placement, Article 3:

The first priority for a child is to be cared for by his or her own parents.

Although adoption facilitators may present adoption as an equal choice in comparison to a mother raising her own child, it is not. If that were true, all mothers would be asked to make a choice between raising their baby and surrendering their baby for adoption. They are not, but unsupported mothers are often asked to make that choice.

The natural mother cannot be replaced for her baby by anyone. A mother and child should be kept together except in extreme circumstances where the child is at risk from his or her mother. Single mothers can and do successfully raise their children and have done so throughout history. Life circumstances are temporary; adoption is permanent. Hence, avenues for support should be explored before discussion of adoption is raised.

The 'best interests of the child' are served when a baby remains with his or her natural mother. The first tenet in Child Welfare legislation must be the preservation of the natural family. Only when there is a need for child protection should the 'best interests of the child' be invoked. The 'best interests' of both mother and child are served when they remain together and are protected and supported as a family unit.

Adoption is a solution of last resort when a child is at risk from both natural parents


Ethical and Legal Protection of Mother and Child During Pregnancy

Pregnancy and youth, like most of life's circumstances, are temporary. When a mother is provided with support and positive solutions it aids her growth, competence and self-assurance. Life circumstances are temporary, but adoption is permanent and cannot be reversed. Being told one is not in the 'best interests' of one's own child shatters self-concept, self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also cause permanent damage to the mother. A mother who loses her child to adoption may suffer a deep trauma that resonates throughout her life.

The profound loss of adoption goes beyond the mother and her lost child. The impact then extends throughout her family and very possibly the family of the child's father. These individuals can include future children, spouses and all descendants of the natural parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on.


[1] During pregnancy and the birth of her baby, and during the post-partum period, prospective adopters must not be allowed near the mother or her child.

  • The presence of potential adopters can facilitate the mother's emotional disconnection from her baby and her pregnancy. This situation dehumanizes the mother and demotes her to being a biological vessel carrying the potential adopters' child.
  • The presence of potential adopters creates a power imbalance whereby the mother's youth, limited resources, shorter life experience, and dependency (created by her pregnancy) may be negatively compared to the adopters' financial position, material possessions and seeming maturity (due to their age). These apparent qualities may make them appear more capable of raising her child than the mother.
  • Pregnancy and birth can be a very vulnerable time for a mother, so any support from potential adopters can create a sense of obligation for the mother.
  • For those mothers whose first child is being born, there is the additional burden of never having experienced birth and the reality of her own baby. In these cases, the mother cannot make a decision based on her experience and the knowledge of having her own child until she has lived with her baby as her own.
  • A mother may also be under pressure to surrender because of economic hardship with one or more other children to care for. She must be allowed the time to evaluate the reality of her new baby, as well as the support and resources available once the baby is born.
  • The presence of potential adopters may lead to the mother being labelled 'birth mother,' a term which devalues her role and rights as mother to her unborn and newly born baby.
  • The presence of potential adopters may create a sense of altruism whereby the mother feels obligated to supply the childless couple with her child. This phenomenon mirrors and reinforces society's support of the childless to take another's child since they have none of their own.
  • The presence of potential adopters may create the feeling that the mother must sacrifice herself and her own happiness and health for her child because the prospective adopters may appear to be able to provide her child with a materially 'better life.'
  • The birthing process is a highly charged emotional, psychological and physical experience that belongs to the mother and her baby. The presence of adopters disrupts this process unnecessarily.
  • The presence of potential adopters prior to the birth of a child, during the birth and during the post-partum period may create coercion, distress and undue pressure on the mother to surrender her child.

[2] The mother and her baby should have a minimum of 90 days together before an adoption plan is considered and the consent to adoption may be signed.

In recognition of the enormity of the decision a mother must make if she has been placed in the position of considering the finality of adoption, the mother must have adequate time to consider this life-changing decision. Jurisdictions that respect the lifelong negative effects of adoption on mother and child have moved to ever increasing amounts of time to ensure an informed decision and an informed consent to surrender. These longer time intervals are necessary because the mother requires

  • a time to recover from the birthing process, fluctuating hormones, post-partum depression, and the stress related to the pressure of the possible loss.
  • a time to continue the pre-birth bonding of mother and baby. This primary attachment for her baby should not be disrupted without good reason, as it cannot be duplicated.
  • time to build self-confidence as a new mother while the normal insecurities, temporary feelings of inadequacy, and fears that most new mothers experience disappear.
  • a time to assess her needs and plan for the future with her baby.
  • an opportunity for the extended family to adjust and help the mother.

[3] Prior to signing the consent to adoption the mother must be provided with mandatory written legal documentation that contains at the least:

  • a comprehensive list of all available government, private, and advocacy services and supports, and their up-to-date contact information to enable a mother to raise her own baby:
  • information that a baby raised by his or her natural mother and within his or her natural family is in the best interests of the baby. Adoption is less than, not equal to, a mother and child remaining together. Adoption is a solution of last resort when all efforts to keep a mother and child together have been exhausted.
  • information that losing a child to adoption has a high risk of lifelong grief that increases with time. Many mothers suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome from the loss. As mothers age and gain life experience they understand the gravity of their loss and their grief intensifies.
  • information that secondary infertility effects approximately 30 - 50% of women who have surrendered a baby to adoption. Mothers must be aware that the child they surrender may well be the only child they will ever have.
  • provision of current information of the consequences and lifelong impact of separation on people who have been adopted.
  • information that their children may suffer feelings of rejection and abandonment. Mothers must be provided with information on the possible negative psychological, emotional and physical consequences of adoption for her baby through his or her lifespan.
  • current information about the existing laws covering her ability to have access to information about her child, to have contact with her child, and to know who has accountability for her child being provided the "better life" promised through adoption.
  • information about future avenues and costs for searching for her child when he or she becomes an adult. Also, the mother must be told in writing that an information and disclosure veto can be placed denying her knowledge of and access to her adult son or daughter.

[4] If consent to adoption is being considered, the father of the baby and members of the extended family must be informed and given first priority to care for the baby unless they present a proven risk to the mother and/or the baby.

[5] If consent to adoption is being considered, legal guardianship and other temporary forms of childcare should first be considered before the finality of adoption.

  • Legal guardianship in which a child retains his or her original identity is preferable to adoption in which a false surname is substituted.
  • Legal guardianship, whether permanent or temporary, would combine permanent connections to the child's natural family with those created through guardianship.
  • The legal contract for guardianship would take into account the circumstances of separation so that a child is not compromised by demonstrated risk from one or both natural or previously legal parents.

[6] If the consent to adoption is signed, it must be an open adoption in law and remain so unless the adoptive parents can demonstrate the child is at risk remaining in contact with the mother.

  • The mother must have a written contract that explains the terms of the adoption. It must also be verbally explained to the mother.
  • The mother must have made available to her both independent legal counsel with knowledge of the negative impact of adoption and a counsellor knowledgeable in adoption's negative consequences for herself and her baby.
  • The contract for contact between mother and child must be legally binding on the adoptive parents as it is on the mother, with the flexibility to negotiate changes in contact over time.
  • In creating the contact between mother and child 'the best interests of the child' must not be used to connote or denote the mother as lesser value in her child's life.
  • In law, both the natural family and the adoptive family must be responsible for the best interests of the child by providing the benefits of both families.

[7] Once the consent to adoption is signed, the mother then has a further 180 days to revoke the consent and have her baby returned without question. If a legal challenge is undertaken by the adoptive parents, the child must be returned to the mother pending the outcome of the legal challenge.

The laws must reflect the protection of mother and child in all instances except where there is demonstrated risk for the child from the mother.

If adoption takes place, people who are adopted must be respected as having two sets of parents in their lives. Each set is uniquely valuable. People who are adopted have the right of choice to know and understand both families and themselves.

Sandra Jarvie
March 2003

© The Canadian Council of Natural Mothers. March 2003, written by Sandra Jarvie. This document is the property of the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers, www.ccnm-mothers.ca. You may copy and distribute this page provided that you copy it in its entirety.