Now that I have had some years to reflect on this whole adoption thing, I feel I can write about the difficulties of adoption without emotions running high, and hopefully with some degree of objectivity. However I am an adoptive mother, and therefore have my biases as you will see.
I cannot speak for international adoptions, but in the U.S., each state has its own waiting period laws which dictate how long a birth mother has before the consent she gave is actually binding. In my home state of Georgia, a birth mother has ten days to change her mind and take the baby back, no questions asked. She can simply let her lawyer know of her change of heart and then the lawyers, and in our case, a local pastor, get to do all the difficult work of phoning the couple with the sad news, and collecting the baby and his or her things.
Some states do not allow for a no questions asked post placement revocation of consent at all (there is a chance to appeal if dishonesty or coercion could be proved). The thinking is that this is such a traumatic and high impact decision that a birth mother (or parents in some cases) needs to know that her decision is binding before she releases her child.
As alluded to in an earlier post, I do not think that every single young mother who is lacking in resources should necessarily give her baby up for adoption, although I used to. Now I see that for some, help does eventually come in the form of family, friends, churches, and others. I also know that some mothers might not be able to heal from the pain of giving a baby up. I am probably such a mother, which may make me somewhat of a hypocrite, but as I wrote earlier, I am well aware that I asked others to do what I myself probably could not. Happily, the birth mothers in our case felt fortunate to find us. They had already decided that they could not give their babies the life that they needed and deserved. My point is that none of us mere mortals can definitively say that this way is always better. We cannot see the road ahead–we are going by what seems best in most cases.
Bold statements usually draw forth the cogent arguments better than bland ones. Therefore my contention that waiting periods put undue stress on all parties concerned, and are more of a hazard than a help, may elicit some solid thinking from those who disagree with me, and I welcome your comments. I feel very strongly however that if one is giving a baby up for adoption, it’s better to do all the deciding before that baby is placed in a couple’s home. It seems wrong to demand that a couple give your baby all the love in their hearts, and hold nothing back, but then add “I’ll let you know if this is permanent after you bond with the baby. I have to see how I feel about it in ten days.” No, I say, think about it deeply and thoughtfully, pray about it and counsel with others who know you well, and do your deciding before you place that child.
Having ten long days in which you know that the overwhelming sadness that you feel at giving your baby up for adoption, even when you know intellectually that you did the right thing, could all be alleviated by a simple take-back phone call is a tremendous temptation to second guess. I have heard some say that a waiting period is needed because this is such a big decision, but that is the precisely the reason that I feel that a waiting period is not needed. I feel that it just tempts the birth mother to undo her well-informed decision.
I understand from my friends who have given birth, that the post-partum depression that some mothers experience can heighten the pain and sadness of giving up a child, and of course I cannot speak to that. My view therefore is a limited one, and I realize that. However does depression and/or regret negate a well-thought out decision, or does it merely tempt one to undo it? I can appreciate that emotions are part of the decision, but in the end I hope that logic and reason win the day. The main question should not be how the birth mother or adoptive parents feel, but only what seems best for the child. I say seems as a nod to the finite abilities of humans to know what is best. The birth mother’s sad feelings of loss are not to be trivialized, but they are not to be made preeminent either. Sacrificial love is needed to be a good parent, and for many birth mothers, this begins by allowing another to raise their baby. And I wish no one ever had to experience this loss, even though I have been the recipient of three very precious gifts from God via two kind birth mothers.
I close with an illustration from a couple of classic films. In the final scene of The Graduate, Benjamin pulls a last minute wedding-stopping stunt, even blocking off both the groom and the bride’s parents from pursuit with a well-placed cross in the church’s glass doors. The couple, overcome with emotion, hop a bus, and run to the back, out of breath, and with adrenaline pumping. I have always loved that ending, with Benjamin and Elaine sitting in the back of the bus, sweaty, tired, and smiling at each other. It is a great movie ending, and it feels good to let the old emotions flow (pass the hankies, please) and cheer for this young couple who are obviously in love. But as the movie finishes to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, the couple stops smiling and seems to be thinking. Perhaps reality is setting in. I am wondering how they will ever mend their differences with both families over Benjamin’s affair with Elaine’s mother. Can such a breach be mended at all? Will they ever be able to go home for Thanksgiving? Was the idea that they could find happiness in such a moral mess romantic, but in the words of Benjamin’s father, a bit half-baked? In the 60s, feelings were pre-eminent.
Contrast this with another classic film, Casablanca, where doing the right thing outranks emotion, (without ignoring it). At this film’s close, Ilsa thinks she is leaving her husband Victor Laszlo, to run off with her true soul mate, Rick (played wonderfully of course by Humphrey Bogart). He pulls a last minute stunt too, but rather than whisk Ilsa away on the getaway plane, he lets her know that she belongs with her husband. She balks, but Rick explains that there are bigger considerations than the feelings of two people in love. And of course he is right. But that film was made in the 40s. Back then doing the right thing was more important than feeling good. The end of the film played tricks with my own emotions because I believe in the sanctity of marriage, but I found myself hoping that Rick and Isla would end up together. That is until I gathered my wits about me and realized that Rick was right. Other items beside pure raw emotion should enter into high stakes decisions. And I have lived by Rick’s code much more often than I have by Benjamin’s, because life has a way of foisting reality upon us, like it or not.
This does not come easily however, and next time I will share what I have learned about adoption and abandonment issues from my now grown children. Maybe others can benefit from our family’s journey in this murky, joyful, confusing, happy, sad, emotional commitment made by two very different parties who put aside secondary (yet important) things to focus on one good and beautiful thing—the well-being of a child.