AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Kenda McCormic signed her daughter’s relinquishment papers, the decision became final. The newborn would be placed for adoption.
McCormic recalls the moment she relinquished her daughter as “bittersweet.” She said she cherished the 48 hours they were in the hospital room together before separating but knew she wasn’t in a place to raise another child.
McCormic considers herself fortunate for the experience she’s had as a birth mother in an open adoption situation. As someone who was adopted herself, McCormic felt she had a better understanding of the private adoption process. However, not all birth mothers or expecting mothers feel this way.
People often offer the idea of adoption to let expectant mothers know they have an option other than an abortion if they aren’t in a place to raise a child. The reversal of Roe v. Wade ignited conversations on social media about adoption being a solution for someone who doesn’t have access to abortion services.
Monica Faulkner, who holds a doctorate in social work at The University of Texas, believes the idea of adoption as a substitute for abortion is harmful if people don’t acknowledge the difficulties each person involved in the process faces.
“People don’t really understand that [adoption]’s not a one-time event. It’s a lifelong journey that people take together, and there’s trauma for everybody involved in that adoption,” Faulkner said. “I think that it’s not portrayed in that way. And that’s what’s worrisome.”
Adoptive mother Kate, who requested to use only her first name, thinks the adoptive experience is not bittersweet — that it is “trauma.” Kate said that while adopting a child is joyful for the adoptive parents, both the child and the birth mother experience a large sense of loss.
“There will always be this dichotomy of adoption where the best moment of your life is the worst part of somebody else’s,” Kate said. “Placing a child for adoption is very much like grieving the death of a child.”
According to Kate, expectant mothers are told what they need to hear but aren’t always given all of the information or services they need after the fact. Speaking as someone who’s been through the adoption process and spoken to others about their adoption experiences, Kate specifically referenced the lack of rights that a birth mother has after relinquishing the child.
“I think it’s a very naive opinion that if you can’t have an abortion — that you are not in a position to parent — that you should just choose adoption,” Kate said. “It’s very naive and it’s honestly cruel to force someone into that decision.”
Crisis Pregnancy Centers
After finding out they have an unintended pregnancy, some expectant mothers turn to crisis pregnancy centers. The often anti-abortion and faith-based centers offer free counseling and resources for a child and mother. Some of these centers also provide medical services, but not abortion.
Funding for these centers, also called pregnancy support centers, is through the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program and private donors.
While providing women with necessary resources such as baby clothes, diapers and educational parenting classes, Faulkner believes crisis pregnancy centers can contribute to misleading adoption information by not painting a full picture about the adoptive process. This can lead women to choose adoption unprepared, she said.
While in pregnancy counseling, Faulkner said expectant mothers shouldn’t be given biased information that would lead them to feel like they have no option other than adoption.
A report from two NBC News producers who visited crisis pregnancy centers in Texas found the centers gave them misleading information regarding abortion. The producers were told abortion could cause things like cancer, infertility and mental illness.
A study from the National Library of Medicine found that this type of information could lead women to believe an abortion carries more risk than carrying out a pregnancy. According to the study, death from childbirth is approximately 14 times more likely than death from abortion.
Faulkner, who focuses some of her research on foster care, says expectant mothers should feel fully knowledgeable and prepared before making a decision about adoption.
“The concern with crisis pregnancy centers is that while they will provide information for people about adoption, there’s not in-depth knowledge about the nuances of adoption, and about how that will work for that woman, how it’ll impact her throughout her life, how it impacts the child throughout the child’s life,” Faulkner said. “That information, in my best estimation, is not being provided.”
While some crisis pregnancy centers focus their energy on anti-abortion efforts, others try to give a more holistic view.
The Source, a pregnancy resource center in Austin, is faith-based and doesn’t provide abortion services but allows expectant mothers to decide whether they want faith-based services or not.
Executive Director Mary Whitehurst said the non-profit does its best to support expectant mothers from an unbiased, educational standpoint. “We’ve always just wanted to make sure that women fully understand all their options,” Whitehurst said.
In terms of adoption, Whitehurst said The Source educates expectant mothers on what support adoption centers can provide. It then connects expectant mothers with three to five adoption agencies in the Austin area it has connections with.
Support from The Source doesn’t cease when the expectant mother makes her decision to place a child for adoption, according to Whitehurst.
“There’s just a lot of emotional stuff that goes on when you have to make such a difficult decision, so we want to make sure that she can continue to have access to some of that care for however long that she needs it after having her baby as well,” Whitehurst said.
Although crisis pregnancy centers provide resources necessary for expectant mothers, Faulkner said she would normally direct a pregnant woman who is searching for information about her options to Planned Parenthood or to a community health center with a social worker. Faulkner believes they give an unbiased viewpoint and holistic services.
When it comes to the adoption process, Faulkner said, “Many people should go through adoption agencies and those adoption agencies have a responsibility to make sure that they are talking with adoptive parents about all the complexities and all the nuances and making sure that they’re educated.”
Currently, many adoption centers provide counseling to help with the grief of relinquishing a child, but not all agencies offer counseling that’s always available for the birth mother post-relinquishment.
Elissa Madden, an associate professor of social work at Baylor University, stressed that grief and trauma after placing a child for adoption don’t always fade after two years. Emotions can resurface even after 10 or more years.
According to Madden, birth mothers should have access to counseling services through adoption agencies at any time after relinquishment to help with the lasting grief.
“It’s the way that we talk about adoption. We really need to examine that and really make sure that we are setting parents up for really what they can expect and then providing the resources and support after the fact,” Madden said.
Another aspect Madden hopes to see change are open adoptions becoming legally enforceable.
In Texas, open adoption agreements are increasing in popularity, but can be broken at any time. The adoptive parents can cut contact with the birth mother and not face any legal repercussions.
Madden said these non-enforceable open adoption agreements leave the birth mother with virtually no rights. By having an enforceable open adoption agreement, the birth mother would feel secure in keeping a relationship with the adoptee and adoptive parents.
Potential increase in adoption
The number of private adoptions has decreased exponentially in the past couple of years. Between 2019 and 2020, private, non-stepparent adoptions in the U.S. declined by 24%, according to National Council for Adoption. One of the contributors to the recent decline was the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, there are more people hoping to adopt than there are infants placed for adoption, according to Rory Hall, executive director of Adoption Advocates in Austin.
Hall said it currently averages 12 placements a year. She could see this number increasing with the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
“I think that we will see an increase in women or couples looking into adoption as an option for unplanned pregnancies,” Hall said.
With this increase, Hall stressed the importance of agencies being transparent with expectant mothers about the adoptive process.
“I think what people also don’t understand, and it’s often said, quite flippantly, ‘Why don’t they just choose adoption?’ as if adoption is an easy choice. And it’s not,” Hall said.
With less access to abortion services, Director of Marketing and Community Outreach at Adoption Advocates Megan Fuller believes more resources need to go to expectant mothers in general, whether they choose adoption or not.
“This is what women need. Women need these resources,” Fuller said. “They need this help. They need the support.”