Ethical Adoption Agency/Unicorn?
March 19, 2015 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Just beginning the complex/overwhelming/fraught process of exploring domestic infant adoption, and looking for help in sorting out a lot of conflicting information and emotions about agencies and ethics.

In an effort to not toss myself down the well of rambling and incoherent emotionalism that this topic tends to push me towards, I will try my very best to be brief.

About a year ago, I asked this question, seeking advice on where to begin some research and reading about the process, practice, and ethics of adoption. For the past year, Mr. Dorinda and I have been reading through many of the suggestions we were offered, as well as sorting through many other resources we found on our own. We were especially responsive to the (excellent) advice to make reading accounts of birth mothers/families and adult adoptees a priority, since the dominant narrative from many adoptive parents/adoption industry folks obviously tends towards the sunny-rainbows-everyone-wins-miracle-of-adoption side of the spectrum.
Having started this process from a place of total naivete, we were both shocked to discover so many accounts (especially those from birth mothers who have felt coerced and manipulated by the "counselors" provided by the agencies) that really highlight some very troubling ethical concerns about the domestic infant adoption industry. I don't know how widespread this phenomenon is, but it worries me. A lot.
Now, we are torn between our possibly selfish but deeply, deeply held wish to become parents to a baby, and our fear of getting involved in a system that seems in some respects to be fundamentally broken and, in many situations, traumatic for everyone involved.

We have very mush taken to heart the point made by a responder in my previous question, who reminded us that "all adoptions, no matter the circumstance, start from a trauma". We have no illusions that the process is simple, or perfect, or uncomplicated. But we know (or maybe just foolishly hope?) that, somewhere out there, stories of infant adoptions exist in which harms and hurts (for expectant mothers, for the relinquished children) were minimized rather than exacerbated. This is what we want. How can we be one of these stories? How do we find an agency or facilitator that is actually ethical (not one that simply sings the song on their website to placate AP consciences)? How do we not let ourselves be blinded by what we want to believe? How do we move forward from this place of fraught paralysis? Obviously, no one can predict the future and every situation is different, but what things can we do as we begin this process to help increase the likelihood that ours is an ethical adoption? Is such a thing possible within the domestic infant adoption system, or should we give up on this dream of adopting a baby, and consider other options?

That is (in very condensed form) the ethical quagmire that we currently find ourselves sorting through. We will continue to read and listen to stories from people who have experienced adoption, from all sides. We will continue to talk to each other and our families to sort through our feelings and thoughts.
But we don't know what the next, concrete step is, in terms of narrowing down the overwhelming number of agencies and "adoption professionals" that we might choose (or not) to work with. In practical terms, we feel like the only thing to do at this point is gather more specific information about agencies and see where we're at. We've been searching through reviews and experiences on forums/sites like and, as well as a FB group which collects agency reviews. We do have an appointment next week to meet with a social worker not affiliated with any particular agency, but have yet to talk in person with any agency reps. At this point, we're trying to determine which (if any) agencies should be on our shortlist before we start dialing. The following things are deal-breakers for us when considering an agency:
- MUST be non-discriminatory based on sexual orientation/gender/race/marital status
- MUST offer or refer counseling to expectant mothers which presents them with actual choice and is non-coercive
- MUST be willing to facilitate open adoptions

Any recommendations and/or cautions (of agencies, facilitators, etc) born of personal experience would be hugely appreciated. Any candid advice from people who have been through this before (from any point in the adoption constellation) would be greatly appreciated.
We're feeling very lost and hopeless right now, but honesty is definitely more useful than attempting to spare our feelings.
posted by Dorinda to Human Relations (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
what things can we do as we begin this process to help increase the likelihood that ours is an ethical adoption?

The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys may be a helpful resource, and this organization notes that "it is important to consult with an attorney prior to beginning your adoption journey." AAAA also offers an agency and an attorney directory. "It is strongly suggested that you independently confirm the information about agencies listed in the Agency Directory before relying upon it."
posted by Little Dawn at 10:16 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

We have a daughter who is five who came into our lives through a domestic, open adoption. Our daughter and us (the parents) visit the birth family a few times a year and stay in touch otherwise through texting. There are difficult emotions that arise from time to time, but no one in the birth family or our family would call the process unethical. Everyone is still happy with the process and the result.

I can't really speak to how the counselor performed with our birth mother. The birth mother did form a strong connection with us, so perhaps we supplied some of what counselors are often called upon to supply. I can say that the law of the state in which the adoption occurred gave the birth mother a very long time (60 days) after the birth to change her mind about adoption.

In my experience the agency has very, very, very little to do with how open the adoption turns out to be and how much the adoptive family decides to create a connection with the birth family. After the child turns three, the agency didn't have any more recommended contact points and had really only strongly recommended that we send pictures and try to arrange phone calls from birth to three. We have done in-person visits a few times a year, every year, and that is what works for our child, our family and the birth family.

I think the connection you can potentially create through an open adoption is the fulcrum upon which most of the question of ethics will depend.

In conclusion, I don't think you have to be paralyzed, fraught or hopeless. I even know other families with domestic, open adoptions. I think the primary question is to consider, at a basic level, how well you think you can handle an open adoption. It is very doable and families handle it in an ethical, loving way all the time.
posted by Slothrop at 11:37 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I agree with Slothrop. We adopted our daughter through foster care. We got her when she was three months old. We said we'd take any age child, so we thought we'd get teenagers. Instead, we got what everyone wanted. She's seven now. We have an open adoption.

I try to read a lot by kids who were adopted and moms who relinquished for adoption and the pattern I see is that everyone agrees to an open adoption and then the adoptive parents eventually (sometimes quickly) cut the mother out of the picture. This, to me, is the biggest ethical issue. I agree that adoption is, by nature, traumatic, and that my joy came from someone else's loss, but I think that adoption is necessary and for some is the right choice.

So, what I mean is that I don't think you need to feel guilty about adopting. There's lots of joy in it. But, I think it's important to make sure that the mother is making as much of a choice as is possible, and that you do what you'll say you'll do, even when it sucks.

As I said, we have an open adoption and its difficult. I don't "own" holidays, for example. We're lucky in that I am not a big holiday person but her mom is so we let her do most of the hoopla. I don't "own" mother's day, for example. It's complicated. But adoption is complicated and I think by living the complication we're making things easier for my daughter when she's older. I never want her to feel that she has to choose or that one of us is more valid than the other. I always say that I'm mom with a capital M, but the reality is that she has two moms. That's just a reality.

I think it's important to be aware of the trauma my daughter went through, while also not seeing her as somehow ruined. My case is more extreme because my daughter was taken from her mother, but it's the same idea.

I say give yourself permission to jump in the fray. Act with integrity and don't make promises you won't keep. You'll be fine :)
posted by orsonet at 12:18 PM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Disclosure: My wife works for an adoption agency.

A lot of answers will depend on where you are located, since state rules vary greatly. As a rule of thumb, you might want to avoid facilitators. They generally aren't nearly as regulated as agencies and, while there are good ones, there are a lot of sketchy operators in that particular business.

Definitely interview the agency (if you decide to go that route) and try to get a feel for how they approach adoption. Does it seem like adoption is just a business to them? Or is it something more personal to them?

For instance, at my wife's agency, they are very focused on the birth mother's well-being before as well as after the adoption. Their counselors are always available to the mothers at any time, even just to talk. Similarly, they are very committed to open adoption (it's a requirement for all adoptive couples who sign-on with them), and work to make sure the adoptive family lives-up to their end of the bargain and maintains whatever contact was negotiated with the birthmom.

- MUST be non-discriminatory based on sexual orientation/gender/race/marital status

Gender, race and marital status is, generally, not an issue (although single men are very hard to place babies with) Sexual orientation, though, can be an issue, depending again on state law. Many states bar adoption by gay couples. And, even in states that allow it, there is a lot of pressure put on agencies by religious groups to not take on gay clients.

FWIW, it is far easier for gay females to adopt as single women. It's a sort-of gaming of the system. Single women are fairly common as adoptive moms. As long as there are no obvious clues about the relationship (i.e. obviously two women are living together and there's only one bed in the home) everyone will tend to look the other way, even in states that bar gay adoption. Plausible deniability, and all that. Single men, otoh, face an uphill battle. Gay or straight, birth mothers are highly unlikely to choose a single man over anyone else.

Again, all of this is highly variable depending on the rules in your particular locale.

Good luck!
posted by Thorzdad at 3:48 PM on March 19, 2015

We adopted our son domestically in an open adoption in California. (MeMail me if you want the agency details. We were very happy with our agency.) He's now 6. We see the birth parents a couple of times a year, which seems to be about the right amount for everyone involved. A few unorganized thoughts - much of this is based on our personal experience, so YMMV.

- I understand the concern that adoption starts with a trauma, but I think it's possible to overthink that. In many cases, the child staying with his/her birth parents would also be very traumatic, both for the child and the birth parents. So you have to consider degrees and then think not so much about how to avoid any trauma but how to address the trauma that occurs.

- In our case, counseling was offered to the birth mother, but she declined. Would she have benefited from counseling? Probably, but that's her decision.

- It's worth emphasizing that in many cases, women who choose to carry their baby to full term and then give it up for adoption may do so because of a lack of other options. Perhaps they don't have access to abortion, or are incarcerated, or are unable to make sound health decisions because of mental health or addiction issues, or perhaps they are opposed to abortion. (this was the case for us - our birth mother was totally healthy and fine, but chose not not abort.) This is a larger social concern to think about, but that doesn't mean it needs to rule your personal decision.

In short, like so many things in life there are complexities and complications. For me, it was always about what's best for our son. Everything else comes second. Maybe that's fair, maybe not, but that's how I have to approach it. Things are not black and white, but if you start from a place of honesty and respect, you'll be better off than many parents, either biological or adoptive.
posted by chbrooks at 9:06 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

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