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Happy Birthmother’s Day

Wall Street Journal; New York; May 10, 1985; By ;
Edition: Eastern edition
Start Page: 1
ISSN: 00999660
Abstract:
But you could not bring yourself to abort your baby. And it also became clear to you that you were in no position to raise a child alone. My wife and I know from the adoption agency that you quit school in about your fifth month, managed to hold on to a part-time job, got in to see a doctor and, finally, with surprising ease, gave birth to a nine-pound baby boy — our son.

Only some 50,000 women each year make the choice you did. In fact, no one even knows the correct numbers for sure because the federal government stopped collecting adoption statistics in 1975. In contrast, we do know that abortions now number about 1.6 million annually — more than one in four pregnancies. Out-of-wedlock births also have risen — to about 715,000. According to the National Committee for Adoption, only 10% of women who bear babies out of wedlock today relinquish them for adoption, compared with approximately 80% a generation ago.

Philanthropy over the years moved away from support of maternity residences, the number of such residences dropping from 201 to 100 from 1966 to 1981. Only recently have some churches and private charities returned to this field. Yet the need for a safe haven is great. As you know, today’s pressure on an unwed prospective mother considering placing her child for adoption is not so much the moral opprobrium of old, based on a chastity code, but the peer pressure of other young people, who, in contradictory fashion, argue first the “smart” course of abortion, and then, when birth is coming, censure a woman if she is going to “give away” her baby. A woman who thinks first of the well-being of her infant and perhaps her own long-term emotional well-being as well, and, accordingly, considers placing her child for adoption, often is left to shift for herself unless she connects early with a well-funded adoption agency or a sympathetic and generous doctor.

Full Text:
Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc May 10, 1985

You were a teen-ager and very much alone. Your boyfriend urged you to get an abortion and thought that you had done so. He also broke off the relationship then. You didn’t tell your parents anything of your pregnancy because you knew they would feel humiliated and angry. They did finally figure it out and, yes, at the end they all but abandoned you, even hinting that they wished you had secretly had an abortion to spare them their “shame.”

But you could not bring yourself to abort your baby. And it also became clear to you that you were in no position to raise a child alone. My wife and I know from the adoption agency that you quit school in about your fifth month, managed to hold on to a part-time job, got in to see a doctor and, finally, with surprising ease, gave birth to a nine-pound baby boy — our son.

Only some 50,000 women each year make the choice you did. In fact, no one even knows the correct numbers for sure because the federal government stopped collecting adoption statistics in 1975. In contrast, we do know that abortions now number about 1.6 million annually — more than one in four pregnancies. Out-of-wedlock births also have risen — to about 715,000. According to the National Committee for Adoption, only 10% of women who bear babies out of wedlock today relinquish them for adoption, compared with approximately 80% a generation ago.

Changing mores that have decreased the stigma of unmarried single parenthood and improved public assistance for single mothers (by no means lavish, but better than a generation ago) have made unmarried single parenthood less forbidding. Some argue that the availability of welfare benefits actually stimulates out-of-wedlock births in certain poor families.

Meanwhile, however, adoption has become virtually the “forgotten option,” as President Reagan calls it.

Philanthropy over the years moved away from support of maternity residences, the number of such residences dropping from 201 to 100 from 1966 to 1981. Only recently have some churches and private charities returned to this field. Yet the need for a safe haven is great. As you know, today’s pressure on an unwed prospective mother considering placing her child for adoption is not so much the moral opprobrium of old, based on a chastity code, but the peer pressure of other young people, who, in contradictory fashion, argue first the “smart” course of abortion, and then, when birth is coming, censure a woman if she is going to “give away” her baby. A woman who thinks first of the well-being of her infant and perhaps her own long-term emotional well-being as well, and, accordingly, considers placing her child for adoption, often is left to shift for herself unless she connects early with a well-funded adoption agency or a sympathetic and generous doctor.

Many social agencies and doctors neglect to describe adoption as a practical option, let alone the best one. In most cases, if abortion is rejected, the professionals in the field tend to act on the medical conviction that “healthy mothers mean healthy babies,” which concludes that since relinquishment is an emotionally trying process in the short term, readying a young woman for a well-supported single motherhood (probably on welfare) is the best way to conduct the pregnancy.

Recently, some social workers’ opinions seem to be turning back toward the adoption option. Already there has been a turnaround on foster care, spurred in part by the Department of Health and Human Services. Whereas the practice until a few years ago was to cycle even permanently abandoned children through a long series of foster-care homes or institutions, today the federal government promotes the adoption of any child who is unlikely to be returned to his original parents. But an estimated 33,000 such children, most of them older, handicapped or from minority racial backgrounds, remain in foster care, awaiting more aggressive adoption efforts by the agencies in charge of them.

What we know about children raised in long-term foster care or in single-parent homes where no paternal responsibility exists (especially households headed by a never-married teen-ager) is that the statistical likelihood of child abuse, serious neglect, poverty, drug use, suicide and involvement in crime is far greater than in the population as a whole. Some children raised in such circumstances fare well, usually thanks to a determined mother, but the odds are not good.

The relative decline of adoption is most regrettable because it is entirely unnecessary. Trends of delayed marriage and child rearing in our time have contributed to high infertility rates, even though childless couples are better off financially than ever before. Several million American men and women are in fertility treatment. The waiting lists at adoption agencies have never been so long.

Yet young women like you still run an obstacle course to make what is often the best resolution of a difficult problem — the best for the child, society and for you — the birthmother. Even if the obstacle course were made an easy path, the adoption option probably would not secure the support it once had. But who can deny that it would be chosen more often than it is today?

The Reagan administration has made important efforts in promoting adoption, guided primarily by the president’s own strong feelings on the subject. But adoption still lacks strong political or programmatic backing from any sphere. The National Committee for Adoption is not nearly so well funded as comparable advocacy groups. As for media and the entertainment culture, I cannot think of a single positive newspaper or magazine article or television program in recent years describing the perspective of a birthmother who chose placing her child for adoption.

Yet you are remembered. Adoptive parents and their children remember.

In our own case, there are two birthmothers our family keeps in its prayers today, for your son has a one-year-old brother now. We also sent the second boy’s birthmother a letter after his birth, also forwarded anonymously through the adoption agency. We understand our new son’s birthmother cried when she read it, just as you did. The adoption agency advised against flowers or other contacts, and maybe they were right.

But we think of you often, and are grateful. So will our son be when he is old enough to understand, for your choice meant survival itself, in the first instance, and then the chance to grow up with two parents in a secure home. It was the right decision for him, and we suspect that it was the right one for you. We think you may be finishing college now, and perhaps you soon will have a family of your own.

When you think back to the first baby you bore, it may be with some sadness. But we hope it is with some satisfaction and pride, too, in knowing that you are blessed by at least three people you don’t know by name — on Mother’s Day.

Mr. Chapman directs the White House Office of Planning and Evaluation.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.