Are Birthmother Expenses Necessary?

In my last post, I discussed how birthmother expenses work.

Many people, sometimes adoptive parents, but also birth parents, adoptees, and others inside and outside of the adoption community, question whether birthmother expenses are necessary. Their argument goes like this:

  • How would she be making ends meet if she wasn’t pregnant and placing?
  • Lots of women work while they’re pregnant, why can’t they?
  • There are welfare programs like WIC, “food stamps,” Section 8 housing, and more, not to mention charities that help pregnant women. Adoption agencies should help expectant mothers (e-moms) get those resources, not take money from prospective adoptive parents (PAPs).

The first question is good for a brainstorming session between an e-mom and a counselor. However, it’s not really useful as an argument against paying birthmother expenses. The fact is, the woman is pregnant, and she didn’t mean to be. (More on that in a minute.) While money isn’t the only reason for an e-mom to place, it often is a reason. The e-mom is considering placing, at least in part,  because she can’t afford to provide for her child, or, in many cases, children. (Many birthmothers already have children.) Asking what she would do if she wasn’t pregnant and considering placing the child for adoption isn’t very helpful.

It is true that many women work while they are pregnant. However, what about those who were unemployed prior to becoming pregnant? E-moms may be physically able to work, but they may not have the ability to find a job. Have you ever tried to get a job while you’re pregnant? My sister did. She had a degree from a decent university, as well as job experience. She was interviewing for receptionist and admin positions. She didn’t get anything. No one wanted to hire a pregnant woman.

Max and I are college graduates. We each have more than 10 years of experience in our fields. When he was laid off last year, it took him months to find a job, and he wasn’t pregnant. Although most, if not all, states prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, the reality is, if a potential employer has two people who are equally qualified for the job, and one of them is pregnant, the one who’s not pregnant is going to get the job.

The job market is terrible, even for college grads. If people don’t have college degrees, or even high school degrees, then they’re not very likely to find work. Neither of my children’s birthmothers have college degrees. They both live in areas that have been hard hit by economic depression. They both have other children they have to care for, too. You can say that the state can provide child care expenses, but the money they provide isn’t much, and day care centers only have a certain number of slots available for these kinds of kids.

Moving on to “welfare” programs. People love to throw out the acronym WIC (Women, Infants, Children). But did you know that the average WIC benefit for a family in California is $63 a month? In New York, the average WIC benefit for a family is $45. Take a look at what WIC covers. It is pitifully little. The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation lists the average “food stamp” benefits per person in each state. In California, it’s $149.05. How much food can you buy with $149? Not a month’s worth, even if you’re single and coupon like crazy. Also, getting on “food stamps” as a single person can be difficult. Finally, Republicans in Congress want to cut WIC and “food stamps.” Benefits keep going down.

Section 8 (low-income) housing has waiting lists in all states. You don’t just make less than a certain amount and, boom!, get a free apartment. You have to wait your turn. It can take years to get a Section 8 voucher. Furthermore, to obtain housing, you cannot have any outstanding home-related bills. So, if you couldn’t pay your electric bill at your last place, you have to pay that bill before you can rent a new place. (This information comes from a personal source. It may vary from state to state.)

As for charities that help pregnant women, all charities are feeling the pinch these days. There are more people who need services than there are donors to provide money for those services. Birthmother bloggers I trust have written that crisis pregnancy centers are often fronts for adoption agencies, or at least, they funnel clients to agencies. It’s difficult to find a reputable center.

Basically, many e-moms are between a rock and a hard place. They don’t have the money to parent. They may qualify for “welfare,” but it may not be enough to provide for their needs. Or, they may fall just short of qualifying for “welfare,” which is worse. There aren’t enough independent organizations to help out. So, they ask for “birthmother expenses” from the PAPs.

Asking for and receiving expenses may make an e-mom feel as though she must place her child with the PAPs. After all, they have the money she lacks, right? We all know, however, that it takes more than money to raise a child.

The way birthmother expenses work now, it is very easy for PAPs to be scammed. While I believe (perhaps naively) that most women who are planning to place and change their minds really do change their minds, there are some women who play the system, getting as much money as they can without intending to place. There are women who intend to place their babies, but only if they can get a certain dollar amount. (On a forum I frequent, an e-mom found out how much money in expenses a friend received, now she wants that same amount.) There are also women who don’t want to place their children, but feel that they must because they asked for (or were encouraged by unethical professionals to ask for) so much in expenses.

As the system stands now, birthmother expenses are necessary in some cases. However, the system does not work. It is coercive and encourages scammers. There is little accountability and no standardization. In some states, birthmother expenses are tantamount to baby selling. We have also created a system in which only those women who are considering placing their children are offered help. How is that OK?

In my next post, learn how birthmother expenses work in Robyn’s Adoptionland.

5 thoughts on “Are Birthmother Expenses Necessary?

  1. I would like to know why infertile couples are responsible for fixing or recreating the social welfare net. I certain agree it is broken, but I don’t feel like it is my place to fix it. That seems very unfair that infertile couples that to self fund their infertile treatments and then have to recreate the social welfare programs because our society’s social welfare programs are broken. That one hell of a burden to place on the infertile!

    • Prospective adoptive parents aren’t just infertile couples. My husband and I aren’t infertile, and plenty of singles and G/L couples adopt as well.
      That said, you’d be right to say that that PAPs shouldn’t be responsible for re-creating the social welfare net. All Americans should be concerned about our deteriorating social welfare net. We should be working towards and electing representatives who work towards income equality, raising the minimum wage, funding schools instead of prisons, ensuring universal access to affordable health care, and ensuring reproductive freedom. However, as long as the Republicans control Congress, we’re never going to see all of that happen. In the mean time, there are expectant mothers who do need help.
      So, some birthmother expenses are, unfortunately, necessary. Are they necessary to the extent that they are currently used? No. And that’s a problem too.

  2. Good point about how hard it is to find a job while pregnant…I know I couldn’t find a job the entire year we were in the process of adopting b/c no employer wanted to hire me knowing I would be taking an adoption leave for a few weeks.

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