In private domestic infant adoption, most prospective adoptive parents match with an expectant mother sometime during her pregnancy. According to the latest Adoptive Families Cost and Timing Survey, 35% of adoptive parents matched less than one month before their child was born. Only 12% matched after birth. So that means roughly 43% matched more than one month before their child was born. We matched with Jackson’s birthmother three months before Jackson was born (almost to the day, actually) and with Cassie’s birthmother two months before Cassie was born.
There is a small, but vocal, group of people who believe that pre-birth matching is coercive and should never happen. Some of these people believe that babies should go into cradle care after birth. Cradle care is a kind of private foster care for babies whose parents are considering adoption. At least a few of these people feel that new mothers should have to take their babies home for a certain amount of time. (Never mind the fact that some women don’t have safe homes, or homes at all.)
Unsurprisingly, I like pre-birth matching when it’s done well. However, I don’t think it’s usually done well in the world today. In today’s post, I’m going to present a few arguments against pre-birth matching and rebut those arguments, as well as provide a few arguments in favor of pre-birth matching. In my next post, I’m going to talk about pre-birth matching in Robyn’s Adoption Land.
Placing the baby in cradle care would actually give the new parents more time to find a good match, because they wouldn’t have to treat an impending due date as a deadline. Not necessarily. There are no laws stating that matches have to occur pre-birth. If an expectant mom wants to wait, she can. Some agencies will say she can’t, but that’s one of the hallmarks of an unethical agency. Expectant parents can match whenever they want to match, before or after birth. You don’t have to outlaw pre-birth matching for everyone. Furthermore, I think having a baby born would actually make matching more urgent. How long can the baby stay in cradle care? I believe that a baby should be with his or her parents from as early on as possible. The longer a baby is in cradle care, the more that baby will bond with a set of caregivers who will not be their forever parents. Cradle care is also expensive. Who pays for it?
With pre-birth matching, there is more possibility of an expectant parent being outright coerced into placing. I think if outright coercion is going to happen, it’s going to happen no matter when you match. A lot of the cases of coercion I’ve read about occur when a young woman’s parents draw a line in the sand and say, “You will not keep this baby.” Would matching post-birth help these (grand)parents see the error of their ways in the shining light of their new grandchild’s face? I don’t know. I think this is one of those areas where adoption itself needs to be improved, and not an argument against pre-birth matching.
Pre-birth matching creates emotional pressure on the e-parents to place. An e-mom could choose to place just because she feels bad for the PAPs. This is actually a valid point, although it does go both ways. But to speak to the validity, yes, it’s worse to hurt actual people you know than to hurt theoretical people. Some new mothers may very use their relationship with the PAPs as the deciding factor to place instead of parent. They may fear hurting the PAPs, or feel that the PAPs are so much more prepared or more deserving. This point right here is one I’m going to speak to in the improvements on pre-birth matching in Robyn’s Adoption Land.
Pre-birth matching is hard on adoptive parents. It can be heartbreaking to feel like you’re going to have a baby, and then have that taken away. True, but a lot of this feeling that you’re going to have a baby is heaped on you by the adoption professionals. The way some agencies and professionals talk about pre-birth matching, as though it really is a pregnancy, is just plain wrong. Again, more on that in Robyn’s Adoption Land.
There would be no scams if pre-birth matching didn’t exist. Really? Because just off the top of my head, I can think of at least one scam that could be run with post-birth matching. And I’m a really nice person who is in no way manipulative. If in the span of 60 seconds, I can come up with one scam, I’m sure a truly devious person could come up with more.
Pre-birth matches might cause PAPs to make agreements they don’t feel comfortable with, or don’t intend to keep. So might post-birth matches. Some PAPs are so baby crazy that they will agree to anything without thinking it through. (And I can’t be judgmental of these people, because I understand that.) I think having a baby actually there might make it more likely that they will agree to a situation that isn’t right for them, because, OMG! The baby is right there!!!
Pre-birth matches are expensive for PAPs. “Birthmother expenses” have become the norm in most states. Pre-birth matching does exacerbate that. There are some agencies or professionals who will match an expectant mom as early as possible so that she can collect as many expenses from the PAPs as possible. But again, the problem here is how birthmother expenses are being used, not pre-birth matching. PAPs have the ability to decline any match that doesn’t feel right to them.
There are also some compelling arguments for pre-birth matching.
Some parents can’t bring their children home. There are some new mothers who are homeless, or who do not have safe living situations. These parents would have to use cradle care, and some people do not like cradle care at all. They want to know that their children are safe, with the people who will be their parents forever. There are also new mothers who are in jail. There are new mothers who have had previous children removed by their state’s social services department. These women are told, “You can choose to make a private adoption plan, or we will take your baby into the foster care system.” So, no, they don’t have much of a choice, and they surely can’t choose to bring their babies home, nor can they place them in cradle care.
Expectant moms want the chance to make the best decision possible. To that end, they want to know the people to whom they may be giving their children. This is the argument I make most often, and it’s the argument I see most often from birthmothers. I often say that you wouldn’t choose who you were going to marry without establishing a relationship first, so why would a biological parent choose adoptive parents for her baby without establishing a relationship first? Now, marriage and adoption aren’t entirely analogous, but I do believe the analogy is apt here. There have been expectant parents who, upon getting to know their child’s PAPs, have seen that those PAPs are not the right ones, and have either chosen new APs or chosen to parent. In cases in which the biological parent will not be able to bring the baby home, as outlined above, getting to know the APs can actually be very beneficial.
If PAPs and e-parents didn’t have the time to develop a relationship, they would not have known what was possible. One woman on an adoption forum noted that, at first, neither she nor their child’s birthmother wanted an open adoption. However, they did match pre-birth, and got to know one another. Because of that, they became friends, and now have a fully open adoption. Some people would argue that, if they hadn’t been friends, the birthmother may not have chosen to parent. That’s a valid point. But it’s also valid to say that maybe she would still have chosen to place, but they would not have the same friendly, open relationship, and that would be truly sad. There are times when biological parents choose to parent their children, but that is not the best choice for those children. Biology isn’t always best. This is the flip side to the emotional pressure to place argument. If placement is in the child’s best interest – and I’ll admit that it may be difficult to ascertain pre-birth or even just after birth – then establishing a relationship pre-birth can help the expectant parents feel comfortable with their decision.
I would very much like to know what you think. So tell me!