Adoption Maternity Photos. Really?

Pregnant Woman Holding BellyI have heard of prospective adoptive parents who take photos of themselves during the waiting phase. Most of them feature couples holding chalk boards with phrases like, “Growing in My Heart” or “Waiting for You.” Some involve globes or maps of the countries from which their children will come. Apparently, these type of photos are called “adoption maternity photos.”

(I would post an example, but I don’t want to steal other people’s pictures. To see what I mean, go to Folsom Photography or Our Misconception.)

First, let me flat out say that I have no problem with people taking pictures like the ones I described above. If that’s a couple’s thing, great! It’s not my thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I’m cool with it. Some of the pictures are really cute, and make lovely additions to the adoption profile scrapbook.

But, do we have to call them “adoption maternity photos?” Adoptive parents aren’t pregnant – unless it’s embryo adoption, I suppose. So, OK, call the photos of women pregnant with “adopted” embryos “adoption maternity photos.” In a traditional adoption, the adoptive mom is not pregnant. There is no “maternity” to photograph pre-placement.

I know I’ve written before that waiting for an adoptive placement and pregnancy do have some parallels, but they are not 1:1. This desire to make everything “as if” we were pregnant… I’m not sure that’s entirely psychologically healthy, you know?

All right, maybe that’s just Robyn getting hung up on words again. News at 11, right?

Today, for the first time, I saw a whole different type of adoption maternity photos, and I was honestly horrified.

The photos featured the prospective adoptive parents posing for maternity photos with the expectant mother.

It’s really hard to argue that pre-birth matching isn’t inherently coercive when people pull crap like that.

That was the second thought that popped into my head. The first thought was: Wow, that smacks of entitlement!

The photos were posted on a Facebook group, and a number of people commented how “beautiful” or “cool” the photos were. I couldn’t think of a nice way to say, “You do realize that this was incredibly presumptuous of you, right?”

Until the baby is born, termination of parental rights is signed, and the revocation period (if any) has passed, that baby belongs to the expectant mother (and father). It’s one thing to show up, invited, to a few doctor’s appointments or an ultrasound. You can be supportive and cautiously excited. It’s another thing to put a pregnant woman in the middle of a PAP sandwich and include the caption “We prayed, He answered.”

No, He didn’t. At least, not yet.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m the only one who looks at these photos and thinks that it’s an intrusion. If the PAPs want maternity photos of their children’s birthmother and want to spring for a session just for her (and for the expectant father, too, of course), that might actually be a nice thing to do. But to all go together with the presumption that this baby growing inside another person will be theirs… I just don’t feel right about that.

When I searched for “adoption maternity photos” almost everything I got were of the first type. There was one web site of a photographer who does maternity shoots at a crisis pregnancy shelter, where many of the women place their children for adoption. But there were two photographer web sites that included photos of the “look, this woman is having our baby, only she’s not a surrogate, so it’s really her baby and we’re just pretending like it’s ours right now” ilk. I really hope this isn’t a growing trend.

What do you think? I know at least one of my readers is in that group. Am I overreacting?

(Image courtesy of adamr,

20 thoughts on “Adoption Maternity Photos. Really?

  1. EW, I’m with you. It’s very presumptuous. As someone who has “lost” an adoptive child, after placement, I can say that with all honesty, I am against the idea.

    No one ever goes into adoption as a perspective parent thinking it will happen to them, so I’m sure these people are like, “yeah, she/they said yes, this baby is ours”, and even holding little Kailynn for the 5 days after her birth, caring for her, loving her, changing her diaper (often, she was a machine), washing her, feeding her, trying to get her to sleep after being set down, we still never thought it would happen to us. Until it did.

    I agree, it is nice if the PAPs would give the birth family a nice photo shoot, so all members of the triad can have those memories. I don’t even mind taking a few with all members, but I don’t know that they should be published/posted. Those are private moments for the member of the potentially extended family to share. No one sees the photo we have of J with his birthmom, except us. WE don’t post it, WE don’t share it (unless J chooses too, it’s his story). It’s PRIVATE!

  2. I will say (as an adoptee and an adoptive mom) that the trendiness of adoption scares me. I am all for every kid having a family – obviously since I’ve adopted two kids out of foster care – but the trendiness right now opens up the door for all kinds of weirdness. It makes adoption about ME as the adoptive parents instead of about the child. It becomes all about completing my family and what I want and me getting some experience that I feel entitled to rather than the health and well being of the first mother and the child. It’s selfish and it’s weirdness.

    • I think adoption may seem trendy, but, given how much work it is, people who don’t truly want to be (adoptive) parents aren’t going to go through with it. And yes, there is a lot of entitlement going on, some of which is unavoidable, but some of which could be, with better pre-adoption education, common sense, and compassion.

  3. I can understand your reaction for all of the reasons that you state above but at the same time, no two adoption stories are the same. Maybe it was the expectant mom’s idea and not the HAPs? Maybe they have a strong, committed relationship that they want to cherish forever. I belong to a support group for waiting families working with my agency and there are 2 families right now who’s matched with emoms that are due any day now. In both situations, the emom seems 100% committed to adoption. It’s amazing and exciting to hear. They do exist and in those situations, it seems perfectly ok to me for those families to do portraits like this. For all the reasons you state though, it’s most definitely not for every situation.

    I think you should assume (unless you know otherwise) that the couple you mention are in a very strong, committed relationship with their emom, which is something to be celebrated not critiqued IMO. And if they aren’t, well, they will feel pretty sheepish and embarrassed soon enough.

    • My main concern, honestly, is “How much will the expectant mother feel like she’s taking away from the PAPs if she doesn’t place, given that the PAPs are this invested in the pregnancy?” Even if someone is 100% committed to adoption, pre-birth, the game can totally change post-birth.

  4. You dont know the background of the people in the websites that “horrify” you. Before you judge with “I hope it’s not a growing trend” realize that the relationships in the photos may go past “adoptive parents and birth mom” The photos don’t tell you who the people are outside of the title given by society. What if the birth mom is the sister of the adoptive parent? How is that horrifying? While you are free to voice your opinion; I really hope you take a step back and put on another set of shoes.

    • Actually, because people love to overshare on the Internet (and I’m one of them), I know that 2 of the photo shoots involved an expectant mom who did not previously know the adoptive couple, while 1 of the photo shoots was a kinship adoption, though the expectant mom was not the sister of either of the adoptive parents.
      If these were just “let’s all get our picture taken together” shots, I would not be as judgmental. It’s the fact that they were blatantly maternity shots, with the adoptive parents obviously laying claim to the unborn child within another woman’s body that horrified me. And that horror doesn’t change with knowing it’s a kinship adoption.

  5. Overreacting in my opinion. Maybe these photos/shoots help a BIRTHMOTHER feel better about the whole process in general. As long as everyone is consenting, I see it as similar to a surrogacy.

    • But adoption isn’t surrogacy. In surrogacy, there is a contract that essentially states that the child within the pregnant woman will belong to the intended parents. Not adoptive parents, but intended parents. Often, the child within the woman isn’t even genetically related to her – there’s the use of donor eggs or a donated embryo.
      In adoption, that baby doesn’t belong to the adoptive parents until much later in the process. Maybe some expectant moms would find a maternity shoot fun or helpful. But I see so much more potential for it to be coercive.

  6. I saw the post…and was thinking the same thing!!! And, frankly, I was considering saying something, but I didn’t want to be rude. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens if/when that EM decides to parent.

    • I know the one on the group did place. Of the people who comment on my blog on Facebook, 2 agreed that the concept was inappropriate (both adoptive parents), 1 didn’t understand why they’d do it at all (adoptee), and 1 thought it was OK (not connected to adoption, afaik).

  7. It’s not psychologically healthy to do too much comparison. There is no doubt that many people try to make themselves think it’s the same or almost the same thing. It’s not. And it’s better for the child if they go into adoption with their eyes wide open.

  8. For the “prospective adoptive parents who take photos of themselves during the waiting phase. Most of them feature couples holding chalk boards with phrases like, “Growing in My Heart” or “Waiting for You.””
    Sometime its nice to have professional photos taken of your family for the adoption book, life book for the adoptive child. Not all people have nice family photos, using props can make the photo speak more for itself. It’s truly a personal choice of what a family wants to do and not to judge them for it. Oh, and we didn’t call our photo shoot “adoption maternity photos.” We called it a Family Photo Shoot.

    • I agree. As I said, I don’t have any problem with people who do this, it’s just not our particular style. We did have friends take pictures of us around our house. My issue – and it’s not even really that big of an issue, and I admitted it’s largely semantic – is just in calling it “Adoption Maternity Photos.”
      I’ve been to your blog through AFC. I meant to send in a recipe. As often happens, I got sidetracked. Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  9. I think the prospective adoptive parents who take such photos are in deep denial about the incontrovertible fact that adoption begins with rupture, with trauma. I don’t know why you would want to gloss over that, or worse yet, candy-coat it. Seems worse than disrespectful, downright re-traumatizing for the mother and for the child, if adopted.

    Not so completely off-topic hijack: I’d like to vent some frustration about being unable to get the adoption process started. We don’t think international programs are ethical these days. Foster care adoption is not going to work for us as we have 4 bio kids in the home and the youngest are 6 (local agencies tell us we can not expect to preserve birth order as the kids are older and may pose risks to our other children). The great non-profit private agencies in our area say I’m too old (47) for infant adoption, we have too many children. Someone must think, though, that their unborn child, if God forbid they feel they need to make an adoption plan, would benefit from being in a large loving family with 4 doting big sisters?

    I feel like we’d be a great adoptive family. We have spent a long time reviewing the ethics and psychological/social impacts of adoption on all members of the triad. We would have great respect for and full intention to keep the bond with the first family alive and well. We have studied and considered all aspects of trans-racial adoption and live in one of the most racially diverse areas of the country. We have plenty of money. I’m a stay-at-home mom. OK, so we do have a gender preference and I realize that’s not ideal. But you’d think that somehow the other factors in our favor would balance that, somehow, right??

    Sorry for the pity party. Lawyers are willing to take our money but (of course) but no guarantees.

    I’m taking the energy and starting volunteer work with a children’s refugee center this week (my oldest daughter too, tutoring small ones. Proud!). Still don’t want to give up hope.

  10. Robyn,
    Anything like that makes me sad. Watching the mindsets just over the last 5 years you can see how because “a” was okay “b” will be fine too, and they are right, no one speaks up and says wait a minute, and if you do then you are being mean, or judgemental. It’s the race to the bottom of the slippery slope / the pendulum has swung too far. 5 years ago there were great posts on where is the line, how can we protect expectant mothers, you are crossing the line…now everything is applauded regardless of how ridiculous it is…

    • I do agree with you to a certain extent. It seems to me that more people are adopting than there were even 5 years ago. Certainly, more people who would have adopted internationally are now adopting domestically due to so many countries closing. I think a lot of the “newbies” aren’t as conscientious as they should be. It is, as you say, a race to the bottom.

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