Who Is She?

I’ve been keeping statistics for the programs where I worked for thirty years.  Let me outline the statistics on birth mothers in these programs in Arizona.

Her age:  In those beginning days of my adoptions work, it was common for the woman who placed her baby to be as young as 15 or 16, but more frequently between 18 and 21.  The baby was usually her first born.  Today women who place their babies for adoption tend to be in their late 20s or in their 30s (confirmed by workers from other states whom I’ve spoken with at National conferences).  A few teens still make a placement plan as do a few women in their 40s, but more commonly she is a woman in her 20s or 30s who already had children, whether they were raising them or being raised within the birth family. 

Her marital status:  Though most are single, about 10% are married; about 2% are divorced.

Ethnicity:  When I started working as a pregnancy counselor in Tucson in 1979, my supervisor, who handled the adoption side of the agency, explained we needed Hispanic and Black families as prospective adoptive families because pregnancy clients who were Caucasian whose baby was bi-racial (the baby’s fathers were Hispanic or Black) would place, but pregnancy clients who were themselves Hispanic or Black did not place.  That was pretty much the case (with some exceptions) for the early 80s, but things changed, including the politically correct terminology.  These days the ethnicity of the birth mothers tend to reflect the makeup of the community.  In Phoenix that has meant that the birth mothers for the last few years have been about 55% Caucasian, 40% Hispanic, 2% African American and 3% Native American.  In our State we seldom see Asian birth mothers, unless they were themselves adopted.

Reasons for adoption:  In fact, familiarity with adoption is one of the reasons cited by women who carry through their adoption plan.  If she is adopted, or if she has an adopted sibling or if one of her parents or grandparents is adopted, she has seen first hand the benefits for a child, and she may consider adoption even if her peers do not. 

In recent years as high as 17% of the placements have been from drop-in birth mothers.  It is preferable, from the agency standpoint, for a pregnancy client to come to the agency by the sixth month of her pregnancy. 

Birth Fathers:  Having a few months before delivery gives the pregnancy counselor time to work with her client to contact the father of the baby, for in almost every state, it is necessary for him to be made aware of his rights.  It’s sad but true that adoption is the only one of her options where a pregnant woman must notify the father of the baby about the pregnancy and her decision.  She can terminate the pregnancy without his knowledge; she can even parent the child without telling him of the pregnancy — but if adoption is the plan, he must be notified and given an opportunity to participate in the plan for the child’s future.  In Arizona, he has thirty days after the notification in which to step forward and file a petition for paternity if he wants to halt an adoption plan for his child. 

Moms don’t always like to hear this.  They may say, “He left me!  He doesn’t deserve to be involved in this child’s life!”  The goal of the pregnancy counselor is to gently shift the focus to the child.  Making the adoption plan safe by having his rights dealt with prior to the delivery is much preferred to waiting for his notification to take place after the baby is born.  Under Arizona law, if she doesn’t know how to find him, the agency must show the Court they made ‘due diligence’ to find him, which may mean hiring a private detective to locate him.  If he cannot be found, then publication of the notice — which has her name and address in it — must appear in a newspaper. 

Seeing the adoption from the child’s side also helps her understand the benefits to the child of the father’s involvement, even if it is minimal.  The child will grow up with medical histories from both sides of his family, as well as a social history.  One adoptive mom wrote a letter to the previously uninvolved birth father requesting information.  She wrote, “We’d like to know if we have the potential for a budding musician or a little Jay Leno that we can help to develop to his potential.” 

I’ll expand on the role of the birth father in subsequent posts.  The next post, however, will review Dear Birthmother by Kathleen Silber and Phyllis Speedlin.  This classic, first published in 1982, introduced the idea of open adoption.

(If I failed to adequately explain something, or used terminology that is unfamiliar, please write a comment, and I’ll address those issues.)

Beth Kozan, Phoenix, AZ

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3 Responses to “Who Is She?”

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