Should Birth Fathers Have a Say in Adoption?

I just read an article on The Salt Lake Tribune about Open Adoption and it was informative. For those of you who don’t know, the adoption practices of Utah, in comparison with other states, has been called in to question; what that question is has morphed into something uglier and bigger than it needs to be, in my opinion.

Initially it started with the rights of birth fathers, and what exactly their rights are. This is a sensitive place for me. In my work life, we help mediate divorces and get a stipulation in order that will be turned into an Order through the court system. More often than not, the divorces involve children and we set up parent time plans and calendars. Lately we’ve seen a lot of mediations come through that are paternity mediations. This means mom and dad weren’t married, but dad wants rights. I think this is great to a degree. (That sounded harsh)  It’s hard to separate my individual experience with everyone else’s. I need to remember that not all birth fathers have put the birth mother’s life in danger on multiple occasions. Or that all birth fathers would be a danger to their child. In fact, sometimes it’s the exact opposite. Only mom doesn’t want dad to have any custody or rights because that would limit the amount of child support she receives from him. She wants him to have just enough in order to get money from him. It’s the truth and it’s disgusting. But, I digress…

Should birth fathers have legal rights in the adoption process? That’s the initial question to the debate that has unfolded. Though, now it has morphed into every birth mother who has had a bad experience through the adoption process coming forth and bad mouthing open adoption because of their singular bad experience. Do promises get made that aren’t kept? Yes, probably more often than not, and that’s wrong. And if you are an adoptive parent who promised the moon and stars only to pull the rug out from under the birth mother once the adoption was finalized, then shame on you. However, as a birth mother/parent, it is important for us to set boundaries for ourselves and the child we placed. Because, truth of the matter is, we signed our rights away. So there is reprimand to go around on every angle of this debate. There is not one side that is purer than the other. The only purity out of all of this is the child that was born and placed. They are the light.

It wasn’t the article that bothered me. It was the comments being made that were truly disturbing. Critical phrases were being thrown right and left. And accusations from one’s personal experiences were being generalized on the “whole” experience that is adoption. I typically don’t make practice to respond to newspaper articles, but I did on this one.

Here’s what we all need to remember folks:

  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Don’t place your child for adoption with people you aren’t 1000% sure about.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. This goes for birth parents, adoptive parents, and extended family.
  • Know your weakness and anticipate it surfacing through rehabilitation. For a birth mother this would be feelings of anger towards the adoptive family because they can offer what you can’t. That’s natural, but it doesn’t mean that it’s “their” fault.  It’s not your fault either. It is what it is. There are always going to be the “what if’s” to any situation. There are always going to be acknowledgments for things you could have done differently. And that’s the point… and that’s why it isn’t “their” fault.  As for an adoptive parent, I can only assume what the feelings might be, and this blog is not the place for assumptions.
  • Be kind with your language. A child wasn’t “given up”—they were placed.  In my case, he was placed lovingly and with a tear-drenched head into the arms of his parent’s social worker.
  • Your experience isn’t the “whole” definable experience.  Do not ever associate all of what open adoption is with your experience only. I’ve had a great experience. I’m one of the lucky birth mothers whose adoptive couple kept their word and were honest when they weren’t able to make promises. I know this isn’t the case for every birth mother out there and that’s unfortunate. On the flip-side of that proverbial coin, if your experience as a birth mother is rotten, that doesn’t mean that all of Open Adoption is. So be careful in how you express your experience. It may feel all encompassing and total, but it isn’t, it is yours and very singular in the details.
  • This isn’t about you (adoptive parent or birth parent). “This”— meaning open adoption is about what is BEST for the child who is placed. Remember that.

Here is my fear. If the fight gets bigger and the sides get more defined and the “vision” of open adoption gets so completely muddied by individual experiences, then it will be legislated. The law will get involved and it will make it definable. For the adoptive parents out there who are reneging on their promises: you are damaging more than just a birth mother’s soul, you are throwing the gauntlet and forcing legislation to make a decision that could potentially harm you in the future and the promises you make. For the birth mothers who demand a constant presence in the child’s life that you no longer have legal rights to: you are throwing the gauntlet and forcing legislation to make a decision that will impact every future birth mother to come, and that may not be for the best, even though in your individual case it might be. An entire communities’ rights should NEVER be defined by an individual’s wrongs or victimization, and that is what I’m afraid will come from this debate.

It started simple; should birth fathers have a say in the placement of the child? (I still don’t fully have an opinion on this, because my opinion is clouded by personal experience.) It’s morphed into: should verbal contracts made before placement be binding after placement? In one instance, the answer is an easy “yes” because, perhaps then, people will be more careful in what they want to promise. Then again, the answer is an easy “no” because by legalizing everything, the communication will be forced, and “force” is not good for a child. There is no balance in enforcement.

Written by Jason Granillo

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