Shared Beginnings started in early 2019 out of a desire to see expectant/birth moms treated with dignity and respect and given a voice throughout the adoption process. It is no surprise that our system is broken in many ways and that more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed. One of the ways we have seen this brokenness firsthand is in the world of adoption. Whether it’s expectant moms being promised a new way of life and lump sums of money like this or just adoption professionals not following through with postpartum care and lifelong counseling, we are witnessing the deficits this creates and the hurt it causes so many families, so we want to help educate our community about adoption and what to look for when placing or adopting a child.

1. Expectant mothers should never be offered lump sums or cash payments.

This is not only unethical, it’s illegal. While there are laws that allow for agencies and nonprofits to help with rent, groceries, and other expenses, every single dollar spent needs to be accounted for and reported to the court.

2. Expectant mothers should be counseled about their decision to place their child for adoption or parent them.

Parenting needs to be discussed as a viable option to ensure placing is indeed the right choice for this family. You can read more about expectant/birth mother care in this article.

3. Expectant mothers need to be called expectant mothers, not birth mothers.

Moms making an adoption plan have the same rights as any other expectant mom and should be treated with the same amount of respect and dignity. Calling an expectant mother a birth mom denies the reality that she can still choose to parent up until her parental rights are relinquished. You can read more about why language is important in adoption here.

4. Ethical adoption agencies will care for the physical, emotional, and mental needs of expectant mothers and birth mothers.

From counseling offered as an expectant mom makes hard decisions like whether to parent or place, to help with living expenses and access to preventative care so families can get on their feet, adoption professionals need to prioritize the long-term well being of these families. Counseling needs to be offered to birth mothers free of charge long after babies have been placed. Sadly, many times, these women place children and are effectively told, “Good luck” as they walk through the postpartum period while trying to regain a sense of normalcy.

5. Ethical adoptions involve separate representation.

Separate representation means that each party has their own, unbiased representation. Every expectant mother needs the option of a lawyer committed to her well-being; one who supports her regardless of the decisions she makes moving forward. Should the expectant mother agree to separate representation, adoptive parents need a separate lawyer committed to educating and walking alongside them throughout the process. A lack of separate representation inevitably leaves the door open to coercion and compromise.

6. Ethical agencies will advocate for whatever is best for the mother and child.

In most cases, that means an open or semi-open adoption. Maintaining ties to original families and birth cultures is vital for the health and wellness of the adoptees. Adoptive families need to not only respect this but be fully on board with supporting healthy relationships with biological families.

7. Adoption professionals should provide educational resources for adoptive families.

Anyone who has adopted can tell you that education is lacking on the front end of adoption the majority of the time. Adoption comes with so many unknowns and it can be overwhelming to try to figure it all out. While adoption agencies may not have sophisticated materials for your education, you should have access to and be encouraged (or required) to learn from educational resources like this one and this one. Sometimes this look like educational emails. Other times it looks like required reading, movies or documentaries. Adult adoptees, who advocate for ethical practices, are some of the best tools adoptive parents have because they have lived through it all and can tell us what helps heal and what causes harm. Adoptive parents have to ask themselves the hard questions and really wrestle with the things that adoptees are bringing to light.

8. Translators need to be present every step of the way.

Any expectant mother who is not fluent in English should be provided an unbiased translator every step of the way. With the help of a translator, the wishes of an expectant mother can be fully heard and honored. A translator will also ensure the expectant mother is informed of her rights at every step and that she understands exactly what she is signing before she signs it.

Every expectant mother, adoptive family, and adoption is unique, so there’s no cookie-cutter approach that works 100% of the time but there are non-negotiable aspects when it comes to maintaining high standards of care and ensuring the most vulnerable are protected and heard throughout the process. At Shared Beginnings, we are growing and learning how we can continue to advocate for and support expectant mothers, birth mothers, and adoptees well. We strive to be a safe place for the marginalized and we are constantly seeking to learn and grow. Will you join us? Let’s all learn how we can expect and demand more from adoption professionals to ensure ethical standards are the new norm and every voice at the table is heard.