Is it a woman's right to surrender her child?

photo credit: Stu Phillips

I took part in a discussion amongst other adult adopted women. This discussion become very heated when a particular original mother entered the conversation.  This original mother surrendered her child because, in essence, she didn't want to change her lifestyle and be a single parent.  This original mother spoke of all the traveling she has done and blogs about her life as an original mother in open adoption.

I have never visited the blog, but I understand it offends many people, especially adoptees.   Most of my fellow adoptees felt offended by this woman because we were "her child"  at one time.  We were left and we all have a visceral reaction to hearing a mother discuss why she left her child (especially when those reasons appear shallow or selfish).

Aside from that reaction, I asked the group why are women so hard on other women? Does this mother not have a right NOT to parent?  It's not like it is any easy task to be a single mother in America these days.

One answer I received was that the child should have the right to his family of origin. I cannot disagree with that line of thinking. In fact this line of thinking is one of the main reasons my daughter is adopted.

She is a biological family member and we wanted her to stay with her family and the only way to protect her from certain other family members who might not have her best interests at heart, was to protect her legally through adoption.  I always felt from day one our child has a right to her original family and we had a right to keep her with us.

I absolutely believe a child should be entitled to his family and every piece of information that belongs to him (birth certificate, medical history, narrative of his life) if he cannot have his actual family.

But that brings me back to my original question:  Does a women have a right to surrender her child?

I have to say absolutely, yes.

Women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth and we are ones who should be able to decide about our own bodies when pregnant.  Shouldn't the logic also continue after birth?  What if the child is 5 months old and we realize we just can't do it?  What if a woman decides her child deserves better than what she is able to give?

What if a woman is sitting in a YMCA with her child  and believes with every ounce of her being that the child would be better off with someone else?

What if a woman has no family members who she would ever in a million years allow to raise her child? (I have two such friends).

These types of situations happen every day.  Most women decide to keep, raise and love their child.  But some women give parenting a shot and decide that they cannot do it.  Some women know within themselves they are not up to the task and aren't willing to try.  They know they will get a tremendous amount of flack because there is nothing worse than being a "bad mother" in America.

The scarlet letter in America should be a B for Bad Mother.

Women are "bad mothers" for surrendering their child; women are "bad mothers" for keeping their child under circumstances that are less than ideal (i.e. marriage or money). Women are bad mothers for using daycare and for not having a job outside of home.   No matter what you decide, someone will say you are a "bad mother".

Speaking from an adoptee viewpoint, I believe it would have been ideal for me to be raised by my original family.  I believe my orginal mother struggled with her decision, but she made that decision  based on lifestyle choices similar to the original mother that is currently traveling the world.  I don't fault her for that.

If she truly did not want to parent me, then I truly did not want her to. 

Why?  Because nothing is worse that being raised by someone who doesn't want you.  I know so many people who were unwanted by either their original families or their adopted ones.  To be a burden to someone would not be how I would want to grow up . . . .ever.

We cannot legislate women into keeping pregnancies they don't want or keeping children they don't want.

As painful as that reality is for me to admit (being unwanted by one woman and a mother myself), it just is the way it is.


  1. Lynn,
    Thanks for this. I, too struggle with this. I am all for women's rights, I am all for family preservation. I am all for reproductive justice. This woman--the one who wanted to give up her child for a life of adventure and blogging--she is in the minority of original mothers. The large percentage (something like 90-95%) want to keep their children, and can't because of economics, family pressure, or pressure from agencies.

    For that 5%? Well, I think that this particular gal is a little mislead that it's all going to turn out "okay," and that she will have no regrets. However, I agree, she should have the choice to do this. But at the same time, I'm sad for her child. Really sad.


    1. Hi Laura,

      Even for the birthmom referenced here, when asked her how she felt about her son getting the impression that she chose travel over him, her reply was that it wasn't so much she was choosing travel but her lifestyle just wasn't stable enough (didn't have a steady income, didn't live in one place) to raise a child.

      I wonder how many birthmothers would choose differently if society provided the support they needed to raise their child? How great would it be if she could travel and switch around jobs and still be able to raise her son in a way that was still good for him? I don't know HOW we could set up society to make that work, but I think it's interesting to think about.


  2. Not a basic human right, and not at all where I am living.

  3. Lynn,

    Thanks for this post. I think that in so many of our discussions we get away from the central point of the woman's right to choose. We may not like her choice, but we can all learn from it. And I agree that while it might be ideal to keep a child within her original family, I would rather be with a family that wanted me than one who didn't.


  4. I'm glad that others were also disturbed by this story. The first mother is clear that she chose adoption because she did not want to made the necessary sacrifices and adjustments in her life to accomodate a child, with the occasional mention of how it was in the boy's best interest as well. But only the child can say, when he is older, if adoption was right for him. He may very well have preferred being raised with his extended biological family. This first mother sounds like she wants to be an indulgent grandparent without having to do the hard work of parenting first.

    I don't think an adoptee blog is the appropriate place for a beemommie story like this. I try not to be rude but I felt this was akin to having a Ku Klux Klan member speaking at an NAACP meeting.

    And you mentioned that you know people who were unwanted in both their natural and adoptive families. Well, if adoptive parents didn't want a child, why did they adopt in the first place? And how is it better for a child to be given up for adoption, if his APs don't want him either?

  5. You all raise some excellent points! Thank you for your input.

  6. Hi Lynn - thanks for this post... I'm not sure which blog you're referring to, but I wonder if the seemingly carefree attitude that the birth mom is expressing might be a defense against pain that she's feeling - or maybe just the public face she's choosing to put on...

    What you said about the scarlet B makes me reflect on how easy and common it is for folks to judge each other. It happens a lot in emotionally charged issues -politics, sure. Also in the adoption community. I think, though, that blogs like yours & others will help people understand each other better, and that that in turn will build more communication, less judging, more collaboration!


  7. Robin said "I try not to be rude . . . "
    Could have fooled me.

  8. I know that all situations are different. I actually learn a lot from birth mother stories like these, and we all know that each story is very different even when we see similarities. I have not seen this first mother's/birthmother's blog, but what strikes me initially is HONESTY. Maybe I like honesty because so much of my personal narrative involves lies and cover up. I think our impressions come from our own stories and we are hurt or not, judge or not and are triggered or not based on these.

    I also agree with the poster that Rachel (I think that is her name) may be covering without knowing it. I covered for years, thinking I believed one thing about my adoption and then, bam, it all got shattered overnight.

    I would like to see us all giving each other more compassion. There is a lot of that here, don't get me wrong. Snarky comments I sometimes see don't seem to get people anywhere....I know that is not just me. I also know that behind those snarky comments is pain and plenty of it!

  9. Thank you again to all who commented. This post came from an emotionally charged place and it is true there is pain on every end of the triad. We all cope differently and we do the best we can for the most part.

  10. As Lynn rightly says, women who really don't want to parent can't be forced to, by legislation or any other means. It just won't work. If they insist that they want to relinquish, whatever one may think of their decision, it is theirs to make.

    I completely agree that if a woman has a child she cannot or will not keep, the next best thing for that child is to be raised, whether through adoption or guardianship (depending on the circumstances) by loving responsible people within the original family. As Lynn is doing. Of course that's not always possible either. I don't know any more than what I've read about the blogger who is being discussed. Maybe, as has been suggested, she's "putting on a face". Maybe she isn't. Perhaps the only thing to do is to take what she says at face value. Second guessing another person's words is always a dodgy business.

    Surely Lost Daughters belongs to the adoptees who run it. It is their home, their blog, a place for them to share their opinions. I respect their opinions all the more because individual contributors lay them open to discussion. But criticizing one contributor's choice of topic, particularly by making invidious and inappropriate comparisons, is not respectful, no matter who is doing the criticizing.


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