Do You Have Any Children?

Melissa Busch

For many, it’s an easy yes or no answer. Yet , I consistently find myself hesitating to respond. Why is it so difficult to talk about my adoption experience which was amazing, positive, and the best possible choice I could have made at the time?

you have any children…?”  It’s such a typical question to
ask someone, and for many it’s an easy yes or no answer. 
For me though, I consistently find myself hesitating to respond. 
Generally when speaking to strangers, casual acquaintances, and even
new friends, I opt to answer “no.”  On occasion, I brave the
consequences and answer the truth: “Yes, I’m a birthmother.” 
This, of course, has to be followed by an explanation that I once was
pregnant and chose to place my child in an open adoption, that I have
a close relationship with my now 12-year-old daughter and her adoptive
family; essentially, I am a mother, I have a child, but I am not parenting.

decision to plan an adoption did not come instantly, nor did it come
out of any disapproval of abortion.  Early in my pregnancy, my
daughter’s birthfather and I were deeply in love and felt that despite
our age, limited resources and our families’ disapproval, that we
could parent.  We didn’t want to consider other options at that
time, we just wanted to parent. 
For nearly eight months, that was the plan I worked towards
– that was 8 months of doing all I could to navigate through the world
of pending parenthood, but continuously feeling that
what I could give emotionally, physically and financially
was not enough to be the kind of parent I wanted to be.  By the
time I came to open adoption, I had
explored every possible avenue and option, and I knew with absolute
certainty that adoption was the best choice for me, my
daughter, and everyone else involved.

process of choosing a family to parent my child, of meeting and getting
to know them, and of working together to
plan what our families would look like
as we blended them into one was both empowering and reassuring. 
Granted, the placement of my daughter was decidedly the most difficult
and heart-wrenching experience I have had,
but it came with equal amounts of joy and excitement, knowing that I
would always be a part of her life, watching her grow and thrive, and
being included in her family that I respected and admired.  Our
relationship has grown over the years
– her family is my family, our time together is always
special and yet totally natural, and
my daughter has grown up knowing exactly who I am and what my place
is in her life.  For my daughter, her brother, her parents, and
myself, adoption has created our family,
and there is nothing strange, scary, secretive or shameful about it.

why is it so difficult to talk about my adoption experience (which was
amazing, positive, and has continued to feel like the best possible
choice I could have made at the time) outside of the adoption community? 
For the same reason I don’t openly talk about my experience choosing
to have an abortion many years later (also a positive experience that
I have not regretted). The stigma that accompanies pregnancy
choices is not limited to abortion.  I have felt shamed by the
widespread silence around adoption in the same way that I have felt
silenced by the social stigma and shame around abortion.

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know I am not alone, and yet there has been such a political and public
effort to divide my experiences into two camps (i.e., when faced with
unplanned pregnancy there are pro-choice, liberal, secular women who
have abortions and then there are pro-life, conservative, religious
women who plan adoptions; both groups may parent, but this choice also
comes with its fair share of stigmas and judgments if made under socially
unacceptable circumstances, like being a young, single, or impoverished). 
The truth about me, and my experience, is that I don’t “fit” in
these boxes: I am young, educated, liberal, a whole-hearted supporter
of access to safe and legal abortion – I am a birthmother, I have
had an abortion, and some day I hope to be a parent.  The labels
that have been politically and socially imparted, and widely accepted,
do an incredible disservice to the conversation around pregnancy, parenting,
abortion and adoption, by over-simplifying and dismissing the lived
experiences of women and their loved ones.

is where I think the discussion of common-ground has potential to break
down the artificial divides that currently segregate pregnancy decisions
and the women who make them.  There are not separate women who
have abortions, who plan adoptions and who decide to parent; these are
experiences that can and do happen on a continuum in any woman’s life,
depending on the circumstances of that moment in time.  As a birthmother,
and someone who is fully invested in adoption being included in the
conversation around pregnancy options, I think it is
essential to reclaim adoption. Advocating for
adoption should not be about decreasing the number of abortions, it
is not just a pro-life choice – it is a legitimate pregnancy option
that is not owned by any political party, religion, or social
movement.  The question is not “why don’t more women choose
adoption instead of abortion?” but rather, “why don’t more
women feel that adoption is even an option at all?”

is an incredible lack of education around adoption, and perhaps more
specifically about how adoption has changed.  Historically, adoption
actually did hurt women in many of the same ways that anti-abortion
activists now allege that abortion hurts women.  Women were traumatized
– forced into situations of “giving away their babies” to complete
strangers and told to never look back.  These women often lived
with years of unresolved guilt, with no avenue to grieve their losses,
and no information about what happened with their children.  These
adoption practices created silence, secrecy, shame, fear and regret. 

the historical model is not how adoption is typically
practiced today, the stigma of being the “type of woman” who would
“just give her baby away” (now that other options are legally available
and socially acceptable) carries on.  Think of the movie Juno,
true it was funny and hip, but it absolutely perpetuated the stereotype
of a detached teenage girl that couldn’t wait to get rid of the baby
she decided to place for adoption.  The lack of education around
what the real experiences of birthmothers are, and how those
experiences, values and circumstances shape their choices and lives,
is profound.  Further, a public understanding of genuinely open
adoption, which has revolutionized adoption practices and the experiences
of all parties involved, is completely lacking.

if we educate and open the conversation around adoption, how do we bring
about the change that is necessary?  Part of the difficulty with
creating a new understanding of adoption – including the women who
chose it, the families who adopt, and the children who are adopted –
is combating archaic adoption practices that not only reinforce negative
stereotypes, but also do an incredible disservice to what adoption can
be – that is, adoption is a legitimate pregnancy option for all
women faced with a pregnancy decision, regardless of whether they identify
as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” religious or not, conservative
or liberal… In the face of a pregnancy decision, the women who choose
adoption feel no more part of the political discussion
around it then the women who choose abortion feel about the
political rhetoric characterizing their decision.

order to implement broad change and understanding of adoption, there
must be a focus on creating standardized policies and practices that
protect all parts of the adoption triad (birthparents, adoptive parents,
and children) and respect that adoption is a woman’s choice, which
she must be given power over in order to do what she feels is best for
her and her family.  These practices would include:

Pro-choice agencies
that support a woman’s right to choice and access to all options –
while it is not essential for the potential birth- or adoptive parents
to subscribe to a particular value around abortion, it is absolutely
essential that the agencies working with pregnant women and their loved
ones not be in a position of coercion based on disapproval of abortion.

  • Pro-choice agencies
    that support a woman’s right to choice and access to all options –
    while it is not essential for the potential birth- or adoptive parents
    to subscribe to a particular value around abortion, it is absolutely
    essential that the agencies working with pregnant women and their loved
    ones not be in a position of coercion based on disapproval of abortion.
  • Access to free options
    counseling, regardless of the pregnancy outcome – again,
    it is imperative
    that pregnant women who contact an adoption agency to discuss their
    pregnancy options not feel pressured or coerced into making a decision
    the agency may see as “right.”
  • Birth families’
    ability to see all prospective adoptive families (without preemptive
    selection or “matching” from an agency) – this speaks to the heart
    of honoring women’s ability to choose what is best for them. 
    This means including gay & lesbian couples, single people, and all
    potential adoptive families who meet the criteria of the background
    check, home study, etc.
  • Legally-binding
    open-adoption agreements – if a woman chooses to plan an adoption,
    she should be able to work in concert with her loved ones and the adoptive
    family chosen to create a legally binding adoption agreement that feels
    appropriate for both birth and adoptive families.  These types
    of documents serve as a protection for birth families, but also serve
    as a launching point for open, honest discussion between birthparents
    and adoptive parents about their expectations for the adoption, their
    level of comfort with contact, and any other issues that feel important
    to address as they make a plan for their family.  These agreements
    serve to outline a minimum level of contact between families,
    but are not a limitation.
  • Access to free,
    ongoing counseling and support, as needed, for both birth and adoptive
    families.  It is important to acknowledge that families created
    through adoption are no more immune to struggle or potential conflict
    then any other family.  Access to counseling from adoption professionals
    assures that families are able to work through difficult times they
    may encounter with guidance and support.


education, enforceable policies, and standards of practices to which
adoption agencies can be held accountable, pregnant women, potential
birthparents and adoptive parents will feel unsafe pursing this option. 
Furthermore, many healthcare providers, educators and pregnancy options
counselors will not feel confident or comfortable discussing adoption
with their clients, or referring to adoption agencies, until they too
can be assured that adoption practices will not be manipulative or harmful
to the women and families they work with. 
For the pro-choice movement, supporting access to all options
for women is essential.  Just as we support access to safe and
legal abortion, as well as access to parenting resources and support,
should we not demand access to ethical adoption practices?

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