The Church and Adoption: Changing the Narrative

Christians, at least the Christians I know, really want to do the right thing. When it comes to adoption they truly believe the narrative that tells them they are giving a better life to a child in need, and they’re comfortable with the status quo. But, how do we peel back the layers so we can reveal what is happening beneath adoption’s polished surface? How do we reshape a message that so many hold so tightly? And, more importantly, how do we do this in a way that will open hearts to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, what they’ve always been told is wrong…

Proverbs 12:17 He who speaks truth tells what is right, But a false witness, deceit.

The Church

Why is The Church willing to discuss controversial topics like homosexuality, divorce, addictions, abortion, or even politics, yet, unwilling to address the very real issues surrounding adoption? Is it because they aren’t aware that problems exist within adoption? Is it because they know someone who has adopted, or is adopted? Are they worried about hurting someone’s feelings? Are they afraid if they dig deeper they might discover that their altruistic intentions were misguided? Not only do I want to understand why, but I’d also like to know how we got here.

We have all the information. We have studies that provide alarming statistics of adoptee suicide rates, mental health issues, and over representation in jail populations. We have knowledge of trauma when a mother and her child are separated, not just some of the time, but every single time an adoption occurs. We have clear evidence of corruption and trafficking, both domestically and most frequently, internationally. We have facts to support that rarely, if ever, are there true orphans (no living family members) living in orphanages. We have story after story of mothers being coerced to relinquish their children.

We have one adoptee after another telling us how difficult life has been for them (Dear Adoption). We have mothers that are wrecked after losing their children; nothing left but a shell of their former selves. We have adoptive parents throwing in the towel and returning (rehoming) the children they don’t know how, or no longer want to parent. We have angry adopted kids/teens acting out their trauma while their parents are ripping their hair out, begging God to help them manage their children. Everyone is frustrated and stressed out but darn it, these parents are committed. So, why are we still touting adoption as a “better life,” a “win-win,” or a “beautiful choice?”

Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.

Does the Lord mistakenly put babies in one womb when, in reality, He intends them for another woman? Is this His plan? Why are we telling mothers that their children would be better off being raised by someone else? Why are we perpetuating a myth that unmarried mothers aren’t good enough to parent their own children? Why are we referring them to crisis pregnancy centers or adoption agencies? Why are we suggesting adoption at all? Why aren’t we doing everything we can to support these mothers in crisis? Why are we enticing vulnerable girls/women with adoption as an option, and when did it become acceptable to give away our family? We don’t give away family members. We just don’t. And, contrary to the pro-life argument, adoption isn’t the alternative to abortion, parenting is. (but that’s another blog post).

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

In the last few years I have had the opportunity to get to know other mothers and hear their adoption stories. The same thread runs through many of their experiences, which is, that the news of the pregnancy was met with shame and despair by not only family but members of their church. Shame? It’s a baby, a new life. Perhaps if we alter our responses to unplanned pregnancy from the shame game to what it really is, a precious gift- a gift for your family, not someone else’s – the stigma attached will begin to fade. Pregnancy isn’t a sin. Motherhood isn’t a sin. A baby isn’t a sin.

Many churches have a Single Mothers Ministry. They have children’s clothing, formula, bottles, diapers, readily available should a single mother need it. But, why aren’t we going back prior to this? Is The Church placing stipulations on which mothers receive this help? Let’s go back to how we respond to a pregnant woman in crisis. Do we offer these items to her? Do we provide support? Do we rally around her, telling her that SHE IS ENOUGH for her baby?

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

I have seen this wave of Christians decide that adoption is what they’re called to do. White Saviors. And, The Church gets behind them, including financial support. Do we see the conflict? Do we understand that the majority of the time a mother is considering adoption it’s simply because she’s lacking support and resources? Yet, we will rally around these families in their quest to “bring their children home.” Why are so many church members spending tens of thousands of dollars to remove a child from their family and their culture when that money could be used to BUILD SOMETHING; a safe place for them to remain together in the countries that have poverty and deep cultural stigma? Why aren’t we helping by keeping their family in tact, rather than removing their children? Why isn’t this a ministry within The Church? Why aren’t we preserving families first? How have so many people, seemingly, misinterpreted and misconstrued the meaning of this verse? What would Jesus do?

It’s so scary when our core foundation of beliefs are challenged. No one wants to step outside of safe and familiar to take a hard look at the areas where they’ve made mistakes. It was a jagged pill to swallow, at age 45, comprehending that the decision to relinquish my daughter, and my mothers decision to relinquish me, were not only avoidable, but harmful. We made the wrong decisions and we caused irrevocable damage to our children in the process. No one told us because no one knew. We simply accepted the narrative that had been passed on for generations, specifically within the church.

We must have these hard conversations. It’s uncomfortable because it forces people to look inward. Are we culpable? When I see people turn a blind eye to the atrocities that occur within adoption, I have to wonder… Who is it really about? A child in need or a couple’s desire for a child?

 

Photo by Anne Heffron

 

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14 thoughts on “The Church and Adoption: Changing the Narrative

  1. These are really great questions; some of which I had not contemplated before. We have several very active ministries in our area that support unexpectedly pregnant moms, most of which raise their babies. I do think that, developmentally in many teens and young adults, parenting is an abstract, unfathomable idea, completely irrelevant of sex. So, to create a human being is one thing, but to parent may be far beyond their abilities for many years.

    I do love this article and its call to look at the down n dirty of adoption. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! What an insight! Having been born in Calcutta and studied in a School just across the road from Mother Teressa’s MOC, these were real-life issues for me. When friends of mine would come down from the U.S. and Europe to ‘rescue’ one of these kids I would think it’s great. Little did I realize the reality and dynamics in taking away children from their birth mothers with the lure of a better life. Later on, when we started the Hope Home Calcutta in 2003, it was altogether for a different reason that we decided that ‘our’ children would not be put up for adoption. Instead, we would equip, educate and empower them for reaching out to their own community and family later on in life. It is only in the past year that I have realized, through Christian friends who had been adopted, the fallacy of it all. And I am slowly beginning to understand the family dynamics involved. What it is doing to me is to consolidate my personal resolve as well as that of our non-profit to further strengthen families/single mothers in crisis with support and resources to take care of their own children, even though he/she may be unwanted (unless there is a real physical threat to the child). We are even strengthening family bonding in our residential students of our School. Thank you so much for enlightening me. And I am able to look at God’s Word in an altogether different perspective now. Blessings and peace, Dev Sarkar, Hope Home Calcutta [hopehomecal@gmail.com]

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  3. This is a great post! It is so well written and so informative, and so full of truth. Those not personally touched by adoption loss just don’t understand the life long impacts and grief. Unfortunately, those of us who are touched by it, don’t understand until it’s too late. And the baby is gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Vikki. Always good to get alternate feedback. See, my message was intended as quite the opposite. Are you saying you believe God uses mothers as vessels for those who can’t have children? Or that God never intended for us to help the orphans an widows? or that our ministry in churches should continue to be glorifying the separation of families? I’m unclear so perhaps you might be willing to elaborate. Thanks so much for your kind an thoughtful response. I’m guessing you’re an adoptive parent? Sincerely, Stephanie

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      1. Yes Vikki, I’d also like for you to elaborate because I see nothing Satanic in the post. I do often see Satan’s words flowing when mother’s facing unplanned pregnancies are encouraged to give (or rather sell) their babies a “better life” to someone coveting a baby.

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  4. Stephanie,

    Let me begin by saying that I appreciate your passion on this topic. I wholeheartedly agree that the Church and its members should do all that they can to support mothers in crisis. The Church and society should make every effort to keep families together, helping mothers and fathers to meet the needs of their children. With that being said, I don’t believe it does anyone any good to exchange one “false narrative” for another. Perhaps I am missing something, but your post seems to suggest that the majority, if not all adoption stories are adoption “horror stories.” You confidently state that “we have all the information” but then proceed to share what is in reality only part of the information. I don’t deny the existence of the maladies you present nor do I naively claim that all adoption stories are sweetness and light. On the contrary, I am sure that all adoption stories include difficulties and struggles, but to imply that all adoptions are disasters is only really possible if we don’t look at “all the information.” I personally know people, both first parents and adoptees that are grateful for the adoption of which they were a part. You seem to connect all the problems experienced by adoptees with the adoption itself while failing to take into account any trauma that occurred prior to the adoption. Somehow all the problems can be traced back to the adoption. You state that “We have angry adopted kids/teens acting out their trauma while their parents are ripping their hair out, begging God to help them manage their children.” While this may be true, it seems likely that every parent has begged God to help them with their teenage child.
    You sarcastically ask the question “Does the Lord mistakenly put babies in one womb when, in reality, He intends them for another woman?” In my opinion this is an absurd question and in all of my conversations on the subject, I have never met a single person who believes anything like this. While adoption is certainly not the ideal, it is also very clearly not an institution invented to supply couples with kids; it is the response to a very real need. When we ship food to people and countries in need we don’t claim that it is because God grew that food on the wrong continent. When a doctor performs an organ transplant nobody claims God gave that organ to the wrong person. The truth is that we live in a broken world and much of the human experience falls far short of the ideal (i.e. God’s original plan). Despite this brokenness God continues to work in our lives.
    As I said at the beginning, the Church should certainly do more to assist expectant mothers who desire to raise their children, but your narrative falsely implies that the majority if not all adoptees come from this type of situation. If this were the case it would make solving the problem much easier; simply provide material support for families in need and the issue would be taken care of. The reality is that not all adoptees are taken from mothers who simply don’t have the means. It is a fact that many children in our foster care system end up there because they were severely abused or neglected. Abuse and Neglect are not merely the result of a lack of resources but rather go much deeper. Thousands of these children age out of the system every year longing for a place to call home and to imply that all adoptions lead to disaster is a disservice to them and those who would offer them a home.
    In a few short weeks, my wife and I will be adopting two beautiful young children that we have been fostering for nearly a year and a half. We are not adopting them because we believe that we have a right to, or that we are their “white saviors.” We are adopting them because God in his mysterious wisdom has brought them into our lives when they needed a place to call home. I sincerely hope that someday they might have a good relationship with their first mother but now despite all of the services, assistance, and material support available to her she has chosen not be a mother to them.
    May we all strive to do everything in our power to support and keep families together, but let us also admit that while it may not be the ideal, adoption is the best hope for thousands of children who have no place to call home.
    Peace of Christ.

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    1. Luke- I am going to try to answer you from a place of discussion, not argument. So please keep that in mind. Text is harder than f2f. I’m not sure how long you have been in Adoptionland, but your comment comes off very naive. Not to be offensive, but it presents as someone’s wishes rather than observation of reality.
      1) Yes. In fact, modern adoption was created for infertile couples, not children in need. The Baby Scoop Era began after WW2. Unwed motherhood was shameful and a new generation had different views on sex. That generation got pregnant. And in order to hide their family’s shame, millions of young moms were sent away to homes to incubate “gifts” for the infertile. If it is an adoptee from 1945-1980, we usually have our answer. The adoptee finds that their mother had been so beaten down and shamed, most times sent off to a home, and then told never to speak of it again. This is the rule of that era, not the exception. These mothers were terribly traumatized and most of the time it was in the name of God. These homes were faith-based and international from the US to Australia to the UK to South Africa.
      2) I don’t think you have been around Adoptionland long bc of your statement that you haven’t met anyone who believes God placed a baby in one womb meant for another. That is an overlying narrative of modern infant adoption. It is “God” at work in nearly every infant adoption today. Even 20 years ago, as a teen, I was being groomed by the industry calling me a “vessel”. Mothers are reduced to vessels carrying children for others every day in God’s name. It is thick with the language and proof to me that you haven’t walked long in it.
      3) Someone suffers in every infant adoption. Every. Read a study about the effects on mothers- PTSD to substance abuse. Read the effects on babies who suffer maternal separation- from cortisol production to rewiring their brain entirely. Biologically mothers and babies are one being for nearly 10 months. Naturally, that child should find it’s mother and be at her breast. An 18 month continuum is expected for mother and child to bond. Puppies aren’t taken from their mothers for this very reason. But in humans, biology be damned, adoption magically wipes away separation trauma.
      4) there are different forms of adoption and they should not be conflated. A step-parent adoption is not a foster care adoption is not an infant adoption. Stephanie usually speaks on infant adoption bc it’s what she knows. And to call us mothers abusers and neglectful when we criticize the system is quite disingenuous when otherwise we would be called selfless and brave. Mothers in infant adoption are always in a catch 22. We are brave & selfless until the moment we speak up about the system and it’s abuses- then we get tossed in the pot of abusive and neglectful mothers. The system has created a fascinating and successful defense for itself.
      5) if you are adopting children who have obviously met trauma, please get the proper care for them. It is traumatizing to a child to be rejected by his mother. Whether they feel or are capable of forming the words. An adoption competent counselor would help a child immensely.
      6) don’t mix apples and oranges. You didn’t meet any point Stephanie made about infant adoption. Mothers are shamed. Mothers are told they are vessels for total strangers. Adoptive parents believe God made these babies for them. Her points about suicide, detention centers, etc are easily verifiable. The Church celebrates all of this heresy. It is neck deep in an institution never found once in scripture.
      7) perhaps there is a need for adoption in rare cases- abuse, neglect, etc. But considering it isn’t found in scripture, perhaps modern culture is broken in a way it hasn’t been before. Family of old took their relative children in- like Mordecai raised Esther. No where did Jewish culture set up an industry for matching children and adults for a price. Their view on family was very different from our modern day view. Family has been cheapened, babies have become commodities, mothers have become vessels, and fathers have become ghosts. As a result, it has profited the adoption industry in the billions.
      How do we get back to a Christ-centered family if we keep making excuses for turning people into objects for our own selfish desires? I don’t have an answer, but as the system works now, it won’t end well. And where it started and where it’s headed looks nothing like scripture. Even Solomon gave a prostitute her baby back. Today, he would have cut the child in half and given it to people “more deserving.”
      8) our foster care system isn’t representative of scripture either. It’s just as broken as infant adoption. An article came out just this week that the majority of sex-trafficked children are foster children.
      9) Family is important to God. That is in scripture. Healing and fixing the families He made should be the church focus. God does have power over fertility. We seem to forget that. The church should not be playing God and redistributing children of poor families to wealthier families- which by studies- is the majority of infant adoptions today.

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      1. Velvet,

        Thank you for your response. I take no offense at your comments but I would like to make a clarification. In your forth point you say “to call us mothers abusers and neglectful when we criticize the system is quite disingenuous.” If this is in reference to my words, I ask you to carefully reread them because I do no such thing. In fact I am very careful to avoid such blanket statements. I do not so much as imply that all first parents are “abusers or neglectful,” I simply state that such cases do exist and to deny it would be an injustice to those who experience the abuse. I do not deny the shaming or coercion of mothers by peoples and organizations. I do not deny abuses in the system. I do not deny the shortcomings of the Church and its members. I do not deny suffering or trauma experienced by first parents or adoptees. Like you, I am deeply saddened by these things. What I do take issue with is the way in which the original post and now you seem to make use of blanket statements to describe the Church, adoption, first parents and their situations, adoptees, and adoptive parents. I am accused of “conflation” but what I was trying to point out was that the original post makes no distinctions, it simply uses blanket statements to speaks of adoption, adoptees, first parents, and adoptive parents as if they all come from the same cookie cutter mold. Let us criticize and work for change where necessary, but let us also recognize good when it is present.

        Secondly, you say that neither adoption nor foster care is found in the scriptures. While strictly speaking this is true, I find it to be an unconvincing argument against either. Without defending our current “systems” which are imperfect to say the least, I would simply point out that many good and necessary things in our world are not found explicitly described in scripture. These include hospitals, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, rehab centers, and healthcare to name a few. I believe we must be inspired by the teachings of Christ to meet the needs of our time.

        Like you, I prefer discussion to argument and I hope that it is clear that it is not my intention to deny the reality of any person’s personal experience of adoption, nor is it my intention to shame anyone or silence them from questioning the system. In fact I believe we have both the right and obligation to actively work against injustice wherever we find it.

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