As an adoptee, I’ve known from a young age that I could have been aborted. When I was gestating in 1970, North Carolina was one of the few states that already allowed abortion in limited circumstances (danger to mother’s health, rape, incest or likely damaged fetus.) As my birth sister explained it, my mother was “taken advantage of,” (by her high school English teacher) so she could have made a case for being allowed an abortion had she wanted to.
Before finding her, I only knew abortion could have been a possibility. I am roughly the same age as the baby Jane Roe wanted to abort (her baby was born during the legal battle that resulted in Roe v Wade). Because of this I was vehemently “pro-life” for much of my life. To me, as to many other “pro-life” people, adoption seemed like the ideal solution to an unwanted pregnancy.
But now I know this thinking is unequivocally wrong.
(Illegitimate) Justice Amy Coney Barrett
Suggests Adoption As The Answer To Unwanted Pregnancy
This past Wednesday, SCOTUS heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi case that would make most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy. During those arguments, Barrett is quoted as saying:
“Both Roe and Casey emphasize the burdens of parenting, and insofar as you and many of your amici focus on the ways in which forced parenting, forced motherhood, would hinder women’s access to the workplace and to equal opportunities, it’s also focused on the consequences of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don’t the safe-haven laws take care of that problem?”
In other words, why can’t pregnant people just choose adoption?
Pregnancy Isn’t Easy Or Insignificant
An unwanted pregnancy is about more than not wanting/being able to be a parent in the near future. In between the time someone discovers they are pregnant and the time a baby is produced a LOT happens.
First off, pregnancy itself can be debilitating. During my own two pregnancies, I suffered from intense morning sickness the entire 9 months. As pregnancies progress they become more and more physically uncomfortable – back aches, inability to sleep comfortably, swelling in the extremities, joint pain, mood swings and more can make these nine months some of the most difficult of your life.
There are also some complications of pregnancy that can cause lasting health problems. Gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, high blood pressure, anemia… all of these can impact the health of a pregnant person even after delivery. In my own case, my now-21 year old laid on my sciatic nerve while I was pregnant (don’t ask how, he just did) and I suffer from sciatica to this day.
Then there’s labor and delivery. The US maternal death rate is more than double that of most other high-income countries. In fact, a pregnant person is 14 times more likely to die in childbirth than from an abortion. One recent study found that banning abortion would increase pregnancy related deaths by 21% overall, and 33% among Black women.
Yet the danger doesn’t end there. More than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen after delivery. Causes include sepsis, hemorrhage, strokes, high blood pressure, and amniotic fluid embolism.
Throw in things like postpartum depression, pain, bleeding and dealing with weight gain and you have some pretty major impacts on health and life.
Then, There’s All That Trauma
This isn’t a blog about politics, it’s a blog about trauma. So let’s get to the part that’s relevant to us on this site: adoption causes a crapton of trauma for both birth parent and baby.
I wrote an article yesterday about adoption trauma, and had this to say about how the newborn experiences trauma:
Turns out, babies in the womb do bond with their mothers. As early as the second trimester of pregnancy, a baby learns it’s mothers voice, the rhythm of her gait and heartbeat. At birth, only the amygdala is functional. This means babies are pure instinct and emotion. Yet, they turn their heads to the sound of their mother’s voice. They immediately recognize her smell and know her breast from an imposter. Instinctively they know they are dependent upon her for survival.
Being separated from her feels life threatening. She is everything the baby knows. But the brain is undeveloped, and an infant has no way of processing the shock of separation or the fear it causes. Instead, with fight-or-flight reactions firing and no way to act on them, adrenaline and cortisol bathe the developing brain, making it impossible for it to develop normally. Of course those hormones don’t stop in the brain – they course through the entire system and this experience is stored deep within every cell of the body.
Even worse, some studies indicate that babies can feel rejection even inside the womb. If the mother is under the tremendous stress and trauma of an unwanted pregnancy, making the necessary arrangements to surrender the baby for adoption, her stress hormones impact the fetus. Is it possible the fetus can feel animosity or resentment from the mother? Some researchers think so.
But now, let’s focus on the pregnant parent.
Just as a baby in the womb bonds with the mother, the pregnant person bonds with the baby they’re carrying. Once pregnancy progresses to the point where movement can be felt, it becomes obvious there’s a future person there. One that is present 24/7. As the fetus grows, it’s presence becomes more and more unmistakable – and hints of future personality even come when it seems to move in response to certain noises or foods. Physiologically, oxytocin released during pregnancy increases the bond felt by the mother. Cells from the fetus enter the bloodstream of the parent, and can be found for at least a decade in their blood, bone marrow, skin and liver – also possibly in the brain. It is possible these cells target and help heal wounds during pregnancy as well.
The pregnant parent is physically and emotionally bonded with the baby by the time of birth. Even pregnant people who consider adoption early on often are unable to follow through once the baby is born because of this bonding. Relinquishing the baby uniformly causes grief.
Origins Canada has a sobering list of studies on the impact of adoption on birth mothers. (I have tried to use inclusive language throughout this article, however the studies below only included birth parents assigned female at birth. Therefore I am keeping the language used in those studies.) Some of those effects include:
Rynearson, E. K. (1982)
- Eight of the 20 mothers were so traumatized by signing the papers that they were amnesiac of it.
- All reported recurring dreams of the loss of the baby, with contrasting themes of traumatic separation and joyful reunion.
- All had unresolved grief, continuing to experience symptoms of mourning at the anniversary of the relinquishment.
Winkler, Dr. R.; and Van Keppel, M. (1984)
- 45% of mothers surveyed stated that their sense of loss had intensified over the period since surrender and 6.4% stated it had remained the same. For the sample as a whole, this loss remains constant for up to 30 years.
- Compared to a carefully-matched control group, mothers who had lost a child to adoption had significantly greater psychological impairment afterwards.
- 53% of the Western Australia respondents and 58.8% of the National Survey respondents stated the surrender of their babies was the most stressful thing they had ever experienced.
Condon, Dr. J. T.(1986)
- “over half of these women are suffering from severe and disabling grief reactions which are not resolving with the passage of time and which manifest predominantly as depression and psychosomatic symptoms” (p. 118)
- Feelings of sadness and depression at the time of the surrender were rated on average as between “intense” and “the moist intense ever experienced.”
- For 67%, these feelings either stayed the same or intensified in the years since surrender, they did not diminish.
Blanton, T., & Deschner, J. (1990)
This list is absolutely devastating.
- Natural mothers registered significantly stronger symptoms than mothers whose babies had died in 8 of the 14 bereavement subscales.
- Comparing natural mothers in both open and closed adoptions with parents whose babies had died shows that natural mothers suffer more denial, atypical responses, despair, anger, depersonalization, sleep disturbance, somaticizing, physical symptoms, optimism vs despair, dependency,and vigor. (pp. 532-533)
- “Relinquishing mothers have more grief symptoms than women who have lost a child to death, including more denial; despair, atypical responses; and disturbances in sleep, appetite, and vigor.”
Origins Canada has much more here, but you get the picture. Adoption is extremely traumatic for the relinquishing birth parent. It’s not a simple or even compassionate alternative to abortion for the pregnant person.
Some Statistics On Abortion
So we’ve established that both birth parent and baby experience intense trauma from the separation of adoption. Now let’s take a look at abortion in the US.
According to today’s New York Times, a full 96% of abortions happen in the first 15 weeks. 79% happen within the first 9 weeks. At this stage, other than morning sickness and some breast tenderness, it’s hard to physically tell you’re pregnant. For the fetus, brain development is in very early stages. The neural tube closes and begins to separate into 3 parts. But nothing resembling an amygdala (the so-called “lizard brain” which is pure instinct and emotion; this is the only part of the brain online at birth) is formed until into the 2nd trimester. By the END of the 2nd trimester (24 weeks) the brain stem is still not fully formed. The brainwaves that occur during sleep, controlled by the hypothalamus, begin occurring around week 28 – well after a fetus is viable and abortions only happen when something is drastically wrong with ether parent or baby.
In other words, there’s little reason for trauma for either pregnant person or baby. And this is borne out by research. A meta-analysis done by the US National Library of Medicine found that emotional or psychological side effects from abortion are rare. When they do occur, they were most often present before the procedure and begin to abate as soon as the procedure is completed. However, the same study found that children who were supposed to be aborted but ended up being born are more likely to have “numerous, broadly based difficulties in social, interpersonal, and occupational functions that last at least into early adulthood”
My Feelings As An Adoptee Who
Could Have Been Aborted
As I mentioned before, growing up I was always glad my birth mother chose adoption over abortion. And obviously at this stage in my life I’d rather be alive than not. BUT…
At 51 years old, I have suffered from PTSD all of my life. My birth mother also suffers from PTSD. Not only did I experience the trauma of separation from her, I was separated at least one more time from caregivers in the foster care system when placed with my adoptive parents at 7 weeks old. I was then psychologically and sometimes physically abused for decades.
What if my birth mother had chosen abortion? Not only would I not have experienced all of this trauma, I never would have known the difference. If I am a reincarnation, my soul could/would have found another incarnation to inhabit. If souls are created at each new life, I couldn’t have been any further along than embryonic me, so likely again, never would have known the difference. And if souls don’t even exist, well it wouldn’t have mattered at all. Never would have known the difference. So while now that I’m here I’m glad to be alive, being aborted would have prevented a lot of suffering without causing any.
An abortion in the late spring of 1970 would have spared myself and my birth mother a boatload of trauma. For us, like so many other people touched by adoption, this has not been the simple alternative to abortion suggested by Amy Coney Barrett. She, and other “pro-lifers” are simply wrong when they offer adoption as the solution to abortion.
Have you been touched by abortion or adoption? Tell your story in the comments below. (Reminder: keep this blog civil. Insulting comments of any kind will not be approved.)