What Potential Parents Need to Know About the History of Adoption
Adoption has been a source of providing parent-less children with parents for ages and adoption was even a practice in ancient Egypt, Greece, and is mentioned in the Bible. Adoption not only provides for children without parents, but also provides a child to love and raise for couples unable to have children. Adoption was a general arrangement decided on by the birth and adoptive parents and an exchange was made before laws were introduced to regulate adoption in the United States around 1850. Before that time adoption occurred without the government's interference or regulation.
Since the government was not involved birth records were not sealed and birth certificates not altered so a birth parent could easily find their child and an adopted child could easily find their birth parent without too much trouble. However, this caused a problem because frequently the intrusion of a birth child or a birth parent in the life of another caused emotional issues, heartache, and even rejection that was difficult to handle. However, the 1930s saw the introduction of statutes by the government that meant to protect birth parents and birth children from ever knowing the identity of the other. There were several reasons why this was initiated.
The first reason was to protect birth mothers who became pregnant too young or out of wedlock from ever being found out by their families and their communities. The shame placed on these young women was incredible and as a result many young women chose to leave their communities for the duration of the pregnancy and give up their babies so as not to endure the shame or be kicked out of their families. As a result, it was incredibly important that birth records be sealed to avoid any intrusion of the child in the woman's life at a later time that would certainly cause problems and she would have to endure the shame she had been trying to avoid.
The second reason was adoptive parents feared losing their child to the birth parents if the birth parents ever found out where the child was and changed their minds. Laws were not in place to protect families of adopted children as they are today and these fears were well-founded. Also, birth relatives would often try and find the child and kidnap it. So, it was very important to couples adopting a child for the adoption process to be as hush-hush and private as possible. Also, the adoptive parents were spared the embarrassment of being an infertile couple as well. Society in this time period was very judgmental and placed embarrassment and shame and people that made them feel inadequate and forced them to make certain decisions. These needs for secrecy by the adoptive and birth parents resulted in what became known as closed adoptions and became the standard way of handling adoptions throughout the '30s. '40s and '50s and did not find many challenges until the '70s and '80s.
Unfortunately, the adoption process was not viewed as a permanent situation by social workers in this time frame. Instead, social workers treated adoption as a legal placement they were bound to do and did not help the birth parents or adoptive parents realize the many effects adoption would have on the child and that adoption was a permanent event and should be recognized as such. Also, raising adopted children is different than raising biological children, however these differences were not even recognized to exist, which caused many emotional problems for adoptive parents and the children. This was an unfortunate event because most adopted children found out at one time or another they were adopted and struggled with their self-worth, genetics, background, and wondered who their birth parents were and why they were put up for adoption. This caused many emotional issues and these adopted children had no way to answer any of their many questions.
However, as the years passed by more options became available to young women including birth control, the legalization of abortion, less of a societal stigma for being an unwed mother, and the women's liberation all affected adoption and young women began to feel less scared and pressured by society and more concerned about making decisions for themselves. As a result, there were less unplanned pregnancies, more women chose to keep their babies, and more adoptive parents became desperate to adopt a child when there were not as many to adopt. With this becoming common and more women realizing they had choices and some control in the adoption process the country began to see some changes in how adoptions were handled.
During the '80s and '90s more adoption agencies began focusing on open adoptions because enough evidence had been collected and showed the pain and emotional stress adopted children lived through by not having any answers to their background. Of course, closed adoptions were still being provided as well. The benefits open adoptions provide is that they allow the birth and adoptive parents to meet each other, share contact information, and the birth parents can send updates and photos to the adoptive parents. Also, the adoptive parents may decide to allow their child phone calls or visits from the birth parents. While this strikes fear in the hearts of most adoptive parents this is simply a result of the way adoption was handled in the past and not a true indication of how it should be handled. Now, couples are considering open adoption because it allows for contact, answers, and the overall emotional health of the child which is the most important thing. In general, children adopted from open adoptions are significantly more adjusted and secure than children adopted in closed adoptions. Because of this it is important for potential adoptive parents to really consider what type of adoption would be most beneficial for their child to grow up loved and knowing the truth without ever having to question where he came from.