I would venture a guess that no one likes the word “failure,” especially in reference to themselves as people or in reference to their actions. So why do we use that word when describing a choice to parent instead of place? Is placement a failure to parent just as parenting is a failure to place in this case? I argue that the same people wouldn’t use the term “failure” to describe a friend who chooses to raise her child instead of adoption placement, especially if the expectant mom never intends to place her child in the first place.
I’m not referencing those birth moms who choose a person or couple prior to birth and then change their minds about the person or people they plan to place their child with. I would call those failed matches. But I hear the word failure as a derogatory statement most often when a birth mom chooses to parent at the last minute instead of continuing with her original choice of adoption placement. I do believe placement is a parenting choice, and continuing to support your child’s parents after placement is also a parenting choice. But it’s a different parenting choice than the more “traditional” choice of raising the child or children to whom you’ve given birth.
I think we need different terminology here. I’m certain that it feels to the hopeful adoptive parents that they failed to impress the birth mother enough, or that someone else failed to convince her that placement was the right choice. But placement is not an easy choice, and those who think that or try to convince an expectant mother of that are guilty of coercion. I know that quite a few adoptive couples must feel like failures already if they’ve struggled with fertility issues before choosing adoption. However, their feeling like failures should not be translated to an expectant mother who doesn’t choose them to parent her baby and instead decides to raise her baby herself.
I’m not certain that there is a simple word or phrase that could be used to describe this instance. Adoption placement is borne out of loss. The adoptive parents have lost the ability to bear their children whether through circumstances in their control or out and birth parents lose the ability to raise their children through choice, at least most often. I realize there are special cases in which the birth parent has the choice to place made for them or coerced out of them. I’m not addressing those situations, simply the birth parents that are not coerced into the choice.
I do think that when the adoptive parents are chosen by an expectant mother that they tend to assume it’s a foregone conclusion. Even if they know it’s a possibility and the expectant mother’s choice to change her mind, it’s hard to quell those hopes that automatically rise when one is chosen. Understandably if those hopes have caused the HAPs to assume that the expectant mother is placing with them and it doesn’t happen, it’s a very negative experience when those hopes are dashed. I also think that HAP’s tendency to refer to the expectant mother as a birth mom prior to relinquishment and placement does nothing to help quell those same hopes or at least keep them sort of manageable.
Do any of you reading this have suggestions for better terminology? Should the HAPs just say that the expected placement didn’t happen because the expectant mother chose to parent her baby and leave it at that?