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February 2001

"I'm seventeen. Just last week I sat inside my college planner's office and went over college brochures. Just yesterday I sat inside my doctor's office and went over the results of my pregnancy test."

If, for one moment, you can put yourself into that situation, you will feel the emotion nearly every young girl experiences when she discovers she is pregnant. She will have to tell her parents, her boyfriend, her friends, and once she's done that, she will have to face the reality of having to make a choice.

The reactions from family and friends will have already influenced her greatly. Whether they were loving and supportive and offered options to her or shunned her and left her on her own, she will ultimately have to make the decision for herself.

How can she make this kind of choice? What does she think, how does she feel, how does she weigh the pros and cons? What brings her to the end result ... raising her baby or relinquishing it?

So many things come into play as she sorts this out for hersel: the childhood she herself had and the one she hopes to give her child; the goals and dreams she keeps; the relationships she's involved in with family and the father of her child; and, ultimately, the kind of person she is and how she operates.

Her fears, anxieties, insecurities, hopes, strengths, successes, and failures all come into play as she makes up her mind. So how does she make up her mind?

If there were a form to fill out and evaluate what decision would be best, it would be priceless. Unfortunately there is no such form, just her heart.

Knowing that each girl is different and comes to her decision differently, listed below are several items that most birthmothers considered and used to make their decision. In addressing these we will find exactly what reasons a decision like this should be based on.

  1. Age: Society says she's too young. How do potential adoptive parents feel about not being selected because of their age? Whether too old or too young? Age should not be a deciding factor based on the fact that age changes. She will not permanently remain 17. What happens when she is 20 and more prepared, and knows it, what then with the guilt and pain? She based her decision on a temporary factor and is now faced with a permanent one.

  2. Money: Again, our financial status is not permanent. It can change, in fact, more rapidly than our age. With aid, grants, crisis centers, and all the other avenues of support, money is not a justifiable determining factor. Money should not be a decision making factor.

  3. School/Career: Just as the young girl will finish school and/or college in a short span of 2-4 years, so will her situation change. This is not a permanent factor. If she makes her choice to relinquish because she wants to finish school or college, how then will she feel once she has accomplished that? With the resources in today's world, it is possible to finish school as a parent. In fact, I went back to college with three children and it was possible because of grants, daycare on campus, and financial aid. I ate lunch with my children, visited them in between classes, and studied after they went to bed. It was not easy, but once it was complete I overheard my five-year-old saying to someone, "I went to college with my mommy. We did good." My mother as well did this with four children. It took her five years. Five years is a short time when compared to the many years of parenting she had and continues to have. Education is a must, but again it is a temporary time in our lives.

The three reasons above are the most popular reasons involved in choosing relinquishment. Many of us see these reasons and do not feel there is anything wrong with them. So, what are the reasons a potential birthmother should choose adoption?

  1. History/Environment: Our environments affect us, short term and long term. Based on our history and environment, we know what we are capable of and what we are not, "environment" meaning where we live and the surroundings in which we operate, that which has affected our decision-making abilities as well as our reactions and habits. While these can be considered temporary, it takes years to break the cycles of abuse, neglect, and other issues revolving around our histories and environments. Especially if a young girl still resides in an environment that is abusive in any way, she should consider placement. Not only because she will want to protect her child, but because adding a child to the stress of those living conditions will cause more trauma in her life. She must find a safe place, a secure place, and begin making efforts to change her life with therapy, support, and strong will. Unless she is prepared to do so, it is in the best interest of the child and its mother to consider relinquishment. We must be prepared though to see this in her life and to inform her that she does have options, and what those options are.

  2. Self-Harm/Addiction: This is an obvious one. While this can also be considered temporary, no matter how long she remains an addict or abusive in any way, it is too long. No child is safe in the care of someone addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, or any other form of harm. This is where Foster Care comes into play and allows the mother to get help. This system is abused as well and we overlook too many cases where rehabilitation has not been achieved, or has been and the child remains locked into the system. No matter what, our main concern must be the child's safety.

  3. Her Natural Desire: This is an intense, difficult, and overlooked factor in choosing relinquishment. We hear so often, "I love my baby, and I don't really want to do this, but I don't think I have a choice." RED FLAG. This is a cry for help. We must not overlook her desire to parent. We must do all that we can to give her information and options and help. This is not about us at this point. Her baby is her baby and influencing her in a biased way is manipulative and unfair. She is vulnerable, scared, and confused. We must assure her, validate her, educate her, and support her. I have said to several pregnant girls considering adoption who have said the above, "You really want to keep your baby? Okay ... this is what you must be prepared to do....are you prepared to do that?" While wanting to keep your baby is one thing, being prepared to make the sacrifices, live the struggles, and overcome the hardships is another thing. The desire to do it must exist. If that desire does not exist and she is honest with herself in knowing her limits, despite how much she loves her baby, we must respect and honor her in the choice of relinquishment. She knows she will be unable to parent. She is setting aside her own need, that being the need to avoid the loss and the need to be loved by her child, and acting on truth. Hard thing to admit. But good reason, excellent reason to make adoption her choice.

Do we look at single mothers, in today's society, who work 40 hours a week or attend college full time while raising their children as selfish? No, we applaud them for what they are doing. For taking steps to take care of their children while bettering themselves. Do we look at the children and think, "She has no right taking care of them!" (Of course, this excludes abusive mothers.)

We cannot allow young girls to relinquish based on shame, guilt, or insecurity. We cannot let them relinquish because they feel unworthy. What young girl, looking through portfolios of hundreds of wealthy, married, happy couples, wouldn't feel unworthy? We must remember that this is her choice, as hard as it is, and that she must make this choice based on reasons that she can live with. Who is to say that in ten years it will not be she with the stock, boats, big house, and great husband? To compare material situations is unjust. These are not the things that make great parents.

The next time you hear a potential birthmother saying, "I'm just too young and I don't think I can do it," remind her that making the choice to relinquish is in fact just as, if not more, difficult than parenting. Her decision must be based on good reasons and informed choices. Anything less would be setting her up for a lifetime of pain and guilt. Pregnant teens should not make permanent decisions based on temporary situations. They should not be pressured, or forced. They should not be influenced by others, or outside forces.

One other thing to think about that I believe will put this into better perspective: Upon the adoptee and birthmother reuniting do you think the adoptee will say, "Thanks so much for choosing my parents, I always had a big house, my own room, all the best toys and all the best clothes." Probably not. One of the first things he/she will say if in fact it applies is, "Thank you. I grew up with so much love and security, and I want you to know that I'm doing great." It's not going to be that big house, or the boat, or the nice clothes, or even the vacations that matter ... it's going to be the love. So remember that when you read those Dear Birthmother letters, remember why you choose, and why you should.

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