How early is too early?

I say it all the time, but it remains true… we are all learning when it comes to adoption. We all are gathering new information as society is evolving, silenced voices are now louder, and as injustice is being exposed.

I was chatting with a friend the other day, who happens to be an adoption consultant. We discussed many things and then she said something that I heard before, but this time sunk in.

She said, “When agencies or adoption professionals match a hopeful family with an expectant family early in the pregnancy, that is a red flag for unethical behavior.”

If adoption professionals match super early in a woman’s pregnancy there is a risk that her decision to consider adoption to be a knee-jerk reaction to an untimely pregnancy. It’s often a decision made in crisis mode, rather than encouraging them to be fully informed. Adoption professionals who do this usually match early so that they can pass the expectant mom expenses onto a hopeful adoptive family. That then minimizes the financial risk to the professional, but increases the risk to the hopeful adoptive family. This in itself is not ethical. Legal yes. Ethical and moral, no!

Before starting Arrow + Root, I worked at a pregnancy medical clinic as a Director of Development, but I did a little bit of everything there. Let’s be honest… in the nonprofit world, everyone wears many hats. What we often saw at the clinic were women coming in with difficult circumstances and facing unintended or untimely pregnancies. They were scared, angry, discouraged, and on and on. Their human instincts kicked in to make a choice about their baby quickly because of circumstances and emotions. It was survival mode. Not thriving mode. They had a hard time in those moments of crisis seeing the big picture. It’s very similar to the situation we are talking about here. If an adoption professional is matching hopeful families with expectant parents in the first or second trimester, many of these women haven’t had a chance to fully connect with the baby, such as feeling the baby move, explore with her family members what kind of support she might or might not have, and what her financial stability will look like.

If professionals wait, give her the proper counseling before she makes any decision and don’t rush her choice, she is allowed to make a stronger and more educated choice based on education vs. emotion. She will have time to adjust to the pregnancy, the notion of potential motherhood, the baby moving and kicking within her, which creates deep levels of maternal bonds. If adoption professionals do this, it allows the professional to stabilize her without the pressure of a hopeful family trying to claim her baby.

When she is in crisis mode, how can she really make a huge life-altering decision like placing her baby if she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from? If she is unsure of her housing situation for herself or current children she may be parenting?

Before jumping the gun and matching her with a family who will then pay expenses, the agency should have her stable with her basic needs met (housing, medical care, etc). They should give her counseling to fully comprehend what is at stake and how that will affect her and her child long term. They should explore with her if she has family who can help. Can she parent if given adequate support and resources? She should have time to sit with her decision to place and then when she is ready (often that is 6+ months into pregnancy!), she can then be presented with profiles of potential families who match her desires for openness and characteristics.

A good and ethical agency will be doing this, but that also means that it’s very likely close or within the last trimester of her pregnancy before this happens. That also means the agency needs to have the operating cost to be able to support her throughout the time she is weighing her options and finding stability before transferring the financial burden to a hopeful adoptive family and knowing that they will never get reimbursed if these supportive services help her to parent. (Side note: when a family is being considered by an expectant mom, they not only cover the mom’s expenses, but they also pay back the agency for money that was already spent on her).

This also helps you to understand the cost of adoption and why it can be so high. If an agency or professional is going to be able to do all of these things, they have to charge higher agency fees. Aside from the cost of the professional’s building, utilities, office equipment, and other operating costs, they also need to have the money to pay for expectant mom expenses up front. They are paying mileage and gas for the caseworkers to drive the expectant moms to doctor appointments. They often meet the moms at restaurants or other neutral places so that she is more comfortable. There are expectant mom and dad attorney fees too, and more. All that adds up very quickly! It is a business whether we like it or not. Adoption is not charity. There is a cost to running a business. Yet, regardless of the business aspect, there should be ethical standards in place to support expectant parents as they make (likely) the hardest decision of their lives by not feeling pressured into the decision of adoption and given time to make a fully informed decision.

Blog post written by: Mallory Fogas, Owner of Arrow + Root

Edited by: Leah Outten, Birth Mom and Advisor of Arrow + Root

Inspired by: Kim Smith, Owner of Cradled in Grace


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