For decades, a popular peanut butter was advertised as the peanut butter “choosy mothers choose.” A choosy mother shopping for peanut butter has numerous brands and types from which to select. Similarly, a birth mother trying to select the best adoptive parents for her child has numerous options to consider. The answer to why a peanut butter or a particular adoptive home is chosen by a mother is the same. It is a matter of personal taste.
The prospective adoptive parents who are not selected by a birth mother usually want to know what was wrong with them and why they were not chosen. These couples need to understand the choice was not a judgment about them. Instead, it is the result of what the birth mother was drawn to and what spoke to her.
Selecting a home for a child being placed for adoption is not a scientific process. An adoptive placement is made because the birth mother has concluded this option is what is best for her child under the circumstances. “Best” is an opinion, not a fact. Just as each baby is a unique human being, so is each birth mother’s decision about where to place her child unique. Every case is different. There is no equation leading to an objective answer as to who offers the “best” home. It is a highly personal decision which may be impacted by any number of factors.
The selection of adoptive parents is better understood by identifying some of the common factors taken into account in the process. What factors do birth mothers consider? Again, the answer depends on the birth mother doing the choosing. A factor which is important to one birth mother may not even be a consideration for another. Additionally, each factor considered by a birth mother has a priority or weight. What priority and how much weight a factor will be given is also a matter of the birth mother’s personal opinion and preference. The birth mother’s past experiences will also have an impact.
Let’s consider some typical selection factors and how a birth mother might view them.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is being “old.” Many couples are in their late 30s or early 40s when they begin to pursue adoption; they may have attempted to have biological children and perhaps unsuccessfully sought infertility treatments. Whether age 38, for example, is old, depends on your perspective. To a teenage birth mother, anyone over 30 may seem ancient; she might wonder how they could possibly have the energy to parent a young child. On the other hand, a birth mother in her late 20s may not think a 38-year-old prospective adoptive parent is that old. More mature birth mothers possibly view age as merely a number; they are more concerned with the type of home and advantages which a 38-year-old might offer. A 25-year-old prospective adoptive parent has the energy to romp about with a child, but he might not have the financial stability and position in his career a 38-year-old would.
Where prospective adoptive parents live might be important to a birth mother for two reasons. First, does the birth mother want the child geographically close to her? If she is anticipating face-to-face contact in an open adoption, then geographical proximity will facilitate the ability to have that contact. On the other hand, if the birth mother does not want contact and fears running into the adoptive couple if she goes shopping at the local Walmart, she may desire to place with a couple at a sufficient geographic distance.
A second reason geography could be important to a birth mother is because it provides the environmental context in which the child will be raised. If the birth mother was raised in the country, she may want her child to be brought up in a rural location where he can get fresh air and have interaction with nature and animals. On the other hand, perhaps she is a city girl and wants her child afforded the excitement and benefits a metropolitan area could offer such as shopping, sports events, and leisure activities.
Biases against a particular geographic location may exist based on a birth mother’s upbringing and/or perceptions. A Southern birth mother may shudder at the idea of a “Yankee” raising her child. Another birth mother may not want her child placed in a particular city because she has heard about or experienced crime there.
Children in the Home
Many younger birth mothers desire to place their babies with a family who has no children. They want their child to be the center of the adoptive parents’ universe. On the other hand, a couple’s lack of parenting experience might concern another birth mother. Consciously or unconsciously, a birth mother may desire to give a childless couple the gift of becoming a parent as a way to counteract guilt related to the adoptive placement.
Prospective adoptive parents are typically imagined to be a couple without children who cannot biologically have children. But the rise of secondary infertility, where a couple has difficulty having a second child, is adding a different type of prospective adoptive parent to the adoption scene—one with a biological child already in the home. An estimated three million women in the U.S., per shape.com, face the challenge of secondary infertility. A birth mother considering a prospective adoptive couple experiencing secondary infertility may fear the adoptive couple will not love an adopted child as much as their biological child.
When other children are in the prospective adoptive home, the family structure may become a factor. If the child being placed is the birth mother’s second child, then she might want her baby raised in a family where her child would also be the second child. The baby’s gender can also come into play with family structure. If the birth mother is having a girl, then she may want the other child in the home to be a boy who will be the older protective brother. Alternatively, she may want the other child to be a girl so her baby will have a sister with whom to be close and play.
Birth Mother Experiences
People are all products of their experiences, and birth mothers are no different. What has happened to them in their lives will shape their perception of what is good for their own child. If a birth mother was picked on by her older brother who made her life miserable, then it may be important to her that her child not be placed in the same position with an older brother. A birth mother’s own mother may have worked and was never home with her. In that instance, the birth mother may desire the home she chooses for her child to have a stay-at-home mom. Perhaps the birth mother had a close relationship with her grandmother. A priority for the birth mother might be finding an adoptive home where a grandmother is nearby and actively involved in the child’s life.
Education can impact a birth mother’s thinking in a couple of ways. First, she may be concerned about the educational level of the adoptive parents. A goal may be for her child to be placed in a home where higher education is a priority and a financial possibility. Thus, she might choose adoptive parents with college or advanced degrees or with a financial situation allowing for a college education to be provided.
A different factor may be the type of education which the child will be provided while growing up in the adoptive home. Perhaps the birth mother is Catholic and attended a Catholic school. She might request the same type of educational setting for her child—one with which she is familiar and can relate. On the other hand, if her Catholic educational experience was negative, she might desire her child to be placed in public school. Some birth mothers have strong feelings for or against the provision of private school or homeschooling for their child.
When picking a family, birth mothers tend to envision what their child’s life will be like in a home and take this under consideration. How will his time be spent? In what activities will he engage? The birth mother often wants her child exposed to the things she likes or does. If she loves music, then selection of a prospective adoptive couple who are musically inclined is attractive. If the birth mother is an animal lover, the birth mother may be drawn to a couple who has pets or volunteers at an animal shelter. If the birth mother hates cats, prospective adoptive parents with feline fur babies are unlikely to get the nod for selection.
Making Dreams Come True
The birth mother has no do-over button for her own life, but she can provide the setting and opportunity for her child to experience the things she dreamed of for herself in her selection of a forever home. If she always wanted a horse, she may be thrilled with a couple whose nearby relatives own a farm with horses. A birth mother who would love to go to Disneyworld but has never been may lean towards a couple who are lovers of all things Disney and who make yearly trips to the theme park. A birth mother interested in travel may light up when she hears about a prospective adoptive couple with family members in Europe whom they regularly go overseas to visit.
Birth parents want to know what jobs the prospective adoptive parents hold. This information bears not only upon the ability of a couple to provide for the birth mother’s child, but also upon the lifestyle which the child will lead. Prospective adoptive parents with family-friendly schedules may be preferred. Teachers, for example, usually have summers and holidays off when time could be spent with their children. If a parent is in a position that requires lots of travel and time away from home, that may be deemed a negative even if their income provides a comfortable lifestyle.
Perception of an occupation can impact decision-making. For example, the birth mother could believe that a doctor will always be working and never home or that a military member will be away from home too much. Even if in fact the doctor only works normal office hours or the nonmilitary member holds a non-deployable position, the birth mother’s perception will trump reality. A birth mother’s past experiences often color her perception. Birth mothers with a criminal history may have negative views of law enforcement officers and those connected with the judicial system.
The religious affiliation of a prospective adoptive couple could be a big factor or totally irrelevant in the selection of an adoptive home. The weight of that factor depends on the birth mother. If the birth mother was raised in a particular faith, having her child exposed to and raised in that faith as well may be important. However, if she had a negative experience with religion in her upbringing, perhaps she felt forced to attend services or was judged for her behavior, she could express a desire not to have a religious family or a family with a particular religious affiliation take placement of her child.
These are just a few of the factors which a birth mother may take into account when deciding on the “best” adoptive home for her child. The sky’s the limit with factors, though, because each individual birth mother is unique, being a product of experiences no one else has had. If she chooses one couple over another, it is not a rejection of a couple not selected. There is nothing wrong with them; it is simply that she was drawn to the selected couple based on her assessment of the factors and what is important to her.
Shopping for peanut butter and selecting an adoptive home are similar decisions. A choosy mom might choose creamy peanut butter over chunky peanut butter. There’s nothing wrong with chunky peanut butter; she simply prefers creamy. And the selection of an adoptive home by a birth mother should not make those who were not selected feel they are not a first-rate choice. The birth mother simply prefers something else.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.