Coercion and ethics are important topics in domestic infant adoption. I recently came across a Canadian website with a “coercion checklist” where birth mothers could gain insight as to whether coercion was happening. This checklist was a bit startling. Most of it I do understand, but I think we need to unpack some of it and also never forget the differences in experience birth mothers will have between an open and closed adoption.

The site says their goal is “To provide confidential support and resources to those separated from their families by adoption in safe and secure environments.” It focuses on the coercive tactics of agencies and adoptive parents and seeks reunification for closed adoptions. As an adoptive parent myself, this seems a bit one-sided, assuming adoptive parents are coercive. Had I read it before adoption, I may never have gone through with it. Now, however, I have insight as to our adoption experience. I never felt coercive. I never wanted to coerce. I have to wonder if this site is predominantly focused on closed adoptions because, obviously, there will be far greater trauma and general ill feeling towards adoption in general with closed adoptions.

The site states boldly, “The presence of adopters during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum causes extreme stress and pressure to a pregnant and postpartum mother. The predatory and exploitive nature of the adoption industry, their coercive tactics, savvy marketing, influence and/or financial help causes undue stress, coercion, and pressure on a vulnerable young pregnant youth/woman which is unacceptable.” Here, they address the presence of adoptive parents being harmful—across the board. No exceptions. This is absolutely not true. I can tell you that meeting the people that will raise your child is stressful, yes, but also comforting at the same time. Many birth mothers have expressed in their stories how meeting with the adoptive couples multiple times before birth gave them a sense of peace and calm. They got to know them and planned their future contact together. Everyone gets to form a relationship and know that you’ll be in each other’s lives from now on. What would be unhealthy, in my opinion, is a closed adoption or one where the birth mother never has the chance to meet the adoptive parents in person. That would be worse than having adoptive parents present. Our son’s birth mother is someone we still see often. We love her. In our cards to her before birth, we never acted as if this was definitely our child. We spoke of the excitement in the potential to possibly adopt. We tried very hard to not coerce her.

As for this checklist itself, there are some really good things to consider, some uncomfortable truths. I just wish it wasn’t coming from such a one-sided website. Possibly they are writing from the perspective of closed adoptions, giving them such a negative view of agencies and adoptive parents. The checklist can still be used I think, but take it with a grain of salt. For example, yes, I agree that no mother should be told she can’t hold her baby. Yes, I agree she should have a right to know the gender. Yes, she should not be isolated during labor. But to say “you were encouraged to form a relationship with the adoptive parents…” is a form of coercion? Totally disagree.