by Lisa Ritter Starr
It is only very recently that adoption has begun to transform into a fully functional alternative for families. This is due in part to trial and error, word of mouth, and birth/adoptive parent demand for less secrecy and shame surrounding adoption. Also aiding the cause of raising adoption awareness has been the handful of books published on the subject.
Although healthy, publicly declared adoptions have been happening to some degree for decades, adoption awareness literature began to appear only fairly recently, around the late 1980s. Before that date, almost no information was published for the purpose of raising awareness about modern adoption practices. "Modern, in this case, indicates the waning practice of closed, secretive adoption in favor of much the more positive images of adoptive families and of open adoptions.
Still, to this day there has been relatively little written about adoption. Because of this, I feel it is important for me to add light to what does exist, in order to facilitate greater knowledge about the subject, so I do this whenever I find a new source of information. The book I have most recently found is called Adoption Awareness: A Guide for Teachers, Counselors, Nurses and Caring Others. This book was written by Jeanne Lindsay and Catherine Monserrat for the professionals and "caring others who are in a position to counsel teenagers on pregnancy awareness.
Authors Lindsay and Monserrat entered early in the transformation process to speed up the normalization of adoption as an alternative in dealing with unplanned pregnancies. As professionals who counseled teens in such alternatives for seventeen years, the authors have years of professional research under their belts and used real cases in illustrating their points. Their experience has obviously taught them much about how to best assist teens and young birth parents through an often heart-wrenching ordeal.
The book emphasizes from the beginning the importance of "alternatives counseling. The authors stress that anyone who counsels youth must be prepared to present all options available. Children and teens are inexperienced future adults; they require helpful, well-informed people in their lives, especially in a crisis situation. This is why any adults in a social service or guidance facility simply must be made aware of all the alternatives in order to help future adults make the best choices that will undoubtedly have lifelong effects.
Chapters include "Why Don't Teens Consider Adoption? "Openness in Adoption, "The Church's Role in Adoption Planning, "Hospital Staff How to Help, and "Birthfathers Need Help Too. An appendix is included which gives sample documents that promote and heighten awareness, such as an adoption questionnaire, suggestions for alternatives groups, an open adoption policy, an open adoption consent form, and a "birth plan for baby.
One chapter that makes this book uniquely helpful is the chapter on birth fathers. The vast majority of people in American society have no experience with birth fathers in adoption. This is partly because there are so few. Only about five percent of young parents faced with unplanned pregnancies choose adoption, and even fewer fathers are active participants in their children's lives. Also, some birth fathers may not know that they have fathered children. They may have had a "one-night stand or for another reason never again saw the woman they got pregnant. Still others know they are birth fathers but rarely admit it, for fear of being seen as disappointing or irresponsible.
Birth fathers, however, it seems are a severely underrated and underserved group. Larry, one birth father noted in the book, represents the kind of birth father that is largely unknown and yet not uncommon. Larry was present with his girlfriend throughout her pregnancy and after the adoption took place. While he did not have a parenting plan, he was interested in being his child's father and was reluctant to agree to the adoption.
When it came time to sign the adoption papers, Larry did not want to do it. He loved his girlfriend, and he wanted to have a family with her someday. Still, he was not offered any options. He simply was told to be "the strong one and was strongly encouraged to assure his girlfriend that adoption was the right choice. So, he did.
The closed adoption took place, and post-adoption counseling was offered by the adoption agency to Larry's girlfriend. While it was vitally important that there was adequate counseling for her, and she and Larry often spoke to other teens about their experience, Larry was never offered counseling, even though the agency believed strongly in post-adoption counseling for birth mothers. What they did not see was that Larry, too, felt grief and loss over the baby. He explains that no one seemed to believe that was possible. The only person who ever acknowledged that he might have feelings about the baby was one of his closest friends who, on the night his son was born, walked with Larry for hours until Larry felt he could go home and rest.
This part was especially enlightening for me, since I, too, have misunderstood birth fathers in general. Because of stereotypes and personal experience (or, I should say, inexperience), I can see how a birth father would be ignored in the process of either adoption or teen parenting. It is all too easy to say that birth fathers as a group don't care about their children, whether or not they had strong feelings for the child's mother, or that they do not or will not stick around. They may not instigate conversation or feel confident expressing feelings about it, but they can and do care.
The authors of this book stress that, even if they represent a fraction of a population, birth fathers have very similar needs to birth mothers and can easily be integrated into existing counseling programs, as long as agencies and those "caring others are aware of this need. Lindsay and Monserrat, in their agency's practice, not only offer this counseling and support to birth fathers if they want it, but they also attempt to enlighten others about this need.
Most literature on adoption is geared entirely toward prospective adoptive parents. These how-to books are informative for those who need a step-by-step guide in the complex process of adopting. But this type of book is not what I mean by "adoption literature, which, in my opinion, both explains adoption practices and promotes social awareness of healthy alternatives to unplanned pregnancies like open adoption.
While they speak in depth about explaining "all the options to the teenagers who require their service, this book does not actually address all the options available in dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. There is no mention of abortion or even of pregnancy prevention education. Still, no one piece of literature is all-inclusive, or should be expected to cover everything about such a vast and complex subject as adoption.
Lindsay, Jeanne and Catherine Monserrat. Adoption Awareness: A Guide for Teachers, Counselors, Nurses and Caring Others. Morning Glory Press: Buena Park, California, 1989.
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