The Birth Mother Stigma


Newsweek’s Raina Kelley poses an interesting question: what if Bristol Palin had decided to give her baby up for adoption? The fact that this might have severely hampered her mother’s campaign reveals how we still stigmatize birth mothers.

Kelley writes, “our culture still seems to show so little respect and support for the women who choose adoption in the face of an unexpected pregnancy.” She expands:

Don’t believe that we’re so biased against birth moms? Do a little thought experiment with me-imagine it’s the 2008 presidential race all over again. What do you think the response would have been if Bristol Palin had announced she was having her baby but placing it for adoption? Something tells me she wouldn’t have been hailed as a real-life Juno but as a selfish promiscuous tart who doesn’t care about her baby.

It’s a good point — could Sarah Palin really have run her vice presidential campaign, so reliant as it was on her close-knit and photogenic family, if her pregnant daughter had openly planned to, as we somewhat negatively put it, “give up her baby”? And could Bristol Palin, now a prominent face on PSAs and TV shows alike, have gained so much post-election exposure as the birth mother of an adopted child, rather than as a single mom? For all the (mostly conservative) talk of adoption as an alternative to abortion, women who decide to give their children up often face almost as much stigma as those who choose to abort. Basically, women with unplanned pregnancies are judged no matter what they do — try to raise the baby yourself, and you’re called too young and too poor to give your baby a good life; abort, and of course you’re a murderer; choose adoption, and you’re, well, “a selfish promiscuous tart who doesn’t care about her baby.”

Kelley makes a strong case for correcting that last notion: she writes, “by indicating that placing a child for adoption is a selfish or painless choice when it’s not, or talking about birth mothers as if they were all crack-addled prostitutes or at the very least wayward youth, we not only limit a woman’s right to choose but also shut out the possibility that there are other people out there who would love to adopt.” She’s right that destigmatizing adoption might make practical improvements in the lives of both birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents, but there’s another important reason to remove the shroud of judgment from the practice: to expand on Laurie Penny’s argument yesterday, girls and women are supposed to look and act sexy in every area of life, from before puberty until death. But if the sexy sex they’re supposed to be ever courting (but maybe not actually having) leads to pregnancy, they suddenly can do no right. This is one of society’s biggest injustices, and one that a greater acceptance of adoption might begin to remedy.

Birth Moms Deserve Our Respect [Newsweek]

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