I was recently asked: What percent of domestic infant adoptions do I believe are coercive. The following is my (edited) reply:
A great deal depends on the definition of the word "coerced" (not to sound like a politician). But we know that during the 40's, 50's 60's and into the 70's white single mothers had no other options but a shotgun wedding or relinquishment. There were certainly social PRESSURES and then and now there were and still are financial pressures. If you define coerce as to "bring about with force" then I would say virtually none. However, if you define it as "to dominate or control, esp. by exploiting fear, anxiety, etc." (both definitions found at dictionary.com for coerce) than I would say virtually all during that era. A choice without options is not a choice. What is being told you cannot come home with that child? Pressure or coercion?
[As an aside, I can tell you that right now there is a great deal of chatter on Facebook - adoptive parents, adoptees, and birthmoms - in an uproar about Marie Osmond calling her adopted son a "gift." Gifts are given freely and willingly and this is striking a chord with many who feel it was NOT the case.]
Another factor is the amount of hindsight time of the mothers being asked. This is true for myself and for many, many others. There was a time during the first decade or so after my loss, that I described it as a "loving sacrifice" because we had to believe what we were being indoctrinated to believe: that it was for the best; that our child deserved better; that not to let go was selfish" and that we'd forget and have other children. Had we not "bought" into that denigrating rhetoric, we never would have relinquished. We were verbally beaten into submission. Is that coercion? Today, having read Wake Up Little Susie and recognizing the larger social dynamic into which my personal experience was played out, I find "pressured" far more accurately describes my experience.
Many mothers remain in states of denial for decades or even for life. I have known of mothers who never told their husbands, or their therapists. Others engage in behaviors, such as adopting or becoming a social worker, that seems to justify that what they did was in fact right and good in order to live with the horror, pain and shame of having given away their own child. (Many adoptees likewise engage in similar justification behaviors to assuage their hurts and feelings of adoption as a rejection.)
It is not unlike defining rape and date rape and what the victim (and even some perpetrators might) think of it immediately after it happens, as compared to reflecting on it years after with education of the nuanced differences between informed consent and not. We know that in past generations, and still today in many parts of the world, women do not report rape because they know that they will blamed as causing it to happen -- being willing participants. It is the same with adoption loss for many mothers. The pain of being accused by others and even themselves is so great they simply remain silent.
Today, mothers are being convinced that they can have open adoptions and not suffer the pain those of past generations did. This too, is often coercive as they are not informed that promises of openness are unenforceable, and have no attorney truly representing their rights to inform them of such things. In some cases of legally defined coercion and fraud, there was no intent to keep the unenforceable promises of ongoing contact. Mothers who have been deceived by such false promises or promises which failed to be ongoing and are left with no recourse, describe their experience as betrayal.
Other coercive practices in current adoption practice include moving expectant mothers and keeping them isolated from their support system, as well as adopters paying medical and housing expenses, etc. for a particular expectant mother. this has been reported to create feelings of indebtedness in the mother and crates false expectations for the adopters. Living expenses and legal fees need to come from a general pool paid into by adopters with fees tacked on to their adoptions.
IMO, any adoption in which the relinquishing parent does not have legal representation to ensure she has received impartial option counseling and knows all of her rights - an attorney NOT paid for by the adopting parents or an agency whose livelihood depends on adoption placements, or their agents...are ALL coercive adoptions. Mothers who voluntarily relinquish have less rights in this regard than those accused or felony crimes who are appointed legal aid.