As Executive Director of On Your Feet Foundation, I often encounter people who do not understand the importance of the work we do. They don’t believe their lives have been impacted by adoption (if not a family member, a friend or colleague), that they’ve ever met a birthparent (trust me, they have), or they believe the stereotypes that have been perpetuated – birthparents didn’t want their children or love them. I have to admit to you how tired I am of having to explain the reality. That every birthparent I know loved – loves – their child. That many would have parented had the resources been there or the situation been just a little more manageable. And that after their placement was finalized, most have found themselves in an unequal power dynamic, with no safe place to turn, no one to talk to, no access to the tools necessary to rebuild their lives, and no clear path to healing.
When I first came to On Your Feet Foundation in 2015, our case management team was working with approximately 70 birthparents across Illinois and Indiana and we were holding 2-3 in-person retreats annually. Over the past 7 years, we have:
- Grown to provide case management to over 400 birthparents across 44 states and 2 countries;
- Expanded our retreats to 6 annually (3 in person and 3 virtual);
- Launched a birthmom journal soon to be published in Spanish;
- Awarded 3 Create! Arts Grants;
- Developed a mentor program;
- Run more than 75 virtual support groups annually;
- Provided gifts to nearly 200 children through our Holiday Assistance Program;
- And launched our adoption education platform, Activism in Adoption, this past October.
This year, two of our three Create! Arts Grant recipients, Candace Cahill and S. Savannah Verdin, published books and former clients have joined our staff as Associate Case Managers, Retreat Facilitators, Mentors and lead our BirthmomsConnect support groups.
After Roe was overturned, narratives surrounding ethical issues in adoption increased exponentially in mainstream media, bringing with them an even greater need for our services. Rhetoric in this space often intentionally and erroneously conflates the issues of abortion and adoption and perpetuates stigmas that have long been tied to adoption. Even the term birthmother, coined by Pearl S. Buck in 1956 to describe unwed mothers, was derived by an adoptive parent; it is not a term chosen by individuals who lost a child to adoption – the same goes for Birthmother’s Day.
Today there is a tremendous need for post-placement services – not just for individuals who placed in 2022, but for those birthparents who placed 50+ years ago, who were victims of the baby scoop era (1945-1972), who lost their children to the foster care system, were victims of domestic violence, like Kiara, or who agreed to an open adoption only to discover after finalization that their agreement is not enforceable and are navigating the grief and trauma of losing their child a second time.
For over twenty years, On Your Feet Foundation has been the gold standard in post-placement care, and, while we are thrilled to see new organizations starting up in this space, offering support groups and retreats, On Your Feet Foundation continues to be the only organization in the country providing comprehensive post-placement care in a safe, neutral space, outside of the adoption landscape, for individuals who have placed a child for – or lost a child to – adoption by providing all of our services directly to the birthparents in our care. It is imperative to our mission that any birthparent, no matter when or where or why they placed, has access to unbiased, secular support and that, unless they are comfortable doing so, never have to return to the place that is the source of their trauma in order to heal.
Which leads me to this… On Your Feet still relies predominantly on individual donors – you – to continue to do the work that we do. I hope that we can count on your support this year so that we can meet each and every birthparent who needs our services where they are in order to help them heal and thrive.
Wishing you a very happy, healthy new year. And, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for understanding and supporting the important work we do.