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Education & Outreach


Washington Post OpEd: Baby Box Adoptions Are Not The Feel-Good Story You Think They Are

negative comments left on a washington post article about baby boxes

Our Executive Director, Alexis Eyler, is a tireless advocate for birthparents. Whether she is speaking at a national adoption conference about the importance of providing birthparents with free, lifetime access to ethical and comprehensive care, or telling the President of the United States everything he got wrong about adoption, Alexis is never one to shy away from using her voice to educate others. So when the Washington Post published what they no doubt believed to be a feel-good piece about adoption, she got to work, sending them an OpEd meant to fill in some of the blanks they had regarding baby boxes, adoption, and the aftermath of adoption. While they declined to publish it, we were heartened by the comments left on the Washington Post's social media, by people who understood the tragedy of this story, and decided to publish her OpEd ourselves. 

This recently published article about a newborn left at a firehouse and later adopted neither acknowledges the trauma that adoptees experience when separated from their birthparents, nor the depth of grief that birthparents hold, suggesting that the act of adoption is a celebration without recognizing the tremendous loss that it represents, both for the adoptee and their birth family.

For those of us working in the aftermath of adoption, this is not a feel-good story, but a story of heartbreak. As the Executive Director of On Your Feet Foundation, a secular nonprofit whose mission is to provide birthparents with the tools they need to heal, I see the disenfranchised grief that birthparents experience every single day, and can speak to the kind of suffering they endure - for a lifetime - due to relinquishing a child.

When people talk about baby-boxes as the solution to a problem, it is important to recognize that the problem they purport to solve is not the same problem that causes desperate mothers to use them. Baby boxes are our society’s way of continuing to stigmatize and marginalize women who do not have the resources to parent their children. They are a band-aid on a gaping societal wound. They are convenient – for people who claim to care about children, yet aren’t interested in solving the problems that lead a woman to feel she has no other choice than to leave her baby anonymously at a fire station. Instead of separating children from their mothers, we should focus on finding ways to ensure that no pregnant person ever has to leave their child because they do not have access to the resources and support all families need to parent successfully. We need to shift our focus from adoption to keeping families intact -- instead of celebrating the most traumatic experience of a child’s life as a feel-good moment. Why do we view adoption as an altruistic social good, instead of acknowledging that every adopted child comes from a family that was broken apart due to a lack of adequate resources?

We need to break the cycle instead of celebrating a devastating, traumatic experience, one that impacts both birthparents and adoptees for life. 

Nobody who gives birth to a child relinquishes them without serious consequences to their mental health and well-being. Birthmothers suffer invisibly; their disenfranchised grief and shame keeping them isolated and alone. It is convenient that this boy's mother doesn’t have a face – that we don’t have to look her in the eye and see her pain. We don’t have to acknowledge how badly we failed her as a society, that her only viable option was anonymous abandonment of her child. We can pretend, as this article does, that this child didn’t also have a father, whose story will never be known. We don’t have to admit that adoption is a multi-billion dollar industry, largely unregulated, and designed to center the desires of hopeful adoptive parents, not the needs of children.

Because if we were truly committed to centering the needs of children, we would be pouring resources into family preservation. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all adopted children are assumed to have trauma[i]. It begins with an infant losing the only person they have ever known; the heartbeat and voice of his mother, gone. As Billy Kaplan, LCSW and Principal of TreeHouse Health, explains, "imagine for nine months, you heard the sound of your mother's voice. And then one day, that voice is gone. And you have another voice. How do you make sense of that? That's the experience of an adopted infant." That loss lives inside of adoptees for a lifetime, and all the love in the world after adoption cannot erase it, which is why adoptees are roughly 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-adopted peers[ii], twice as likely to have substance use disorders as those who were not adopted, and are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system.[iii].

This child will grow up trying to reconcile the trauma he experienced with a feel-good story shared before he even had a say in the matter. And why? So that the adoptive family can feel good about themselves? He is not a puppy; he is a human being who will grow up and will always have this story follow him because he was too young to consent to the most personal and tragic story of his young life being shared with millions of strangers. He is the one most impacted by this, and his feelings around his adoption will be complex, but he has no say in how his story is told. 

Additionally, no mention is made that his family of origin is Black, while the adoptive family is white, despite the fact that racial disparity in this country is well-documented, with Black women disproportionately represented among women living in poverty. At no point are the challenges of transracial adoption mentioned, either, suggesting that the racial factors at play that would result in a Black child being left at a fire station are not at the forefront of the author’s mind. Over the last decade, we have seen a tremendous rise in accessible online resources that allow white parents to commit to the kind of lifetime adoption education necessary to achieve better outcomes for interracial adoptees. We built Activism in Adoption - an online platform dedicated to lifelong adoption education at the intersection of race, resilience, and relationships - to do just this. Social entrepreneurs like Isaac Etter, who focus on providing training and community, and educators like Dr. Samantha Coleman and Sandria Washington of Black to the Beginning, and dozens of other Black adopted people (links here, and here) who have made it their life's work to give families created through interracial adoption the best possible chance for success. 

This baby-box adoption shouldn’t be hailed in the media as something to celebrate, because it is an example of how badly the system failed this child (and by extension, his birthmother); their personal tragedy turned into a feel-good story, the heartbreaking and intimate details of his early life exposed to millions of strangers without any thought to his privacy, his trauma ignored while his adoptive parents beam with happiness, thrilled to call him their son.  A child abandoned at a fire station by a desperate mother, and adopted by a white family, is not the feel-good story you might think it is. Instead, it is a stunning reminder of who is allowed the resources to parent, and who is not. Instead of celebrating adoption, perhaps we should first ensure that every family has access to the resources necessary for them to keep their family intact. And if a parent still chooses adoption for their child, perhaps we should take the necessary steps to significantly improve outcomes for adoptees and birthparents.

That would be something worth celebrating.





Thank you for recognizing the importance of post-placement support: