Catholic Adoptions Then and NowFrom the “Baby Scoop” Era to Open Catholic Adoption
Over the years, Catholic adoption has changed greatly. We have experienced the “baby scoop” era in our history and have now evolved to a more modern, open adoption model. To understand the significance of open adoption, it is important to understand the past and to learn from that era. We can then provide better information and support to birth mothers, adoptive families, and adoptees.
The “baby scoop” era ran from the 1940s to the early 1970s. During this time, if an unwed woman experienced an unexpected pregnancy, she was hidden away and most likely sent to a home for unwed mothers. These women were made to feel shame and in many instances were not given a choice as to what would happen to the baby. In 1970, about 80% of babies born to unwed mothers were placed for adoption. The baby would be taken at birth and given to an adoptive couple. The adoptive couple would not be given any information on the birth mother, and the birth mother would not know who had adopted her child.
There are many books about this era, such as The Baby Scoop Era: Unwed Mothers, Infant Adoption, and Forced Surrender, that tell the stories of the 1.5 million birth mothers and the newborns adopted during this era. This practice often had negative effects on everyone involved, the birth mother, adoptive parents, and the adoptee.
A birth mother was usually not given the choice to keep her baby, leaving her helpless to make decisions for herself and her child. After her baby was taken, she had no idea where her baby was or if she was happy and well cared for. She was left to wonder and had no option to reach out and find out how her child was.
Adoptive parents were not given access to family and medical history. If there were any genetic or medical issues they and their pediatrician should be aware of, it was not available. If they shared with the child that he was adopted, they had no answers to the questions of, “Who are my birth parents?” “Why did they place me for adoption?” or any other questions that the child had regarding his family history.
Adoptees were left with all of these questions and sometimes more. Some adoptees were never told they were adopted, and that news coming as a surprise later in life can lead to a feeling of being misled or deceived. The popularity and ease of DNA testing have led to some family secrets coming to light. These secrets can lead to family issues and feelings that we now know can be avoided through open and truthful communication.
Catholic open adoption began to be popular in the late 1970s and by the 1990s was the most popular form of adoption. Research showed that open adoption was much better for the child. A child who knows from the beginning he is adopted and grows up viewing adoption in a positive light tends to have higher self-worth, fewer feelings of abandonment, and an increased level of belonging. They understand why they were placed for adoption, they have information on their family history, and often have contact with their birth family.
Birth mothers do not have to worry all their lives about the baby they placed for adoption. They get to choose the Catholic couple they want to raise their child. They get updates, photos, social media contact and even visits sometimes. Some adoptive families and birth families become somewhat like extended family. A beautiful relationship can be formed.
Birth mothers and birth fathers aren’t the only ones to who can have contact. Angela, a birth grandmother, was devastated when her fifteen-year-old daughter became pregnant and decided on adoption. It was her first grandchild, and while she knew it was the right decision, she feared she would never know what happened to her grandson. Imagine her delight when she found out the adoptive family was excited about open adoption, and they were happy to include the birth grandmother. She and her daughter just attended her grandson’s Catholic wedding. Not a dry eye to be found.
Adoptive families also benefit in so many ways from open adoption. Not only do they receive the medical and family history that benefits their child and the pediatrician, but they also have all the answers to the questions that their child will ask as they grow up. Their child will understand from the beginning that they have a birth mother and birth father. They will understand why adoption was the right choice and most importantly they will know how very much they are loved by so many people.
Catholic open adoption is a blessing for all. It brings out the best in people. We trust that God bringing us together for this child is a miracle that can bring love and happiness to all.