Have you met anyone who has adopted an Irish baby in the last, say, 20 years? No? That’s not surprising. It rarely happens nowadays.
By Ruth Foley
(From the October - December 2017 issue of VOX.)
One aspect that is often neglected in discussing pro-life matters is the question: what is a pregnant mother to do if she feels she is not in a position to care for her unborn child? As many women, and their children, find themselves in this difficult scenario, how can individual Christians, Christian churches and communities in Ireland respond to their needs with practical compassion? This article reflects on how adoption fits into the options for crisis pregnancies, why it has become so neglected, and what may be done.
When the media comments on adoption, it is usually about practices in decades past, when thousands of natural mothers were under pressure from others, including church authorities, and had no contact with their child after the adoption. These practices left mothers traumatised and living with the uncertainty of thinking about their child being “out there” but not knowing how they were or whether they would ever meet again. The legacy of deep damage to mothers and children is a large part of why adoption is now viewed so negatively.
Many people are unaware that adoption practices have changed. Most importantly, in contrast to closed adoptions of the past, open adoptions are now encouraged with either face-to-face or “postbox” contact between children and natural parents. Open adoptions are complex relationships between natural parents, adoptive parents and most importantly the child, and every family is unique - but overall, moving away from closed adoption has been a positive change.
Still, for many if not most pregnant mothers, adoption is difficult to contemplate. As well as living with the long and deep grief of giving birth to a child and then losing him/her, she may be concerned the adopted child will feel rejected as he or she grows up, or about family or other people judging her as ‘hard and unfeeling’ – there now seems to be more stigma over adoption than over abortion.
All this may help explain why pregnant women are often reluctant to consider adoption, and why they often perceive abortion as a less difficult way to deal with their situation, for their own sake, and even for their child.
And so the pendulum has swung to our current situation, where domestic infant adoptions are few and far between: an average of seven each year between 2012 and 2015. Yet every year, there are over three thousand unborn Irish children whose parent(s) are unable or unwilling to care for them, and tragically most of them die by abortion in the UK.
Ireland is heading towards discarding the practice of infant adoption as a historical anomaly. In the reaction against the obvious wrongs of the past, another wrong is going unnoticed in the present: lost opportunities for children who are being aborted to have a chance to live and to grow up in the care of adoptive families.
That’s why, difficult as this area is, I am convinced it needs to be addressed. These trends are only likely to get worse in coming years, unless something changes and unless people who care take action.
WHAT CAN BE DONE, WHAT IS NEEDED?
It should be said here that separating a child from his or her parents is never ideal - but even with help and support, it doesn’t always work out for a child to grow up with his or her natural parents. Adoption can sometimes then be the best plan for a child, and staff or volunteers working through this difficult process (now overseen by Tusla) need to do so with great care and sensitivity towards everyone involved.
There are some (not enough) life-affirming crisis pregnancy agencies in Ireland (e.g. Gianna Care, Women’s Counselling Network) working with women struggling to see a way forward for themselves and their unborn child. For some of these women, this may be parenting with the dedicated and compassionate support of volunteers, or if that’s not possible, adoption. Parents thinking about adoption may also find support from crisis pregnancy agencies, depending on the agency’s approach (or lack of it) to discussing adoption as a genuine option.
But is it surprising that many Irish women, who have heard so much in recent years about adoption as an evil to be avoided (and about abortion as a ‘positive option’), are reluctant to look into adoption? That’s why, in Canada, pro-life activists are making efforts to address the general public perception of adoption, through, for example, radio advertisements telling one person’s positive story of adoption. A Canadian website (adoptionincanada.ca) asks questions like: Is adoption abandonment? Is it deception? Is it unbearable pain? Their research has found that adoption is perceived in those terms - and so they address the realities behind these perceptions. In Ireland, the dominant narrative about adoption is negative and voices presenting it in a more positive light are few and far between. This vacuum cries out to be filled.
Every child has, of course, a father as well as a mother - a father who may struggle to know how to respond in a crisis pregnancy situation, and may find either abortion or adoption on the agenda against his wishes or even without his knowledge. Ministry with men in this area includes godly role models encouraging men to be fathers who protect and provide for their children, not only in or after crisis but as they grow up.
There are opportunities for churches to use their resources and gifts in many other ways. For example, the UK charity Home for Good (now also with a base in Northern Ireland) runs information evenings in churches about adoption, facilitates connecting potential adoptive parents with others with experience, and organises an annual Adoption Sunday.
One group of children who, more than most, are dying by abortion are children diagnosed before birth with a disability. Could churches find ways to support parents who make themselves available to offer them adoption, foster care or respite care?
Star Trek actress Kate Mulgrew (who played Captain Kathryn Janeway) gave up her daughter for adoption after birth. “I believe it was God’s will,” Mulgrew has said. “I wouldn’t trade the experience. I also wouldn’t repeat it. Though I’m always going to feel the hurt, at least I know my child is alive and that she is happy somewhere and growing up surrounded by love.”
Our God is one who redeems and restores damaged and hopeless situations, relationships and most importantly, people. May His kingdom come and His will be done in our country, and may we be ready and willing to stand up and do what He calls us to do.
Dr. Ruth Foley is a mother, science researcher and pro-life campaigner. She lives in Clondalkin, Dublin with her husband James and two sons and attends Open Arms Church in Newbridge, Co. Kildare.