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Coercion happens when someone, typically with more power, persuades or convinces someone to do something by using force, threats, pressure, or misinformation. Many pregnant people experience adoption as coercive and don’t feel like it was truly their decision, while others feel they made the decision for themselves. The power dynamic between pregnant people and adoption professionals creates an environment where coercion can easily happen. 

While nearly all birth parents report feeling ongoing grief and loss over their placed child and the experience of separation, these feelings were more intense when the decision did not feel like their own, and these feelings only increased with time. 

Blame and shame should never be reasons for placing your child for adoption. Here are some common coercive messages and behaviors pregnant people and birth parents experience from adoption professionals or other influential people:

  • Telling you how much money the prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) have spent either on infertility treatments or past attempts to adopt.
  • Reminding you of what you don't have (usually related to money and/or marriage), and all that the PAPs do have.
  • Promising that adoption will give your child a better life.
  • Telling you how long the prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) have been waiting to adopt.
  • Reminding you of the reasons why the PAPs can't have their own biological children. 
  • Repeatedly telling you that you won’t have success in life if you parent your child. 
  • If you and/or your child are BIPOC, biracial, or multiracial and the PAPs are white:
    • Implying white PAPs will be able to give your child a "better life" in ways that imply BIPOC parents, families, and communities are inherently less fit or unsafe for their own children.
    • Minimizing the importance of your child’s connections to the culture, race, or ethnicity of their family of origin.
    • Saying the white PAPs "don't see color." 
  • Telling you that "love makes a family" and biology or connections to one’s family of origin never influences a person’s well-being.  
  • Focusing only on the PAPs well-being and happiness or how hard it will be for them if they don’t get to adopt your child. 
  • Reminding you how much the PAPs have spent on your living/medical expenses so far in your pregnancy. (And reminding you that if you don’t go through with the adoption, you may be responsible for paying that money back.)
  • Threatening to alert Child Protective Services if you don’t go through with the adoption when there is no evidence of abuse or neglect. 

If you feel pressured or coerced in any way by an adoption professional, nurse or doctor, social worker, clergy member, prospective adoptive parent, family member, or anyone else, that’s not okay. You have the right to speak up, advocate for yourself and your future child, change your mind at any time, and seek support elsewhere.

Saving Our Sisters (SOS) helps pregnant people and/or parents who have been coerced in adoption or want to change their mind.

Pact: An Adoption Alliance or All-Options Talkline can help you find support elsewhere.

How can I know if the adoption options counseling I receive is trustworthy?

Research shows that only one-third of birth parents felt like the options counseling they received from adoption professionals was supportive, thorough, and allowed them to make the decision that was right for them.

If and when you’re ready to learn more about adoption, you may come across people and organizations who claim to be providing you with “options counseling,” but who actually have a bias and want you to place your child for adoption. Some may be obvious, like telling you that they won’t refer you for an abortion, or telling you that adoption will give your child a “better life” than the one you could provide, or even calling adoption a “win-win” choice or a “fairytale ending.”

Sometimes they’re less obvious. For example, using terms like “birth mother,” “birth father,” or “birth parent” while you’re still pregnant and considering adoption. These terms only apply to people who have legally completed an adoption. It’s coercive to use them before legal consent to adoption, as it may make you feel like you’re not a real parent and the adoption is going to happen no matter what.  

Adoption professionals also often use words like “brave,” a “hero,” “selfless” or “loving” to describe people who place a child for adoption. This can imply that parenting your child would make you a coward, a villain, selfish, or unloving. Learn more about common types of adoption pressure and coercion

Adoption doesn’t guarantee a better life for anyone, it only guarantees a different life. You deserve to carefully consider what is right for you, without other people’s agendas.

  • Counseling to explore all your options without judgment, pressure, or misinformation.
  • Won’t refer you for an abortion.
  • Getting a referral for an abortion if desired.
  • Frame adoption as the best option.
  • Information about parenting and referrals for resources without judgment, regardless of your age, marital status, or income.
  • Refer to you as a “birth parent” while you’re still pregnant/deciding.
  • Helping you understand whether you’re eligible to collect child support from your child’s other parent.
  • Describe people who give their children up for adoption as selfless, brave, heroes, etc.
  • Getting referrals for issues such as intimate partner violence, substance use treatment, and mental health treatment if you need it to help you have a safe and healthy pregnancy and prepare you to parent your child if that’s what you decide.
  • Focus on what you lack as a parent.
  • Focus on what adoptive parents have that you don’t.
  • Don’t explore parenting as an option and/or don’t give referrals to help you parent.
  • Don’t have referrals to other social work, mental health, or legal professionals who could help you understand your options.
  • Encourage you to not name the father in order to speed up the adoption.
  • Encourage you to hide if you or the other parent are enrolled or could be eligible for membership in a federally recognized Native American/Indigenous tribe.
  • Upon initial inquiry about services, you are presented with profiles of prospective adoptive parents.

If you’re exploring adoption, you may experience some of these red flags. You have the right to leave and work with someone else if you feel pressured or uncomfortable in any way. 

Here are some resources for one-on-one, accurate, and non-judgemental options counseling with adoption-knowledgeable staff: 


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