Adoption reversal and revocation strikes fear in the hearts of adopting parents. Under section 19 of the Adoption Act, "a birth mother may revoke her consent within 30 days of the child's birth, even though the child has been placed for adoption during that period." In a reversal, consents have not been signed; in revocation, consents have been signed. In most cases the child was living in the adoptive home. Under the old Act, there was no revocation period.
In an Adoption Awareness Month panel moderated by Jane Anne Mintenko of the Ministry For Children and Families, panelists aimed to help social workers note the warning signs that a birth mother might change her mind, and come up with ways to deal with the aftermath, if it should occur. Much of value came out for prospective adoptive parents. Panelists included two Ministry social workers, a couple who had experienced reversal, and Mike Todd, the head of LDS (Latter Day Saints) adoption agency.
A personal story: Saying hello and goodbye to baby
In the spring of '98, after nine years of infertility and seven years on the Ministry adoption list, Jim and Anne (names changed) made a decision to be child-free. Ironically, several months later, they were proposed a child.
The baby was the fourth child of a 37-year-old divorced mother on welfare. Her pregnancy was a secret. No one in her family, including her mother, or her support network knew of her impending birth. Jim and Anne felt comfortable with the birth mother's decision. This was a grown woman making a mature decision who had even said, "I could never take a baby away from a family."
Jim and Anne brought the baby home immediately from the hospital and basked in the warm early days of parenthood surrounded by adoring family and friends. On day 11, the unthinkable happened. The birth mother changed her mind. Her family found out at the last minute and offered to help care for the child. In an instant, all her reasons for placement disappeared. On the adoption front, everyone was devastated, including their social worker David, who didn't sleep for five days.
Anne said the ripple effect made it especially difficult on their end. Everyone knew about the baby: friends, family and co-workers. She wanted to meet the birth mother and change her mind. She had a list of questions to ask her. " I wanted to know her motives ... I wanted a homestudy on her ... I wanted updates on the baby ... I felt like the birthmother giving up her child," she said. Husband Jim said, "Words cannot describe the pain of that day. I was so embarrassed. Everyone had done so much for us and now we had nothing to show for it."
David recognized that everyone needed closure, and that the birth mother needed to face the adoptive parents. He arranged for the parties to meet. Anne wanted to find out face-to-face her reasons for changing her mind. She wanted information.
It was only after meeting the family, said Anne, that the mother of their child became human,, and she and Jim were able to begin to accept the reversal and understand her reasons. They discovered a family with a lot of love and commitment to give this child.
But Jim and Anne had tasted the wonders of parenthood and could no longer face the prospect of a child-free life. So when baby number two was proposed two months after the reversal, Anne said they would consider it only if they could talk to the birth mother first. "I wanted to hear her reasons. I wanted to make certain." They met the birth mother and the birth grandmother and they talked for an hour and 20 minutes. They made sure they were aware of the 30-day clause. There were no secrets this time. Nonetheless, both Jim and Anne counted down the seconds to D-day, and at 4:36 pm on Day 30, their social worker called to say the baby was legally theirs. Jim and Anne are now happily involved in an open adoption.
Impact on the adoptive family
Revocation and reversal parallel a funeral. The adoptive family needs to grieve the loss. They may feel unable to pursue another adoption. The adoptive family must be informed of the risks and what to do in this event.
Many thanks to Mike Todd of LDS adoption agency for identifying these important points. Todd has 20 years experience running that agency.
- The birth father doesn't know. He could pop up anytime in the next six months and claim parental rights, in particular if no efforts have been made to locate him.
- The birth grandmother doesn't know. Almost every revocation is grandparent- driven. This is the single biggest indicator. The grandparents must be involved, he said. Often, they are the most influential people in the birth mother's life. At LDS, he said, "We always meet grandparents, and they must give total support."
- Limited awareness of the pregnancy. This is an indicator of secrecy, shame, and guilt around the pregnancy. This means the the birth mother isn't prepared and likely does not have a support system in place to help her after placing the child.
- The birth mother is adamant she'll place this child for adoption. She sees no other alternatives or is being pushed into it.
- The birth mother is older or already has children. Here, the birth mother's maternal instincts are well developed, and it's unlikely that she can't parent another child.
- If the birth mother refuses to meet the prospective adopting parents prior to placement. The desire to meet is a positive sign, he said. It means she wants to check out the child's future home and feel she and her child are part of a family.
Birth mother reasons
Mike Todd's reasons why a birth mother might change her mind:
- A birth mother's basic belief that no one can love her child as much as she can.
- A worry that she may regret this decision for the rest of her life.
- External pressure from society to parent the child.
Additionally, he said, a birth mother does not know how she'll feel until she gives birth. Once she's given birth, her body is crying for the child. Her breasts are full of milk and her hormones are geared up for caring and feeding. She also has no idea what it's going to be like to place a child.
Implications for social workers
- Social workers need to look at the birth parent's support system.
- Social workers need to look at the caregiver home option.
- If the birth parents are wavering, the adoptive family must be informed and regardless, all adopters must be aware that revocation can and does happen. They must be informed of section 19 of the Adoption Act.
- Social workers must be clear with the birth mother that the revocation period is there to accommodate unexpected crises and changes; it is not a "change your mind" period.