Adoption Isn’t A “Choice” For Everyone

There’s this billboard that has been ticking me off for months now. It used to be on the northbound Metra tracks. I was so happy when they took it down, but now it’s back up along eastbound Route 14. It’s sponsored, natch, by McHenry County (Illinois) Right To Life and pictures a couple with a baby and the slogan: “Adoption. The choice everyone can live with.”

I have so many beefs with this billboard I could cook a chuck roast. It’s a daily reminder to me of everything that is wrong with adoption.

  • The billboard is specifically promoting infant adoption. Never mind that there are plenty of foster kids in Illinois and elsewhere who would be delighted at a chance for a good home.
  • It pictures Obligatory Cute Picture of Healthy White Infant with Smiling Heterosexual Caucasian Couple. In other words, it promotes adoption of white infants over infants of other ethnicities, foster kids, and kids with disabilities. Get Your Tabula Rasa Here! It also discounts single-parent adoption, gay adoption, and anything other than the stereotypical “nuclear family”.
  • This ad is designed to get expectant mothers to surrender kids–in other words, to make money for adoption agencies. I don’t see the RTL groups posting ads offering help for expectant moms or brochures on where they can find support. If it’s really about fighting abortion and not promoting adoption, why not offer every alternative? Nor do I see them giving expectant mothers realistic information about adoption (PDF).
  • It portrays adoption solely from the perspective of the adoptive parents. The baby is a perpetual infant without voice, and the (birth) mother* is nonexistent.
  • It says nothing about the lifelong impact of adoption upon everyone involved, including the adoptive parents.
  • (Plus, the damn thing ends in a preposition. My English teacher is howling from beyond the grave.)

Some people, especially the RTL crowd, get bent out of shape at criticism of infant adoption, or indeed any criticism of adoption at all. This billboard’s message is clear: An expectant mother’s only choices are abortion (“murder” in RTL parlance) or Warm Happy Fuzzy Adoption. What this billboard carefully does NOT point out is:

  • Adoption is not Warm Happy Fuzzy. Adoption begins in loss. There’s no way to make that prettier or more palatable.
  • Adoption is not a guarantee of a better life, only a different one.
  • Adoption should be a last resort. All efforts should be made to keep children with their families of origin, and only if they are truly in danger and there is absolutely no other choice should they be relinquished for adoption. But most prospective adopters want unspoiled goods, the tabula rasa, not an older child or one with potential problems or one whose birth family might want (horrors!) to maintain a relationship. They pay good money and like any consumer they demand a quality product. Which is why adoption is about finding a child for parents who want one instead of finding a home for children who need one. That leads to the adoption industry snatching up as many products (read: children) as possible.
  • Adoptees grow up; we don’t remain voiceless infants forever. Adoption was never a “choice” for us, nor for our mothers, many of whom were forced socially or literally into surrendering us. It’s also not a “choice” for our extended families, friends, and significant others, all of whom are faced with the negative impact adoption has had on our lives and the lives of those around us.
  • Adoption agencies make billions on infant adoption. Adoption is a profit-making venture, not a charity, however it may be portrayed.
  • Adoption agencies get federal subsidies for promoting adoption, to the point where they push adoption to strangers over keeping birth families together.
  • Adoption agencies deliberately market in such a way to discount the negativities of adoption (again, because they make money from adoption). Which means any information about adoption from an agency or adoption “professional” should be taken as suspect.
  • Adult adoptees are routinely denied access to their origins. Birth mothers are routinely denied access to the paperwork they signed and information about their offspring. Illinois has mechanisms that purportedly facilitate contact but they’re about as effective as a walrus trying to tango.
  • So-called “open” adoptions are rarely enforcable from the biological family’s side. Once the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents can–and do–take off with the kid, never to be heard from again. “Open adoption” is a marketing phrase to get an expectant mom in the door.
  • Foreign “orphans” often are not orphans at all, and may in fact have been stolen from their families. Adoption, international and otherwise, is chock-full of corruption.
  • Adoptees are torn not only from their families but also their countries, languages, and cultures of origin. Birth mothers suffer long-term consequences including depression, anxiety and other stressors that can diminish their health. Hollywood and made-for-TV movies gloss over these impacts, just like adoption agencies do. It’s not a pretty picture but it is the truth.

Why are we adoptees supposed to be grateful that we were not raised in our families of origin? Why are our mothers supposed to go away and never be seen or heard from again? Why can’t we promote support of expectant mothers instead of stealing their children to feed the adoption industry’s profits? Why can’t we restore unconditional access to adoption records? Why are we supposed to ignore what is wrong with adoption and simply accept the happy-go-lucky picture the billboard above invokes?

How about this as a new billboard? “Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Support expectant mothers and unconditional records access.”

* I use the terms “birth mother” and “birth family” on this blog although some find it offensive, not because I disagree (I find it offensive too) but because it’s more likely to be picked up by search engines. Which is a further demonstration of how relinquishing mothers and adoptees are dehumanized in discussions of adoption.


  1. Hey, love your billboard idea…

    A permanent solution to a temporary problem…

    I’ve seen these billboards and I want to throw tomatoes at them. And these people think they are doing good in the world, when all they are doing is perpetuating old myths and bad psychology.

    Lorraine from

  2. I can’t take credit for that line, I read it somewhere but can’t for the life of me remember where. It sums things up nicely, doesn’t it?

    What is really annoying to me is having to explain to people WHY this billboard is so offensive. I bet 99% of the people who drive by it don’t see any problem with it at all.

  3. What a terrific blog entry. You are right on the money! Keep up the good work.

  4. Wonderful post. I’m sickened and saddened by the original billboard.

    The choice everyone can live with??

    Then how do you explain the higher rates of suicide in first Mothers? And for those of us that do “live” with it – how about the PTSD, depression, etc.?

    I think your billboard speaks to the reality of the situation, while the billboard in use is nothing more than fluff to make us feel like adoption is all puppy dogs and rainbows – happiness all around.

  5. Thanksgivingmom–I think it’s more appropriate to say it’s the choice adoptive parents can live with, since they are the only ones who “choose” adoption. Of course, the billboard I designed was done purely to make the point and not to try to make a profit off the suffering of others. The RTL lobby can pretend it’s about saving lives all it wants, but we know the real costs of adoption.

  6. I agree with you but I wanted to add that I read the billboard more specifically as an anti-abortion advertisement as it say “the CHOICE everyone can LIVE with.” To me, it points to the fact that adoption is the alternate choice to abortion that does not require the taking of anyone’s life. If they are coming from a Pro-Life purpose in making their billboard, not necessarily for the purpose of advertising adoption, they may not realise how ignorant they are being in so many other areas. Is there some way you can contact the people responsible to let them know?

  7. Hi Amanda–Yes, it is an anti-abortion billboard, but that’s the point: Adoption isn’t automatically the antidote to abortion. The antidote to abortion is supporting mothers in need. Adoption should always be last-resort, IMO. But the people who want to maintain the status quo of the adoption industry (e.g. those who make money off it) have successfully combined the two in the public eye because it’s a whole lot easier to convince people how great adoption is if you tell them the alternative is “murder”. As for telling the creators of the billboard, I’m not going to bother. The RTL movement is strongly linked with profits from adoption. Check out Kathryn Joyce’s latest article in The Nation:

  8. I agree that adoption is not the solution for abortion. But I don’t think everyone that is involved in the RTL movement has a clue about the adoption process. Therefore, when they propose adoption as an alternative to abortion, it’s clearly because they have no clue what they’re talking about. That’s where I’m guessing part of the ignorance and the “are you kidding me!?” effect of this billboard is comging from. IMHO, it’s clearly created by individuals who support the RTL but have no clue about all the “solution” they proposed entails. If they truly understood what they were advertising…well, shame on them if they do understand it but went ahead and created the billboard anyway is all I’m saying 🙂

  9. Hi Amanda, thanks for writing back. I agree most of the average-Joe supporters of RTL probably have no idea about the adoption industry, but I do think the higher-ups are quite well aware of it, unfortunately. And I think they deliberately design advertisements like this to coerce both expectant moms and prospective adopters into continuing to believe the myths of adoption. Makes me sick just thinking about it.