A missing piece in our adoption advocacy
By Brittany Salmon and Jenn Hesse
*NOTE: This article was originally published on the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commision’s website.
Nov 12, 2019
The Church is no stranger to adoption. Many congregations in the United States observe Orphan Care Sunday, host fundraisers for prospective adoptive parents, and sponsor adoption charities and scholarships.
As we celebrate two adoption awareness events in November, National Adoption Month and National Adoption Day, we might feel confident advocating for adoption. Being well-versed in James 1:27, we understand the call to help children in need and have programs in place to assist adoptive parents with costs and logistics. But when discussing domestic infant adoption, we don’t often highlight the concerns of adoptees and their birthmothers.
Amid our efforts to be doers of the Word and support adoption in our communities, we need to extend our advocacy to birthmothers who choose adoption out of love for their children. Though adoption doesn’t always involve a rosy biological family backstory, we can still respect birthmothers’ inherent dignity, love them as our neighbors, and appreciate how they can illustrate the redemptive beauty of the gospel.
See the image-bearer
Birthmothers are made in the image of God just the same as the babies he forms in their wombs. Rather than see birthmothers as merely a means to an end of adoption, we need to recognize their worth and dignity as image-bearers. Birthmothers are also vital members of the adoption triad who have been historically neglected in the adoption process. They’re vulnerable in a different way than their children—not helpless, yet still in need of support.
This reality should frame the way we talk about birthmothers. Instead of saying remarks that would heap shame upon a birthmother such as, “She gave up her baby,” we can use positive language that recognizes the value of her decision such as, “She chose to place her baby with an adoptive family.”
Recognizing the imago dei of birthmothers also affects how we advocate the unborn. Being pro-life isn’t only about preventing abortion; it’s about dignifying life from womb to tomb. We care about babies and the women who are carrying them. This involves removing stigma and shame from our conversations about women who face unplanned pregnancies, speaking truth with kindness and respect.
Love our neighbor
As we strive to love our neighbors in the context of adoption, we need to remember that birthmothers are our neighbors too. When a woman faces an unplanned pregnancy, churches can offer resources and safety to help her make the best decision for her and her child. Adoption isn’t always the best option, and sometimes resources that would be put toward an adoption should be directed toward supporting single mothers. Churches can partner with organizations such as Young Lives and pregnancy resource centers to assist mothers who choose to parent or choose adoption.
Amid our efforts to be doers of the Word and support adoption in our communities, we need to extend our advocacy to birthmothers who choose adoption out of love for their children.
Many birthmothers are starting new jobs, entering new seasons of life, or establishing new habits. Churches can contact Christian adoption agencies to see if they’re working with any birthmothers who have specific needs they could meet. Families choosing an adoption agency can check if they offer or connect birthmothers to postpartum services (counseling, advocacy, job-finding, etc.). Partnering with adoption agencies that support birthmothers before and after placement is an important ministry for the adoption community.
Honor the sacrifice
Adoption requires sacrifices, some similar to parenting, others distinct. A birthmother continues the pregnancy, endures labor and delivery, and relinquishes her parental rights. She chooses what she believes would be a better family environment than what she can provide, suffering the loss of traditional parent-child relationships—physical closeness, developmental milestones, family traditions, and the bonding that happens while living in the same home. In this way, a birthmother reflects the sacrificial love that Jesus poured out for us at the cross.
Bearing in mind this illustration of the gospel, we can advocate for birthmothers by speaking highly of them and honoring their requests regarding conversations with their children. As we discuss adoption with our children who are adopted or with families interested in adopting, we can commend those birthmothers who demonstrate the self-effacing love described in 1 John 3:16: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
God’s grace in adoption
Circumstances vary widely in adoption. Not all birthmothers choose adoption out of love for their child. Not all adoptive parents pursue adoption for the right reasons. As Justin Taylor pointed out, “. . . what you have with every adoption is sinful people adopting a sinful child who was conceived by sinful parents. There is sin there and there is also grace for every moment.”
Both of us have experienced the abundant grace God supplies through adoption. Our families are deeply grateful for the two birthmothers who laid down their own self-interests to help our sons thrive. We urge our brothers and sisters in Christ to love birthmothers not as strangers but as members of an extended family God grafted through the gift of adoption.
Brittany Salmon is a freelance writer, an adjunct professor of Global Studies at Liberty University Online, and an editor for the ERLC. She is also an orphan care and prevention advocate, and a doctoral student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary…. Read More
Jenn Hesse is a writer, editor, and cofounder of a ministry that supports women walking through infertility, infant loss, and adoption. She lives with her husband and two sons in Oregon and writes at jennhesse.com. Read More