Despite the claims of protesters, adoption or parenting may not be the best choice. And certainly painting women with a big red letter A is not the best choice either. In fact, there’s evidence that refutes the protesters’ claims to “Wait another six months and you’ll grow to love the child” or “Give your baby up for adoption. That’s the better choice” or “Your baby loves you.” Researchers found many negative consequences for mothers and children when a woman chooses to carry such a pregnancy to term, including late presentation for prenatal care, a decrease in health promotion behaviors during pregnancy, continued alcohol and nicotine use during pregnancy, premature delivery, low-birth-weight infants, infants that are small for gestational age, inconsistent or no presentation for well- baby care, and a lack of breastfeeding.
An unwanted pregnancy increases the likelihood that the infant’s health will be compromised and it also shows poor outcomes for maternal fetal bonding should the birth mother keep and raise the child. These researchers also point out that poor mother–child relationships are not speciﬁc to the unwanted child; all of the children in the family suffer when the mother has given birth to a child as a result of an unwanted pregnancy. Many mothers with unwanted pregnancies deliver low or very low birth weight infants who have been associated with higher levels of maternal psychological distress including depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive behaviors.
Unwanted pregnancy and delivery has also been shown to be associated with postpartum depression, feelings of powerlessness, increased time pressures, and impaired physical health. Regardless of whether the woman keeps or gives the child up for adoption, she must actually go through the physical act of an unwanted pregnancy and unwanted childbirth. Researchers posit that this is likely to lead to signiﬁcant feelings of powerlessness which have been signiﬁcantly associated with the development of depression and anxiety, as well as with malaise, physical illness, and alcoholism. The research cited above shows that although there is no evidence for widespread and consistent symptoms of mental health disorders among women after an elective abortion, there actually may be signiﬁcant negative consequences of unwanted childbearing for the mental health of the mother. This raises the question of whether an unqualiﬁed call for adoption is really a better option for maternal mental health. A mother who chooses to give up her child for adoption still has to undergo an unwanted pregnancy and childbirth with all of the poor potential outcomes that this may entail. Further, a child with health complications given up for adoption may not be seen as the most desirable candidate for prospective families and may languish in foster care. Additionally, the mental health of women who have given their children up for adoption has not been studied in depth owing to privacy laws that maintain the conﬁdentiality of birth mothers. Most research on adoption has been conducted to determine factors that cause or result in mental health problems for children who have been adopted with the resounding ﬁnding being that most adoptees fall within the normal range of psychological functioning. Research that has been conducted on birth mother outcomes after relinquishment of the infant has found that having given up a child is perceived by birth mothers as having a long-term negative inﬂuence on their lives in the areas of marriage, fertility, and parenting subsequent children. Similarly, other research found that clinical symptoms for birth parents include unresolved grief, isolation, difﬁculty with future relationships, and trauma, and that the evidence for increased rates of depression among birth mothers (51% of respondents endorsed severe depression since relinquishment and 97% endorsed some level of depression [mild, moderate, or severe]). Last, in a review of articles, researchers found a grief reaction unique to birth mothers who had surrendered their children for adoption. This grief reaction consists of the typical features of the normal grief reaction; however, the symptoms persist and often lead to chronic unresolved grief.
So, let me put this in perspective using some mental health facts for women’s mental health, related to pregnancy in the United States.
Approximately 2,000,000-3,4000,000 women have the ‘baby blues’ –mild depression–after childbirth.
Approximately 400,000-600,000 women experience significant depression after birth.
Approximately 4,000-8,000 women experience psychosis after birth. Psychotic episodes are potentially dangerous for both the woman and the child and must be considered a life-threatening condition.
Similarly, the CDC claims that every year some eight million women suffer pregnancy-related complications and over half a million die from them.
- 11.0 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women.
- 34.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women.
- 15.7 deaths per 100,000 live births for women of other races.
Yet, according to the CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System. In 2006, the most recent year for which data were available, six women were reported to have died as a result of complications from known legal induced abortions.
The antiabortion movement has argued forcefully that abortion should be illegal because it is dangerous for women’s physical health and because some women experience emotional difficulties afterwards. According to that logic, perhaps we should make childbirth illegal. Flawed logic aside, the above suggests that we renew our efforts to respect and trust women and to support their family planning regardless of their choices (because they are ‘their’ choices).