Bailey Correll is a clinical medical psychology graduate student at Mercer University in Georgia. Bailey is also a birthmom of 5 years. Bailey is working on an interesting research project from a birth parent’s point of view that looks at the interactions between birth parents and legal professionals before the adoption is finalized. As you may recall, I wrote an article about how I did not meet the attorney who was representing my rights as a birthmother until right before I was about to sign relinquishment papers terminating my parental rights. Reform is needed in the way placing parents are represented, and Bailey’s research project is helpful in bringing this to light. I was honored to be able to interview Bailey and learn a little more about her adoption story as well as her research project.
Tell us a little bit about your adoption story.
I was seventeen and a senior in high school when I found out that I was pregnant. I was co-captain of the volleyball team at a small private Christian school, dual-enrolled at the local college, and working as a waitress at a local café and bookstore. My daughter’s birth father and I did not separate on the best terms. I thought that relationship was “the one” at the time, and I was heartbroken. Looking back, that relationship was not what either of us needed. Being pregnant as a single teen in a small Georgia town was hard. I did not want to place, but I felt backed into a corner and could not find another choice. While still trying to find a way to parent, I started hesitantly considering adoption.
The first things I heard were the stories about all the happy adoptive parents and adoptees. For the first time, it really clicked that there was another set of people in those stories. I started looking into “birth parents,” the term a local agency had already decided I needed to incorporate into my identity. Soon, I found the horror stories from birth parents that had open adoptions, closed, or birth parents who spent decades searching for a child they had not seen in years. I chose an open adoption, but I couldn’t allow just anyone to raise my daughter. I needed to know (as much as possible) that I would not be cut from her life. I ended up choosing my former youth pastor and his wife to raise my daughter. They had known me since I was four, we had invested in a relationship, they are wonderful people, we had friends in similar circles, and I felt that all of these things would help “stack the deck” in my favor and help me avoid losing contact with my daughter forever.
Our daughter is 5 right now. She is the best thing to ever happen to me. To this day, we communicate. I could not be more proud of the person she is growing to be. Right now, we speak every Friday; the conversations are about school, cute pajamas, recess, and our favorite foods. Right now, the conversations are easy. But this gives me the chance to prove to her that I will be there when the conversations are hard. We talk on the phone, webcam, send packages, and even text with emojis! Adoption is her normal, and it is our responsibility to make sure she can process in whatever ways she needs in order to grow into a healthy adult.
Tell us a little bit about your research project.
This research project is designed to look at the interactions between birth parents and legal professionals before the adoption is finalized. It is from a birth parents’ viewpoint. Many birth parents report that they never spoke with legal representation before the adoption was finalized or ever. Others report that they only spoke with the adoptive parents’ legal team. Others report that they were assigned legal representation by an agency but never spoke to them. Trends are showing many birth parents were uninformed or did not receive independent representation. The problem with using the same attorney as the adoptive parents lies in the ethics. Who is that attorney working for? The adoptive parents are the one paying the bill, so a lawyer may feel a responsibility to make sure an adoption occurs. That may put an expectant mother in the position to be coerced or not informed about the decisions she is making.
Why do you think this research is important?
I think that many of us acknowledge that the current state of adoption is not always ethical. Things happen that leave birth parents feeling like they have no other choice. Things happen where birth parents were not informed of their rights. Post adoption contact agreements are not always legally binding, and birth parents are often uninformed about them. This research will be a step closer to creating ethical adoptions. No one should go into adoption without their eyes wide open. This journey is painful, hard, and confusing. Many of us were dropped into this world blind. We deserve the right to full disclosure about our decisions. When expectant parents can make informed decisions with all the information possible made available, you may see much healthier adoptions, healthier relationships between members of the triad, disclosure between all parties, and healthier adoptees.
What trends are you noticing thus far in your research?
I have not begun to analyze the results and cannot make an educated statement about the trends yet. I can give you my hypothesis: a) a significant amount of birth parents did not receive legal counseling independent from the adoptive parents; b) birth parents were not made aware of the legalities of their post-adoption contact agreements; and c) a significant number of birth parents did not ever speak to legal representation.
What do you intend to do with this research?
We are hoping to use the results of this study to change the current standards of practice regarding adoptions. The current standards of best practice do not include independent representation of birth parents. We hope to change that.
How do you hope this research helps current birthmothers?
This research may not have a massive impact on current birth mothers, but is aimed at protecting future women considering adoption. One benefit of this survey is to help current birth mothers use their story to protect others in ways they were not protected.
How do you hope this research helps pregnant women considering adoption?
This research could change legislation that directly impacts expectant parents considering adoption. We are hoping to use the results to help expectant parents have access to independent representation, full knowledge of what adoption entails, and full explanations of post-adoption contact agreements.
If you are a birthparent and wish to take a survey related to Bailey’s research, please click here.