Adoption talk and the social construction of motherhood
This study investigates what can be learnt about motherhood from the
adoption process. In particular, it focuses upon the experiences of natural
mothers who consider relinquishing newborn babies for adoption, and draws
chiefly upon accounts given in semi -structured interviews by mothers and
professionals involved in the adoption process. These accounts are analysed
with a view to finding out what meanings individuals confer on pregnancy
and motherhood in specific circumstances; what explanations and
justifications are offered for decisions taken regarding the possible
placement of the infant; what identity threats women experience as a result
of pregnancy outside marriage and their involvement in the adoption
process; what expectations exist regarding maternal behaviour and feeling
in relation to the child; and how women conceive of themselves as mothers
when they lose their children through adoption. The rhetorical and
performative aspects of accounts offered, particularly in view of the
significance of motherhood choices for women's respectability, are
addressed in some detail.
Gaining access to the field has proved difficult, in part because some
professionals believe only social workers should carry out such research.
The difficulty of obtaining access in the ways at first intended led to a
modification of the original research design. In this way, methodological
issues have become a more prominent part of the study.
The research has identified various processes through which motherhood is
socially constructed in the adoption process. Justifications of the
decision taken make appeal to such values as the best interests of the
child, maternal self-sacrifice, realism, the irreplaceability of the
mother-child bond, and family integrity. Considerable variation is
permitted regarding the behaviour of the mother to her child, but strong
expectations exist concerning maternal feeling. Women believe they have a
continuing obligation to their 'lost' children, particularly to agree to
contact should the child so wish and to provide an account of the decision.