Adoption, foster care and celebrating birth mothers: The pro-life movement’s post-Roe causes
Noah loves water. So just after he was baptized at the San Juan Capistrano mission parish at 17 months on Easter Monday 2022, the new Catholic got his dream come true—his hand in the baptismal font. He naturally started splashing and managed to only get his godmother (me) and godfather (a Catholic priest) wet. I consider it the miracle boy’s first blessing.
Kristin and John were not yet his official forever family, but permission was granted by his social worker to go ahead with the baptism because parental rights had been severed and the adoption process was in motion—and it was so clear that Noah was with parents who love him as the son of God he is. You see, Noah was smothered by his birth mother, while she was high on drugs, during the first month of his life in December 2021. He wound up in an emergency room without vital signs. To see photos from that recovery time in the hospital, he was all skin and bones. He looked like he had been through a war. Because he had.
The goal of foster care is reunification. But in the case of Noah, it wasn’t possible. After some checking in, the birth parents lost interest. And while obviously adoption always involves an unnatural rupture, in the case of severe addiction and abuse, it is necessary.
It is hard not to have conflicted feelings about his birth mother. She has had a difficult life, a victim herself of evils. But once there is a child involved, his welfare and flourishing has to come first.
It doesn’t always.
Another friend, Darcy Olsen, is the founder and president of the Center for the Rights of Abused Children. She tells the story of Mary, who was born in a Greyhound bus station bathroom. Mary tested positive for meth, heroin and alcohol. “Nurses worked to save her as she suffered seizures and struggled to feed,” Ms. Olsen wrote in a column for the Arizona Daily Star. “She was declining on growth charts, losing her will to live. When the withdrawals lessened, the government moved Mary to a foster family. Nursed every two hours and held constantly, she started gaining weight. Color flushed her cheeks. Mary was fighting back.”
It is hard not to have conflicted feelings about his birth mother. But once there is a child involved, his welfare and flourishing has to come first.
Ms. Olsen knows, because she was the one loving her back into life. Today, Mary is one of the four foster children to whom Ms. Olsen is an adoptive mother. At her center, Ms. Olsen works to make sure infants born in such situations have advocates who will get them to safety and permanency sooner rather than later. (The Center for the Rights of Abused Children works in public policy and also has a legal clinic.)
Ms. Olsen has written how she has “cradled the opioid crisis in my arms.” One of the babies she fostered for a time, Angel, died shortly after going back to his birth family. (Though Ms. Olsen was called by the hospital after he died, she was not told the cause of death because of confidentiality laws.) God’s children need the best care they can be given on this earth, before it is too late.
God’s children need the best care they can be given on this earth, before it is too late.
When I look at Noah, I think of the over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. Some of those babies with serious enough drugs in the system will wind up in foster care immediately. Some won’t. And the brutal truth is that the vast majority of children in foster care are not adorable babies. (If they all were, there would be no child in foster care. Even those born with drugs in their systems, like Noah and Mary, will find a home, as they did.) If they are pre-teens or teenagers, it is most likely that they are going to age out of the foster care system without ever becoming part of a family.
When a child ages out of foster care, he might purposely get himself arrested to have somewhere to sleep and eat and shower. Imagine having no one. That is where some of these kids are. The new ministry Springs of Love highlights some of the statistics on its website. For example, 70 percent of U.S. human-trafficking victims and 65 percent of prison inmates spent time in foster care at some point. Many of the two million 18- to 24-year-olds who are homeless in the United States were in foster care. And 71 percent of women become pregnant within a year of aging out of foster care.
Rather than simply being an overwhelming horror, these statistics should be a challenge to every Christian in America.
Educating Catholic couples about adoption
Springs of Love seeks to “encourage, educate, and equip” Catholic couples about adoption from foster care. Its online “Be Not Afraid” foster and adoption discernment retreat is a good place to start. Founder Kimberly Henkel started Springs of Love to fill a gap she and her husband encountered as they set out on the foster care journey after years of bearing the cross of infertility.
Another educational resource is “I Lived on Parker Ave,” a half-hour documentary following David Scotton, who, upon turning 18, went in search of his birth mother simply to say “thank you.” There is also a film version of his story, called “Lifemark,” by the evangelical Kendrick Brothers, starring Kirk Cameron (of “Growing Pains” fame, for those of us of a certain age). The movie highlights a critical part of the reality of adoption: How grueling it can be for the birth mother. David’s birth mother, Melissa, assumed he hated her for “giving him up.” There is better language for what a birth mother choses. Some advocacy groups talk about adoption as one of the parenting options—to choose to have another provide what you don’t feel prepared to. Brave Love is a Dallas-based organization that exists to celebrate birth mothers; adults who were adopted as children hold birthday parties for birth mothers who have not been reunited with the children they gave birth to. Because they ought to know they are heroines.
Especially after last year’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it is important that women know that adoption is a noble option and that pro-life Americans are taking a lead in eradicating any stigma toward the birth mother, the foster parents and the child who is given a chance at life.
It is important that women know that adoption is a noble option and that pro-life Americans are taking a lead in eradicating any stigma toward the birth mother.
Because of abortion there are not enough babies for the couples happy to take a precious baby into their homes. If you are pregnant and considering abortion: Your child can be loved. There is a couple right now waiting for her to be in their arms.
Last fall, I hosted a virtual discussion around the release of “Lifemark”with Rebecca Rogers Nelson, who plays the adoptive mother in the movie. In real life, Ms. Rogers is, with her husband, a mother of four, three of whom were adopted through the foster system. In our conversation she declared to Christians: “Find yourself a widow and an orphan!” Because the Bible is quite clear. Springs of Love provides tangible direction for couples who want to take that mandate seriously. It also provides community. This is important because half of the foster parents who go through the effort of being certified wind up dropping out after the first year because the bureaucracy feels impossible to work with, and it is often difficult to find adequate support and community.
Not everyone is called to be a foster or adoptive parent. But there are more called than are doing so. There are some 7,755 Catholic parishes in the United States. Before the pandemic, there were upward of 300,000 Christian churches total. That suggests a fighting chance of getting these children in foster care homes, based on the size of the Christian community alone. There have been efforts that focus on the idea that if every church in America recruited and wrapped around one family who sought to foster, there would be no children in foster care. The Christian Alliance for Orphans heads a rallying More Than Enough campaign that has confidence in this idea.
Pregnant mothers must know we love them and want them to be able to choose adoption if they really don’t feel like they can raise a child right now. Death doesn’t have to be the answer.
I also visited a set last December of a movie in production based on a Black Baptist church in Possum Trot, Tex., where the pastor and his wife challenged the church to empty the foster care roll near them. They did. Is there anything more lifegiving for a child without a home?
Do you know the foster and adoptive families in your parish? They could use date nights and surprise dinners made for them. Fill their freezers to cover more than a night. Offer to come over and do laundry or clean once or twice a week. There’s always trauma associated with foster care—at best. Love on those families! (And we must know who they are to do so!) Do you have any idea how many children are in foster care in your area? Sometimes just knowing that is the first step to discernment. Reach out to Springs of Love. It shows how laypeople can flesh out and spread the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Walking with Moms in Need initiative in parish communities.
It’s not enough to make sure pregnant mothers know the loving resources that exist to help them not feel the need to end the life of their unborn child—though that’s surely essential. They must know we love them and want them to be able to choose adoption if they really don’t feel like they can raise a child right now. Death doesn’t have to be the answer. But a pro-life movement—and Christians—cannot and do not stop there.
We accompany. Mothers of all kinds and their children. And we don’t pretend it is easy. Which is why there is a pro-life movement and why its frontlines must see and increase ministries of love. What more can we do? How can we be more radically hospitable to life? We each must ask these questions, and with foster children and families in mind. Because if people see how we love the orphan, they may just come to some day believe that abortion is not necessary.
And like Noah and Mary, there will be so many more miracles of life.