birth mom adoption rights

What Expectant & Birth Moms Need to Know: The Expectant Mom Bill of Rights

By Jess & Erin

January 12, 2023

16m read

Not all expectant moms may pursue an adoption plan, but knowledge is power.

For any expectant and birth moms considering adoption, we urge you educate yourselves on the rights you have.

Expectant & Birth Moms, Considering Adoption? You Have Rights.

Erin Keaty-Quick: I am the PairTree founder and CEO. And for those that don't know, PairTree is an adoption enablement platform. So we partner with all the ethical adoption professionals and services in the United States to help expectant moms and adopting families, plan and manage their adoption paths in the healthiest way possible which means physical health, and financial health. And Jess, why don't you tell us a little bit about you?

Jess Nelson: Thank you. Like Erin said, my name is Jess, and I am the community manager here at PairTree, but I'm also a two-time birth mom. I have placed one daughter for adoption through one of the largest agencies in the US, and I have placed another daughter for adoption through private infant adoption. My daughter's adoptive family and I self-matched, and then worked with an adoption attorney to finalize the adoption, and I ended up going to work for that attorney.

I felt like my story and my lived experience was so valuable in the adoption industry that I basically begged my old boss for a job, and he hired me. So I joined his team as a little bit of everything. I was his paralegal adoption assistant birth mom, advocate did a lot of outreach and then I also started a support group for birth moms to make sure that they had access to post placement care. And since then, I spent about five years working in private adoption in Louisiana. And then I also joined the team at the Lifetime Healing Foundation. So every year I get together with the most incredible group of birth moms, and we write a new post placement care curriculum for birth moms so that every year they have access to relevant present education to help them on their post placement journey.

Seems to be my MO, I knocked down Erin's door and begged her to let me join the team at PairTree and I help all of our adopting families, build their profiles, educate them. And then I also get to work with expectant moms and kind of educate them on the adoption process, all of their options and then also help them through sharing my journey and my story as a birth mom.

The Expectant Mom Bill of Rights

E: Yeah, that's a lot of experience in this industry and ensuring that expectant moms are treated ethically and are given choices. That's at the top of Jess's list, so much so that when she did come work for PairTree, one of the things that she wanted to do first was create what we call the Expectant Mom Bill of Rights. And we're gonna walk through that today, because there's six high level pieces of advice that every expectant mom needs to know if they're thinking about pursuing adoption.

J: Yeah, absolutely. Erin said one of the things that I was most passionate about was making sure that expectant moms know their rights because so often in the adoption industry, with the rise of unlicensed and unethical adoption providers, expectant and birth parents are just trampled on. Sometimes they are taken advantage of, they’re coerced, and so we wanted to make sure that expectant and birth parents know that if you choose adoption, these are the things that you have the right to.

#1 - Moms Have Access to Coercion-Free Options

J: The first thing that we wanted to make sure expectant birth parents knew was that they have access to coercion-free options. We wanted to make sure that they have the right to objective information on all of their options. Not just adoption, that includes exploring parenting and also terminating pregnancies, if that's what they're looking for.

#2 - Moms Have Access to Families

E: So number two is access to the most families, or maybe it should be access to as many families as she needs, if she does decide to pursue adoption. Talk to us about that one.

J: One of the biggest issues in the adoption industry, is that when an expectant mom calls, the agency, or attorney closest to her, she's really limited in the families that she has access to and a lot of times other professionals don't reach out and don't try to find her as many families as they can that fits what she's looking for. 

And an expectant mom should have the right to direct access to as many families as she needs to find exactly what she's looking for. We want to make sure that she's getting really picky about the family that she's looking for. And that her choice isn't dictated by the small number of families that are available in an immediate network of an adoption professional.

E: And to be fair to some of those agencies and attorneys. It's not that they have malice involved in terms of limiting her choice. It's like they also don't want to not have adopting families. Pay them gobs and gobs of money just to be waiting.

J: Yes.

E: So they're trying to balance it from an ethical standpoint too but again the Internet exists. Now the statistics are that there's almost 50 families hoping to adopt for every 1 expectant mom that is actually going to pursue adoption. So there should be no shortage of families, and it's just a matter from an adoption professional standpoint, how do we start working together? That's one of the reasons that PairTree says we would never charge a fee to introduce one of our families to an adoption professional. Okay, so number three, this is a big one…I know you had your own experience with this. So number three is separate legal representation.

#3 - Separate Legal Representation

J: This is one of my biggest advocacy standpoints. This is one of my biggest pain points in the adoption industry…is making sure that expectant moms know that they have the right to their own attorney. That is something that the adopting family needs to be paying for and it is not representing the adopting family. This attorney is going to meet with you to review all of your paperwork, so that way you have a safe, unbiased place to ask all of the questions that you want to ask to have everything really explained to you.

When I placed my first daughter for adoption, I worked with a really big agency and the woman that was there when I signed my surrender. And also, who did my one post- counseling session? She was the same social worker that did the adopting family's home study and was also their caseworker. And that is just a huge conflict of interest and kind of makes you feel like you don't have anyone in your corner? No one on your side, no one advocating for you. Making sure that expectant moms have separate legal representation is really one of the cornerstones to making sure that you're healthily navigating adoption and that you're really on an ethical adoption journey.

E: So does that mean if I'm facing an unattended pregnancy and I want to pursue adoption, I can call any attorney?

J: We wouldn't recommend it. You don't want to call a tax attorney or a real estate attorney, but there are really great organizations that are specialized in adoption that know the complex, nuanced adoption laws. And also be able to advocate for you. So I wouldn't recommend just picking up your phone and dialing the first attorney that you find, but making sure that you're finding an adoption attorney.

E: And we have all those listings by state on our website.

#4 - Power of Your Own Process

E: Wonderful number four is power over her own process and especially when it relates to the timing and situations around birth.

J: Yes. One of my biggest pain points in the adoption industry is the rise of what you hear called “friendly states” and you hear that and you think, that's great. But it's friendly towards adopting parents, not really expectant and birth parents. And these are going to be states that have really short relinquishment periods.

E: What is that? Why don't we talk about it? What is a relinquishment period?

J: The relinquishment period is the time in which you are allowed to sign any documentation that terminates your parental rights in some states. They allow pre-birth consent, which is super unethical and coercive. But some states allow you to sign a pre-birth, consent prior to birth, and then they file it 24 to 48 hours after the baby is born. A lot of states have a 24-hour relinquishment period where you're still in the hospital and your doors getting knocked on by a notary or an attorney. And they're having you sign paperwork that's going to terminate your parental rights. And so we want to make sure that expectant moms know that.

They have the right to give birth in the hospital that they choose with the doctor that they choose with, whoever that they want in the delivery room. And in their home state surrounded by their support network, you should never fly to a separate state to deliver. No matter how much an agency tries to sell you on their birth parents. Housing: Don't fly to another state because a lot of times you're going to be taking a bus back home. And that's not fair to you.

You deserve to have power over every aspect of your adoption plan and your journey. And we want to make sure that you are delivering in a safe location,  surrounded by a team that has your best interest at heart.

#5 - A Post Adoption Contact Agreement

E: And so number five is called the Post Adoption Contact Agreement for short. Talk to us about what that is and how unexpected Mom plays a role. 

J: A post adoption contact agreement is a document as an expectant mom and the adopting family with the help and guidance of the agency or attorney that you're working with that kind of sets the expectation for communication going forward. It's gonna lay the groundwork for the relationship that you have in the future.

Now this isn't to say that what you agree on today is how contact is going to be in six months or a year as we know with everything in life relationships. Eb and flow, we go through seasons sometime, there's going to be less contact sometimes, there's going to be more, but the point is to put it in writing, so that everyone has reasonable expectations and that everyone can be held accountable.

#6 - Lifetime Post Placement Care

E: That's great. Okay, the last one is a lifetime post placement care. How important is this, Jess?

J: Yes. Unbelievably important. I have said it before and I will say it again. I do not regret placing my second daughter for adoption by any means. We have an incredible open adoption with her adoptive family who are some of my favorite people in the world. However, the lack of post placement support and care that I received after my first adoption directly led me to placing a second time.

I barely received support after placing my first daughter for adoption. I signed my consent paperwork in the hospital and was dropped off at my house and never heard from anyone from the agency again. And so providing post placement support is vital not only to ensuring expectant moms aren't forced into the position to make an adoption plan a second time but also make sure that they're physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy for whatever else life throws their way. We want to make sure that they're in a position to parent after placement, have a healthy relationship with a significant other, and have healthy relationships with their friends and family.

Post placement care is going to help more than just with the grief after placing. It's really going to help emotionally and mentally prepare for the next steps in life, after making an adoption decision.
Accessing Post-Placement Care for Birth Moms?

E: Post-placement care: how does one access it and does it cost a lot?

J: It should be no cost to you as an expectant or birth mom. The professional should have access to some agencies that provide free post placement care like one-on-one counseling through them. You can go to the Lifetime Healing Foundation and find in person support groups near you or you can reach out to us, and we will help you find the closest support group to you.

E: That's great. Wrapping up, there's a lot of advice here and by the way, this Bill of Rights can all be found on in case you want to go through it again. If there was one piece of advice for expectant moms or birth moms that is exploring adoption, what would it be?

J: Really take the time to educate yourself and ask questions of the adopting families that you're talking to, the professional that they're working with, and the attorney that you're working with.

Just do your research and educate yourself and ask a lot of questions and reach out if you need. Someone on your side, because we're here for you every step of the way.

E: Thanks Jess.

J: Thanks Erin.

Want to talk? Talk to Jess! No question is off limits, and all conversations are free and completely confidential. Text or call Jess at (206) 279-7578.

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Jess & Erin Erin Quick is the CEO and Founder of PairTree, and more importantly, a two-time adoptive mother. Jess Nelson is the Community Manager at PairTree, as well as a birth mother. Together, they created the Two Perspectives series to take important adoption related topics and offer both of their perspectives - from two different sides of the adoption triad.