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What You Need to Know About Birth Mother Substance Use

And How it is Handled by American Adoptions

Potential birth mothers come from all walks of life. Many are facing personal challenges when they learn of their unplanned pregnancies, and sometimes, those personal challenges include substance use or addiction. While most women who work with American Adoptions do not use drugs or alcohol during their pregnancies, we do occasionally assist prospective birth mothers who are coping with substance abuse issues.

This can cause anxiety for some hopeful adoptive parents, who understandably want to make sure the baby they adopt is safe and healthy. However, American Adoptions works hard to find the right adoption situation for every hopeful adoptive family, prospective birth mother and baby — and that includes ensuring you are comfortable with any substance exposure in your baby’s background.

Here’s what you need to know about birth mother substance use and how it is handled by American Adoptions:

How Expectant Mothers Are Screened

From her very first phone call, every pregnant woman who contacts American Adoptions begins developing a relationship with her own adoption specialist. This professional will be there to answer her questions, guide her through the adoption process, and personally get to know her and her goals for her baby.

This one-on-one relationship is the foundation of our birth mother screening process. Throughout every prospective birth mother’s adoption process, her adoption specialist will:

  • Gauge her commitment to her adoption plan

  • Assess the care she is taking of herself and her baby

  • Encourage her to live a healthy lifestyle

  • Assist her in accessing prenatal care, if possible

  • Work with her to complete a detailed Social Medical History form, which includes self-disclosed information about her family medical history, substance use and more

This screening process, while thorough, may raise some questions for hopeful adoptive parents: If it is up to the pregnant mother to disclose drug or alcohol use on her own, what if she isn’t honest? Why aren’t potential birth mothers drug screened?

Why Aren’t Pregnant Mothers Drug Tested?

Successful adoptions are built on trust — trust within the adoption triad, as well as trust between the prospective birth mother and her adoption professional. As an agency, we have found that required drug screening often does nothing but undermine this trust, leading to less successful adoptions for everyone involved.

As American Adoptions’ screening procedures have evolved over the years, we have learned that required drug testing is ineffective for a number of reasons:

  • Most women don’t use drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. Most prospective birth mothers who work with our agency do not use drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, and when American Adoptions completed drug screening in the past, these women were often offended. The result was a sense of distrust and disrespect that negatively impacted the adoption process. By removing the drug screening requirement, American Adoptions is more attractive to prospective birth mothers — which leads to more adoption opportunities for hopeful parents, quicker placements and more positive adoption relationships that are built on trust and respect.

  • Prospective birth mothers are uncomfortable with drug testing. Required drug screening can be intimidating, and many prospective birth mothers would feel pressured to “pass” the drug test in order to complete the adoption process. This could potentially cause some women to use deceptive techniques or manipulate the results in order to complete the drug screening requirement. On the other hand, most prospective birth mothers are more comfortable having open, honest and confidential conversations with their adoption specialist — someone who cares about them and just wants to help them make the best possible plan for their baby. The women who work with our agency know that any information they provide to us is strictly confidential, and disclosing drug or alcohol use to us will not result in judgment or punishment.

  • There is a family for every baby. We believe that for every baby, the right family is out there. Because we don’t require drug testing, prospective birth mothers feel comfortable working with us regardless of their circumstances. No matter what is in their social or medical history, we will provide the same quality of services to help them find the perfect family for their baby, leading to more placements and shorter wait times for hopeful adoptive parents.

American Adoptions’ screening policies and procedures have been developed over our more than 25 years of experience, and we believe that our current system is the most effective way of screening potential birth mothers and finding the right adoptive family for each baby. 

You Determine What You’re Comfortable With

As an adoptive parent, it is up to you to choose what substance exposure you are comfortable with in your child. This will be among the many factors you consider as you complete your Adoption Planning Questionnaire (APQ).

As you complete your APQ, it’s important to carefully research the effects different substances can have on a developing baby so you can make educated decisions about what you’re comfortable with. Remember, the more open you are to a wide variety of adoption opportunities, the shorter your adoption wait time will likely be.

The preferences you outline in your APQ will be used by your adoption specialist as she searches for potential adoption opportunities that may be a good fit for your family based on what you’ve indicated you’re comfortable with. When a prospective birth mother chooses you to adopt her baby, you will be provided with her Social Medical History information, including any self-disclosed information about drug or alcohol use.

How American Adoptions Handles Undisclosed Substance Use

Most potential birth mothers are comfortable with our screening process and are open and honest about any substance use. However, on rare occasions, an expectant mother’s adoption specialist may become aware of undisclosed substance use after the prospective birth mother has chosen an adoptive family, or a baby may be born with substance exposure that American Adoptions wasn’t aware of. So, how do we handle those cases?

American Adoptions always strives to find adoption opportunities that fit within a family’s APQ. Our goal is to find a family for every baby who is comfortable with that baby’s particular background, including any in-utero drug or alcohol exposure. If a baby has been exposed to substances that are outside of your APQ, you may be able to decline that adoption opportunity. Your adoption specialist will talk to you in depth about the potential effects of this substance exposure on the baby, and you will be able to decide how you want to move forward.

Because our goal is to get every baby into their perfect forever home, we always encourage prospective birth mothers to be honest and upfront about any substance use. Even if a woman is not making the healthiest lifestyle choices for herself, she is making a loving, courageous choice by considering adoption for her baby — and that is something we always respect and admire, regardless of her circumstances.

To learn more about how we screen prospective birth mothers, or to start your own adoption process, please click here to request free information online

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