The Drop Box film has enjoyed substative popularity in the United States.
As a mother of transracially adopted children, I have been asked frequently what I thought of the movie and the idea. Each question is clearly punctuated by a resounding sigh full of positivity and tearful bubble hearts.
The gist of the movie is that a South Korean minister has developed a special drop box wherein parents can “drop” their babies without being noticed — no questions asked. Presumably, the babies will then be placed in foster care or orphanages and, ultimately, for adoption.
As of yet, the drop box is only available in South Korea, but it sounds to me like Americans are ready to jump on the bandwagon.
Here is why I will not be one of them:*
1. Drop boxes blame mothers for not being able to care for their child.
Drop boxes view the problem as that of a woman who cannot, should not, or does not want to parent and so needs a place to abandon her baby without any attached ties or repercussions.
Basically, it’s the mother’s fault that we need these boxes.
The shaming of unwed young women who become pregnant in South Korea is about a billion, trillion times more intense than over here. Virtually all of the children relinquished these days in South Korea either have physical disabilities… or have unmarried mothers. And those children are going into orphanages and largely not being adopted, because while some adult Korean adoptees have managed to pressure the South Korean government to nearly end outbound international adoptions, South Koreans, because of their cultural prejudices, are not picking up the slack and adopting in significant numbers. So these children will end up in orphanages. And no baby box is going to change that. — Mark Hagland, co-founder of Transracial Adoption Group
This attitude alone perpetuates the stereotype of the irresponsible woman, one that has stigmatized both single motherhood and adoption for centuries. Drop boxes conjure images worthy of Les Miserables or just about anything by Charles Dickens — a wonton woman dressed in rags, desperately combing the village for a place to abandon her bastard child.
That image needs to die. Mothers who are unable to care for their babies could easily be you and me — were it not for a circumstance or two. I guarantee you that every single person reading this post knows a mother who has placed (or was forced to place) a child for adoption. You just might not know that you know her. She’s your doctor, your babysitter, your electrician, the mother of your child’s best friend, the grandmother down the street, your grandmother. She is likely neither a romantic story for you to sing nor a tragic trollop for you to judge.
2. Drop boxes are a bandage, hiding, not healing, an institutional problem.
Here is the real problem that makes drop boxes, rather than solutions, so desirable to many:
America is all about the shame.
A. America shames single, impoverished, and mentally ill women for getting pregnant.
B. America shames women who use birth control.
C. America shames women for terminating a pregnancy.
D. America shames women who do not want to be a mom (yet or ever).
E. America enacts all kinds of legislation that punishes shameful women.
F. America shames mothers and fathers who do not have the resources to care for their baby.
G. America refuses to help shameful mothers and fathers who do not have the resources to care for their baby.
H. America places more value on financial security than familial bonds, believing children to be better off growing up outside of their family of origin — rather than in shameful poverty.
I. America prefers to shame parents who are struggling to parent in a healthy manner, and then separate them from their children, rather than help parents stop struggling.
J. America is super duper afraid of talking about sex and its potential outcomes. It’s shameful.
Rather than forcing America to face these systemic attitudes and issues, drop boxes absolve the system of its duties to parents and children.
3. The institution of drop boxes attempts to solve a problem at the wrong end.
We should be solving problems before issues that lead to adoption can occur (see #2) — not after children are already born into difficult circumstances.
4. The fact that drop boxes elicit inspiration and warm fuzzies means it could become a more preferred method of dealing with parents who cannot care for their babies without assistance.
We talk a good game about adoption. We speak of those poor unfortunate mothers and fathers who knew they could not care for a baby and so made the very difficult and selfless decision to place their baby in the drop box/at the safe haven/up for adoption. Look, if your choice is either sainthood or shame (see #2), the pressure is on to choose sainthood. How about if, instead of offering up quick fixes that run the risk of hurting a lot of people in the long-run (like those kids we keep saying solutions like drop boxes are for), we work harder to make the parents’ preferred choice for what is best for their baby the one that actually happens (See #2I)?
5. Parents might feel pressured into using the drop boxes over finding other solutions to the parenting struggles they face.
Adoption is an industry. In order for the industry to continue to flourish, it needs babies. Babies who are unattached are highly desirable to many potential adoptive parents. Therefore, it behooves for-profit adoption agencies to fill those drop boxes to the brim. Therein lies the potential for pressure and the absence of enough assistance.
6. Parents might feel that the drop boxes are their easiest or only viable solution to their parenting struggles.
A better solution would be to make the other solutions more easily accessible to parents in need.
7. I’m not real comfortable with all the potential adoptive parents salivating over prospects in South Korea due to the release of the drop boxes and their accompanying movie.
In case you are unaware, the various waves of adoptions coming out of South Korea have not been universally popular amongst two populations in particular — Korean adoptees and their families of origin.
Click here to read a piece from the New York Times Magazine that offers some examples and explains how adoptees from South Korea are returning to their place of birth.
Click here to read a story about how some Korean adoptees are working to end Korean adoptions.
Click here to read about the experience of a Korean woman who, feeling ostracized by the prevailing shame thrust upon single mothers in Korea (see #2 about America), put her son up for adoption.
South Korea does not need another wave of adoptions. Like the United States, it needs solutions to a system that brings the waves on the first place.
8. Drop boxes effectively eliminate the option for reunification.
What happens if parents change their mind after placing their child in a drop box? Having done so anonymously and without adequate records, it will either be difficult to find their baby or they will be required to jump through potentially insurmountable hoops to reunite with their baby.
9. Drop boxes rob children of their history.
I hope this one is self-explanatory. If not, here’s the synopsis: Many adoptees find it difficult and painful to know nothing about their medical and ancestral histories.
10. Drop boxes rob children of any connection with their families of origin.
According to the Independent Adoption Center (and just about everyone else), “Current research on open adoption shows that adoptees in open adoptions have better psychosocial outcomes than adoptees in semi-open and closed adoptions.”
The anonymity of drop boxes prevents this from ever being an option, even when the children become adults and want to find their parents.
11. Drop boxes rob families of origin of any connection with their children.
When open adoptions are done in a healthy manner, many parents who place children for adoption, and their families, find them to be healing.
The anonymity of drop boxes prevents this from ever being an option, even when birth families are ready to connect with their children.
12. Drop boxes make it possible for mothers to drop babies off without the consent of the fathers.**
Though we tend to forget this when we are judging women for getting pregnant, babies are made by both women and men. Just as men should be held responsible for unplanned pregnancies, they should also have as many rights to make the best choices for their children.
The use of drop boxes can bypass the rights of the fathers.
13. Mothers who require post-partum medical care might not get it after placing a child in a drop box.
Safe havens, though suffering from some of the same problems as drop boxes, at least leave the possibility open that a mother may receive necessary medical care.
14. Drop boxes are excessively adopter-centric.
See #1-#13. The image of a baby in a box doesn’t exactly help to reverse this perception. You might as well just stick a bow on the box and deliver it to the lucky waiting adoptive parent.
*My bonus reason for not supporting the drop box movement: The religious nature of the drop box movement ignores that the Biblical mandate to care for widows and children does not mean to do so at the expense of the widows and children.
Instead of getting all wrapped up in the hype of a sentimental movement and its accompanying movie, we need to enact reforms that reduce the need for adoption in the first place.
* Please note that this is a criticism of the drop box concept itself, not a review of the movie.
**A commenter, Anenomekym, offered an addition to #12 that I think is important to add. She said,
“Here’s another: The mother might not even know that her baby was put in this box for abandonment. The mother might be devastated upon learning (if she ever finds out the truth) that her baby is now gone from her.”