by Joy Casey
A woman without a husband in Ethiopia has a very, very hard life. The social pressures and implications of being pregnant are unbearably hard. If a girl is pregnant and not married, she may use rape as the best explanation for her condition because it is shameful to admit to being promiscuous. As hard as it is to hear, rape is quite common in Ethiopia. In the society of rural Ethiopia, being unmarried and pregnant means you are an outcast. A woman who gives birth outside of marriage and keeps her baby most likely will never marry.
Backstreet abortions are all too common in Ethiopia with some disastrous results for birthmothers. Because of the extreme taboo of pregnancy outside of marriage, girls are driven to desperation. Why do we find babies, complete with placenta, lying on the jungle floor and no sight of the young woman who just gave birth? Or women who have to have a complete hysterectomy when the stick she used to abort her child perforates her uterus? These are acts of desperate women and they are common. If I were to put myself in their shoes, I am not at all sure I wouldn’t leave my baby in the hospital and disappear into the woodwork never to be seen again. Leaving a baby in the hospital where a mother knows the child will be cared for is a safe thing to do and she wouldn’t have to face the humiliation of having a baby when she is not married.
I have worked in adoptions for 30 years and have counseled over 400 pregnant women (we also run a maternity home here in Washington). I was surprised when we started working in Ethiopia that our ministry would be to pregnant women and women who have relinquished for adoption. I was further surprised that the basic emotions of an unwanted pregnancy are the same here in the U.S. and in Ethiopia. We in America just have sanctioned ways of getting rid of a pregnancy, our society doesn’t ostracize the woman and adoptions are easier to do… but the angst, emotions and many of the motivations are the same in both societies.
An Ethiopian woman who relinquishes her child goes through a rather grueling and humiliating process to do so. She has to explain her circumstances, why there is no known father and basically expose herself and her private life to three courts and some White strangers at the Embassy. In America, a relinquishing birthmother meets with a lawyer and signs papers – no official usually confronts her about her decision or pries into her personal life. Critics of international adoption will say – and I’m sure there is some truth to this – that there is a much higher chance that unscrupulous people will coerce a woman in Ethiopia to relinquish because she is so poor and uneducated. Perhaps so, but I think women in Ethiopia who go through the relinquishment process have to really want adoption for their child or they wouldn’t put themselves through the ordeal.
In an ideal world, men who father children wouldn’t abandon their families and women would have equal educational and job opportunities and would be emotionally and economically able to parent. Unfortunately, especially in Third World countries, the reality is that many poor and downtrodden women get pregnant and these single mothers are thrust into the role of providing care and economic support for their babies which they are ill-equipped to do. In many cases, both in the U.S. and in Ethiopia, turning to adoption as a viable parenting plan is a good option both for the woman and her child. Adoption Ministry is working with local Ethiopian churches to find families in their congregations to adopt some of the 6 million orphans in their country. Foster families are also being encouraged and supported to take in orphaned children. International adoption is also a recourse for a very small number of children.*
The bottom line is that God has His hand on these little lives and saves them (from abortion) and then further blesses them through adoption into wonderful families. He has a fantastic hope and future for them!
*In 2011 there were just under 1,732 children adopted from Ethiopia into American families. This affected .00003 of the children needing families in Ethiopia.