cover image Relinquished: The Politics of Adoption and the Privilege of American Motherhood

Relinquished: The Politics of Adoption and the Privilege of American Motherhood

Gretchen Sisson. St. Martin’s, $29 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-28677-2

Sociologist Sisson’s comprehensive and harrowing debut draws on a decade of interviews and archival research to argue that America’s current discourse around adoption belies its insidious history of targeting vulnerable mothers and children. As Sisson points out, adoption remains one of the few bipartisan areas of political agreement: the left supports it as a means of building chosen families, while the right views it as a means of maintaining the nuclear family and curtailing abortion rates. Yet the reality, Sisson argues, is that the adoption industry has historically been predicated on state-sanctioned family separation. She traces America’s long history of child removal, including the sale of children born into slavery, the forced assimilation of Native American children, and the conscription as farm laborers of children born to poor white mothers in the 19th century. She pinpoints the emergence of the modern adoption industry in the post-WWII “baby scoop” era, when unmarried women were coerced into relinquishing their children, and shows that today’s private adoption industry continues in the tradition of separating disadvantaged families. Throughout, Sisson foregrounds the stories of mothers who gave up their children for adoption, juxtaposing their personal monologues with sociological and historical research that highlights broader patterns in their testimonies. The result is a devastating and urgent condemnation of America’s adoption industry. (Feb.)