In its 2016–2017 annual report, Planned Parenthood noted 3,889 adoption referrals and 321,384 abortions—meaning for every one adoption, there were about 83 abortions. Perhaps these numbers reflect that, for unplanned pregnancies, mothers have few resources to help them through the option of adoption. “The reason we started BraveLove is because we envisioned a community where adoption and birth mothers are supported and loved and cared for,” says Ellen Porter, founder of Dallas-based nonprofit BraveLove. “That hasn’t been the history, and we wanted to change that.” BraveLove’s mission is to empower birth mothers who place their children for adoption, and to help them through the oftentimes difficult transition. Porter shared with us how BraveLove carries out that mission, sometimes with tools as simple as word choice.
Tell us about the concept that became BraveLove.
Before it ever started, we got together with the president of the Gladney Center for Adoption [in Fort Worth] and the president of what is now Thrive Women’s Clinic [in Dallas]. We began to meet and talk about the 2% statistic—that less than 2% of women in an unplanned pregnancy choose to place for adoption. And so what we decided was we really need a movement, a change of thought for women that are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. We didn’t need any more adoption agencies or that sort of thing. What we needed is to change the perception of adoption because what we were seeing was that a woman in an unplanned pregnancy would consider parenting and would consider abortion. And that third option of adoption wasn’t even on the table. We kicked off officially in September of 2012 at the restaurant above Highland Park Village. The fire marshal almost shut us down because so many people came. It was so exciting.
Is there an official building since you’re head- quartered in Dallas?
No, we are very, very lean. We have an office space, but it’s really small. Most of the work is done remotely. We’re not a counseling center or adoption agency. We’re an online resource, so we can produce this stuff and facilitate shipping it out and so forth to pregnancy resource centers and adoption agencies and schools across the nation without having a big building presence. BraveLove, in a nutshell, is a pro-adoption movement. We are not pro-life, or we’re not pro-choice. We are pro-adoption because we believe this is something both sides can get around.
What are some of those negative stigmas around adoption?
We all have that misconception from back in the early days of adoption where people say, “Oh, I could never give away my baby,” or, “What will people think of me?” or, “My child might never forgive me.” But you’re not giving up your child. This is making a parenting choice for your child. What people don’t know now is that it is the birth mother that actually chooses the family that she is able to place with. Ninety percent of adoptions are either open or semi-open, that means to some degree of relationship, whether it’s just via letters or whether there is actually a relationship where they see each other regularly. It used to be such a place of shame and embarrassment and fear, so by sharing all this information and stories of women who have done it, we are able to show people that are considering adoption what it really looks like.
What type of activism does BraveLove do?
A lot of people say “give up” their child for adoption, or they say “put up” their child for adoption. That was language that was used when orphans from the Civil War were being shipped across the country and were literally put up on stands open for adoption. That is not what it is anymore. So changing the language and teaching our friends, say- ing, “Oh, actually placed for adoption,” because a baby isn’t given up. This is a willful choice of a woman who knows that she, in that point in time in her life, is not able to provide for her child, and so she loves that child enough to provide what she, on her own, cannot.
Do you assist women who want to adopt or those who want to place their child in adoption?
Primarily, BraveLove suits to serve women that are looking to place for adoption or considering to place for adoption. However, we believe it’s also our responsibility to educate families that would then adopt about the women who are carrying these children. We partner with adoption agencies and have a list of partner agencies on our website that have been heavily vetted, and we believe they do a fantastic job of caring for the birth mother before, during and post placement of their child. She needs a lot of care, a lot of honest information whether she chooses to place or not, and the best place to get that is with these agencies who we believe don’t pressure anybody into adoption [but] are hoping they go into this with their eyes open.
How can people get involved to help BraveLove’s mission?
If you’re in Dallas, there’s definitely hands-on projects that we need help with from time to time, shipping out mailers to different partner agencies and pregnancy resource centers and women’s clinics that need BraveLove information and resources. We have to package all those and ship them out, so that’s really helpful, as well as our fundraiser events and birth mom dinners that we host. Sharing on social media in any way, shape or form is a way of showing that you care about birth mothers and you care about what BraveLove is doing to support them.