Adoption is the transfer of rights and responsibilities of a child from its birth parents to adoptive parents, which establishes a non-biological parent-child relationship. In Kenya, there are a lot of fears and misconceptions around adoption, most of which are rooted in cultural and social norms. Adoption misconceptions are based on perceptions and not facts; these include but are not limited to social acceptance of adopted children, the stigma around adopting mothers and the assumption that adoption is only acceptable in infertility cases. The limitation in information on the legality and the processes for adoption only serve to fuel the stereotypes and stigma. With an estimated 300,000 children living in the streets and 2.4 million orphans, not counting women who choose to put their children up for adoption, there is a need to demystify the notion that adoption should only be a secondary or alternative childcare approach.

There is a huge failure to recognize how various systems of privilege and oppression shape opinion on who has the right to claim a mother’s social and legal status. All too often, claims about “real mothers” equate maternal reality with participation in a particular set of biological processes such as pregnancy, birthing, and lactation. Because of the involvement in these biological processes, a mother is frequently thought to possess a special bond with a child such that loving and caring for that child is natural, a matter of “maternal instinct.”

But what happens if this woman does not want to keep her child because she believes she is unfit to take care of her child, or the woman who doesn’t want to birth a child; instead, she would like to adopt, nurture and love a child of her own. Should we stigmatize either of these women because of the choices they make? Anti-choice organizers are also pro-adoption hard sellers; these organizations push campaigns that aim to convince women that “choosing adoption over abortion is being a good mother.”

Adoption is a feminist issue because it is a reproductive rights issue. It is an issue about the value of women as mothers and who has “earned” the right to be one. It’s about how policy supports or does not support women who fall outside the “good mother” rhetoric. It’s about privilege and not about choice.

The dominant voices in our discussion of single-parent adoption are those organizations that perpetuate stereotypes about the women who place their children and the women who receive them. It’s a conversation that tries to erase the presence of the women who give birth to those children by pushing the rhetoric that equates adoption with an unplanned pregnancy, thereby obliterating the choices of women who would like to adopt children and not birth them.

We need to start looking at adoption in new ways. We need first to let the mothers among us speak about their experiences, past and present, because their voices have been missing from our conversations.