Relinquished: The Politics of Adoption and the Privilege of American Motherhood (Hardcover)

Relinquished: The Politics of Adoption and the Privilege of American Motherhood By Gretchen Sisson Cover Image
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“Dares to imagine a different world where Americans treat adoption like the justice issue it is.” ―Washington Post

“Impressively reported…[Sisson] uses her deep well of knowledge to make the case that adoption is no solution for Americans’ reduced access to abortion.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

A powerful decade-long study of adoption in the age of Roe, revealing the grief of the American mothers for whom the choice to parent was never real


Adoption has always been viewed as a beloved institution for building families, as well as a mutually agreeable common ground in the abortion debate, but little attention has been paid to the lives of mothers who relinquish infants for private adoption. Relinquished reveals adoption to be a path of constrained choice for those for whom abortion is inaccessible, or for whom parenthood is untenable. The stories of relinquishing mothers are stories about our country's refusal to care for families at the most basic level, and to instead embrace an individual, private solution to a large-scale, social problem.

With the recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization revoking abortion protections, we are in a political moment in which adoption is, increasingly, being revealed as an institution devoted to separating families and policing parenthood under the guise of feel-good family-building. Rooted in a long-term study, Relinquished features the in-depth testimonies of American mothers who placed their children for domestic adoption. The voices of these women are powerful and heartrending; they deserve to be heard.

About the Author


Gretchen Sisson, Ph.D., is a qualitative sociologist studying abortion and adoption at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at University of California, San Francisco. Her research was cited in the Supreme Court’s dissent in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and has been covered in The Washington Post, The Nation, All Things Considered and Consider This, New York Magazine, VOX, and other outlets.

Praise For…


"A devastating and urgent condemnation of America’s adoption industry."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Provocative, urgent..."
Kirkus

"Provocative, in-depth, and scholarly. For readers interested in the history of adoption."
Library Journal

“[A] crucial piece in understanding reproductive justice and the unequal ways we create
and care for families in this country.”
Booklist

"Deftly wrangles with what can feel like conflicting truths, especially those that have endeared adoption to liberals...."
Jezebel

"Sisson uses personal accounts to uncover the experience of American mothers who place their children for adoption. In the aftermath of Dobbs and the Supreme Court’s negation of abortion rights, Sisson’s studies are even more relevant."
Alta

"In 'Relinquished: The Politics of Adoption and Privilege of American Motherhood,' Sisson, now a sociologist argues that we've been fed a myth about adoption, one that centers adoptive parents and ignores the lasting trauma experienced by birth mothers (and often, adopted people as well)."
The Boston Globe

"Contributes to our national understanding of what reproductive justice really means."
Gloria Steinem

“As American women lose reproductive rights long thought sacred, Relinquished is a forceful reminder of who wins and who loses in the making of the modern American family.”
Washington Independent Review of Books

"A compelling read, an important, thought-provoking book.”
Arlie Hochschild, sociologist and author of Strangers In Their Own Land

“Meticulously and empathetically researched. The stories of these women are gripping, intimate, and powerful.”
Anna Malaika Tubbs, sociologist and author of The Three Mothers

“Sisson offers us a set of rich, sharply illuminating and very personal adoption stories along with her own equally powerful context and analysis. This book shows us the harmful inadequacies of the position, championed by Justices Alito and Coney Barrett in the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, that adoption is the best, moral alternative."
Rickie Solinger, co-author (with Loretta Ross), Reproductive Justice: An Introduction; and author, Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States

"A must-read."
Melissa Guida-Richards, adoptee and author of What White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption

“Fills an important gap in the national conversation around adoption and pregnancy decision-making by centering the stories of those most impacted.”
—Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and author of Making Trouble

“One of the best books on pregnancy decision-making I have ever read.”
—Renee Bracey Sherman, founder of We Testify and reproductive justice advocate

“Powerful...will change the way you think about adoption.”
—Diana Greene Foster, demographer, author of The Turnaway Study

"Brilliantly complicates the "happy home" adoption narrative advanced by both conservatives and liberals, and places it in contested political and social spaces where notions of motherhood, reproductive rights, and choice are shaped by race, poverty and gender."
—C. Nicole Mason,President, Institute for Women's Policy Research

“As jurists and politicians push adoption as an alternative to abortion, Gretchen Sisson’s compelling, compassionate book is timely and essential reading. By putting birth parents at the center, Relinquished complicates the rosy popular narratives of adoption, liberal and conservative alike. But it is also a profoundly human and moving account of real people's lives, told with sensitivity and grace.”
Irin Carmon, co-author of Notorious RBG

“If I could, I’d make every judge and lawmaker in the country read this book. Gretchen Sisson’s Relinquished fills a critical hole in adoption scholarship—covering the years closest to present day—making clear that the ethical problems that have long plagued the industry aren’t just a matter of history. This is a vitally important book for all who care about reproductive justice and freedom, and a sorely needed corrective for anyone who thinks adoption is the solution to a post-Roe United States.”
Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption

"Sisson’s powerful, poignant research into the aftermath of adoption is a must-read in this era of staggering income inequality, escalating abortion bans and a non-existent social safety net. Relinquished confronts the question too many choose to ignore: '"What do ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ really mean, when the system has already whittled away all your options?'"
—Jessica Bruder, author of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century and Snowden’s Box



Product Details
ISBN: 9781250286772
ISBN-10: 1250286778
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 27th, 2024
Pages: 320
Language: English