A maternity home, or maternity housing program, is a form of supportive housing provided to pregnant women. Today’s maternity housing programs support a woman in need of a stable home environment to reach her goals in a variety of areas, not just pregnancy. In the past, many maternity homes had jailhouse aspects and forcibly institutionalized lower-class "fallen" unwed pregnant women.
Maternity homes are not to be confused with maternity hospitals, or other facilities where women give birth. Another sort of temporary housing for pregnant women are the maternity hostels which have become widespread in countries such as India where commercial surrogacy is big business.
Maternity homes used to be known as homes for unwed mothers, as illegitimacy was (and in some places still is) a social taboo.
Prior to the 1980s, housing for pregnant women was offered in larger, institution-like settings that were strongly adoption-oriented. In these homes, confidentiality was a priority due to the social stigma around unwed births and the policies reflected the adoption laws and practices of the time. It is from these settings that many of the misconceptions around maternity homes that continue to this day grew (e.g. forcing women into adoption, not allowing adoptive mothers to see their child, not providing any information about placement.)
In the 1970s and 80s, the adoption process began to grow in flexibility (e.g. changes to father notification, no longer making short term placements of adopted babies into foster care, making use of probate court adoptions rather than solely via adoption agencies, increased inter-state adoptions.) Offering a more flexible housing option via a new model paralleled the more flexible adoption process. The large, institutional maternity homes began to close during this time.
In the early 1970s, Anne and Jim Pierson were pioneers in the host home model and publicly recognized by President Reagan for their family-style method of welcoming pregnant women. Shepherding or host homes grew in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s as a new type of housing resource. In this model, pregnant women in crisis pregnancies were housed within the spare bedrooms in the homes of passionate volunteers during their pregnancy. Several long-standing maternity homes used some version of a host home living environment as the launching point for developing a housing program. Additionally, many founders of long-standing maternity homes (and other pregnancy help organizations) began by welcoming women into their own home.
- DasGupta, edited by Sayantani; Dasgupta, Shamita Das (2014). Globalization and transnational surrogacy in India : outsourcing life. p. 17. ISBN 9780739187425.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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