ADOPTION MIRRORS CHANGE IN AMERICAN FAMILIES

Date: 2003-12-06

BY ANDREA KAMPWERTH

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Adoption is all about second chances.

Mothers unprepared or unable to mother. Families unable to bear children or with enough love for more than nature has given them. Children who need families. Adoption offers another chance for a healthy life and limitless opportunities.

Ten or 15 years ago, adoption was a fairly hush-hush affair. Records were closed and no one -- least of all the birth mother of the surrendered child -- talked openly about it.

Today, much has changed. Today's birth mother might pick her baby's parents from a selection book with profiles of prospective families. Today's birth mother may be a whole world away, in China or the Ukraine. Today's adopted child may be a different race from the adopting family, or may even be an older child with a troubled past.

It's all part of the changing face of the American family.

"Our story is truly amazing," said Lori Kubes. She and her husband, Christopher Moore, a Carbondale podiatrist, have two adopted children and one biological child.

"We always wanted a big family," Lori said. "We both wanted three or four children, but it wasn't happening. We came across some friends who were involved in an adoption and that's where we first started thinking about it.

"We got very lucky," she said. "Our baby came from the first family we were in contact with."

Lori said the couple consulted a lawyer well-versed in adoption placement and worked through an agency. But they actually found their baby through their network of friends. Lori said a friend in Minnesota worked with a woman whose young daughter was going to have a baby. The girl chose them as parents for her child after learning about them.

"We got to the hospital when he was just a couple hours old," Lori said. "We got to take him home from the hospital."

Their first child was a boy they named Shane. As much as they love Shane, they knew they had love enough for more children.

Lori said they initiated paperwork to adopt a second child, but that one didn't happen as quickly. In the meantime, they explored fertility options made possible through modern technology.

They were waiting for the results of a procedure that might give them a child when they got the call about a baby available for adoption. One of Chris' relatives was a midwife and had learned of a mother who was unable to keep her baby girl. The decision had to be made quickly.

The couple decided to adopt, even though they didn't know if a baby might be on the way through conception. As fate would have it, two days after they brought home their five-month old baby girl, Madison, the doctor called to congratulate them on Lori's pregnancy. Both the couple's adoptions are open, meaning the birth mother was instrumental in choosing them as parents. Degrees of openness vary from case to case. Even with the couple's two adopted children, the continuing contact with the birth mother is different.

Shane's biological mother is content with photo exchanges several times a year, while Madison's has become a close family friend.

"We're very blessed to have two such adoptions," Lori said. "It's worked beautifully for us."

Lori said the reason the adoptions have been so successful is because the birth mothers are wonderful people. She feels especially close to Madison's birth mother because the two families celebrate holidays together and share long weekends.

"The children are truly brothers and sisters," Lori said. "They love each other like brothers and sisters; they fight like brothers and sisters."

Both adopted children know they are adopted. Lori said she and Chris are introducing more information to them as they seem able to process it. As for Patrick, their biological child, he is curious about his own birth mother and father. Lori said he laughed and laughed when she explained she was his birth mother and that he didn't have another one.

Open adoption

Shane's and Madison's adoptions are examples of a relatively new "open" attitude. The era of the secret adoption with strictly guarded records has largely disappeared.

Beth Richardson, Birth Parent Care Specialist for Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois in Carbondale, said the trend to open adoptions began in the 1970s, but has become more common over the past decade.

"Open adoptions work to answer a lot of questions," she said. "It helps to put a face to the shadow of the person whom adoptive parents feel is always watching. There is a whole range of openness now. Some birth mothers don't want anything to do with (the future of the child after adoption) and some want the adoptive family to be in the delivery room."

Sue Allan, the Birth Parent Counseling Coordinator for Family Resource Center, a statewide private agency based in Chicago, said the openness of current voluntary surrender adoptions is healthier for all parties.

"Any time there is an element of secrecy about a topic, there is an element of shame. The openness is becoming much more positive. It's about educating thepublic about who birth mothers are," Allan said. "Their focus is not on what they want -- it's on what they want for their babies. It's the most selfless thing a mother can do for her child."

Baby misconceptions

The image of white babies being snatched virtually from the hospital and going to yuppie white families, while cradle after cradle of bi-racial or black babies go unwanted is inaccurate, according to adoption agencies specializing in domestic infant adoptions. However, racial issues still come into play with adoption.

"It's much harder to place a child with special needs than a bi-racial child," said Kim Holder, who handles adoption placements for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois in Marion said. "However, there is a shortage of African-American families waiting to adopt. We do make bi-racial and transracial placements, but there may be difficulties.

"I hear families say all the time that they don't have a problem with an inter-racial adoption, but their extended family may have a problem, or theirneighbors may have a problem. Sometimes it's just not in the interest of the child in such a situation."

Allan said the Family Resource Center currently has about 50 white families on the waiting list to adopt. Of them, she said, about half are willing to adopt a baby of Hispanic ethnicity, perhaps 10 for a bi-racial child, and 5 are willing to adopt a black child. And right now, she said, there are no black families on
her waiting list.

Allan said there are cultural considerations that may be rooted in the history of segregation. She said blacks, who in the past were denied some of the adoption opportunities other families enjoyed, learned to do without traditional adoption agencies and instead relied on a network of extended family to make their own adoptions happen.

"In addition, there can be a stigma attached to paying adoption fees," she said. "People don't want to feel they are buying a person -- and even with a not-for-profit adoption agency there are fees. I think that is a factor that effects African-American families more so than others."

An adoption agency based in the Chicago-suburb of Oak Park specializes in adoptions of black infants. Adoption-Link of Illinois has been in the business for about nine years.

Office manager Cheryl Kinnaird said the organization started to fill a need for African American birth mothers who wanted to give their children up for adoption. The agency places about 65 babies a year, and has a waiting list of all races of families from the United States, Canada and even Western Europe, where adoption opportunities are rare.

She said African American mothers still tend to rely on family when a mother cannot raise her baby. She said Hispanic and Asian American mothers seem to rely on the extended family network as well.

Holder said the Lutheran Social Services adoption program is in the unusual position of needing adoptive families for their maternity program.

"About two years ago, we had 40 families waiting to adopt. We put the program on hold so we shouldn't have families waiting and waiting," she said. "Then we started making placements, and some of the families went to other agencies. Now we have only about 15 families for the whole state.

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