exposing the dark side of adoption
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A mother, a father -- and the fear of losing



When I put myself in the place of 4-year-old Sam Johnson's adoptive parents, the anxiety rises in my chest in waves. My breath comes hot and fast. What if that were my child somebody wanted to take?

Nononononono. Nevernevernever.

This is the unspoken territory of all adoptive parents, the dream that keeps them up at nights, the land where fear is king: fear that despite everything you did, every paper you signed, every social worker's question you answered, and, yes, every dollar you paid, the adoption will fall through.

It hurts enough when the birth mother changes her mind in the delivery room. Or the father, if he can be found.

Then you grieve for the death of a possibility, the lost child you held in your heart.

But what if, after all the papers are signed, and the child is in your arms, a birth parent comes back to stake a claim, as Chris Vietri did?

If this fear is the part of the map adoptive parents don't like to talk about, it is virtually the only thing many would-be adoptive parents talk about.

That's why they go to Russia. Ecuador. Uzbekistan. China.

They go overseas because they are afraid that what may happen to Sam Johnson's adoptive parents will happen to them.

So many American children who could be adopted are not. They move from one foster home to another, until they grow up and often find they have this enormous inability to get close to another person, to love, to marry, to trust. It makes sense, when you recall that every childhood attachment they formed with an adult was somehow fractured.

You pay for these kids. You pay for them when they're little and in foster care. You pay for some of them when they grow up and land in jail.

Yet we say through our government that we ought to choose life, adopt, not abort.

If we believed this, adoption wouldn't be a land mine of risks for would-be parents.

If we believed this, we'd stop talking about cases like Sam's in terms of rights.

You could argue that the Johnsons should have given Sam back when they learned that Vietri had popped up.

But the first responsibilities belonged with Vietri and his girlfriend -- for her not to lie, and for him not to abandon her.

Those acts were not the Johnsons' fault. Yet they are being asked to take the responsibility. What a cuckoo, backward world.

The Baby Sam case and others like it get the headlines. Exceptions always do.

Nose around the world of adoptions, and you'll find contested adoptions are rare.

You'll also find that birth fathers often deny paternity or don't want anything to do with the child.

Now and then you'll find a birth mother who can't wait to unload the baby or uses adoption as a way just to get money.

If Chris Vietri truly didn't know that his biological child was alive, he does have a legal claim on him, under Florida law.

But Vietri's right and his responsibility are not the same thing.

This is where my heart pounds again.

Vietri's responsibility is to give Sam the best chance at life.

Like the two women who faced King Solomon.

Each argued they were the true mother of a newborn. Because Solomon knew the real mother would put her child's interests above her own, he ordered the baby cut in half. The woman who wasn't the mother accepted the deal. The real mother refused and told Solomon to give the baby to the other woman. The real mother would do anything to keep her child alive and whole, even if it meant giving the baby to somebody else.

2000 Dec 5