Cover image for Adoption nation : how the adoption revolution is transforming America
Adoption nation : how the adoption revolution is transforming America
Pertman, Adam.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 259 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1430 Lexile.
Format :


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HV875.55 .P47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Adoption, once a clandestine process shrouded in shame, is rapidly evolving into a radical new form that is both sweeping the nation and changing it. It is accelerating our transformation into a more multicultural and multiethnic country, even as it helps redefine our understanding of "family." But negative stereotypes still remain, and new problems-mostly stemming from the corrosive influence of money-are becoming pervasive.Adoption Nation provides valuable insight into the pleasures and perils of adoption, while laying out the ways in which policymakers should revise our laws to improve the process, stop treating members of the "adoption triad" as second-class citizens, and remove the obstacles that keep the children who most need permanent homes from getting them. Filled with up-to-the-minute information and a wealth of dramatic real-life stories, Adoption Nation is essential reading for adoptive families, for anyone contemplating adopting a child, and for everyone touched by this extraordinary cultural transformation.

Author Notes

Adam Pertman reports on family and children's issues for the Boston Globe. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his work on adoption and has been awarded the Century Foundation's Leonard Silk Journalism Fellowship for Adoption Nation. He and his wife, Judy Baumwoll, live with their two adopted children in Newton, Massachusetts

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Comprehensive data are hard to come by, but some statistics show that six in ten American families are somehow connected to adoption. These two books show how adoption has changed and is changing the American concept of family structure. Kinn interviewed birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children to examine how adoption impacts individuals and families. Through these first-person accounts and photographs by Shung, this book brings faces and voices to the emotions and trends behind the process of adoption, from open adoption to multiracial adoption. Adopting parents talk about the frustrations and joys of the process; birth parents speak of loss and expectations for their children; and the children talk about their shifting sense of identity and affiliation. The total package is an absorbing look at the joys and challenges of adoption and family formation. Pertman brings a reporter's skill and adopting parent's concerns to this comprehensive look at the process of adoption. After years of incremental change, adoption is undergoing a revolution: states are revising laws and agencies are simplifying rules. Pertman also examines the trend toward opening adoption for singles, multiracial families, gays, and the middle aged. Although adoption is still fundamentally private, it is no longer shrouded in the secrecy of the past as more states allow for open adoptions and balance the rights and desires of birth parents, adopting parents, and adopted children. Pertman examines the history of adoption from the foundling homes of the nineteenth century to current trends that are "advancing the ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity that is a hallmark of Twenty First Century America." This book is a valuable resource for adoptive families, readers considering adoption, or anyone concerned about trends in family formation. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Based on a series of articles that he wrote for the Boston Globe, Pertman combines journalistic research and personal anecdotes in this stimulating overview of the trends and cultural ramifications of adoption. His views come through loud and clear: families should be "out" about their adoptive status, children should be told that they were adopted as early as possible and all members of the adoption "triad" (birth mother, child and parents) should try to stay in close communication. Suggesting that adoptive families have benefited enormously from the country's increasing acceptance of racial diversity, Pertman argues that the controversial 1994 Multiethnic Placement Act (which stipulates that transracial adoptions can not be legally prohibited) is a strong step forward in placing the interests of the individual child over those of an abstract, race-based notion of family. He also suggests that adoption itself has helped to instigate social change: in its role as an "institutionalized means of forming non-traditional families," adoption may help gay, multiracial and single-parent families gain greater social acceptance. Even so, Pertman contends, adoptive families are still subject to many hurtful stereotypes (e.g., the irresponsible birth mother; the selfish adoptive parents). Perhaps most harrowing is his discussion of the effect of "laissez faire" capitalist thinking on adoption policy and the largely unregulated nature of the "industry" that has sprung up around it (e.g., one woman tried to sell her baby on eBay; the highest bid was $109,100). This disturbing and hopeful book will primarily attract adoptive families and policy makers, who will find that it has much to say about our changing definitions of family, race and community. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Pertman reviews how a variety of social trends, including women's increased labor-force participation, delayed marriage and parenthood, and declining stigmatization toward illegitimate parenthood, have produced revolutionary changes in child adoptions. These changes have drastically increased the number of people seeking to adopt today, fueling sharp rises in international and transracial adoptions, increasing adoptions by gay and lesbian parents and single, unmarried individuals, and helping to make open adoptions far more popular. If there is a common problem associated with today's adoption changes, it is that law and adoption policies have not kept pace with people's current needs and desires. Pertman's analysis seems to be right on target in capturing the central dynamic forces behind contemporary adoption changes. His journalistic background helps to provide many rich examples throughout, though reportorial hype occasionally blunts analytic precision. Adoptees, prospective and adoptive parents, and birthparents alike should find this work helpful in navigating their way through the maze of today's unfamiliar adoption experiences. All collections. W. Feigelman Nassau Community College



Chapter One Out of the Shadows, Into Our Lives My son was three years old and my daughter had lived on this earth for just two months when I met Sheila Hansen. She's a tall, soft-spoken woman who laughs easily and exudes warmth when she speaks; she has the kind of comfortable self-confidence that immediately makes you think she'd make a loyal friend and a good mother. On that muggy July day, sitting in the conference room of a church in southern New Jersey, she told me a story that chilled me to the bone and forever altered the way I think about my adopted children, about birth parents, and about the country in which I grew up.     In 1961, Sheila was a 21-year-old government clerk in Louisiana when she told her boyfriend she was pregnant. He responded by giving her the name of a doctor who performed abortions. The procedure wasn't legal at the time, but everyone knew you could get one if you wanted to. Sheila didn't want to. As frightened and confused and alone as she felt, the one thing she knew for sure was that she wanted to keep her baby.     Her doctor didn't think it was such a good idea, though. He gave her advice like: "You won't be able to give the child a proper home." And: "This would ruin your life." Her mother was sympathetic but worried about what would happen if Sheila chose to become a parent. "How is a single woman like you going to raise a child?" she asked. "What are people going to think?" Sheila's friends didn't provide much solace either, essentially behaving as though nothing was going on at all. Everywhere she turned, Sheila was reminded that she would bear the unending shame of being an unwed mother, while her "illegitimate" child would be scarred for life with the indelible brand of a bastard.     So, to keep people from seeing her in her "condition," Sheila spent the duration of her pregnancy behind the shuttered doors of her mother's New Orleans home. By the time her delivery date was approaching, she had been tortured into submission by the people who loved her most and by a society that didn't understand her at all. She felt small and helpless, too embarrassed to go to the store much less make a momentous decision that could determine the course of her life.     Her doctor, meanwhile, had found a couple who wanted to adopt a baby. With only her incidental participation, he made all the arrangements for Sheila's hospital stay and for the child to be transferred to the new parents right after birth. To "protect" her from the emotional trauma of the experience, every effort was made to separate Sheila from it: She was registered under an assumed name and was heavily sedated for the delivery, so she would feel and remember as little as possible. The nurses were instructed to refer to her offspring only as "the baby," so that she wouldn't even know its gender.     Not until 8:45 P.M. on November 31, 1995, when her son telephoned her after a determined search, did she learn she'd given life to a boy. "All I did after we hung up was cry," Sheila told me. Based on what she had endured, I expected she would feel only contempt for adoption, but she is wiser than that. While she knows the process is seldom as simple as people would like to believe, she thinks everyone can ultimately benefit if it's done right. Besides, Sheila likes the way her firstborn son turned out (she went on to marry and have another boy), respects his parents, and appreciates the loving home they gave him. "But I'll tell you this," she says, wiping away a tear but faintly smiling at her optimistic conclusion: "The system we had didn't work; thank God it seems to be changing."     After a long period of warning tremors, adoption is "changing" like a simmering volcano changes when it can no longer contain its explosive energy. It erupts. The hot lava flows from its soul, permanently reshaping not only the mountain itself but also every inch of landscape it touches. The new earth becomes more fertile, richer in color. The sensation of watching the transformation, of being a part of it, is an awesome amalgam of anxiety and exhilaration. The metamorphosis itself is breathtaking. Before our eyes, in our homes and schools and media and workplaces, America is forever changing adoption even as adoption is forever changing America.     This is nothing less than a revolution. After a decade of incremental improvements and tinkering at the margins, adoption is reshaping itself to the core. It is shedding its corrosive stigmas and rejecting its secretive past; states are revising their laws and agencies are rewriting their rules even as the Internet is rendering them obsolete, especially by making it simpler for adoptees and birth parents to find each other; single women, multiracial families, and gay men and women are flowing into the parenting mainstream; middle-aged couples are bringing a rainbow of children from abroad into their predominantly white communities; and social service agencies are making it far easier to find homes for hundreds of thousands of children whose short lives have been squandered in the foster-care system.     It's not just that adoption suddenly seems to be appearing everywhere at once, as if revealed by a cosmic sleight-of-hand. Its public image is also exponentially better than it has ever been. The new climate allows birth parents like the comedian Roseanne, the singers Joni Mitchell and David Crosby, along with thousands of men and women unprotected by famous names, to finally ease their torment by disclosing their secrets and meeting their children. It leads celebrities like Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, and Rosie O'Donnell to proudly announce the arrival of their adopted children, further raising the profile of the process and accelerating public understanding that it's another normal way of forming a family. And it allows adoptees to learn that they aren't "different" in any negative sense, though they've been treated that way in the past; rather, they're part of a big, successful community whose members range from baseball legend Jim Palmer to former President Gerald Ford to Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs.     Stunningly, marvelously, for the first time in its history, adoption has come into vogue. At a recent dinner party with a half dozen friends, I offhandedly cited a well-known statistic among researchers--that fewer than three percent of American women relinquish their babies for adoption today, a precipitous drop from a few decades ago--to which one woman at the table responded: "Are you sure it isn't much higher? Just about everyone I know with children adopted them." A few weeks later, an acquaintance told me that a classmate of her nine-year-old son, upon learning that he was adopted, sounded downright envious. "That's so cool," the boy said, and none of the other kids huddled around them offered a hint of dissent.     Every historic phenomenon begins with a specific group and then sweeps through the entire population. That's what is happening in America today, complete with the trepidation and triumph that accompany all cultural upheavals. The emerging new realities undeniably are replete with problems and paradoxes. They are raising new issues for families and creating new dilemmas for the country. But they also are more sensible, more humane, and more focused on children's well-being than the realities being left behind.     Adoption is at once a marvel of humanity and a social safety valve. It permits the infertile among us to share the deeply fulfilling, profoundly joyful experience of raising children. It offers a positive option for people who, for moral or economic or personal reasons, believe they can neither undergo an abortion nor parent a child. Most important, whatever it might accomplish for the adults in the picture, it provides a systematic opportunity for children to grow up in stable homes with loving parents.     The revolution was long overdue, and it already is having a penetrating impact. It is advancing the ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity that is a hallmark of twenty-first-century America, and it is contributing to a permanent realignment in the way we think of family structure. It is a revolution reflected in our national and state politics, in our newspapers and on the worldwide web, even in the ads we watch on television. And it promises to help heal one of our most virulent national diseases: the wasting away of children in foster care.     Americans can feel something happening around them, and even to them, but most haven't identified the revolution for what it is. They assume, as we all mistakenly do about so many aspects of life, that only the people directly involved in adoption are affected by it. Americans are too busy or distracted to consider why they hadn't been aware of the "triad" of adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents (and certainly wouldn't have talked about it if they had), yet suddenly they see triad members everywhere they turn.     Of course, we were always there. But our existence was carefully cloaked, just as the history of adoption itself has been written, and hidden, in the shadows. Sadly, for too many generations, this wonderful and vexing process diminished nearly everyone in its embrace, even as it enhanced their lives or served their needs.     Too many of adoption's ostensible beneficiaries, adoptive parents, spent decades deceiving those they cherished most; they often didn't reveal their children's origins at all, or insisted they share the truth with no one. The process's most essential participants, birth parents, were dehumanized; they were forced to bury their grief and humiliation within themselves, unable to share their burden with even their closest confidants. And this domestic drama's most vulnerable players, adoptees, the only ones with no say in the decision that defined their existence, were relegated to second-class social and legal status; in perhaps the most insidiously demeaning act of all, even very young adoptees were made to understand that exploring this fundamental aspect of their beings was taboo.     Not a very healthy state of affairs for an institution that was supposed to help people, which adoption most often has done despite its flaws. But now the revolution is upon us. Adoption is emerging into the warm, if sometimes harsh, light of day. It is changing rapidly, radically, and for the better. It's not quite a caterpillar shedding its cocoon, emerging as a flawless, beautiful butterfly. Light reveals imperfections, after all, and sometimes it even causes them. Still, the darkness was a far gloomier place to be, and problems that we see are easier to deal with and resolve than those that remain hidden.     Ironically, one thing we are learning as we realize how widespread adoption has become is that generations of secrecy prevent us from knowing just how widespread it has become. The subject has been considered off-limits for so long, both by individuals and by society as a whole, that until very recently studies have not been devised, census questions have not been asked, surveys have not been conducted. There is no national organization or branch of government that keeps track of adoptions, so determining how many triad members there are--or have been--would require sorting through the individual "finalization" records in every courthouse in every city and town in every state.     What research there is indicates there are five million to six million adoptees in the United States today, about triple the number experts estimated just a few years ago. Add in birth parents, adoptive parents, and biological and adoptive brothers and sisters, and the number of people directly connected to adoption soars into the tens of millions. And many experts expect the reality is even larger because an incalculable percentage of adoptees still don't know they were adopted, while many people on all sides of the triad and within their families continue to mislead anyone who asks, as well as themselves.     The most comprehensive statistics ever compiled on the subject were released in November 1997 by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York. It is one of a handful of national organizations begun in the last few years to finally explore the topic in detail. The creation of these nonprofit groups, along with a proliferation of academic and legal studies, are further proof that adoption is ending its clandestine phase--even as the research itself hastens the process's emergence into full public view. The Donaldson survey showed that nearly six of every ten Americans have had a "personal experience" with adoption. That means they, a family member, or a close friend were adopted, adopted a child, or placed a child for adoption. And a stunning one-third of those polled said they had "at least somewhat seriously" considered adopting a child themselves.     It's safe to assume those numbers are bare minimums since some respondents don't know the truth about themselves, and since enough of a stigma about adoption still exists to induce some people to respond less than honestly. More to the point, those figures don't include the neighbors, the colleagues and friends, the teachers, the classmates, and all the other people whose lives intertwine with members of the triad and, therefore, whose behavior and attitudes toward adoption can have a profound impact, positive or negative.     Just as the numbers remain tough to calculate, the full scope and depth of the revolution isn't yet totally clear. That's partly because adoption, like any method of forming a family, remains a fundamentally private--as opposed to secretive--concern. Mostly, though, it's simply because the landscape is being altered every day, so it's too early to assemble a complete image out of all the pieces scattered around us: the white parents picking up their yellow or brown or black toddlers at preschool, the TV movies about anguished or triumphant biological and adoptive parents, the movie stars and the people down the street proudly announcing the arrival of their adopted children from Georgia or Guatemala, the news accounts about the soaring rate of foster-care children being adopted or about adoptees clamoring to obtain their own birth certificates.     On a personal level, it's also sometimes hard for people to get a perspective on what's happening around them. To a large extent that's because faulty stereotypes and aberrational horror stories have led us, as a society, to form a distorted picture of adoption. How could anyone's perceptions have remained unaffected, for instance, by the news stories during the 1990s about four-year-old Baby Richard, who cried, "Please let me stay, I promise I'll be good," as authorities in Illinois wrenched him away from his adoptive parents to turn him over to his biological father? But such agonizing tragedies almost never happen, which is why they are big news when they do; and when state laws are subsequently revised to clarify parental rights, which is what has been done across the nation, they receive little attention from the media or the public.     Many Americans also haven't assimilated the changes taking place because so many of them seem counterintuitive, disconcerting, or bewildering. Friends often seem puzzled, for instance, when my wife, Judy, and I explain that we met Zachary's birth mother before we adopted him, and that we hung out for days with Emilia's birth parents before she was born. Some family members also appear addled by our determination to increase our level of contact with the young men and women who gave our children life. When we send the birth parents letters and photos, our relatives ask questions like, "You're not going to send such a flattering picture of Emmy, are you?" Or: "If you really spell out what a great kid Zack is, aren't you afraid they'll want to get him back?" Nearly everyone is surprised, too, when they learn that we, like the overwhelming majority of adoptive parents today, were selected for the privilege by our children's first mothers and fathers. Better Choices, Enduring Pain It's already a mercifully different world from the one that brutalized Sheila Hansen and countless thousands of women who suffered through nightmares like hers--though birth mothers still are seen more negatively and have been the beneficiaries of fewer reforms than anyone else involved in adoption. Nevertheless, attitudes and practices are being altered irrevocably for all concerned, and the snapshots from the wedding day of a more recent birth mother provide a vivid picture of the transformation.     Donna Asta, like virtually every bride in every such photo, radiates happiness. Unlike most brides, however, she was thrilled about more than just the fact of her marriage or even the new life she was about to begin. The reason was the pretty little girl in the teal dress posing with the wedding entourage, still clutching the white basket of rose petals she'd carried down the aisle moments earlier. "I can't, wait to get home to tell my mom and dad about this," six-year-old Kelly had thought in her excitement.     No one had coerced or pressured or embarrassed Donna into relinquishing her baby for adoption. She was motivated by the same core concern that leads nearly all women, and men when they are involved, to make this excruciating decision today. While they know that physiologically they can become mothers and fathers, they strongly believe they aren't prepared to be parents. The distinction may sound subtle, but it's critical.     Most often, these are women in their late teens to mid-twenties who lack the financial or personal resources to raise a child, or whose lives would be turned inside-out if they tried. Or they suffer from problems they don't want to inflict on a child. Sometimes they're rape victims who can't face the prospect of rearing their attackers' offspring. Increasingly, they're couples who already have one or more children but feel their families would be impossibly strained if they had another mouth to feed. And they are often well-educated. Researchers say women who are younger, or have less schooling, tend to think less about the consequences of their decisions, and therefore are more prone to keep their babies.     Two threads bind these varied participants at the genesis of domestic infant adoption: They do not opt for abortion, even though it often carries less social stigma for biological parents than does placing their children in new homes; and they want good lives for their babies, better than they believe they can provide. The lingering cultural stereotype of birth mothers as uncaring or ignorant young teens who choose adoption to crassly jettison a nettlesome problem is unmitigated and corrosive nonsense.     Donna was lying on a surgical table at an abortion clinic in 1986 when she realized that adoption was the only alternative she could live with. She could barely believe she had walked into this place to begin with; just a few years earlier, after all, she had been president of a Right to Life chapter at her high school. "I was on my back there for what seemed like the longest time, talking to God out loud, asking him, `What am I doing here?'" she recalls. When the doctor finally approached her, Donna bolted upright and raised her voice: "You will not touch me!"     Donna had fallen in love with "Mr. Wonderful" while she was a 20-year-old junior at the University of Kentucky. Two months later she was pregnant, he was gone, and her sister persuaded her to temporarily move in with her in Nashville, so she would have some support while considering what to do. After she left the abortion clinic, Donna began a process identical to the one many women follow in comparable situations. She opened the Yellow Pages and looked under "attorneys" and "adoption." She was drawn, in the latter category, to a phone number for the local Catholic Charities adoption agency.     In the months that followed, Donna received counseling, read letters, and looked at photos from an array of prospective parents, and was repeatedly given the opportunity to change her mind. She offers only praise for the procedure that preceded her giving birth, but nothing could have prepared her for the emotions that seized her at the end. No matter how sure pregnant women believe they are about parting with their babies, regardless of what impact they think their decisions might have, irrespective of what might seem right or wrong, at least half change their minds once they feel their babies emerging, or hold them, or nurse them or are confronted with the impossible task of forever handing them over to virtual strangers.     The point of sharpest impact for Donna came after she had carried her daughter out of the hospital, which she insisted on doing, and after her counselor had strapped the three-day-old girl into a carrier in the back seat of her Jeep. Donna is a true believer in adoption. For years now, she has worked as a pregnancy and adoption counselor herself for the agency that once helped her. She insists she has no regrets about what she did. But Donna doesn't try to fool herself about the emotions she experienced as she watched the car drive away that day. "It was the most painful moment of my entire life," she says.     During the years that followed, Donna resumed her studies and plowed ahead. She fell in love with her husband-to-be, and they had a baby daughter in 1998. Donna says her healing process, especially early on, was helped considerably by the pictures and letters she regularly received from Kelly's adoptive parents, Carol and Michael Wierzba. Knowing the girl was happy and loved reinforced Donna's feeling that she had done the right thing. Occasionally she daydreamed about seeing Kelly again, but she didn't want to interfere with her upbringing and figured it would be too complicated until the Wierzbas' daughter (as she now thought of her) was much older So Donna was flabbergasted when, out of nowhere, an employee from the adoption agency called to say that Michael and Carol wanted to take her out to dinner. Kelly was 18 months old, and the Wierzbas wanted to explore the possibility of her birth mother occupying a larger place in her life.     "At first, I told them thanks, but I don't think so. I mean, I just couldn't imagine what they were thinking. I didn't know if I could handle it. I didn't know if Kelly could handle it. The truth is I didn't know what to think, I was so in shock." Donna laughs at the memory. She says it quickly dawned on her that she had nothing to lose in just talking to the Wierzbas, though she feared she'd be se nervous she wouldn't give a good impression. Her voice quivering, she told the agency worker, "Tell them that I said okay." They set a date and a time and hung up. "Only then did I realize what was happening and what was possible. I was bouncing off the walls. All I could think was what a lucky person I am."     And unusual. Arrangements like the one the Wierzbas now share with Donna, in which she is a constant in her daughter's life, are still the exception. They are growing less rare by the day, however, and some degree of regular contact between biological and adoptive families is rapidly becoming commonplace by letter, on the phone, or in person. The main reasons are simple to understand, because they promote honesty and respect, yet difficult to internalize, because they can cause uneasiness and demand selflessness.     First and foremost, social-work and mental-health experts have reached a consensus during the last decade that greater openness offers an array of benefits for adoptees--from ongoing information about family medical issues to fulfillment of their innate desire to know about their genetic histories--even if the expanded relationships themselves prove difficult or uncomfortable for some of the participants.     At the same time, adoption professionals have learned that they lived in a fantasy world for generations and are coming to terms with a hard truth about birth mothers: The vast majority do not "forget and get on with their lives," as though they were machines built to incubate life and give it away. In fact, most of these women sustain emotional and psychic injuries, no matter how good they consider their reasons or how much denial they permit themselves. Overwhelmingly, later in life if not right away, whether they say so out loud or only whisper the truth to themselves in the protective darkness of sleepless nights, they yearn for contact with or knowledge about their children.     Adoption is supposed to help people, not torment them. So, as the consequences of the old ways have become clear, adoption agencies and attorneys who arrange "closed" adoptions have become an endangered species. It's a remarkable reversal from the standard operating procedure of past decades, when all identifying data about birth and adoptive parents were guarded like nuclear secrets--and the very idea of a face-to-face meeting was considered perverse. "What's wrong with her? Why can't she just get on with her life?" social workers asked if a birth mother hinted she'd like to know how her baby was doing. Adoptees and adoptive parents were viewed as ungrateful, perhaps even unstable, if they sought information about the people who made their families possible.     Some birth parents still seek confidentiality, and a small percentage presumably always will because of their personalities or circumstances. But as society and the adoption system permit them to feel less guilt and shame about their decisions, the ranks of the anonymous are dwindling. Most often now, it's the adoptive mothers and fathers who are apprehensive about openness--though, again, in smaller and smaller numbers.     Caution and protectiveness are understandable emotions for anyone with normal instincts and insecurities, but all the more so for most adoptive parents. Our sensitivities about raising a family usually have been heightened by fertility problems that prevented us from producing biological children, then our self-confidence has been further shaken by the emotionally turbulent voyage that adoption invariably entails. As hard as it may be to accept, however, the adoptive parents' gut-level concerns about the consequences of openness are usually exaggerated and often unfounded.     Most reassuring is the fact that there's no clinical or practical evidence to indicate adoptees or birth parents try to disrupt or interfere with adoptions that include sustained contact. To the contrary, many adoptions grow stronger and all three members of the triad become more secure when their relationships cease to be based on fear and fantasy.     In the vast majority of cases, anyway, it's the adoptive parents who are the gatekeepers and decide the extent and timing of any participation (or even knowledge) by their children. While adoptees generally are curious, and ask more and more questions as they get older, they typically don't request detailed information or consider the possibility of in-person meetings until they are into their teens. It's also unusual for adoptees to seek out their biological parents before they are well into their twenties or thirties, ordinarily as planning for their own futures heightens their desire to know more about their pasts.     That's the current, fading snapshot. But, like everything else about adoption, the new picture still hasn't come into focus. Every day, more and more adoptive mothers and fathers are making contact with birth parents while their children are still very small. Adoptees are exploring their roots at younger and younger ages, empowered in part by the extraordinary resources of the Internet, while birth mothers, fathers, siblings, and sometimes whole families are increasingly summoning the courage to search for and develop relationships with their biological sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters.     There undeniably are pitfalls in "open adoption," an imprecise term applied to an array of arrangements in which birth parents stay involved after placing a child. Some problems derive from the specific personalities or situations of those involved, but many are characteristic of various phases of openness, as everyone tries to deal with emotional uncertainty and, if direct contact is included, to determine their boundaries and sort out their evolving roles. In most cases, the long-term gains are considerable nevertheless, and that's why expanding openness is the central characteristic of the adoption revolution.     I'll discuss the pluses and minuses of the new realities throughout this book. The bottom line, though, is that greater openness for adoptees means an upbringing rooted in self-knowledge and truth rather than equivocation or deception; for birth parents, it helps diminish angst and permits grieving, and therefore increases their comfort levels with their decisions; and for adoptive parents, it eases personal insecurities while establishing a steady stream of information for their children and for making critical parenting decisions (based, for example, on the birth family's medical history).     More broadly, the transformation of adoption promises to foster improved attitudes and behavior throughout a society in which nontraditional families are burgeoning. Today, there are children with one parent, two divorced parents, two parents of the same gender, a combination of parents and stepparents; there are girls born by way of donated sperm or eggs or surrogate pregnancy, and boys being raised by their grandmothers or foster parents. There are interracial couples with children who look like a fusion of their characteristics, and there are half brothers and half sisters whose biological siblings have every conceivable combination of skin tone and ethnic background.     As such diverse groupings proliferate, adoption appears less unusual and more like just another way to form a family, which is clearly one reason for its growing acceptance. Indeed, some people find adoption appealing precisely because it usually includes a married couple, and therefore produces something that looks like a conventional nuclear unit. Even as adoption profits from America's broader sociological and demographic shifts, however, it simultaneously is abetting and accelerating them--and not just by adding to the number of multiracial and single-parent households in this country.     Because adoption is the most institutionalized means of forming nontraditional families (other than divorce), and clearly is the one about which most people have the most positive attitudes, it is helping to instigate structural and attitudinal changes that will affect the whole range of complex families. One simple example: Adoption activists, both parents and professionals, are starting to educate teachers about the negative effects of asking their students to draw family trees with stereotypic, genetic-family roots.     This seemingly innocent assignment causes deep confusion and even inner turmoil for many children who only want to be "normal" like their classmates, and are too young to complain or challenge authority. So they feel sullen or angry, and some who "act out" their anxieties are unfairly identified as having developmental or behavioral problems. When the class project evolves into drawing "family orchards," or if the teacher explains that there are all sorts of families and asks the students to depict their own, the educational objectives remain intact with far less risk of unintended emotional shock waves.     Doing good for one group has ripple effects, too. Providing options when teaching about families helps adoptees, but it also benefits the students whose parents are divorced or gay, or who don't know who their fathers are, or who live in unconventional households of every sort. Recall that curb cuts (the slopes at the end of sidewalks leading into roadways) were originally promoted by advocates for the disabled as a means of increasing mobility for people in wheelchairs, and many critics said that amounted to wasteful spending because it targeted such a small segment of the population. Today, every day and in every city and town, millions of bicyclists and parents pushing baby strollers rely on curb cuts and feel frustrated when they encounter streets without them.     Whatever opinions people might have about the multiplicity of parenting situations today, few believe that children should suffer for their elders' decisions. Besides, everyone in a school is better off when constructive attitudes and sensitivity become the norms, just as everyone in a society gains when systemic embarrassment and deceit--two defining characteristics of adoption throughout its history--are replaced by pride and self-respect. (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Adam Pertman. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Madelyn Freundlich
Forewordp. viii
Prologuep. x
Part 1 Don't Whisper, Don't Lie--It's Not a Secret Anymore
1 Out of the Shadows, into Our Livesp. 3
2 A Legal Maze from Coast to Coastp. 27
3 Joy and Surprises from Abroadp. 51
Part 2 Sensitive Issues, Lifelong Process
4 Adoptees: The Quest for Identityp. 77
5 Birth Parents: A Painful Dilemmap. 103
6 Adoptive Parents: Infertility Begets a Familyp. 129
Part 3 Tough Challenges in a Promising Future
7 Special Needs, Diverse Familiesp. 157
8 The Money's the Problemp. 185
9 Old Lessons for a New Worldp. 209
Adoption Resourcesp. 233
Notesp. 237
Acknowledgmentsp. 245
Indexp. 249