Vying to be Among the Chosen

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Couples Find Placement is often up to Biological Parents

LYNNFIELD -- Georgia and Vince Salaverri are among the chosen. Literally.

On May 18, 1997, after a jittery interview over Sunday brunch at a Bickford's restaurant in Dedham, the couple was picked by a pregnant woman to be her child's new parents.

Gone are the days when biological mothers furtively and anonymously entrusted their babies' futures to doctors or employees at homes for unwed mothers. Today, most people who adopt infants in the United States are selected by biological parents, who may meet them first or, more often, sift through a batch of prospects who submit albums full of flattering photographs and etters extolling their virtues.

For parents-to-be, this procedure is just a small puddle compared to the financial, bureaucratic, and emotional morass they must wade through to adopt. Yet almost everyone who makes the journey would readily do it again.

``Oh, Lord, yes. In the end, it just gives you so much in return that you forget what everyone went through,'' says Georgia Salaverri as she hugs her son, Daniel, to underscore the point.

``I do believe,'' she says, echoing a sentiment often expressed by adoptive parents, ``somebody up there has a plan, and this was all part of it. One thing I want to tell Daniel is that we couldn't have a baby because God wanted us to have Daniel.'' By the time the Salaverris met their son's biological mother, the young woman had been referred by an adoption agency in Oklahoma -- whose 800 number she found in the Yellow Pages -- to a second agency in Texas, which sent her to a lawyer it previously had worked with in Boston. The lawyer then contacted the Salaverris in Lynnfield, who had hired him to facilitate an adoption.

While attitudes around adoption are undergoing a positive transformation, these kinds of stories are common. The process itself remains a hodge-podge of inconsistent state laws and regulations, subjective judgments, and individual whims. For adoptive parents, issues include: cost -- $15,000 to $30,000 for most agency- or lawyer-assisted adoptions, which prevents some people from trying at all; Anxiety that birth mothers will decide to keep their babies, which sometimes occurs; and Chilling stereotypes of biological parents vying to regain custody of `their children after placement, which is rare.

``We tell them to . . . remember that biological birth is full of risks, too -- stillbirth, miscarriage, and so on,'' says Filis Casey, who heads the Alliance for Children adoption agency in Wellesley, ``and nearly everyone who sticks with the ride in adoption does end up with a child. It's just not as smooth a ride as we'd like to see.''

The consensus among social workers and adoption professionals is that, whatever the risks, the empowerment of birth parents to select adoptive families has had overwhelmingly positive consequences. Biological mothers and fathers invariably feel more at peace with their decisions and therefore are less likely to second-guess them, most experts say, while adoptive parents tend to become more secure and have first-hand background information to share later with their children. Ironically, the empowerment of birth mothers is fueling a trend toward higher-income adoptive parents. Because they invariably try to ensure the best lives for their children, birth mothers tend to pick better-educated, more-affluent applicants.

Although direct payments to birth mothers are prohibited as illegal baby-selling, some agencies say privately that unscrupulous lawyers and other private adoption facilitators drive up costs by agreeing to such under-the-table arrangements. Some attorneys acknowledge that, in a small proportion of cases, money is changing hands in this way. They also say they see more `shopping'' by biological mothers for an agency or lawyer who will offer better health coverage, nicer apartments during their pregnancies, or other indirect benefits permitted in some states.

``I'm not saying it's positive or negative . . . and I'm not saying it's baby-selling, but the empowerment of birth mothers is making it much more of a seller's market,'' says Benjamin Rosin, a New York attorney who works with 10 agencies and has been handling adoptions independently since 1975.

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Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of Adoption.com.

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