Reprinted with Permission
Section: PART A
New Adoptions Open Up the Family Circle
Open adoption, which keeps birth parents in the loop, is becoming
common even among the formerly skeptical.
Caring for Our Children
By: MARTHA GROVES
TIMES EDUCATION WRITER
Gayle Stafsky and Glen Eichenblatt worked about as hard as a couple
could to become parents, enduring years of infertility treatments and
failed pregnancies before eventually adopting a baby boy.
Now they're laboring just as diligently to ensure that they and 2
1/2-year-old Benjamin stay in close touch with his biological mother.
"We . . . feel she's a part of our family, inexorably," Eichenblatt
'Open Adoption' Gains Popularity
Like a fast-growing number of adoptive couples, Stafsky and Eichenblatt
have embraced an "open adoption," forsaking the once prevalent attitude
that adoption should be a highly secretive affair.
In an open adoption, the adoptive and biological parents share
information about the child. The contact can be minimal--the exchange of
tidbits through go-betweens-- and cease soon after the placement. Or, in a
full-disclosure adoption like Benjamin's, it might involve frequent
get-togethers, phone calls and letters over many years after the adoption
The spread of open adoptions over the last quarter of a century marks a
dramatic shift in adoption practice in the United States, where the common
wisdom since the end of World War I had been that birth certificates and
adoption records should be sealed. By the early 1950s, almost every state
had amended its laws to create complete anonymity for birth parents.
In the 1970s, however, research indicated that the veiled nature of
adoption often inflicted psychological damage on adolescent and adult
adoptees as well as biological and adoptive parents. Myriad emotional
problems came to light after adults who had been adopted as children
launched searches for biological family members, and even went to court to
unlock documents, as they sought to fill in missing branches of their
As the "adoptee movement" gained steam, social workers realized how
desperate many individuals were for information about cultural identity,
genetic links and other issues. Many began espousing more open
arrangements but met resistance.
"The fears are mostly fears of the unknown," said Carole Lieber
Wilkins, a marriage and family therapist in West Los Angeles. She works
with prospective parents to help them overcome myths about birth mothers,
notably that they might later reclaim the children or attempt to extort
Another common worry is that a child might decide as a teenager to live
with the biological family. Lieber Wilkins dismisses that as "a ridiculous
concern--so rare as to be truly exceptional."
Still, such anxieties nagged at Stafsky and Eichenblatt, who live in
"The whole concept of having a birth mother around didn't seem
attractive to me," Stafsky recalled.
That changed the day an adoption attorney led the couple to a
church-run maternity home. There they met Diona DeMarco, a likable young
woman with a troubled past who weeks later would give birth to their son.
From the start, it was a mutual admiration society.
"Our inclination was to adopt her along with Benjamin," said
Eichenblatt, who is responsible for computer systems at the Los Angeles
chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "She's a very sweet, loving
Said DeMarco, 21: "I thought they were really cool, so open-minded.
They went through so much [to become parents]."
Indeed, the path to parenthood--which for so many people is a simple,
often unplanned, matter--became an arduous road for Stafsky and
Married in New York in 1988, they moved to Los Angeles three years
later and decided it was time to start a family. Stafsky soon suffered the
first of several miscarriages. Over six years, she went through a series
of state-of-the-art infertility treatments that involved taking drugs and
A life-threatening ectopic pregnancy prompted her to halt the high-tech
wizardry, and the couple began to think about adopting.
Eventually their quest took them to Vista Del Mar Child & Family
Services, a private Los Angeles agency that steers hundreds of families
annually through the intricacies of adoption.
In three required Pathways to Parenthood classes, agency workers helped
them prepare for the emotional experience of meeting the birth mother and
including her in their lives.
"We're trying to stress to [prospective parents] the importance of
having respect for and understanding of the birth parents . . . so they
can express good things to the child," said Linda Bolduc, a social worker
with Vista. "It's important that they have a good attitude toward the
birth mother. They don't have to be a good friend, but they do have to
Sometimes respect and comfort develop over time. In a long-running
study in the 1980s and '90s, researchers found that many adoptions evolved
into full-disclosure relationships after having been confidential.
Reliable figures on the number of full-disclosure adoptions do not exist,
but social workers say they are increasing rapidly.
One driving force behind the push is the Internet, where adoptees have
been known to locate previously anonymous birth parents in a matter of
minutes. "There's no place to hide," said Reuben Pannor, a Los Angeles
social worker and author of "The Adoption Triangle," a 1972 book that is
still considered a classic in the field. "You can't promise anonymity
In addition, a nationwide shortage of healthy, adoptable babies has
empowered birth parents, giving them more say in who adopts their children
and how much contact there should be.
Although the trend is toward more open arrangements, "not everybody
wants an open adoption," said Harold D. Grotevant, a professor of family
social science at the University of Minnesota. Some families are not
comfortable with extending their boundaries to include birth parents; in
other cases, the biological parents prefer not to maintain
Tough Questions in the Future
So far, Grotevant said, research indicates that most fears about open
adoptions are unfounded. Children are not confused about who their parents
are, birth parents do not attempt to reclaim children, and adoptive
parents do not end up feeling that a birth parent is constantly looking
over their shoulder.
For DeMarco, the chance to see Benjamin has been a godsend. Stafsky has
explained to Benjamin that he "grew in Diona's tummy," although he is too
young to comprehend such details.
DeMarco, now married and a cosmetology student at Santa Monica College,
looks forward to having children with her husband, who was himself
adopted. But she frets about what Benjamin might say years from now: "
'How come you could have and keep a child just a few years after I was
Visits, though still frequent, have already tapered off, and DeMarco
said she keeps her emotional distance from Benjamin to avoid overstepping
bounds she feels should be in place.
Meanwhile, Stafsky and Eichenblatt have become spirited advocates of
open adoption. "It just happened so gracefully," Eichenblatt said. "People
are afraid of the whole concept of open adoption. They shouldn't be. It's
an absolutely wonderful experience."
Adoption by the Numbers
In 1992, there were
127,441 children adopted in the United States. Of those: