Open Adoption - Los Angeles Times Article
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Sunday, August 8, 1999               Reprinted with Permission
Home Edition
Section: PART A
Page: A-3

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 said.

'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 is final.

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 family trees.

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 money.

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 Mar Vista.

"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 person."

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 Eichenblatt.

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 painful injections.

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 have respect."

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 anymore."

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 contact. 

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 born?' "

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:

 

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19,753 were placed by a public agency.

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47,627 were placed in non-relative homes through the services of a private nonprofit or for-profit agency.

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53,525 were adoptions by a relative or stepparent.

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6,536 were international adoptions.

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California had the highest number of adoptions with 14,722.

 

Source: The Flow of Adoption Information from the States by Victor Flango and Carol Flango, 1994

For More Child Care Information

* An extensive list of child care resources and the complete Caring for Our Children series are available on The Times' Web site:

http://www.latimes.com/caring

* National Adoption Information Clearinghouse was established by Congress to provide information on all aspects of adoption.

330 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20447
703-352-3488

http://www.calib.com/naic/index.htm

* California Department of Social Services/Adoption Branch

744 P Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
916-322-3778

http://www.childsworld.org/adoption/index.htm

* For a free copy of "A Guide to California Adoptions" as well as a directory of California adoption agencies, call 1-800-KIDS-4-US

PHOTO: Benjamin Eichenblatt, 2, with adoptive parents Gayle Stafsky and Glen Eichenblatt, blows bubbles at the family dog.
PHOTOGRAPHER: PAUL MORSE/ Los Angeles Times

Type of Material: One in a Series
Descriptors: Children, Adoptions, Trends, Parents, Birth Parents, Child Care

Get Copyright Clearance Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. May not be reproduced or retransmitted without permission.
Click for permission to reprint (PRC# 1.528.Alt99_66073)

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