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May 25, 2000
I'm 21 and my girlfriend is 22, and we're having a baby. She wants to give the baby up for adoption, or get married and raise the baby together. If I had never gotten her pregnant I think I would have married her eventually, but right now I'm not ready. I have always wanted to be a father, and the thought of giving my son up for adoption and never seeing him again when there is such love between my girlfriend and me seems insane. I could get a job pretty easily, so how can I even think about throwing away my son when I know I can provide for him? I know that we were idiots for not being more careful. She is six weeks along and I don't know what to do.
Suddenly a Father
Here's what you should do: Think again about adoption. Doing an adoption doesn't mean "throwing away [your] son"--and that's not some touchy-feely, p.c. line of crap, either. "Oh, you're not throwing him away," goes the social worker, "you're making a beautiful gift of him. Now just sign here, here, and here, and you'll never see the little bastard again." No, what I'm talking about is doing an adoption that would allow you to see your son again--and again, and again, and again.
"Adoption has changed considerably in the last 15 years," said Shari Levine, Executive Director of Open Adoption & Family Services, an agency based in Portland, Oregon. OA&FS was founded in 1985 by a group of people determined to create a new adoption model, one that didn't ask birth parents to disappear, or treat adopted children like livestock. In an open adoption, the biological parents--you and the girlfriend--get to choose the family their child is placed with. Then, working with the couple they've selected, the birth parents come to an agreement about ongoing contact. In other words, you get visitation rights.
"Deciding what to do isn't just about being 'able to provide.' It's about being ready to become parents," said Levine. "He's savvy enough to admit that he's not ready, but committed enough to know that he wants an ongoing relationship with this child. Through open adoption, you can create a lifelong friendship with your child's adoptive parents," said Levine, "and play a significant role in your child's life. And when a birth parent can see that the child is happy and well cared for, that can help a birth parent work through the grief. There's still grieving to do, but it can take six months, or a year--not a lifetime."
Open adoption isn't just good for birth parents, it's good for adopted children and their adoptive parents, too. "Adopted kids are often haunted by questions," said Levine. "Like, 'Did my birth mother love me?' 'Who do I look like?' 'Why was I adopted?' They may hear that anyone who 'gives up' a child didn't love that child, or that their mothers must have been drug addicts. What a burden for a child! In open adoption, children know their birth parents, they know the truth about why they were adopted, and they know their birth parents love them."
For adoptive parents, open adoption not only means access to health and family history information, "it also means not having to fear the birth parents," said Levine. "Adoptive parents are often haunted by fears of 'real parents' lurking out there. If you took some stranger's child and never looked back, you would never know if it was okay with her. Having the blessing of the birth parent can make such a difference." Levine has two adopted children, and her relationships with her children's biological moms has made her feel more like a mom, not less. "One Mother's Day," said Levine, "[one] gave me some flowers and said, 'You're the best mom I know.' That meant so much to me."
There has to be a catch, right? Well, there are two. First, while open adoption isn't illegal anywhere, open adoption contracts are only legally enforceable in Oregon, Washington state, and New Mexico. "If you do an open adoption agreement in Colorado," warned Levine, and the adoptive parents try and weasel out of it, "the agreement won't be enforced by the courts." Second catch: OA&FS is currently the only adoption agency in North America doing truly open adoptions. (Birth parents get to choose from all the couples OA&FS is working with, not a few selected by a social worker; birth parents are given all the information the agency has on the couples, including background checks; and couples adopting through OA&FS must agree to ongoing, lifelong contact, not just a single post-placement visit). And while OA&FS can work with adoptive couples (and singles) anywhere in the world--including Canada--they can only work with birth parents who live in Oregon or Washington state.
Levine couldn't say it and probably doesn't want me to say it, but if you don't live in Oregon or Washington, well, moving to one of those two states is an option. When adoptions are challenged in court, the person doing the challenging is usually the birth father. Since you wouldn't contest this adoption, the odds that you'll wind up in court are small. So, hey, if you and the girlfriend wanna do an open adoption, move your knocked-up asses to Oregon already.
And now a full-disclosure tap dance: My boyfriend and I adopted our two-year-old son through OA&FS. I can personally vouch for everything Shari Levine has said, and encourage anyone who's thinking about adoption--getting a kid or placing a kid--to learn more about open adoption. I'll even go out on a limb and make a value judgment: The more you learn about open adoption, the clearer it becomes that closed adoptions are cruel, unfair, and unnecessary.
I recently got my girlfriend pregnant. We agreed she would have an abortion. I drove her to the clinic and sat in the waiting room. When she came out, she told me the doctor said she had one of those rare pregnancies that made it impossible for her to have an abortion without risk to her life. I've never heard of this. Should I be suspicious?
"I've worked in the field for 25 years and I've never heard of a pregnancy that can't be terminated," said Marci Bloom of Aradia Women's Health Center in Seattle. So what's up with your girlfriend? "It sounds like she doesn't want to have an abortion," said Marci. "She's changed her mind. They should seek out a counselor immediately." Reassure your girlfriend that you're not trying to change her mind back, and reconcile yourself to fatherhood. "This decision is ultimately his girlfriend's to make," said Marci. "She has the ultimate decision-making power here."
Even if your girlfriend's mind is made up, there are some things you might wanna hash out with a shrink. For instance, is there something about your behavior that made her afraid to tell you the truth? And does she want to keep the baby? Maybe she would consider doing an adoption. If neither of you are ready for parenthood, you can move to Oregon, do an open adoption, avoid the responsibilities that come with parenthood (like shit-packed diapers and child-support payments), and still get to watch your kid grow up.