By Mardie Caldwell, COAP
With infertility struggles on the rise, more hopeful parents are turning to the internet for help in building their families through adoption. African American couples and women who are facing infertility are logging on to their computer to find resources to help them adopt.
Expectant African American women seeking adoptive parents for their children have increased drastically in the last year, even though the African American community has historically been opposed to the option of adoption. Opponents of adoption often state “We take care of our own,” and “We don’t believe in having anyone outside of our family raising our own flesh and blood.” However, this too has been quickly changing, as the internet is opening many new avenues for adoption. Women access the websites from a library or a friend’s computer if they don’t have their own.
In the past, if a young woman was not ready to parent, she just “got ready.” Adoption was not an option to her as a African American woman. The pressure from family and friends was just too great. She and her family would often raise the child together. Many African American grandmothers are involved in raising their grandchildren; however, some are unable to raise them because of poor health or finances.
Birth mothers now have many choices in adoption, and are making decisions for the good of their child and for themselves, instead of relying on their families. This marks a new view of adoption for African American birth parents.
Shauna was 19 when she became pregnant for the first time. “I felt terrible. I was raised in the church, and my mother raised us to get ahead and have a good future.” She remembers the conversation in her mother’s kitchen. “Mom, I want to finish college,” Shauna pleaded. “I want a career; I want more than you have. I’m not ready to be a mother.” Her mother slapped Shauna and left the room. She was asked to leave the house, and that’s when she decided to look at adoption. “None of my family supported me, and I knew I wanted to do more. I knew I couldn’t take care of a baby either. Adoption was the best answer for me”.
As more African American women start to attend college away from their families, they do not want to give up their independence to raise a child. Others have said that their parents have stated “you made your bed, now sleep in it,” offering no help at all. Increasingly, more African American women are choosing adoption, even if it means their family may be upset for a while about their choice. They feel they can live with that in order to give their child a good life.
Women facing an untimely pregnancy are turning in larger numbers to the web to find resources, services and support. The internet allows birth mothers to research and read about adoption in the privacy of their homes. This is allowing families and birth mothers to work with organizations across the country, such as Lifetime Adoption, which has an African American Enrichment program, and does more than 120 adoptions every year.
22 year old Sheila was seeking to relocate out of state until the birth and then wanted to return home to continue her career. She said, “It’s no one’s business but mine.” Since 1996, internet adoption sites have more than quadrupled. In the past it would have been difficult for prospective adoptive parents for example in Michigan to meet a birth mother in California. Now, wIth web sites like African American Adoptions and Bi-Racial Adoptions adoption answers are at everyone’s fingertips anytime of the day. Birthmothers can read about waiting adoptive families of all races, view their photos, and read their online “dear birthmother” letters before speaking to them on the phone.
The site Lifetime Adoption includes the confidential posts of over 200 birth mothers of all ages who are seeking adoptive families. Many of them are African American women. Lifetime states “it is not uncommon for a birthmother to email or call after finding three families she is interested in speaking to, just from reading their profiles on the web site.” African American families are often matched very quickly. Most birthmothers are requesting married couples with traditional values and some faith in God, with at least one parent who is African American.
Some women are comfortable contacting families of another race, as long as the family has already adopted a child who is African American or bi-racial. Other women are open to families of all races, as long as the family will maintain the African American culture with their child. When it comes to contact after adoption, many birthmothers would like to exchange letters and photos with their birth child after they are adopted. Others want little or no contact. Many birthmothers have children already, but for others this is their first pregnancy.
An adoption coordinator at Lifetime Adoption commented, “There always seems to be a shortage of black adoptive families. Most are chosen within weeks of being featured on the African American website. The need for more black adoptive parents who can provide a secure, loving and stable home is always present.” Yet, many families who are open to adoption are unaware of this need. Websites completely devoted to African American Adoptions are helping to raise the awareness of this issue.
Websites of this kind are great resources for the African American birthmother as well. As with any adoption, internet birthmothers must provide proof of pregnancy, are screened, and are given resources to help them throughout the adoption process. These resources include optional counseling, and opportunities to speak with an attorney free of charge
These services are offered regardless of where the birthparent lives. If the birthparent would like even more privacy, these services can be offered over the phone. Many African American birthmothers face immense pressure from family and friends to keep their babies, so outside support and help is very important.
In a recent interview, a social worker gave the following information: “Statistics show that in the US, there are over 500 thousand children in foster care. The majority are African American or biracial children. Approximately 100,000 of these are waiting to be adopted. Because the number of children entering the foster care system is so great, the children can’t be processed quickly enough. So, they are being placed in overburdened foster care programs.”
Many state and county adoption programs have so many hoops to jump through before a child is available for adoption. Even if the assigned social worker knows that the best interest of the child would be to have them in a permanent adoptive home, their hands are tied with red tape for months or even years . Children that could have been adopted immediately as infants become older, often with more problems, making it harder for some to be adopted.
Some websites are trying to help alleviate this problem by offering a 24 hour hotline to call. Birthparents and hospital social workers are now given the option to call whenever the baby is born. Their child is adopted immediately, going home with the adoptive family from the hospital, and avoiding foster care altogether. “When we receive a call in the middle of the night from a birthmother or social worker, we are able to help them the same day. Birthmothers can speak to pre-screened adoptive families on the phone,” says Heather Featherstone, Director of Adoption Services at Lifetime Adoption.
Once the birthmother has chosen a family, she has the option to meet them, and the baby normally goes home with the adoptive family from the hospital.
Shauna was one mother that felt that this was a big benefit of adoption, “I didn’t want to take her home. When I signed the papers, I had a real peace about my decision.” Legal and medical expenses are paid for by the adoptive parents, so there are no expenses to the birthparents. Since the adoption is private, the process is much more confidential, allowing the birthmother freedom to share her plans only with whom she wishes.
Latisha was in her first year of nursing school when she found she was pregnant after a one-night encounter. She was afraid that her parents would find out about the pregnancy. “I just knew adoption was the only solution,” she said. She wanted her baby to be adopted by a family she chose. She found her baby’s adoptive family on the internet in the privacy of her dorm room. “Not even my roommate knew about my plans for adoption until I had chosen the family and was going to meet them. She even went with me and was very supportive.” Through the internet site Open Adoption, she was able to select and meet a young professional African American adoptive couple. Latisha and the chosen adoptive parents spoke on the phone, met and spent time together before the birth and at the hospital. “We had a lot in common, and that helped,” she says. Once the baby was born, Latisha planned to let the adoptive mother hold the baby first in the delivery room. “By planning the adoption, I was aware of what to expect,” she said. “It confirmed my decision when I saw them holding their new baby. Even though I gave birth to him, I knew they were his parents. I didn’t want a social worker making the decisions about where my baby was going.”
Three years later, she receives e-mails, letters and photos about her son’s life. The family has a web site where they post current photos of the baby that she can access. It was Latisha’s choice not to have physical contact: “I felt the time I spent with them convinced me that they would love him just as much as I did. I just didn’t want to interfere in their life. I am always going to be his mother, they are his parents, and I am okay with that. The photos are wonderful, I know he has a great life, and that helps me feel good about my decision. It was hard at the beginning and I experienced some depression, but I know that they will share with him the photos and letter I wrote him. If in the future he would like to meet me, that will be his choice. I am happy for my son and his new family.”
The internet and open adoption programs are giving pregnant women options for their unplanned pregnancy.
Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P. is a Certified Open Adoption Practitioner, an award winning author of 2 adoption books Adopting Online and Adoption: Your Step-by-Step Guide. Mardie is also the talk show host of Let’s Talk Adoption.com with Mardie Caldwell and the founder of Lifetime Adoption in 1986. She travels and speaks nationwide on adoption topics, family topics, infertility and writing. She has been quoted in and consulted for Parenting and Adoption magazines and has appeared on CNN, CBS, ABC, BBC, NBC, and Fox. Featured in Parade Magazine, Caldwell is an adoptive mother living in Northern California.