02 November 2012

The Shady Side of Domestic Adoption

*My apologies that this is an exceptionally long post. There was a lot involved in this experience.*

The agency we're working with has told us many times that the part we're at now shouldn't be "waiting" it should be "finding". We should be doing everything we can to spread the word about our hopes to adopt and everything we can to help bring our child home. So far this has helped us maintain some sense of control. We don't feel as helpless, like all of this is completely out of our hands. So in that spirit I went online Saturday and searched for available adoption situations.

One search lead to another and then I came across one that caught me.

There was a 30-something birth mother and birth father in northern California about 30 minutes from where Daniel's mom and step-dad live and they were looking to place their baby boy with an adoptive family. The birth mother was 5'4", green eyes, Caucasian, with brown hair (basically me), and the father had brown eyes, brown hair, Daniel's height and some Hispanic heritage. Really the physical description of the parents doesn't matter but I thought it was cool that it sounded like they looked similar to us.

This baby boy was due THAT DAY. In bold red print below the available information they said "If you are interested in this situation call our office immediately" and listed the number. I thought "THIS might be it. THIS might be why we've felt like we really needed to hurry through the approval process. THIS is why we felt like we needed to be ready right away to bring a baby home. THIS is why the cradle is set up, baby bag packed, car seat sitting near the front door. We are ready. We can leave right now and be there. We can stay with Daniel's mom during the waiting period until we're cleared to leave the state. Everything is perfect. Everything has fallen into place."

I clicked the link and filled out the form of basic information about us and they responded with an email of their basic FAQ information and said to email back if still interested. I emailed back...and then I called...and then I commented on their facebook page, sent a facebook message and called again to leave another message. It was urgent! I sent a copy of our birth parent letter, a link to our blog and our adoption profile so the birth parents could check us out. I let the agency know we already had a home study and that we had family in the area and could be there right away if they just gave the word to come.

And then we waited...

We showered and tidied like we were preparing to leave town and talked about what else we would need to take care of if we got the call to drive out there right away. Daniel tried to help me not get my hopes up. I kept checking my email, facebook, my phone, all of it but there was nothing. Nobody called. I knew the baby was due that day and that this wasn't her first child so it was unlikely she would carry past Saturday.

The next morning we went to church and I spent the entire time with my phone turned up and either in my hand or my lap, waiting for a call. Shortly after we got home I finally got the call and it went like this...

"Sorry it's taken me a while to get back to you, I've been in the hospital the last few days with the birth mother. The little boy was born yesterday and he is beautiful! He is 6lbs 6oz and just perfect. So, tell me about yourself. What are your ages?"

"Well I'm 26 next month and my husband is 28. We have a completed home study. We have a 2 year old but can't have any more biological children"

"Well you're very young so I don't think you'll be able to afford it."

Her comment caught me off guard and I tried not to be insulted by her suggestion. First, covering the adoption fee shouldn't be the very first priority when selecting a family. Second, sure we aren't as old as some adopting couples but we've been married a while and both of us were financially responsible BEFORE we got married and even more so after. We have worked really hard to have the level of financial security and success we have but thats a whole other thing. My response was "...well, we've been married over four years, we bought our home and have a duplex rental property...we're pretty set financially..."

"Oh you are? Okay good. There was a family who came to see the baby but they don't want a drug baby and he is going through withdrawals." My heart was breaking as she was telling me this. I wish we could just be there to hold him and make him feel safe and loved. "This adoption is going to be about $35,000 because we have to set her up with a place to live afterward." The birth mother was only willing to place in exchange for them paying for a place to stay AFTER the baby was born...

"Well our adoption budget is about half that right now..." We are saving to increase the adoption budget to work with additional agencies, and if we're chosen to adopt a baby with some notice then obviously the manageable amount will be more.

"Oh, well then this adoption won't work. But I do get a lot of birth moms who are in jail and their babies are usually cheaper, so I'll let you know okay?"

"Um, okay?"

"Alright have a nice day." Click.

I was speechless. All she knew about us was our ages, that we had a 2 year old and a home study, and that we wouldn't be paying $35,000. That was it. That was all she felt she needed to know. I understand this isn't an abnormally high fee but this baby was ALREADY BORN and there was no other family interested. But no, if you can't pay this fee then we won't consider you. Never mind that the one family who showed interest "didn't want to deal with the withdrawals," forget that there is no one else looking to make this baby boy a part of their family. We didn't budget that much for adoption, so he was not going to be our son.

So much of this went against all our expectations and views of adoption.  There was no mention of "we're trying to find a great family for this baby" or "the birth parents want their child raised by a family with these qualities." None of that.

I literally felt physically ill as I sat there letting the conversation fully sink in.

They were essentially trying to sell the baby. A baby who's parents weren't there for him and didn't care who was. It wasn't "you sound like a perfect family for this child and situation. The fee is going to be this much to cover some medical expenses, office work, legal fees, the agency fee, etc." It was "the fee is going to be $35,000 because in exchange for her baby the birth mom wants a nice place to live." (a note about them paying for this birth mother's housing: birth parent expenses do sometimes make sense and that can even include rent for some amount of time, especially around the time of the birth/placement. Being "set up with a place to live AFTERWARD" doesn't make sense and shouldn't be part of adoption expenses.)

This baby was essentially being given to the family who could pay the most. It didn't matter that we were a good family. It didn't matter that we have family in the area and could be there right away and easily come back to visit often. The birth mother wasn't even looking at possible families, the facilitator was and she didn't care which family adopted the baby as long as they were paying.

It was horritying. I just kept thinking about that little baby in the NICU, going through withdrawals with no mother there to tell him its going to be okay. With no father there to hold him, rock him, and patiently wait for the withdrawals to end. That baby has such an unsure future, one that easily could have been with us, but we weren't paying enough and that's all that mattered to them. I wondered what the NICU nurses were thinking. Were their hearts breaking watching him? Were they as angry at this birth mother as I was?

Every birth mother we have met has been a great person. Every single one of them LOVES their baby still to this day and made a very emotional decision when they decided to place. It was disgusting to me that this woman could not have cared less. I felt like she was doing a disservice to all the other women who place, by living out the horrible stereotype that so many people have of birth mothers, drug addicted and unloving. I was reassured by a close friend who has adopted several times that this woman IS NOT the norm. This woman SHOULD NOT validate all the awful stereotypes out there. A majority of birth moms ARE the beautiful, selfless women we believe them to be. They do feel the weight and pain of their decision and take it very seriously, and they absolutely do not exchange their baby for housing and cash.

The next day (Monday) they called me again...

When I saw it was them on the phone I thought maybe they had changed their mind. Maybe no one else had come forward and he was really ours, we could really bring him home.

I spoke to a different woman who was a bit more professional (no mention of prison babies being "cheaper") and much sweeter. No matter how sweet the tone though the words were essentially the same.

"Yeah the fee is a bit higher for this adoption because we need to pay the birth mother expenses." Yes, they want us to hand cash over directly to this CURRENTLY drug using birth mother. Not even joking. I was fed up. If this was going to be our baby we were going to have to fight for him. Before I could even think them through the words were coming out of my mouth...

"Look! I KNOW this baby is going to be taken by the state if you don't place him with a family. There is no way they are going to let a drug addicted mother take her drug addicted baby out of that hospital. So, I know your options are to either work with us on the fee or have the state take him." 

If they were going to act like this was nothing more than a business transaction then I was going to show them how POOR of a business decision they were making by not considering us. I knew the difference could be absorbed by the other fees they were trying to charge and that they COULD work something out at a lower profit for the agency. A lower profit is better than zero profit.

"Yeaaaah." Was all she could come up with.

"So, discuss it with (head of facilitation group) and call us back if you're willing to work with us on the fee."

So this is where we were at. Haggling over the PRICE of bringing our potential son home to be with our family. We wanted him. We wanted him to be with us, but we didn't want to participate in what I considered to be legal baby selling. I kept thinking "how on earth can this be LEGAL???" Even if we had $35,000 to give toward adoption right this moment we knew that this was a shady situation. It felt so morally dirty, filthy. This birth mother should care and the facilitator shouldn't be essentially buying her off. 

They didn't call us back.

We know that baby boy is going to be cared for, but we wish it could have been us. Being taken into state custody in this situation isn't a bad deal. Parental rights will most likely be terminated soon and he will go straight to a family who is doing foster-to-adopt (something we are looking in to). Most likely he WILL end up with a really fantastic family who will love him to pieces and I can take comfort in that.

So that was our experience with the shady side of domestic adoptions in the U.S. It's bizarre to me that in a country where we have all kinds of nitpicky regulations about seemingly the silliest things, adoption has SO MUCH wiggle room for shady practices. International adoption is VERY thoroughly regulated to prevent baby selling. Much of why it is so difficult to adopt internationally (other than cost) is that most countries are extremely thorough and strictly regulate adoption practices.

After this experience I had several questions for our caseworker about how our agency handles things and being the super fantastic (and quickly becoming one of my favorite people) person that she is, she made time to talk with me to answer all that she could and provide the reassurance I needed. You can check out this post based on questions I had for her about how our agency handles birth mother fees, placement fees, the financial side of adoption and also the resources and help they provide for expectant parents. I wanted to know how they handle things differently from the facilitator we had interacted with. I wanted to know details of the financial side of things and how they keep this from being a baby selling business.

I am SO beyond grateful that we are working with this particular agency. Every birth mother friend I have spoken with who worked with them said they made sure they were aware of all of their options and then helped them with their decision. It's important to us that our birth mother picks us because she wants us to be her baby's parents. I'm even more sure now that we won't be telling anyone we've been chosen until AFTER placement. Hopefully someday soon I'll get to do another hugely long post about how our birth mother found and picked us :)

Lessons Learned:

1.) Not all agencies have the birth mother's or even the child's best interest at heart.
2.) There are agencies who think of this as nothing more than a business.
3.) The United States has poor adoption regulation that borders on allowing child trafficking. 
4.) Most legitimate agencies don't post "available situations" online. They let expectant parents look through profiles of the hopeful parents they have, then post the situations online or contact other legitimate agencies for a bigger pool if needed.


  1. Replies
    1. I accidentally deleted Sommer's comment somehow. This is what it was...

      "Reading this made me so angry and sad at the same time. I can't believe there are mothers out there like this. I am so glad that there are families out there like you guys that will give a baby such a loving home. I am so sorry you had to go through this. It makes me sick thinking about the pain that little boy had to go through without anyone there to comfort him."

  2. My heart goes out to you and your family in dealing with all of this. I truly appreciate reading this post. As I have felt similar to you as I leared about the adoption years ago. We adopted our son 10 years ago from a private agency in Utah. I too was horrified when they would ask us what child we were open to adopting(in my mind at the time I was focused on that fact that this baby, he or she was a child without a family) black, biracial, chinesse, white etc. As I would say we are open to all options. She quickly filled me in that a baby that was all black would be cheaper than the previous child she had mentioned, because the previous child was part chinesse and therefore would cost $7,ooo for the adoption. I can remember my stomach immediately dropping and feeling sick. I then asked her, so are you telling me that fees are based on the race of the child? She said yes, because white babies, chinesse babies, half white babies are wanted more than all black babies. I told her I thought that was disgusting and was horrified by the practice. We later had numerous agencies contact us from California telling us that they numerous black babies that had been born that they didn't have families for and that they would drop their fee $40+ fees to half if we would take of of their babies because they can't find families for them(my thoughts was, well don't it so expense and it wouldn't be so difficult to find a family) I think it's so outrageous that private adoptions have become a business to these adopton agencies and the families that do get chosen is because of the money they are willing to pay. I'm happy to say our son came home within weeks of that dicussion and he is a handsome black boy whom we love and adore.
    You made the statment;International adoption is VERY thoroughly regulated to prevent baby selling. I wish I could say this is true. We've lost 3 international adoptions to agencies scams and the agencies stealing or taking the kids from their families telling them they would attend school in the states while actually placing them for adoption. The sad reality is that some people have chosen to pray on the hearts of those wanting to add to their family by adoption, to receive finacial gain. It's just wrong.

  3. Wow. Your words ring SO true. It happens ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, all across the country and it is DISGUSTING! I can't believe that God is the least bit pleased with these adoption "professionals" either. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

  4. We went through same thing. It was horrible! We were told that there was a bm that needed a placement within a day or two. We were supposed to get 30,000 in cash and be on a plane the next morning! I was shocked and horrified that they actually do that to people that are trying to adopt a baby! They should never be allowed to put a price on a baby! We were told that African American babies are one half or more off the price! Really? I wish there was something that we could do to stop these agencies from selling the babies! Likely, the BM would have gotten a couple thousand dollars and the agency the rest. Shame, shame, shame! Thanks for sharing your story! I am in tears as I write this!

  5. We have adopted twice. With our youngest, we were sent an e-mail with her picture and we were in love! I called the agency immediately and they said that we needed $28,000 in cash and be on a plane the next morning. Really? We don't keep cash just laying around the house! I can't believe that the adoption agencies get away with doing this! Our baby was 10 mo. old. The birthparent wanted to find a loving home for her. We talked to the birthmom and it was an instant match! I talked to her for over an hour.

    After we hung up, the agency called me back again and asked if we had the cash ready! No. We didn't. She said that if we couldn't come up with the cash by morning, then we would not be able to adopt the baby.

    I got a private investigator and found the birthmom. She was asked if the adoption agency was helping her. The adoption agency had helped her to get Medicaid and welfare benefits. They gave her an apartment that she could use for 2 weeks. Ok...well, then, where was all the money supposed to go? When the birthmom left the apartment, she was on her own with 4 kids. We flew her out to our house and did a private adoption.

    The birthparents usually don't get much help from the agency. They get help to get assistance through the state. It is sad. Very sad. I talked to the adoption agency. They said that they spend money on flying birthparents from state to state and that they have counselors available.

    Please don't think that the birthmom was the one that insisted on the adoption fees. The agencies are usually non-profit, however, the one that we dealt with should be closed! Good luck to everyone. We are looking to adopt again. I am not sure when, but, I don't want to deal with baby sellers!