Childless couples rescuing cute little newborn babies from sad situations and giving them a wonderful life filled with comfort, joy and love — that used to be my impression of adoption. Adopting a baby was always a feel-good kind of story filled with noble characters. It starts on a sad note of course with a woman, usually young and single, learning she’s pregnant. She’s distraught, doesn’t know what to do, but ends up having the baby. She surrenders her infant soon after birth, realizing it’s in her baby’s best interests to be raised by a nice married couple who can provide a stable and loving home. Of course giving up her baby hurts but this brave, selfless woman sucks it up. She makes the best of the situation and moves on with her life. Meanwhile, those married couples willing to open their hearts and homes to a baby who wasn’t their biological offspring were nothing short of heroes. The lawyers, adoption agencies, social workers and other supporting players were the good guys who made the happy ending happen. Doesn’t this scenario put a smile on your face?
Call me naïve (or stupid) but I did know about the dark side of adoption. Journalist and author Lynne McTaggart opened my eyes with her book, The Baby Brokers: The Marketing of White Babies in America (1980: Dial Press).
My husband, Tom, gave me a used copy of this book for Christmas. Born in the 1960s, I know very little about my birth mother and absolutely nothing about my biological father. I know I was the result of a private adoption so naturally the book’s honest examination of private adoptions in the 1970s intrigued me.
To uncover the reality of private adoptions in those days, McTaggart posed as a pregnant single woman wanting to give her baby up for adoption and as a prospective adoptive mother. She encountered unsavory characters who took advantage of legal loopholes and figured out ways to skirt the laws. The best interests of babies didn’t figure into their decisions. These characters didn’t waste valuable time investigating the backgrounds of people seeking to adopt babies. They were mostly interested in making a fast buck at the expense of couples with the money to pay their fees. Birth mothers were not always treated with kindness.
I found the book disturbing. It raised questions in my mind about the circumstances behind my own adoption. It also makes me wonder about modern-day private adoptions, particularly private adoptions in Illinois, my home state. What’s changed since the 1970s? I would love to hear from adoptees and adoptive parents.