Adopt the Baby You Want. By Michael R. Sullivan with Susan Shultz. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages. $18.95. IN MY personal library, I have five books on adoption, three of them issued since 1988. As an adoptive parent, why do I have the feeling that my market segment is being massaged?
Sullivan's appendix answers the question. Current adoption fees range from $5,000 to $30,000. Lawyers' hourly fees range from $200 in New York City to $40 in South Dakota. Medical costs are $1,000 to $7,000, and all this before the child (meaning the baby, because that's what his adoptive parents want) is home! A fast calculation shows a market with $100,000 to $1.2 million to burn before its latest possession comes of age.
And to paraphrase Bill Shakespeare, let's not forget those lawyers. In the Baltimore area, no one bills under $100 an hour, and do not even whisper ungenteel sentiments like contingency or advertising.
Sullivan has written a terrible book. With attorney fees over half the cost of private adoption (also called "direct placement"), a big-name attorney implicitly pushes his type of private, for-profit, expensive adoption service, which he calls "full-service." Incidentally, I could find no mention of the superior "The Private Adoption Handbook," by Stanley Michelman, also an adoption lawyer, or any note that Jacqueline Hornor Plumez' "Successful Adoption," my first and best-loved book on the subject, was revised and updated five years after it appeared in 1982.
Sullivan, an experienced attorney, indulges in what appear to be euphemisms. The statement, "You may be unable to adopt an American baby" wouldn't seem to carry any prejudicial implications, but the book as a whole makes it clear that children who don't look like the blue-eyed, blond baby on the cover are Brand X.
On the very next page, Sullivan asks, "Are you willing to provide ties to your child's culture, and is it feasible to do so?"
Now I am really puzzled. Almost every direct placement adoption I've heard of is cross-cultural by definition (for starters, few birth mothers wear Rolex watches like the couple on the cover) and even the culture of a country as remote as Nepal is accessible for less money than any adoption. When I read Sullivan's question, why do I hear, ". . . if the kid doesn't look too different if you're not turned off by its inferior origins and if it won't take up too much of your precious time"?
And in a chapter that is supposed to be about choosing an adoption agency, Sullivan advises, "Explain your position through a lawyer." If I understand this, the admirably coiffed, Rolexed cover couple, having added to their possessions a perfect healthy white infant (HWI in adoption shorthand), are going to talk with the people who gave that child life, not through a counselor, mediator or arbitrator, but through the adoptive parents' own lawyer. Great for the birth parents' feelings, and if the adoptive parents are paying for and using an agency, why pay a lawyer, too?
We have (metaphorically) held hands with enough adoptive parents to know that application fees first and foremost defray costs for agencies, which must take the time and expense to send out information whenever somebody asks for it. Full-service agencies are still strongly suggesting that clients attempt to find a child themselves, and many former adoption agencies have become "facilitators" -- that is, the agency social worker sees the would-be adoptive parents for a home study (cost $1,000 or more, and no guarantees); then the parents-to-be search for a child (before, they hope, the study needs updating); and only then can the agency "facilitate" the adoption. A great system -- for the agency.
Discussing preparation for the actual adoption, Sullivan passes on a cruel hoax visited upon many adoptive parents: the idea that the hospital will give them supplies and information they need. Hospitals provide what they must, namely, one clean diaper and, perhaps, if they "approve," a baby-food maker's feeding kit which may get you as far as your visit the next day to the pediatrician. Again, if the hospital social worker has the time, he or she may give you information (ours was wonderful), but no one tells you that you never get on the manufacturer's list for all the goodies which magically appear at the doors of biological parents.
And read this closely, Maryland adopters-to-be: Despite the state's 90-day period during which the birth parents can reclaim the baby, Sullivan states emphatically that "the wait for completion" is only 15 days.
On Page 186, we hear about the "real players in the adoption game." I begin to think that Sullivan, cheerfully ensconced in Paradise Valley, Ariz., thinks this is the U.S. Polo League. And here it comes: "Birth parents' rights are being prioritized." The tone fits Sullivan's attitude toward such people.
I don't want to imply that when it comes to adoption, money is, or should be, more important than love, but Sullivan leaves just that impression himself. Less-than-wealthy people, no matter how loving, can't get a child his way, and the wealthy can try for his "ideal" baby the way they'd try for the perfect wall hanging. Adoptive parents and children deserve better.
M. B. Walter is the pen name of a Baltimore free-lance writer, the F parent of an independently adopted American child.