In an astounding reversal of roles I could not have imagined 30 years ago, I have been invited to present a workshop about adoption this summer at the hospital where my son was born. What better way to begin my presentation than telling my adoption story?
Picture this scene. It is February 1984. A 23-year-old patient has just given birth at a New Jersey medical center and wants to find adoptive parents for her baby before she leaves the hospital. She receives a referral to an attorney to represent her and he starts reaching out to his friends and family to try and locate an adoptive family. The attorney’s sister phones her rabbi to ask if the clergyman knows any families hoping to adopt. The rabbi places a call to a couple he married a few years before who had confided that they desperately wanted to adopt a child. They say “yes” without hesitation and hang up the phone before even thinking of asking the gender of the baby.
The attorney directs the adoptive parents to speak with the hospital social worker to obtain directions for picking up their child. When they contact the social worker, she advises them that under New Jersey law, she cannot be involved in any way in this private adoption. She tells the adoptive parents to come to the back door of the hospital so they can be present when the birth mother leaves. The trembling adoptive parents pull into the hospital parking lot, walk to the back entrance, and meet a lovely young woman with long dark hair and a vulnerable smile who passes the baby to them, all three shivering in the cold.
This is my adoption story and this is the way adoptions proceeded a decade before New Jersey’s adoption laws were amended to reflect modern, humane private adoption practice. (Let me assure you, as I assured my son when I told him this story, that after the frightening back door transfer of custody, my husband and I legally adopted our child in court.) To present my upcoming adoption workshop, I hope to teach hospital staff the immeasurable difference they can make with empathetic, knowledgeable care for maternity and obstetric and maternity patients, their children, and adoptive parents.