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“Taking a character who’s supposed to be so savvy and smart — and have her be so detached from her baby and ultimately go through with an adoption — is a very bad portrayal,” Ms. Del Balzo said. “I would hate to see other young girls emulate that. … The pop culture is not a reason for women to be separated from their babies.”

At Catholic Charities in Arlington, Ms. McDonough has seen adoption practices change over the years.

It’s true that decades ago, the social message to unwed pregnant women was “you can’t be a single mom because it will disgrace the family,” Ms. McDonough said. People made adoption plans with that mindset, and many were handled poorly — young women did have their babies whisked away.

“There was no acknowledgment of [the birth mother’s] grief,” Ms. McDonough said. “No wonder they couldn’t let it go.”

Today, birth mothers are “much more empowered” and their acts of adoption are cherished by adoptive families, she said. There’s more openness and ongoing contact between birth mothers and adoptive families.

Adoption remains a bittersweet experience for most people, she said, but with better counseling and support services, birth mothers often become settled and at peace with their decision.

“It really is a loving option,” she said.

Perfect storm

Besides anti-adoption attitudes, both abortion and acceptance of single motherhood have contributed to the “perfect storm” that has beset domestic infant adoption.

Abortion is the outcome for 35 percent of unwed pregnancies. In fact, the first decision a single woman makes when faced with a pregnancy is whether to abort or continue the pregnancy, said Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, a network of 1,200 crisis pregnancy centers.

Abortion can appear to be better than adoption because “the baby doesn’t seem that real,” Mrs. Hartshorn said. Abortion just means the woman would be “unpregnant.”

Abortion also can be perceived as a lesser heartache.

“They will say, ‘I know it’s killing my baby,’ but they still think that it would be worse to have the baby, see the baby, know they have a baby, and then give it away,” said Mrs. Hartshorn, who has worked with unwed mothers since the 1970s.

When women have decided to continue their pregnancies, the best time to talk about adoption is when they are about four months along, said Mrs. Hartshorn. “Now the baby is real to them, and the reality of ‘How am I going to care for this child?’ is sinking in. … They can think more realistically about adoption.”

However, young women often start pouring their energies into becoming a mother — maybe even marrying the father of the baby, Mrs. Hartshorn said, and once that happens, “adoption doesn’t come up again.”

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