I recently wrote about how domestic infant adoption is "vanishing" in America. The April 12 story was based on federal data (kindly chased down for me by Jo Jones, a researcher at National Center for Health Statistics) that found that fewer than 7,000 newborns are placed for adoption each year.
Compared with the truly stunning number of unwed pregnancies — almost 3 million in 2004 — adoption is clearly becoming an option that few women are choosing for their babies.
In my reporting, though, I heard about some successful adoption programs. In Erie, Pa., for instance, counselors affiliated with the Women's Care Center of Erie County help birth mothers "design" adoption plans for the children they have decided not to raise.
This means the birth mothers are involved in everything from deciding how much contact they want with the family to knowing what kind of activities will be provided by the adoptive parents, said Brenda Newport, executive director of the center.
"We've done hundreds of newborn placements," she said. "It's a win-win situation, and nobody's hurt."
Birth fathers are involved as much as possible, Mrs. Newport added, and adoptive families are chosen with care. Closed adoption — in which there's little or no contact between birthparent and adoptive family — is rare.
There is still a bittersweet aspect to adoption, said Mrs. Newport. But the young mothers find comfort in their decisions to choose life for their child and then let their child "be a blessing in someone else's life."
An example is a young women who came to the Erie center when she was 28 weeks pregnant, said Mrs. Newport.
When she learned how advanced her pregnancy was, abortion was ruled out, but she also knew parenting wasn't a good choice, either. So, when counselors with the Adoption By Choice agency showed her how to plan an adoption for her baby that she could "live with well," she said, "I can do that," said Mrs. Newport.
I have reported on adoption since the 1970s, when I met Florence Fisher, an adoptee who searched for her birthparents and founded the Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association in New York. I have heard adoption stories from hundreds of people.
My conclusion is that when handled correctly, adoption is an honorable, even noble, choice. Adoptive parents are parents by choice, and adoption is the best outcome for children whose parents (and birth families) cannot, will not or should not care for them.
Adoption reform, however, is essential, especially as we learn more about attachment, love, genetics and parenting. Having delved into the "search" issues, I think it's clear that adult adoptees who want their original birth certificates (with their identifying information) should have them. Lawmakers should pass open-records laws, as those in New Jersey seem to be doing.
Mutual-reunion registries and other search sites, like the International Soundex Reunion Registry in Las Vegas, should be talked about more.
"All I want to know is what everyone else knows and takes for granted — my roots," Ms. Fisher wrote in her 1973 book, "The Search for Anna Fisher." I think her poignant request still resonates, and since we now know adoption can entwine families — not divide them — it's time to end the secrecy.
• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.