Wanted: Pregnant coeds

By Kelly Kaufhold

A student picks up the campus paper expecting to see ads - maybe a pitch for a local bar, or tickets to a show. But not this: "We know that placing your baby for adoption is the hardest decision you will ever make, but it's one made out of love. Please fulfill our dream of loving a baby. Legal, medical and allowable living expenses paid."

The ads are out there, on Web sites serving students, in major dailies circulated in college towns - even in campus newspapers. "Actually we do run adoption ads," says Kathy Welsh. She's the advertising manager with State Press at Arizona State University. "We're familiar with those."

"When I went to go to the junior college, sometimes couples would put up posters right on campus. Call us, call us."

birth mother

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But students aren't, which is why they're drawn to them. "I would read it, definitely," says curious Boston College psychology junior Gracie Taylor. "[But] I don't know how comfortable I'd feel reading it."

"Oh, gosh, I would be a little surprised," parrots classmate Caroline Sekula, "because that's not something you see in the paper every day."

Couples hoping to adopt are so driven to find their new family that they are willing to put something so personal in print. But why target the college coed? "We were advised to advertise in top college markets," concedes Robin Gorman Newman. She and her husband called adoption attorneys after other avenues brought them heartbreak, but no baby. "It's just the consensus that the college market was a good place to look."

Advertising in college newspapers has proven successful for some. "It's the only technique we use," says adoption attorney Debbie Procaccio. "It's practically the only way to go if you want to find a baby in the states."

But not everyone involved in the adoption process agrees. "It's been my experience that most birth moms that I work with are not in college," says attorney Mark Whidelock, who runs an agency in Bakersfield, California and TheStork.com. "Usually they're between the ages of 18 and 28 and their educational level is high school at best. I wouldn't advertise in various college newspapers."

Alicia Griffith fit that profile. "I was 18 when I found out I was pregnant," admits Griffith, who made adoption plans for her son. "I consulted with my pastor, my pastor then sent me to a doctor, my doctor referred me to [an adoption attorney]," she remembers.

"I went in and consulted with him and started going through the albums." Griffith had pretty much decided on adoption already, but not on how to find a loving parent. "When I went to go to the junior college, sometimes couples would put up posters right on campus. Call us, call us." Plus, there were yellow pages ads, public agencies and more.

In the end, she went through the adoption attorney for the simplest reason of all - it just felt right. "They gave me a lot of paperwork, which was kind of intimidating because there was so much paperwork, but it kind of gave me a good feeling because I knew the parents would have to go through a lot, too."

Pursuing adoption is a difficult decision for all involved, followed by an even more daunting process. "It's overwhelming. I was really kind of stunned. And you certainly come to this with no experience," laments Gorman Newman. "It's a very proactive search on the part of the parents. I mean it's almost like looking for a job. The prospective parents have to play as big a role as possible."

One of the most important tools used by couples looking to adopt is something college students know, or will know, all too well - a resume. Most will present them to the birth mother in order to give her a sense of who will be raising her child.

"It's really like a mini-autobiography," says Gorman Newman. "One lawyer advised us to go to Kinko's and they want a fancy cover so it looks appealing. You have to think of what to write, how to position yourself and it's personal, highly personal. The part that's hard to fathom is you're out there marketing yourselves," she says.

It's a tough process all around. One problem facing adoptive parents is that there just aren't enough American babies -- especially white babies -- for every parent who wants to adopt. A study by the National Center for Health Statistics shows only about one in four parents who start the adoption process actually end up with a child in their lives. The numbers speak for themselves. There are just over 100,000 domestic adoptions a year -- meaning American born children, and a little more than 10,000 foreign-born children are adopted. That's a small number considering about half a million parents think about adoption each year.

"If a student becomes pregnant while on campus, confidential help is available through the office of student affairs -- through the campus ministry."

Notre Dame University

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Because of that stiff competition or lack of adoptable babies, most parents feel the need to make a sales pitch. "We sent out over 600 letters and picture [sets, showing my husband and I], to pregnancy clinics and doctors from a list they give out," says Candy Beard, as her two adopted kids vie for attention. "We had gone to all of our families and friends and anyone who would listen that we were looking to adopt."

"I went through the albums, and they showed everything, history, work," says Griffith, who made adoption plans for her son five years ago. She says during her pregnancy, she got lots of legal help.

In fact, about a third of all American adoptions are handled through a private law office or agency. "We got a letter through his office of different birth mothers and we had already done a resume and letter and photo album," recalls Beard. "We gave him the letter, resume and photo album and within that week we had three different interviews. From the time we walked into that office it was 65 days until our daughter was born."

The result is wonderful for adoptive parents, but the process comes with a price, and not just an emotional one. In most cases, prospective birth parents have to cover the cost of the adoption. "I'd say the average adoption probably runs between $10,000 and $15,000," admits Mark Whidelock, the lawyer who helped the Beards. "My role in most of my adoptions is to help my clients meet a birth mom and then take care of the legal side so they can concentrate on the adoption process."

"We don't feel that money is the only issue that should drive who adopts a child," chimes MaryAnn McCarskey. She is the associate director of Angel Guardian, a legendary foster and adoption home in New York for more than 100 years. "We have found there are many wonderful families that would never have been able to afford large fees."

Private homes like Angel Guardian and public agencies like county offices split the remaining two-thirds of adoptions that don't go through private attorneys. Although there are always legal issues with adoption, and each state has its own adoption laws, the homes and public offices don't charge legal fees -- by far the biggest portion of the $10,000 to $15,000 cost.

While the legalities and cost may be the biggest obstacles facing the potential parents, a pregnant college student's number one need is getting through this ordeal in one emotional piece. Some schools have programs or policies in place to help them deal with that.

"Certainly among the many, many issues that we deal with here, students finding themselves in a situation that they are unexpectedly pregnant, that is one issue," admits Dr. Mandy Bratton, with student counseling at Arizona State. "They find counseling and therapy. ...Either on campus or off campus, we offer whatever guidance they would need."

"If a student becomes pregnant while on campus, confidential help is available through the office of student affairs -- through the campus ministry," shares Father Warner with Notre Dame University. "In addition, we refer people to other aid here in South Bend [Indiana]."

Still, it's never an easy decision. "If I had an unplanned pregnancy would I consider adoption? No. No," emphasizes Taylor, from Boston College. Sekula, also from BC says, "If I didn't drop out of school and raise it with the help of my mom, I would give it up for adoption."

Even with a lot of help, a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy might still feel alone. "That was a little tense," understates Griffith. Also, once the baby is with its new parents, the birth mother could also feel a sense of shame or guilt. To that, Beard says, "It's nothing for her to be ashamed of or worried about. It's just life. Basically both my kids are very proud of what their birth parents did."

Gorman Newman agrees. "I have the utmost respect for any woman who gives up a child. That's got to be at least as difficult as any [choice by an] adoptive mother. It's a very hard decision, I'm sure."