Adoption Process Has Pitfalls for the Unwary : Couple Who Know Offer Seminars for Others Who Want to Become Parents

March 20, 1986|ANN JOHNSON | Times Community Correspondent

Susan and Ron Dworitz knew before they were married in 1982 that they could not have children. Susan had undergone a hysterectomy six years before.

Nevertheless, the Dworitzes were determined to become parents, so before they were married they looked for an adoption attorney to help them find a baby.

Today they are the parents of Stacie Anne, a cherubic, blond, 2 1/2-year old, but it wasn't easy. In fact, the difficulties the couple experienced prompted them to start a seminar so would-be adoptive parents will know what to expect.

The seminar, offered through the South Bay Adult School at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, is the only such program in the South Bay, the couple said.

The Dworitzes are teaching five South Bay couples how to locate children available for adoption, how to expedite the process and how to avoid problems. They tell participants how to choose an attorney, explain legal terminology, discuss advertising and resumes to be presented to birth mothers, and speak to the emotional issues involved--infertility, the need for counseling for the birth mother, the problems faced by adopted children.

Want White Babies

The students are mostly professionals in their 30s who have recently learned they cannot have children. All are white couples who seek to adopt a healthy infant of their own race. If they were willing to adopt an older child or a handicapped baby, they could do so comparatively easily through an agency. But non-handicapped white babies are the least available through agencies, agency officials said.

So couples who want such healthy white babies often have to find one themselves.

Married 12 years, Judy and Michael Sears, in their 30s, have been unable to have children. They enrolled in the Dworitzes' class in the fall of 1984 and--before the eight-week seminar was completed--they found a baby girl to adopt.

"We had gone to some of the classes and my husband and I were working on a resume when a friend of a friend contacted us and told us she knew of a girl ready to give birth," said Judy Sears, a special education teacher. When the woman had a baby girl, Sears said, "I was at the hospital feeding her when she was only 7 1/2 hours old."

Before the Searses enrolled in the seminar, they had gone to a private adoption agency for aid in finding a child, but were bogged down by the lengthy application form they were asked to fill out. Judy remembers not knowing what information was most pertinent in helping them get a baby. They were told to expect a three- to five-year wait. "Anything more than immediately was too long for us," Judy said.

Dworitzes Helped

Following the independent road to adoption, the Searses found their baby before they had retained an adoption attorney, and the couple said they relied on the Dworitzes to lead them through the process of adopting the child. Even after hiring an attorney they continued to seek help from the Dworitzes.

"The Dworitzes were more helpful than our attorney because enough of what they gave in class allowed me to keep on top of the attorney," Judy said.

The seminar also prepares adoptive parents for the problems more common to independent than agency adoption.

For instance, little Stacie Dworitz's 19-year-old birth mother vacillated on her decision to give up the baby immediately after the birth. The mother ultimately put her in Susan Dworitz's arms on Mother's Day, a day and a half after delivery. But 3 1/2 weeks later, the birth mother changed her mind again and asked that the child be returned. By law, the birth mother is entitled to a change of heart up to 45 days after giving up her child, so the Dworitzes had no recourse.

Four days after giving back the child, the Dworitzes, still grieving, were notified that the birth mother had again changed her mind, and Stacie came home again. Eight months later the adoption was made final in court. The couple elected to pay for counseling for the birth mother, and they advise their students to do likewise.

'Potential for Trauma'

To avoid such heartaches as the Dworitzes experienced, Karen Lane, the Santa Monica attorney who advised them, suggests that adoptive couples consult an attorney before looking for a child.

"You're dealing with such a potential for trauma," she said. "The Dworitzes were one of my problem adoptions. If they had not had someone with some controls, they wouldn't have their little girl."

Twenty years ago, infertile couples seeking to rear children most often sought help from adoption agencies. But today, an estimated 80% of all infant adoptions are accomplished privately with the help of a lawyer, said David Keene Leavitt, a Beverly Hills adoption attorney who has placed 6,000 infants in new homes during his 26 years of arranging adoptions.

He cites a variety of factors for the trend toward private adoptions, among them the unwillingness of young, unwed mothers to part with their infants if they do not know where they will be placed.

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