LA JOLLA — Carl and Andrea Ito didn't want to blow it by wearing the wrong clothes.
The couple had been trying to adopt an infant for two years. Now, for the first time, they were going to meet a pregnant woman who was considering giving up her baby to the Itos for adoption--if she liked them.
The Itos, nervous and excited, figured that even something as seemingly unimportant as their clothes might influence the woman's decision. "We wanted to look nice, but not so dressy that we looked threatening," said Andrea Ito. "It was like going to a job interview."
In the end, Carl wore the new sweater he had recently gotten for his birthday. Andrea wore a casual but stylish outfit.
Nevertheless, the interview, which took place in June in the house where the pregnant woman was living, was tense at first.
"We sat there staring at each other for the first few moments," Carl said. Then "we talked nonsense, the way you talk to someone you just met at a party.
"We didn't mention anything about the pregnancy, because it seemed so awkward."
Eventually, the interview went more smoothly. The Itos made friends with the woman and subsequently gave her money and even took her to dinner several times. But the adoption arrangements they had made with her through a lawyer fell apart when the woman decided to keep her child after it was born.
"It was devastating to us," Andrea said.
The Itos' experience points up one of several potential difficulties in so-called "open" adoptions--adoptions in which prospective adoptive parents and a baby's biological mother get to know each other, often before the child is born. Despite such difficulties, however, open adoptions are one of the biggest trends in the field of adoption.
Ninety percent of the nearly 500 adoptions in San Diego County this year will be open, according to Hawley Ridenour, chief of adoption for the county Department of Social Services. And open adoption was among the topics discussed in depth last week at the San Diego Adoption Forum, a conference at UC San Diego.
About 250 people, many of them young couples, attended the one-day forum. Vera and Jeff Taylor, both 23, came to familiarize themselves with the particulars of adoption. "We're just learning--we don't know anything about it," said Vera Taylor. "We don't know who to call or how much it costs."
Tom Kramer, 37, an art supplies salesman in Escondido, said he and his wife, Barbara, 42, attended the forum "to find out if there are adoption agencies we don't know about, or if there's a way of quickening the process." The couple spent five years and underwent extensive tests in the course of trying to have a child of their own, but "it just didn't work out," Tom Kramer said.
The forum also offered sessions on minority and single-parent adoptions and legal issues involved, among other topics.
The Itos, who work as computer programmers at Unisys in Clairemont, said they came to the forum looking for any scrap of information that might help them adopt a child. The couple--Carl is 27, Andrea, 31--have been tested and found to be infertile.
Along with others who attended the forum, they heard expert after expert note that there are far more people trying to adopt than there are infants to be adopted. In fact, the high demand for babies is a major reason behind the trend toward open adoptions, according to Maria Gillhespy, an adoptive mother and one of the organizers of the forum.
In recent years, birth mothers--biological mothers who give up their babies for adoption--have increasingly sought assurance that their offspring will be well cared for, Gillhespy said. And birth mothers often develop a desire to know how their children are doing years after they have been adopted.
Because there aren't enough babies to go around, birth mothers have been successful in getting their demands accommodated through open adoptions, Gillhespy said. In an open adoption, a birth mother is given information about prospective adoptive parents, selects the ones she wants, and often meets them; after giving birth, she usually receives periodic "progress reports" about her child and in some cases is even allowed to visit the child regularly.
In addition to easing the distress most birth mothers feel at giving up their children, open adoptions also make it much simpler for adopted children to obtain information about their biological parents. But nearly everyone agrees that the arrangement often seems less than ideal to adoptive parents, and many prospective parents who attended the recent forum expressed reservations about open adoptions.
"It's important for the child to (eventually) have contact with his or her (biological) mother," said Vera Taylor. "I like the idea of open adoption from that aspect.
"But it's a little scary, too. I don't think I'd feel comfortable with visitation. I want the child I'm adopting to be my own, and I don't want that much interaction with the birth mother."