ANYONE who has endured a failed adoption analyzes it, over and over, searching for the clues that something was going to go wrong. There is now a body of folk wisdom about what can worsen the odds in an independent adoption. Because the person likeliest to back out is the birth mother, most danger signs have to do with her personality and situation. Some red flags:
* A birth mother who is married or over 25. A stable relationship or fewer remaining childbearing years tend to mitigate against a woman giving up her baby.
* A birth mother who has not told her family, has not told the birth father, or is less than four months pregnant. Family pressure often causes a woman to change her mind--and any decision made early in a pregnancy is considered tentative simply because there is so much time for second thoughts.
* A birth mother who wants to talk money first. Lawyer David Leavitt says this is a woman "who is looking to be persuaded to do something she doesn't want to do."
* "A girl who's full of tears, gloom, depression and doom," Leavitt says. "Stay away from her. The birth mother should be so relieved that her happiness is what shows."
Birth mothers also voice their share of concerns. Sometimes the behavior of the adoptive parents can make separation more difficult. Birth mothers are skeptical about:
* Adoptive parents who show them off. Anita Wright, 19, resented the adoptive mother who wanted to throw herself a baby shower--and invite Wright.
* Adoptive parents who ask the birth mother to live with them until she delivers. It's a generous gesture, but one that can compound the birth mother's problems at separation: She must give up not only her baby but also an entire family.
* Overbearing adoptive parents. One birth mother rejected a couple who told her what to eat and when to exercise.
And all adoptive parents agree that it is essential not to give in to a tendency to depend on and defer to the lawyer. Clients often regret that they did not ask for more information even when they felt that a problem was emerging. Maureen O'Malley, an adoptive mother who is also a lawyer, says: "I'm an overwhelming believer in independent adoptions. And because of the lack of any other mechanism right now, I think they have to be handled by lawyers. But I think an unsuspecting couple in a difficult situation would end up not getting a child. You have to trust yourself and your gut instincts."
When O'Malley saw signs of emotional turmoil in her birth mother, she insisted that the woman receive counseling, despite her lawyer's opinion that everything was proceeding properly. She believes that she would have lost the son she now has if she had not taken matters into her own hands.