It was not your typical Sunday afternoon get-together.
There were lots of children--preschoolers, for the most part, giggling, squealing and scampering about. There were adoptive parents gushing appreciation for their children. And there were biological mothers playing with the children they had given up.
The person who brought them together was Linda Nunez, a Tustin attorney who has matched hundreds of babies with wanna-be parents. Last Sunday, she and about 600 clients and family members celebrated their good fortune at Nunez's second annual "Baby Bash" in the Costa Mesa Community Center.
Nunez, 37, became the adoption whiz that she is today by accident--an accident of nature. Ten years ago, she discovered that she could not bear children, so she and husband Hank proceeded to adopt four. "So far, I'm my own best client," she said.
Over the past few years, Nunez has shifted the focus of her legal practice from real estate to adoption. And although it comes in small packages, the success of her career change can be measured in large numbers.
Nunez expects to facilitate 120 to 150 adoptions this year. "That's a pretty big chunk, considering there are only about 2,000 adoptions in California a year, agency and independent adoptions combined," she pointed out.
The vivacious matchmaker specializes in open, independent adoptions, in which the birth mother chooses the adoptive parents for her child and has the option of maintaining contact. The cost of adopting a child with Nunez's help runs from $5,000 to $6,000, she said.
When Placentia residents Steve and Dannie Garber adopted their son, Logan, 2 years ago, they practically adopted his biological mom and grandmother as well. Last Sunday, all five sat around a table at the party, exchanging terms of endearment.
"Our friendship has gone beyond Logan," Dannie Garber, 36, said of DeEtta Pettit and her mother, Diana Johnson. "Sometimes just the four of us do things together. It's as if Steve and I have grafted onto our family."
There were awkward moments at first. "I didn't want to impose," remembered Pettit, 22. "A few days after Logan was born, I called Dannie and Steve and said, 'If you want to say no, just say it, but I'd like to come over and see the baby.' They said, 'Sure, come on over.' It's been that way ever since."
"I can't wait until the day Logan says, 'But my real mom would let me have a motorcycle,' and I say, 'Oh, yeah? Let's call her and ask,' " Dannie said with a chuckle.
A student at Orange Coast College, Pettit said that she has no second thoughts about her decision to give up her child. "Steve and Dannie couldn't be more wonderful--to all of us," she said.
Some of the birth mothers who attended the party do not maintain constant contact with their children. "The last time I saw Julia was at last year's party," Cindy Johnson said of her 4-year-old daughter, who was adopted by a San Clemente couple. "I guess it's a little weird seeing her because she looks like me, but it's also nice to see that she's happy and developing well."
While pregnant, the Newport Beach resident and Nunez became friends, and Johnson now works as the attorney's administrative assistant.
Johnson, who is 27 and single, said she did not carry her baby to term out of choice. "I had three negative pregnancy tests, and then it was too late for an abortion. I'm glad for Julia that she was born, but I still believe in legalized abortion.
"I had an abortion when I was 18, and it was much less emotionally painful than giving up a baby. If a woman feels morally OK with abortion, I would recommend it over carrying a baby for 9 months just to be noble and help someone who can't have children."
Steve and Susan Tucker of Costa Mesa turned to Nunez for help after two miscarriages and a series of unsuccessful surgeries to correct a fertility problem. "She told us, 'You can have a baby within 6 months,' " Susan Tucker, 36, said.
Their first experience with adoption ended tragically last year; the birth mother changed her mind and reclaimed her 5-month-old daughter weeks before the adoption was final (the legal waiting period is 6 months). "It was like having your child die," Susan Tucker said. "But one thing that Megan (the baby) gave my husband and me was the realization that we could never go without a child."
Nunez came through for them again last December, this time with a boy, Derek. "I've already bought him a fishing boat," said Steve Tucker, 40. "Well, it's for me, too," he conceded.
Two years after adopting her daughter, Michelle, Theresa Schreiber, 38, learned that she was pregnant. "Pregnancy is much less stressful than adoption--finding a baby, then worrying if the birth mother will change her mind," the Santa Ana resident said. "With pregnancy, you have control--and even if you lose the baby (by miscarriage), at least you haven't held it in your arms."