When adoption is mentioned, my initial reaction has always been admittedly narrow: What mother in her right mind would ever give up her own flesh and blood?
Dawn Spall, 24, of Garden Grove, says she gets asked that quite a bit. And she has a ready answer:
"If you haven't lived my life, if you haven't walked in my shoes, then you don't have the right to ask me that question."
November has been designated National Adoption Month by President Clinton. It's a reminder to us that thousands of couples across the country are eagerly searching for a child to adopt.
The newest trend in this field is open adoption. Essentially, that means no closed records, sealed for a lifetime, keeping children from identifying their birth parents. Instead, the adoptive parents know the birth mother. And in many instances they retain a relationship with her, for the child's sake.
Maybe some of you are like I was, harboring some degree of bias against such birth mothers. But Dawn, who is struggling to make the best of her often difficult world, shows there's another side. She's one of three stories I want to share with you about open adoption:
Dawn, the daughter of divorced parents, was 20 when she had her first son. She and her husband have since divorced. Late last year she discovered she was pregnant by another man, no longer part of her life.
Dawn had no job, no home, and not much of a future. She was living in a shelter for pregnant women in Los Alamitos, seeing her first child only on weekends. She knew the prospect was bleak that she could raise both children on her own.
So she sought out an agency to help her with an adoption process. She insisted on open adoption because she desperately needed for that second child to know its mother.
Dawn decided on the Independent Adoption Center. It's a nonprofit, state-licensed agency which has offices throughout California, including one in Laguna Hills. It helped her find several prospective parents. Those couples all write a "Dear Birth Mother" letter, in essence trying to show how they would make good parents.
Dawn had several choices of couples, but said something drew her to Joanne and Kevin Devine of Lake Tahoe. She's a high school teacher, he works for a ski resort.
They flew to Orange County in July to be present for the birth of Dawn's baby, also a boy, who is now officially their son. You don't have to talk long to the Devines to know how exciting this is for them.
They've flown both Dawn and her first son to Lake Tahoe to see their home, and other visits are planned. Most important to the Devines is that their new son have an ongoing relationship with his brother, Dawn's first child. Dawn was beaming when she showed me a photo of herself with the Devines and their new baby.
She knows that Joanne Devine is now the mother. But Dawn says that doesn't stop the fact that "I love both my children; I always will. I've done what I think is best for them. I can't help what other people might think."
For now, Dawn works at a McDonald's and lives in a rooming house, seeing her older son on weekends. But she wants to return to school so she can get a better job and raise him full time.
Through the Independent Adoption Center, she also spends time speaking to groups of pregnant women or new mothers who are considering open adoption.
My second story is about Eric Horwitz of Lake Forest, who works in the computer field. For privacy reasons, I won't mention any other names.
Horwitz and his wife, who have adopted a boy and a girl from different mothers, participate in a monthly discussion group run by renowned open-adoption advocate Sharon Kaplan Roszia of Tustin. It's a mix of adoptive parents, prospective adopting parents, birth mothers and pregnant women considering an open adoption.
"The sessions can be funny, but also very emotional," Horwitz said. "When you listen to these women talk about giving up a child, you see how painful it was for them. No matter how many years go by, they think about that child every day."
Finally, I want to tell you about my cousin, Larry Hicks, who is 50. He was adopted as a toddler, long before anybody considered open adoption. I wanted his opinion, because he's much more deeply involved in adoption issues than I am. He's all for open adoption.
Larry was almost 40 when he searched for his original family. What he found was a bitter disappointment; his birth mother had little interest in him. Larry told me:
"No matter the circumstances, even if you were deserted, it's better to know as a child who your first family is, rather than spend all those years wondering, like I did."
Jerry Hicks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail to email@example.com