DAWN SMITH-PLINER runs a ``guaranteed-success-if-you-are-enterprising-and-patient'' cottage industry. From her home in this tiny town in central Vermont, this housewife, mother of two, and part-time school teacher finds babies for couples who want to adopt them.
Dawn and her husband, Joel, learned about adoption the hard way.
``Seven years ago, we called every agency - public and private,'' she says. ``We wanted a healthy infant.''
The Pliners hit immediate roadblocks. First, they were told the wait for a baby might be as much as seven years. Adoptable children, particularly young ones, just weren't available.
The supply was down from earlier years because many unmarried mothers were aborting their fetuses or carrying their babies to term - and then deciding to keep them.
Further, even if a baby were available, some of the agencies looked critically at the Pliners. They were of different religions and relatively newly married - six months at the time.
Dawn began to inquire around. She heard about a young woman who was about to give birth but was considering giving up her baby because of pressing financial circumstances.
An arrangement was made. Dawn and Joel were present at the birth and soon Aura Joy (now age seven) came into their lives.
Inquiries from friends and others who were eager to know the circumstances of this placement led Dawn to form an adoption support group which she now calls Friends in Adoption (FIA).
Dawn says that one of her hardest tasks is to correct misinformation about private, or independent, adoption. ``The main fears are that it is illegal and costly ... and that if you [the adopting couple] met the pregnant woman, she would know who you are and find it easier to take the baby back,'' she explains.
According to Dawn, these impressions are largely false.
Forty-four states sanction private adoptions - although there is mounting pressure from public agencies to outlaw them. The argument against this practice are that there is insufficient public and professional control over these situations. This may lead to baby-selling, lawsuits, and abuse of the rights of the natural mothers, say critics.
Dawn says these are groundless fears. Private adoptions are subject to the same county home studies and court scrutiny as others. The total cost to those who work through FIA is $4,000 to $7,000. This includes legal and medical fees. The price varies depending on the location and special needs of the birth mothers.
FIA carefully screens both prospective adoptive parents and the young women who wish to relinquish their babies. Detailed r'esum'es put them in touch with each other - for possible matching.
Dawn advertises her services and counsels those seeking children to let friends, relatives, and others know of their quest for a child. ``This is `compassionate' adoption,'' she insists.
``The pregnant woman has complete control over who adopts her child. She can meet them, or not. She is completely in charge.''
Dawn is an advocate of ``open'' adoption (where all parties are known to one another) because there are ``as few intermediaries as possible.''
Her fees are relatively modest: $50 for an initial two-hour consultation. Additional advice is offered at $30 an hour.
Inclusion in FIA's resume file costs $10. Yearly membership, including a newsletter, is an additional $15.
Dawn also encourages would-be adoptive parents to do their own leg work.
``Read a lot. Talk to others about adoption. Seek out a support system - and become a family,'' she counsels.
This Vermont housewife does not guarantee success for her clients. She admits that there is always the risk that a natural mother will change her mind before the adoption is legally finalized.
And there are still instances where courts are wary of private adoptions.
In the large majority of cases, however, FIA arrangements have run smoothly and resulted in early placements - sometimes within a few months.
Dawn has a scrapbook of pictures and notes of thanks from grateful clients. ``Any couple who is willing to work aggressively [to find an adoption situation ] will end up with a healthy child,'' she says confidently.