Adoption option: pregnant teens give up their babies

OF the 1.1 million American teen-age girls who get pregnant each year, less than 2 percent put their babies up for adoption. About half of the teens have abortions. Most of the rest - 58 percent single parents - struggle to raise their babies while trying to finish school and hold down jobs.

It is a tragic situation for both the young mothers and the many infertile couples aching to adopt.

But as Jeanne Warren Lindsay's book, Parents, Pregnant Teens and the Adoption Option (Morning Glory Press, 1989), illustrates, choosing to carry a child to term and then putting it up for adoption can be a wrenching choice. For the birth family, adoption may seem the hardest course of all.

Lindsay's book is a compilation of frank, emotional interviews with parents of teen-agers who chose to put their babies up for adoption. Supplemented with letters and journal entries, these interviews are intended as a kind of written support group for parents in a similar situation.

Virtually all the families interviewed here were opposed to abortion, for moral or religious reasons. Many got counseling from Christian centers.

Yet few condemn the unmarried teen-agers who choose to keep their children or even to have abortions. Lindsay's book makes it clear that giving a child up for adoption is a tough and painful decision, one requiring great courage, love, and faith in a better future.

The interviews that form the core of the book describe teens' parents' thoughts and emotions from the moment they learn of the pregnancy through the months of waiting for a grandchild they know they will never raise.

Some parents report on their feelings years after the adoption has taken place.

Initially, many parents admitted, they were almost overcome with shock, disappointment, anger, and guilt.

``How do you feel when you find out?'' asked Cynthia, the mother of 15-year-old Karen. ``It's hard to describe. For myself and Bob, there was a lot of anger, there's no getting around that. You think, this can't be true.''

Accustomed to taking responsibility for the family, many parents were distressed by their loss of control over family affairs. Particularly jarring was the fact that the pregnant teen-ager and her male partner have the total legal responsibility for deciding whether to keep the baby or adopt it out.

``This was an appalling revelation to me,'' admitted Laurie's father, Jim. ``I have been making decisions for our family for years, and I couldn't imagine this decision that would affect us all being in the hands of a 15-year-old.''

Yet most parents stood by their teen-agers and were able to support them through the crisis. And in many cases parents saw their values and attitudes powerfully reflected in the decisions their teen-agers made.

As the pregnancy advanced, the anticipation of the new baby was cruelly undercut for birth families by the knowledge that the baby would not be theirs to nurture and love. ``I imagined what it would be like to hold our first grandchild, a creation of wonder for someone else to enjoy,'' recalled Laurie's mother, Judy.

The older generation felt sorrow in some cases mixed with guilt, knowing that the family could probably have pulled together the resources to have raised one more child, had that seemed the best decision.

``That's what kills me the most - I know I'm young enough, and we could have raised him,'' mourned Lucia, the mother of 17-year-old Becky.

``My head didn't have any problem with the adoption decision, but my heart felt the pull to keep the baby with us,'' said Judy.

Fourteen-year-old Kristi's father took her on a tour of low-income neighborhoods to show her what her life would be like if she ended up as a single mother on welfare.

All the parents interviewed for this book made sure their teen-agers got counseling to help them understand the long-term effects of becoming a teen-age parent.

But despite rational considerations, parents and their teens shared tremendous grief at letting the tiny, helpless newborn leave the family.

Parents reported that they and their teen-agers were able to go through with the adoption in a large part to give the baby a chance to grow up in a two-parent, ``normal'' family.

``It's not that you don't love the child, it's because you love the child so much, you want the best for that child,'' explained Tom, the father of Roseanne.

A family that handles the crisis of the pregnancy in a supportive and loving way can emerge closer than before.

``Parents, Pregnant Teens and the Adoption Option'' makes no pretense of being a comprehensive or analytical guide to the adoption process.

For practical details, Lindsay refers to her three previous books on adoption and to the annotated bibliography included at the end of this book.

Thus we read rosy references to ``open adoption'' (an arrangement in which the birth parents choose the adoptive parents, meet them, and receive information about the child over the years), without learning much about the chances that such arrangements - lacking any legal status - will work out.

Nor does this book comment on the chances for adopting out a baby born disabled or from a minority background.

In fact, about two hundred minority infants are waiting right now for minority families able to adopt them, according to Jeff Rosenberg of the National Committee for Adoption.

What ``Parents, Pregnant Teens and the Adoption Option'' does do is open a sympathetic window on the experiences of birth grandparents, who may get little anywhere else.

Lindsay, who has written six previous books about teen-age pregnancy, also offers emotional support to families who make this brave, farsighted choice.

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