Three-year-old Claire bounces around the living room as “Under the Sea” plays from her Little Mermaid toy. Like Ariel, Claire was transported from one world to another. This Havertown home is now Claire’s world. In it, she is safe, loved and thriving in the care of Christopher and Bob, the same-sex couple who adopted her when she was just a day old.
Because of Claire’s young age, her parents asked that we use only their first names. But the family celebrates the fact that Claire has two fathers. “He is Daddy,” says Claire. “And he is Papa.”
Not only are same-sex pairs adopting these days, so are unmarried heterosexual couples. And with National Adoption Month happening in November, there are other things worth noting. Domestic adoptions are becoming more common as foreign countries and the U.S. State Department continue to place restrictions on international adoptions. The majority are open adoptions, allowing adoptive and birth families to share information about one another, even communicating via social media outlets. “Adoption has moved from secrets and shame into something that should be acknowledged and even celebrated,” says Maxine Chalker, president and CEO of the Wynnewood-based Adoptions From the Heart agency.
Chalker herself was adopted as an infant in the early 1940s. “Everything was secret,” she says. “I wasn’t told anything about my birth parents because my adoptive parents didn’t know anything. Birth certificates were sealed, and the whole process was shrouded in secrecy.”
Like many children adopted in that era, Chalker was left with issues about her identity and self-worth. “It’s not that we didn’t love our adoptive parents,” she clarifies. “It’s that we wondered about our birth parents and why they didn’t want us—which is what it felt like to us.”
When she was in her 40s, Chalker initiated a search for her birth parents and eventually found her mother. “One day, my phone rang and it was her,” Chalker remembers. “She said, ‘Your search is over. I am your mother.’”
But Chalker already had a mom—her adoptive one. She didn’t need parenting; she needed information. Chalker remained in regular—though not intimate—contact with her birth mother. “I then understood that if adopted kids had that information early on, that would eliminate a lot of heartache for them—and for birth parents,” she says.
Chalker founded Adoptions From the Heart in 1985 around the guiding principles of what has become known as open adoption, in which birth parents can choose the adoptive parents. Medical information is shared, and contact can be maintained by both sets of parents.
Unlike some agencies out there, the Philadelphia-based National Adoption Center also believes in open adoption—that people of all marital statuses, sexual orientations, races and genders should be allowed to adopt if they meet certain guidelines. This wasn’t always common practice, and certainly not in the 1970s. “For an unmarried African-American woman to adopt was groundbreaking,” says Gloria Hochman, NAC’s communications director. “Joyce was a trailblazer.”
Hochman is speaking of Ardmore’s Joyce Mosley. In 1972, the 26-year-old human resources executive read the NAC’s “Friday’s Child” newspaper column and saw a face that would change her life. “He had these big, sad eyes,” says Mosley. “He grabbed my heart.”
After she went through the required clearances, Mosley met 2-year-old Kevin on a supervised play date. He’d been in foster care since he was three days old. “He was happy and friendly, and he looked healthy,” Mosley recalls.
Within a few weeks, Kevin came to live with her. “When he first came to my house, he didn’t want to be alone,” she says. “I took a month off of work to be with him, and when I went back, I took him to daycare. He would ask, ‘Are you coming back?’ I told him I would. Then he would tell the daycare people, ‘My mommy is coming back for me. She is. She really, really is.’”
She did—every time. Kevin is now 42 years old and the father of three sons. He had questions about his own birth parents. But because his adoption had been closed, Mosley had very little information to give him. Together, they found his birth family. Like Chalker, he stays in touch, but it hasn’t altered his life.
Three-year-old Claire will have a different experience than Chalker and Mosley. Her fathers know who her birth mother is, and she knows that Claire is happy, healthy and safe. As per Adoptions From the Heart’s guidelines, Christopher and Bob wrote letters and took pictures that document the first six months of Clare’s life. They were given to Adoptions From the Heart for Claire’s birth mother to retrieve if and when she’s ready.
The agency acts as a communications liaison, although contact can be direct if both parties desire it. They can even meet at Adoptions From the Heart’s annual picnic. More than 1,500 people attended the June event. Many birth and adoptive families also use Facebook and email to keep in touch. “Some people think that it might be too painful,” says agency spokesperson Kristy Hartley-Galbraith. “But over time, they change their minds.”
Bob and Christopher hope to one day meet Claire’s mother and introduce their daughter. “She made us a family,” says Christopher. “And for that, we are forever grateful.”
A once-popular option on the decline in Pennsylvania.
Source: United States State Department