The Expensive Birthmother

In early April, 2003, my mom leaves a message in a flurry of excitement.  Something about a birthmother, but she is speaking so fast I can hardly understand.  I call her, tell her to back up and explain. 

Mom is on the board of WEDU, the public television station in Tampa.  There is a WEDU board member, Dr. Bruce Shephard, who may be able to help us.  Dr. Shephard is an obstretrician in Tampa, and he takes care of many pregnant women referred to him by a local adoption agency. 

The agency, Adoption By Choice (ABC), currently is working with a birthmother who has not yet found adoptive parents for her baby.  Dr. Shephard is providing prenatal care to this birthmother, and he gave my mom the phone number for ABC Agency.

"Carrie, here's the number.  Call the agency and ask for Angela."  Mom is giddy, thinking that she may have found us a baby to adopt.  I, too, am intrigued, but a bit more wary. 
After all, we just signed up to work with Center for Family, and we have paid their fees.  Mom does not realize that if we decide to work with an additional agency, we will be paying duplicate fees.  Still, it is worth exploring. 

I call Angela, who is welcoming and sweet, very willing to work with Andrew and me.  We speak about the birthmother. 

Angela tells me, "Her name is Candi.  She is having trouble getting on her feet.  She has five kids, beautiful kids, that she is raising, and she has placed two more for adoption.  Now she is pregnant again, and she knows that she cannot keep the baby.  It is just too much.  We do have a lot of waiting adoptive parents, but we are willing to give you the first chance to match up with Candi, because we have a very close relationship with Dr. Shephard, and he asked us to talk with you." 

Angela is effusive in her praise of Dr. Shephard, a goodhearted doctor who has worked with many of ABC's birthmothers. 

Angela takes my email address and promises to email me an application for ABC.  "But, Carrie, there is one thing.  Candi's expenses are very high.  Is the financial aspect of adoption an issue for you?" 

"No," I tell her, because Andrew and I have built birthmother costs into our adoption budget.  But I ask, "How high?" 

"Well, really high.  She has five kids and her living expenses are really high, and the adoptive parents will need to pay her expenses."

"Can you give me a ballpark figure?"

"Around $20,000."

Whoa.  That is really high.  I tell her I'll have to check it out.  Still, I ask her to email the application. 
Incidentally, Andrew and I will be flying down to Tampa in a few days
to spend a week with my parents.  We could meet Candi then, and see how
it goes. 

Several hours later, Angela emails me the application.  I do
a little research on the web about ABC Agency.  They have a flat fee of
$18,000. 

Andrew and I look into birthmother living expenses, trying to
get a sense for what is reasonable.  I consult Colleen
Alexander-Roberts' book The Legal Adoption Guide; Safely Navigating the
System
, and carefully review the section on birthparent expenses.  The
following guidelines are given :

Sample Fees and Expenses

Low Range of Fees and Expenses:
Legal Fees: Both birth parents give their consent to the adoption, live
in the local area so little travel is involved, and attorney spends
twelve hours to complete the adoption.  $1,500-2,000

Financial Assistance for Birthmother: Birthmother is employed and
self-supporting, needs limited, or no financial assistance. $100-200

Medical Expenses: Birthmother has medical insurance or has
state-subsidized medical coverage, adoptive parents pay nursery bill.
$500-1,500

Total of estimated costs for low range of fees: $2,100-3700

Middle Range of Fees and Expenses:
Legal Fees: Birthmother signs consent-to-adoption but birthfather
cannot be located or will not sign documents; some travel within state;
attorney works as the intermediary billed at twenty hours.  $2,400-3,000

Financial Assistance for Birthmother: Birthmother needs some assistance
with rent, clothing, etc, for, say, three months at $600 or $800 a
month. $1,800-2,400

Medical Expenses: Birthmother has some medical coverage. $2,500-5,000

Total of estimated costs for middle range of fees: $7100-10,400

Upper Range of Fees and Expenses:
Legal Fees: Attorney provides much assistance to birthmother, problems
develop with the birthfather, attorney has some travel expenses, etc.;
for thirty-five hours.  $4,100-5,200

Financial Assistance for Birthmother: Birthmother has no financial
support, needs expenses covered for three months at $1,000-1,500 per
month. $3,000-4,500

Medical Expenses: Birthmother has no medical coverage. $7,000-8,000

Total of estimated costs for upper range of fees: $14,100-17,700

Based on the above guidelines, living expenses of $20,000 for Candi are
hard to justify, especially since the adoption is not expected to be
contested by the birthfather. 

It just does not feel kosher to me, almost as if we would be buying a
baby.  Can't do it.  Everything we see indicates that $20,000 for Candi
is simply not reasonable or acceptable, especially on top of the
$18,000 agency fee for ABC. 

Andrew and I are somewhat desperate to become parents, but not that
desperate.  I call Angela at ABC, who has been very helpful and
up-front about Candi's expenses, and I tell her that we will take a
pass. 

I was thinking about the fact that this young birthmother has
already placed two kids for adoption and is now pregnant again.  Is she
supporting her lifestyle with her five other kids by continually
getting pregnant and adopting out the babies?  It just doesn't feel
right to me to become part of her life.  As hard as it is to walk away from the prospect of a healthy baby, we keep waiting.

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