Parallel Lives, pg 3

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Yet U.S. women have virtually stopped placing babies for adoption. The relinquishment rate has fallen steadily and dramatically. The National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), the only reliable way to track the decline, shows fewer than nine percent of all women relinquishing in 1973, then four percent in 1981. The most recent NSFG, in 1995, found only about one percent of single women relinquished babies. The decrease has occurred almost entirely among whites. African Americans, who have tended to rely on extended families rather than turning to the formal adoption system, have always had extremely low relinquishment rates and still do.

Early on, researchers hypothesized that the reason was Roe v. Wade. But the number of teen pregnancies ending in abortion is also falling. Pregnant young women are not having more abortions-they're becoming parents. And of all the reasons they're keeping their children, possibly the most significant is that they can.

The stigma that once shadowed out-of-wedlock pregnancy and single parenthood at young ages has largely evaporated. In high schools, counselors say, what's frowned on these days isn't pregnancy; it's adoption. Once described as an unmarried mother's most selfless, loving act, it's acquired a stigma of its own among young women-if they consider it at all. Frequently they don't. "They say, 'I would never give my baby away. I'm not that bad,'" says Margery Brubaker, a pregnancy center administrator. A common refrain: "What mother could 'give away' her baby?"

But teens merely express a heightened version of the ambivalence with which America views adoption. Americans say they have a favorable opinion of adoption, according to a national survey conducted for Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in 1997-but half believe it's not as good as having one's own child. Forty percent think it's best for a single, pregnant teenager to raise her baby herself.

Perhaps it's not surprising that adoption triggers doubts and questions, emotions, even denunciations. It raises very touchy issues: What does it mean to be a parent? What's a family? Can nurture trump nature? Is blood really thicker?

Nicole Bussard and Heather Staley have been friends since seventh grade. They were both cheerleaders at middle school basketball games. They spent long summer days lazing around the pond near Heather's house in their bikinis, working on their tans. In tenth grade, Heather moved away but she ran into Nicole at the fireworks last July 4. Nicole was pregnant, she confided, though she'd yet to tell her parents. "I was, like, oh my gosh, what're you going to do?" Heather recalls. By the end of the month, Heather was pregnant herself.

Now, juniors at separate Frederick County high schools, they're on the phone all the time, comparing notes. Heather came to Nicole's baby shower, toting a bath set and bottle-warmer. Nicole came to Heather's shower, too. There was a huge cake that read "Diapers and Pins-a New Life Begins."

It's been a fluttery few months. Heather's and Nicole's friends all seemed happy and excited for them; people she didn't even know came up and wanted to rub Heather's belly. In fact, passing around sonogram pictures in the cafeteria or the classroom, to a chorus of awww's, has become a school ritual for pregnant girls. Nicole carries a videotape of her sonogram around in her purse, and Heather is ticked that she didn't get one.

Earlier in the process, Nicole felt more anxious about it all. But along with the baby shower, the attention and the cooing from friends, she received help from a whole network of agencies. A program in the Frederick County schools assigned a counselor to meet with Nicole weekly to listen, advise her of her legal rights, refer her to social service programs. It sent a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving and gifts at Christmas. In February, when she no longer felt able to go through a day's classes, she had a home tutor; after she gives birth, her counselor will help her locate (though not pay for) child care so she can finish school.

Now, just a week from her due date, Nicole figures she can handle it. She's been responsible about keeping every prenatal appointment, and she finally stopped smoking. She wants to move back into her dad's more stable home in New Market, where she has her own bedroom. She's optimistic but not delusional: You won't hear her fantasizing about marrying Ralph, for instance. But Nicole knows something about babies-she feels like she half-raised her little sister, and she says that at the end of a bad day, a hug from tiny Kaitlin always helped her smile.

Credits: Adoptive Families Magazine

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