I don’t like extreme points of view.
I don’t like self-published books.
And, as a writing snob, I don’t like sentences that cause me to think, “Where was the editor?”
Despite all of these things, I do like Mirah Riben’s new book, The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry.
That’s because I view it as a piece of dedicated, tenacious reporting, collecting many disparate facts into one unified whole. By recounting the many ways that the big business of adoption has harmed those it has purported to help, The Stork Market exposes a side of the institution that many would like to ignore. Fortunately, it’s a story that is starting to be told with increasing regularity, whether it’s by people like birth mother Riben, or by adoptive moms like Barbara Bisantz Raymond, author of The Baby Thief, whose wonderful exposé I’ll be reviewing very soon.
The book is divided into subjects such as the history of adoption reform, prevalent myths in adoption, the business of adoption, international adoption, ways to avoid being victimized (for both expecting and hopeful adoptive parents), open adoption, and fathers’ rights, before moving on to solutions for preserving parenthood and alternatives to adoption.
Yes, the structure jumps around more than it should, and yes, Riben’s ultimate conclusion (that guardianship should replace all adoption) is not something I can really get behind. But in the end, I’m still giving it a positive review, because readers of The Stork Market will find some important facts, stories and statistics within these pages–nuggets that few others have had the boldness and insight to gather into one complete picture.
Along the way, there are some interesting perspectives and telling moments, and it’s the voices of triad members that stand out the most. For instance, Riben quotes an adoptive parent named Alyce Jenkins, who speaks of how she felt when she met some actual birthparents through her membership in a group called Adoptive Parents for Open Records:
“My husband tells time and again how moved he was by the birthmothers’ tears as they told about their losses, totally a surprise to us who thought we’d done a good favor for them by relieving them of their unwanted children. We had much to learn…”
Or this one, from adoptive father Adam Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, who speaks out about the unethical practice of relocating expectant mothers in order to obtain their children: these practices “turn real, live flesh-and-blood women into baby-making machines who are supposed to give us their products and go away. Well, that’s not acceptable on a human level…and not acceptable on a practical level.”
And here’s a powerful quote from Amy Silverberg of Adoptive Families of America, which sums up the book’s biggest point: “Money drives almost everything in adoption.” This doesn’t just mean the money made by agencies, layers, facilitators and advertisers, but also the issue of money as a force for breaking up families. (I’m particularly interested in this idea of adoption as class privilege, taking children from those who have less money and giving them to those with more.) Both domestically and internationally, it is true that children tend to move from poorer to richer areas: from South to North and from East to West.
As Deborah Spar of the Harvard School of Business writes,
“It is the poor states that produce the children and the rich that consume them. In the process, poor parents are left behind, serving only as the initial fabricators of other people’s children.”
Of course, with those words Spar is getting into dangerous territory, since inflammatory language can divide more than help. That’s why I’m glad to report that in The Stork Market, Riben, whose past writings have often had an inflammatory tone of their own, here presents a sober and measured offering. Anyone who recognizes that there are problems with contemporary adoption practice would do well to read this book, regardless of whether you ultimately agree with its conclusions on how to fix what’s broken.
Even when presented with reams of evidence, some people still refuse to believe anything at all could be wrong with a well-meaning system such as adoption. I don’t know if Riben can change their minds or not. But for all those who believe that things are different today, Riben has this to say: “It is true that the reasons mothers are pressured to surrender change with the times, but the pressure and coercion still exist, and in many ways have been exacerbated by the privatization and commercialization of adoption.”
And that’s a point I can agree with.