May 24th, 2007
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Categories: Books, Reviews

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.

9 Responses to “Book review: The Stork Market”

  1. AdopTalk says:

    “Riben’s ultimate conclusion (that guardianship should replace all adoption) is not something I can really get behind.”

    Actually, the book ends with these words:

    “We can and must cultivate an alternative ethos of adoption practice. …Adoption has degenerated into a deceitful and corrupt failed social experiment that benefits only the bottom line. The profit motive and corruption in adoption cannot be mended; it must be ended.”

    Replacement with guardianship, is offered as ONE possible solution. The point is clearly made that whatever it is called – the process needs to be open, honest, ethical and free of profiteering which creates coercion and exploitation of mothers as well as commodification of their children to supply a demand for infants.

  2. Deb Donatti says:

    “Riben’s ultimate conclusion (that guardianship should replace all adoption) is not something I can really get behind.”
    Can you clarify?
    Is this because you feel adoption is still, in some situations, acceptable? Or is this because you are thinking no form of a child leaving a family of origin is acceptable?

  3. Riben ‘sober and measured’ rather than inflammatory. That’s got to be an improvement.

    Good review, Heather.

  4. Heather Lowe says:

    Deb, it’s because I have no problem with adoption when it’s done right. As long as it’s done for the right reasons, doesn’t take advantage of anyone involved, and helps all three parties rather than hurting them, adoption is good.

    Guardanship, to me, is too limited for those kids who need permanency. It may be a good solution in some situations, but it doesn’t work across the board. That’s where I see Riben as more extreme than I am.

    I think I see where she’s coming from – why issue an untrue birth certificate that says the adoptive parents gave birth to the child, why change a child’s identity, why not just have the adoptive parents be guardians – but I think that might leave the child feeling in limbo.

  5. merrill1277 says:

    I’ve read The Stork Market. Guardianship was discussed, but I didn’t see a conclusion that it replace all adoption. At the end of the book Riben lists “six principles around which adoption experts and existing adoption reform organizations might coalesce efforts” none of which excluded adoption.

  6. Deb Donatti says:

    Heather, Thanks for the clarification!

  7. AdopTalk says:

    “Is this because you feel adoption is still, in some situations, acceptable? Or is this because you are thinking no form of a child leaving a family of origin is acceptable?”

    A child leaving his extended kinship group should be a last resort, and then it should be done with contact to the safest degree possible.

    “Guardanship, to me, is too limited for those kids who need permanency.”

    This is an indication of lack of understanding that my book uses the term “Permanent Legal Guardianship.” I in no way am calling for children to remain in foster care where they can float from family to family, any more than I am advocating for them to be institutionalized. That is a mis-read of the facts as presented, based IMO on a knee-jerk reaction and preconceived notions about the word guardianship.

    In several other parts of the book I advocate the adoption of children who are in foster care and cannot be reunified with their families of origins. Why would I denounce foster care in one place and advocate it another under a different name? My entire thesis is based on the best interest of children.

    “…I think that might leave the child feeling in limbo.”

    A child in a safe, secure, loving, caring family does not feel “in limbo” because of legal status or because his/her name is different from those raising him. Conversely, children who grow up with the lies of adoption feel confused, rejected and abandoned.

    People always have been – and still are – raised by extended family knowing full well who their parents are, as in fully open adoption today. Today more than half of all school students have different surnames than their families. There is no stigma.

    Open adoption predicted on a false and sealed birth certificate does not provide for the rights of a child in the many instances when the adoption fails to remain open.

    I urge readers here to read in particular the post of May 26, “Sweeping Change” for a historic look at the concept of permanent legal guardianship, also called “adoption guardianship” that was presented by social workers to replace sealed adoption in 1991.

    These are not new, “inflammatory” or radical positions.

    Mirah Riben

  8. AdopTalk says:

    It is sad that books outside the mainstream pro-adoption or how-to-adopt approach are difficult to get published as witnessed by Dr. David Kirschner’s recently self-published “Adoption: Uncharted Waters” and Barbara Rayomond’s “The baby Thief.” A few people with contacts like Carol Schaefer and Ann Fesller are the exceptions to the rule.

    If we are to have the voices of the exploited heard, we need to support one another in these efforts.

    I am grateful to Heather and the Crisis Pregnancy Blog for giving em that opportunity.


  9. Chromesthesia says:

    “Conversely, children who grow up with the lies of adoption feel confused, rejected and abandoned.”
    I’m not sure. This is true in a lot of cases, but suppose adoptive parents are honest with their children from the v ery beginning about the child’s origins?
    Not in a sappy sort of way either.
    I think you might place too much store on biology, and it bothers me as much as a person stating that adoption is superior in every way to a child beign raised by their biological parents.
    Changes are needed, like I see no reason why adoption records should not be totally open.
    But I don’t think things are completely simple…

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