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Blessed be the ties that really bind


IN THE past, I have shared with readers of this column new of my family -- including our joyful adoption of Jonathan (now almost 20 months old). The letters I've received in response, from adoptive parents and adoptees, as well as parents of the more usual variety, have been so warm and moving, so amusing and life-affirming, that I am impelled to share our latest news flash (and apologize for letters I have not answered).

I am pregnant and expecting our second child in September. Those are words I never thought I'd write. But there it is. Blood tests, ultrasounds, an expanding abdomen and (lately) fetal movement all confirm the incredible news.

Throughout the first trimester, my overwhelming emotion was one of disbelief. But now, 5 1/2 months on, with my belly starting to enter rooms several seconds before the rest of me, it's beginning to seem real.

Being pregnant after years of infertility is a wondrous experience. But, as an adoptive mother, I am also eager to make certain distinctions. Some well-meaning folks have attempted to share my happiness by saying how wonderful it is that, at last, I will have a child of "my own." Those are jarring words. When Jonathan comes bounding into a room and grabs his mother around the knees -- there is no power on Earth that can tell me he is any less "my own" than his younger brother or sister now in utero.

Other well-wishers have noted that my impending biological motherhood will confirm what other "mixed" families already know -- that there is no difference between one's feelings for a biological and an adopted child. But adoptive parents already know that. Had I never become pregnant, I would still have known as well as anyone can that there simply isn't room in our hearts to love a child more than we love Jonathan. What makes a parent is not sperm, or ovum, or pregnancy -- but the bond that develops once the child is in your arms.

If I had not become pregnant, we would certainly have adopted again. We still may. But adoption is becoming scary these days. There is the case of the DeBoers in Michigan, who took placement of an infant girl -- loved and nurtured her through her first two years -- and are now facing the prospect of perhaps having to relinquish her to the child's biological parents. Similar cases abound. In fact, a new survey by the General Accounting Office of parents who seek international adoptions found that 10 percent cited worry about birth parents surfacing later as the reason they hesitated to adopt here.

The weight given to biology, even when the clear interests of the child point elsewhere, is a blind spot in American law and culture. As Mary Beth Seader of the National Council for Adoption noted, "Whenever you hear about a live infant being found in the dead of winter, wrapped in newspaper, in a trash can, what's the first thing they say? 'Authorities are looking for the mother.'"

Why? Clearly, any woman capable of leaving her child for dead is not fit to parent. The mother's circumstances may be heart breaking. But that's not the point. That child should be placed in foster care and, as soon as possible, into a would-be adoptive home.

I know of a woman in suburban Virginia who has served as a foster mother to a crack baby for the past year and a half. The biological mother had borne two crack-addicted children. One is so sick with cerebral palsy and other problems that he is hospitalized -- permanently. The younger child was thriving in foster care. But now his mother wants him back. Her home life is chaotic. Her distance from drugs dubious. But the social workers involved feel it would be good for her to have the baby back. And though she has committed child abuse since before this baby's birth, she will get custody. Her chromosomes are correct.

Being pregnant is a thrill and a joy. But it ought not to confer "rights." At this moment, we are the "real parents" only to Jonathan. In time, God willing, we will earn that title for both of our children.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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