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Adopting an open attitude

Veronica Whitney
...... and Caroline Bradford with their daughter Nellie. the Bradfords keep in close contact with Nellie's biological mother.
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“We rushed down to Denver and we were there when Nellie was born,” says Bradford, who with her husband, Jim, adopted a 1-and-a-half-year old girl in 2001.

“Everybody in the hospital wanted to do the right thing, but nobody knew what that was,” she says.

Bradford’s eyes fill with tears when she remembers something that happened soon after Jessica, Nellie’s 22-year-old biological mother, gave birth.

“The doctor asked Jessica what was she going to name the baby. Jessica said: “Her parents will name her when they see her,'” Bradford says.

The Bradfords named the baby Cornelia Neve; her mom and dad now call her “Nellie.”

The right agency

When Jessica and Nellie’s father, Ryan, found out Jessica was pregnant, they hadn’t been dating long.

“I wasn’t ready for children,” she says. “I was way too young and we were not financially stable enough to raise a baby. So we explored our options, and open adoption seemed to be the best, most reasonable thing to do.”

The Bradfords, who live in Red Cliff, decided to adopt after Caroline unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant for three years.

“We tried all noninvasive methods and nothing worked,” says Caroline Bradford, 42.

“One day we went to Denver, and after a visit to my doctor I went straight to the bookstore and bought several books on adoption.

“That last appointment with the doctor was to give me permission to stop trying to get pregnant,” she says. “The idea of adopting wasn’t too hard because Jim and I have always talked about adopting a child even if we had our own biological one.”

Once they’ve made the decision to adopt, the Bradfords started looking for the right agency, finally deciding for Designated Adoption in Lakewood.

“We wanted an agency that did more counseling,” she says. “This agency provides a minimum of 30 hours of counseling with the birth parents, instead of just six, as many do.”

It cost the Bradfords $8,400 to adopt Nellie.

“Basically, you’re paying for the counseling services to the birth parents,” Caroline Bradford says.

Open vs. confidential

One of nearly two dozen licensed adoption agencies in Colorado, Designated Adoption deals with about 35 adoptions a year, says Judy O’Connor, co-director. The agency has also worked with gay and lesbian adoptive parents, who can adopt as a single person.

“There’s always more families hoping to adopt than young children to be adopted,” O’Connor says. “But there are more 6 year olds and older than there are families for them.”

The Bradfords chose to do an open adoption instead of a confidential one. An open adoption involves direct or indirect contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. When the Bradfords met Jessica and Ryan at the Village Inn Pancake House in Denver, they trusted them right away, they say.

“When we looked at the profile for Jim and Caroline, we knew instantly that they would be the perfect choice for us,” Jessica says. “There was no doubt whatsoever about that. We knew that we could trust them and that we would always keep in touch.”

Open adoption, O’Connor says, is preferable.

“We believe it’s healthier for the child to know who their birth parents are,” she says. “Also, it gives biological parents a peace of mind to know how their child is doing.”

Keeping in touch

Today, like she did last year to celebrate Mother’s Day, Caroline Bradford will take Nellie to Denver to have breakfast with Jessica.

Since the adoption, Jessica has seen Nellie about half a dozen times – last fall, she and Ryan came to Red Cliff to visit the Bradfords.

“They wanted to see where Nellie was growing up. One day, Jessica and Ryan will be great parents,” Caroline Bradford says. “My goal is to have Nellie be able to know the situation of her birth and know her parents.”

Although he was hesitant at the beginning, Jim Bradford, 40, says if he had to do it all over again he would do it the same way.

“I was skeptical of open adoptions at the beginning,” he says. “I was concerned with the scenario of the mother coming back. But this way, parents know how she is doing and this helps the birth parents.”

For his wife, the adoption was much easier than what she expected. She contacted the agency on May 15, 2001, and in November of that year, she had Nellie.

“I’m so grateful to Jessica because she chose us to be the parents,” she says.

Nellie’s birth parents never hesitate about the adoption, which was finalized six months after she was born.

“Adoption is about loss for everybody’

O’Connor says, however, that other adoptive parents have different experiences.

“About three mothers out of 15 will change their minds while they are still in the hospital,” she says. “And 5 percent might ask to get the child back after the first week. For those families, adoption has been a hard experience.

“That’s why the agency provides the counseling. To advise the birth parents of all their rights and to make sure they can make the right decision and have considered other options – something less permanent,” O’Connor says.

An important part of the adoption process, Caroline Bradford says, is to recognize the loss it entails.

“Adoption is about loss for everybody,” she says. “I lost out on the ability of having a child; Nellie lost on growing up with her biological parents; and Jessica lost the opportunity to raise her child.

“There’s always a little bit of the loss,” she adds. “It’s a coin with two sides.”

Although the adoption process has been very hard on Jessica and Ryan, Jessica says she feels they made the right decision.

“We chose adoption, which means we chose the best possible life we could for Nellie,” she says. “That was our responsibility to her as her parents. She is and always will be our daughter. Now, instead of having one set of loving parents, she, in a sense, has two sets that both love her more than anything. One set was just better prepared to have her, and they are a godsend to Ryan and I. What more could a little girl ask for?”

A couple’s commitment

By Veronica Whitney

This will be a quieter Mother’s Day for Pam Panelsner, with only two of the 12 children she has raised visiting her at home in Beaver Creek.

Although Pam and her husband, Ernie, have four biological children, they adopted another, as well as raised seven foster children.

Pam, 60, and Ernie, 62, used to volunteer at an orphanage in Chicago, taking foster children to their home on weekends. That’s when they met what is now part of their family.

“The foster children weren’t available for adoption at the time, but they stayed with the family for periods of 6 to 40 years,” Pam Panelsner says.

“They blended very nicely with our biological children. Our children were younger, so they took it as a matter of fact.”

Most of the foster children the Panelsners took home were first- or second-graders.

“We enjoyed sharing with them,” she says. “When you volunteer, you get close to some children, and when they were available for adoption we did it.”

Although all her children are grown up now and don’t live in the Vail Valley, Pam Panelsner says she often visits them and her seven grandchildren in Chicago.

“I would do it again without hesitation,” she says. “The feelings can be very strong; it’s very easy to bond with children that live with you. For me, they are all the same.”

Books for adoptive parents:

– “Dear Birth Mother,” by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin.

– “Adoption … a Handful of Hope,” by Suzanne Arms.

– “To Love and Let Go,” by Suzanne Arms.

– “Successful Adoption,” by Jacquelin Hornor Plumez.

– “Our Baby,” by Janice Koch.

– “Adoption Awareness,” by Jeanne Lindsey.

– “Adoption Without Fear and the Spirit of Open Adoption,” by Jim Gritter.

– “Making Sense of Adoption,” by Lois Melina.

Other resources:

– Designated Adoption, 303-232-0234

– Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services, 303-866-4207.

On the Web:

– Openadoption.net

– Adoption.com

The adoption process

Adoption is essentially identical in every state: A person or couple seeking to adopt must file an adoption petition with the appropriate court.

The court reviews the evidence, which includes a home-study of the person or couple and then determines whether to grant or deny the adoption. In deciding whether to grant a particular petition for adoption, the court considers what is in the “best interests” of the child.

There are two forms of traditional adoption: private-placement; and through an agency. Private-placement refers to adoption without the involvement of a state agent, which can occur through a private adoption agency, adoption of foreign children or adoption of a relative or friend’s child.

Agency adoption involves the adoption of a foster child who is in the care of the state and is placed for adoption through a foster care agency. Generally the foster parents seek to adopt the child after the child has been living with them for a prescribed period of time.

All states permit unmarried individuals to adopt through both private-placement and agency adoption. However, states vary with regard to whether gay men and lesbians can adopt. Colorado is among the states that would likely permit gay and lesbian adoptions.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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