Along with corn, soybeans and pork, Iowa is exporting infants--to affluent couples from the coasts seeking "country-fresh" babies from the heartland, adoption officials say.
"People in California and New York think of Iowa as a field of babies waiting to be reaped," said Nancy Lee Ziese, adoption supervisor for Hillcrest Family Services, a private agency in Cedar Rapids. "They think no one here does drugs--we're all the farmer's daughter."
Scores of advertisements seeking a "healthy, white infant" appear in the personal columns of Iowa newspapers every week. Adoption officials in the state say the ads, used to arrange direct contacts between wealthy couples and natural mothers, deprive less well-heeled Iowans of adoption opportunities.
The ads, directed at mothers, promise to "ease your heartache . . . through this difficult time" and offer a life "with much love, warmth," and "laughter and a lifetime of opportunities."
They tender "a happily married couple," "stable values" and a "secure home" with a "large yard."
The ads allow would-be parents to bypass stringent adoption regulations and increase their odds of success. According to the National Committee for Adoption, in a given year 2 million applicants are seeking 25,000 available infants.
Marg Corkery, adoption program manager for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said her agency tells out-of-state couples: "We have people waiting in line right here in Iowa."
But the agency has no control over independent adoptions arranged through advertisements. State figures show that up to 500 children have been adopted in the last six years by parents completing the legal work out of state.
Andrea Charlow, a professor who teaches family law at Drake University in Des Moines, thinks prospective parents see Iowa as a source of "country-fresh farm girls and farm babies."
People are turning to Iowa because of their desire for white babies, she said. Because 97.5% of Iowa residents are white, "the chances are if someone answers your ad, it would be a white person," Charlow said.
"I think that's terrible. A baby is not a commodity for sale," Corkery said.
Mary Beth Seader of the National Committee for Adoption agreed: "Advertising makes children a commodity. It devalues them."
Seader said couples can find "how-to" books on adoption, with suggestions on placing ads or searching high schools and shopping malls for young pregnant women.
"The Private Adoption Handbook" by Stanley B. Michelman and Meg Schneider tells prospective parents how to word advertisements and lists newspapers that accept adoption ads.
Newspapers in other states carry such ads. For example, 9 of the 11 entries in the personals section of the April 16 Omaha (Neb.) World Herald were adoption ads.
Michael Goldstein, a New York City lawyer who has handled adoptions of Iowa-born children for clients, said adoption by ad gives a pregnant woman control of who rears her child, allows her and the adoptive parents a chance to set the adoption terms and speeds the process.
His clients have waited an average of five to six months between placing an ad and bringing home a baby, said Goldstein, who is paid an average of $3,500.
Corkery said the average waiting time for couples at her agency is five to eight years, with no fee. Private agencies in Iowa cited average fees of $5,000, with waiting periods of two months to several years for healthy infants.
Goldstein, who has three adopted children, likes the flexibility of private one-on-one adoption.
"The birth parent can meet with the adoptive parent if they choose that. They're able to have an adoptive parent present at birth if they want to go that far," Goldstein said.
He said mothers also can be assured their children will not be placed in foster care while the adoption clears the courts. Private agencies said temporary foster arrangements can last several weeks to a year.
"Birth mothers have rejected the agencies," Goldstein said. "They don't give the mothers the options that birth mothers are looking for."