BLUE EARTH - Adoption is a personal decision - on both ends.
Marlys Ubben wanted to help birth parents and adoptive parents and do it from a Christian perspective.
"There is not an unwanted child," she said.
HELPING?PUT?FAMILIES?TOGETHER — Marlys Ubben, left, and Kari Werth help birth parents and adoptive parents at New Horizons Adoption Agency in Blue Earth.
That's why Ubben began New Horizons Adoption Agency 30 years ago and is the executive director. The first office was in Iowa, but the second quickly followed in Blue Earth. A third office is in South Dakota.
Ubben's professional perspective as a social worker in the Twin Cities let her see how difficult it was for rural people to go through the stressful process, exacerbated by lots of traveling. On the personal side, Ubben and her husband are adoptive parents.
"Ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted to adopt and that would be a part of my life," Ubben said. "God has led me in our adoptions and the formation of New Horizons."
She designed New Horizons to meet the needs of birth parents and adoptive parents, but especially to do what's best for the babies.
"The benefits center on the child," Ubben said, "to provide love and security the child needs, whether medical or emotional resources, to assist them in this journey of life.
"If you do not have a strong foundation in the beginning of life, you'll have a much more difficult time. Without those foundations, a child will have more problems in coping," she added.
Birth parents come from all walks of life, and New Horizons offers free counseling from professional social workers, like Kari Werth. That includes the reality of raising the child or placing the baby for adoption.
"Through counseling, we focus on which option is best for the child and birth parent," Ubben said.
Ubben estimates about 75 percent of their birth parents place their babies and 25 percent choose to parent their child.
"The only way a birth parent can walk out of that hospital without her baby is because she cares more about her baby's future than anything else," Ubben said. "A woman who places her child with adoption is giving the sacrificial gift. It doesn't mean she won't be a good parent. They want more than that; they want a mother and a father."
Birth parents have quite a bit of say in how their baby is placed. They decide, along with the adoptive parents, how much contact they will have in the future. They can even decide that their child will go to parents who are unable to have children.
"Neat relationships come out of that," Werth said. "Adoptive parents look at that as a gift from God; the birth parent gave them a child and a family."
The birth of the baby is not the end. New Horizons stays in contact with birth parents and adoptive parents.
For birth parents, they can continue with counseling and choose to attend an annual retreat to meet other birth parents. They can also decide to cease contact with New Horizons.
Adoptive parents are required by law to have home checks by the social workers, and send photos and updates until a child is 18.
That information stays on file and the birth parent can come back for it any time, even years after the child turns 18. New Horizons can facilitate reunifications, if both parties agree.
Adoptive parents undergo financial and psychological tests before a baby is placed with them. They have to provide their last tax return, a letter from an employer, and references. If the couple has a lot of credit card debt, Ubben counsels them to pay it down before they adopt.
"We want parents who are ready to be parents," Ubben said.
Social workers warn about all the challenges of parenting, including serious physical or emotional problems the child could have, especially in international adoptions. They also help adoptive parents talk to any children already in the family about the impending arrival of a new sibling.
Since New Horizons is a Christian agency, Ubben wants families active in their faith.
"I think that makes for a stronger family unit," she said.
The national statistics put the divorce rate around 50 percent. Ubben said "Just a handful" of New Horizons' adoptive families divorce.
Ubben knows full well adoption has changed drastically over the years.
"Many families want an infant," she acknowledges, but there aren't as many infants available because more women opt to keep their babies and be single parents.
Many children are waiting to be adopted, Ubben said.
Adoptive families are encouraged to consider older children or sibling groups.
"We've placed sibling groups, both domestic and international," Ubben said.
Werth will soon travel overseas to visit orphanages New Horizons works with.
"We work with five countries," Ubben said.
New Horizons also works with other agencies in a lot of other countries to facilitate adoptions. New Horizons is a member of the National Christian Adoption Fellowship and Ubben is a founder and board member of the entity. It just completed accreditation for the international Hague Treaty, which is required to handle international adoptions.
Even those who do not want to adopt can support adoption, said Ubben, pointing out there are all kinds of programs for singles who choose to raise their babies, but few for women who choose adoption.
"People who believe in adoption can financially assist a family to adopt and provide for a birth parent fund," Ubben said.
"If we are really pro-life, then we need to make it possible for our birth parents to make that loving choice," she said.