Black Market Babies (Glossary)
Black market babies is the term for children who are adopted illegally. There is usually a payment involved to either the birth parents, an adoption attorney, an adoption facilitator, an agency, or another intermediary, in order to avoid complying with the law. Those involved in the adoption of a black market baby may be subject to criminal prosecution. Most devastating, the child could be removed from the adoptive parents and placed with new adoptive parents. These adoptions continue today, though now they usually involve children from other countries.
In the early 1900s, private religious and secular groups established orphanages for the care of children, but were soon overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. Social changes and the absence of regulation meant that by the 1920s, the climate was fertile for the sale of black market babies to adoptive parents. Doctors, attorneys and others let it be known that babies were available, no questions asked - until the adoptees grew up and started wondering where they came from.
Cole babies, Hicks babies, Bessie babies, Dr. Mary babies, Butterbox babies, and Springer babies - these are just a few of the known groups of black market babies. Many were born to poor or single mothers who were put to sleep for the delivery, only to wake and be told their baby had died. Others, faced with the stigma of unwed motherhood, knowingly relinquished their children.
Even when babies were given up with the mother's consent, steps were taken that have made it difficult for adoptees to learn the truth. Doctors often delivered babies in their offices, making it easy to falsify records. Sometimes adoptive parents were listed as birth parents, eliminating the need for adoption and making it impossible to trace the sale of these black market babies. Details as to date and place of birth were sometimes changed on the birth certificates. Birth mother consent forms were often falsified. Or birth mothers would check into hospitals under the adoptive mother's name, so all records would show the adoptive mother having birthed the child. The various ways these adoptions were hidden continues to frustrate adoptees or birth mothers who continue to search for each other.