High-powered Los Angeles lawyer David Radis calms his biggest legal headaches with a baby rattle.

Last year, Radis, a 14-year veteran in practicing baby law, placed 106 babies from throughout the country - including four Utah infants - with his affluent clients. He is one of the 22 California lawyers who specialize in locating babies and arranging independent adoptions. "And all of us are pretty busy," he said."I really love what I do. I think this is one of the few areas of the law where everyone walks away a winner."

Burgeoning infertility rates, coupled with increasing abortions and rising numbers of young birth mothers who opt to keep their children, make adoptive babies scarce.

Utah adoption professionals say couples who want to adopt a healthy, white child can expect a two-year wait. "Babies are very rare," said Salt Lake attorney Steven Stewart. "I could place 25 babies tomorrow if I had the babies to place." In California, where Radis' practice is located, waiting on an agency can take as long as seven years.

Time is one reason why couples and single parents alike are turning to independent adoption and using more aggressive means to locate babies. Other potential parents - who may already have children, or be more than 40 years old - fall through the adoption agencies screening process and have no other options than through private sources.

Arranging adoptions can be a lucrative legal specialty. Of course, buying and selling babies is illegal in the United States, but legal fees (which include medical expenses for the birth mother) for private adoptions can range from $6,000 to $16,000.

Radis emphasizes that independent adoptions are legal, monitored by judges in the county where the birth mothers live.

"Lots of people believe that what we do is buy babies and that we broker babies, and that is not true," he said.

In California, adoption professionals have pioneered what is termed as identifiable or designated adoptions. In this late '80s brand of adoption, parents locate a birth mother on their own, then contract with an agency rather than waiting for an agency to find them an infant.

With contact already established between the birth parent and the adoptive family, the method lends itself to more open adoptions, where contact through letters, photographs, phone calls and even personal visits are maintained. In the past, Radis said, agencies were often used as a shield to hide the adoptive family from the birth mother.

Though these open adoptions are still new in Utah, several local agency officials say they are willing to try and make such arrangements.

Radis said birth mothers interested in adoption who contact him are required to submit proof of pregnancy. The match of baby to family can be as specific as the birth mother chooses. The lawyer usually finds three families that the birth mother can call from which to select her baby's family. Depending on her preference, the family can buy her a plane ticket to meet them and see their home. In addition to legal fees, the family also pays the mother's hospital expenses.

Radis advocates networking for his clients who are baby hunting for healthy, white infants. Some of his clients prepare detailed resumes listing why they would make wonderful parents, then send them out in blanket mailings to doctors throughout the country, especially in conservative, right-to-life areas, and around military installations where abortions aren't performed. Another common networking technique is the classifieds.

Utah is a prime target for the search.

Although a high percentage of young birth mothers - and even birth grandmothers - opt to keep their babies here, the state has a reputation for producing healthy, AIDS and drug-free babies. But Radis said Utah isn't a prime baby supplier, because of the high number of women who opt to raise their own children. "Utah is a nice state," Radis said. "It's a state that I like to work with. The people are open to independent placement. Do we get a lot of results out of Utah? No."

Local health care professionals say resumes touting the benefits of a potential family are common. Some include 8-by-10-inch glossy photographs, others home blueprints, but all such packets are cloaked in yearning.

"We have so many people in our practice that want babies," said Phyllis Jeffs, a nurse to a local obstetrician, "that we rarely keep them (the resumes). They usually go in the wastebasket."

Radis' networking methods also encourage placing classified ads in the 24 states, such as Utah, that allow them. About one dozen such ads, the majority with out-of-state phone numbers, appear in Salt Lake newspapers every weekend under a special "Adoptions" heading. Resumes and classified advertising can be successful baby-finding techniques, if properly done, Radis claims.

If the results are discouraging, the lawyer counsels his clients to continue the search. "You just keep doing it. I function as a coach to adoptive parents," Radis said.

Susie Gerard, one of Radis' clients, is a 42-year-old single therapist who lives in Southern California. She has been advertising for a baby in as many as 18 states since last August. Her ad is currently running in Utah papers, but she is still waiting for her first long-distance call from anyone in area code 801.

Through the ads, she was connected with a Jackson, Miss., couple who selected her as a potential adoptive mother. But unfortunately, that baby was born with a serious heart defect last October, and the adoption didn't go through.

But she hasn't given up yet in her search for a baby. "I have a lot of faith in the attorney I'm working with. He's placed a lot of babies."

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Adoption in Utah

In 1988, there were 1,175 adoptions of people born in Utah, with a majority of those to step parents.

In June 1988, an average statistical month, there were 11 adoptions in Utah, with 23 involving babies born outside the country, 39 to new parents, and 49 to step-parents.

About 5.5 percent of Utah's adoptions are handled through private agencies, while 36 percent are independent adoptions and 9 percent through public agencies.

In an average year, 300 children born in foreign countries are adopted by Utah families.

SOURCE: John Brockert, director of state Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics.