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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Nathan Ward holds his adopted son Miles at the national Families Supporting Adoption conference in the Davis Conference Center in Layton Friday, Aug. 12, 2011.

BOUNTIFUL — After a long night of tossing and turning, Sherri Barker got herself up and started to get ready for work. She had been up for most of the night, contemplating her options — yet again — wondering if the decision she had come to was the right one.

"I was just praying and praying, trying to understand and grasp how this could be asked of me to do," she said. "I had received confirmation over and over again, but I can't imagine going through anything harder in this world. "

At the time she found out she was pregnant, her marriage was crumbling, and she had a young son from a previous relationship. She knew she could keep the baby, and people questioned the idea she wouldn't, but she also knew what it was like to be a single parent. It was during her commute to work that a song gave her courage and solidified her thinking.

"I just decided at that moment that I was going to do what was asked of me," she said. "I placed her Nov. 12, 2002. I chose a family that I could tell they were totally in love and respecting of each other."

Nearly 10 years later, Barker is happily married and she and her husband are raising six children. Although Barker is reminded often of the decision she made to place her child, still to this day she knows she made the right choice.

Barker was one of the many presenters at this year's Families Supporting Adoption Conference held in the Davis Conference Center Friday and today. The group Families Supporting Adoption — organized in 1996 with the help of LDS Family Services — holds a national convention each year so individuals in the adoption community can come together. This year's theme, "Rooted in Love," emphasizes the love each participant in the adoption process has toward children.

Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opened the conference by speaking of the importance of families and the role the Relief Society organization has had in the process of adoption.

Beck spoke of the early days of the LDS Church, when one of the primary responsibilities of the Relief Society was to take care of parentless children. Although the focus has changed a bit now, focusing more on couples wanting children, Beck spoke of the importance of staying positive even when circumstances are difficult.

"Childlessness is one of the greatest challenges in mortality," she said. "But the experiences you have will show others how to face trials and say, 'This will not defeat me.' "

Beck also pointed out that many themes in the Old Testament included couples pleading with the Lord for a family.

"The problems you are experiencing today, therefore, are not new," she said. "They are ancient and timeless in a way. … The Lord has … used this question to bless his children and bring them closer to Him."

Although the number of couples looking to adopt has continually gone up in the past few decades, the number of adoptions of unrelated infants continues to decline.

Research shows that most — 98.7 percent of unwed women in 2007 — elected to parent their child, according to the Adoption Factbook V, a compilation of research done by the National Council for Adoption. In 2007 there were 10.3 adoptions per 1,000 non-marital live births, down from 18.7 in 1996.

"Very few people choose adoption, most choose single parenting," said Steve Sunday, manager of services for children at LDS Family Services and an advisor to the Families Supporting Adoption national board. "The most important thing is to become educated, so you know what your choices are."

Chuck Johnson, CEO and president of the National Council for Adoption, says that it is through education and awareness that the option of placing a child in adoption will become more accepted and adoption numbers will rise.

"Our goal is to make sure that women who are making those difficult decisions have access to information about adoption," Johnson said. "All of the choices are difficult, our goal is to affirm the birth mother in the decision and give her access to information and support."

According to that same research, Utah ranked first in the nation for infant adoptions compared to the number of abortions. Researchers believe key factors explaining that ranking may include better counseling, services and facilities to orient pregnant women toward adoption.

"Research has shown that women who are choosing adoption have connected that the child will be loved and parented by good people," Johnson said. "They are then able to see it as being a pro-active parent with placing the child."

Over the past few decades the process of adoption has changed, causing more members of society to be informed, making the entire process more open in nature.

"I have been involved in adoption for 30 years," Sunday said. "I have seen it in its days of closure and confidentiality and secrecy, and I have seen it today, and from my experience the improvements in the institution of adoption because of openness and because of involvement of all parties together in healthy ways has been one of the most refreshing positive things to happen with adoption in years."

Although huge steps have taken place, the process still has a long way to go, Johnson said.

In a survey conducted by the NCFA in 2009, researchers found that 40 percent of American couples were open to the idea of adopting a child if called upon.

"One of the disappointing things, even with that strong culture that has developed, it doesn't translate to the women choosing it," Johnson said. "As a result of that, 1.2 million abortions a year are happening, and only 18,000 will willingly choose adoption."

Although families, churches and communities are oftentimes very supportive of children brought into a family by adoption, it is often difficult for expectant mothers to make the decision to place a child for adoption. It is through education, Johnson said, more changes will take place.

"Society's view of adoption for birth mom's is totally unfair," Barker said. "It isn't this big, bad, ugly monster. It is a huge big bundle of blessings — you just have to give it a chance."

That chance is what can turn something very difficult into a loving family.

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"I think it's wonderful how such a tragic, heart-wrenching experience can grow and blossom and turn into such a beautiful wonderful thing," Barker said. "My biggest fear was that she would resent me for placing her, but I think one of the best things that came out of it is that I get to see that she is happy and that she loves me, and I know that she knows that I love her."

EMAIL: mholman@desnews.com

Adoption numbers

Unrelated domestic adoptions of infants

1982: 17,602

1986: 24,589

1992: 26,672

1996: 23,537

2002: 22,291

2007: 18,078

Source: National Council for Adoption