The Cradle helps facilitate, ease adoption process for families

Katie Park

Erin Finn discovered who her mother is in the library at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Finn said she had always known she was adopted. But it wasn’t until she was 19 years old that she started filing paperwork to find her birth mother through The Cradle, the Evanston agency through which Finn had been adopted.

Just after sending in the paperwork, Finn got a call from a librarian at IU-PUI, where Finn attended school. The librarian found a book of poetry written by Elizabeth Kemf-the name of Finn’s birth mother-about the process of giving her daughter up for adoption.

“It was a little difficult to sink in, to wrap my head around it,” Finn said. “It was very special.”

Through The Cradle, Finn was able to send a 30-page letter about her life to Kemf. The two met when Finn was 20 years old and have been close ever since, Finn said.

The Cradle, 2049 Ridge Ave., is a nonprofit agency that helps about 200 adoptions take place each year, said Joan Jaeger, director of marketing and outreach.Evanston resident Florence Dahl Walrath founded the organization in 1923 after she helped her sister adopt a child.

“She felt personally interested in helping her sister become a mom,” Jaeger said. “In the process she felt compelled to help similar women in similar circumstances.”

The Cradle has opened offices in other areas of the Chicago metropolitan area and has facilitated international adoptions, Jaeger said. It currently offers services for parents looking to adopt, mothers looking to place a child for adoption and families affected by adoption. Although The Cradle limits adoptions to the Chicago area, it also works with crisis pregnancies throughout the country.

Finn, now 39 years old, last returned to The Cradle in 2003 to speak to a support group of adoptive families and leave a copy of her birth mother’s book.

“They were really there for me at any time I needed to speak with them,” she said. “I don’t know that it would have been so special through another place.”

Following Haiti’s devastating January earthquake, The Cradle has received numerous calls about adopting Haitian orphans. While parents who started the adoption process before the earthquake occurred are given priority, the children placed in orphanages after the disaster are still given food and shelter, Jaeger said.

“Understandably a lot of people, when they’re seeing a lot of children without parents on TV, are concerned,” Jaeger said. “So naturally they call in and say, ‘How can I adopt those children?'”

In addition to organizing adoptions, The Cradle offers counseling, workshops and get-together events for its clients. It also has an on-site nursery for babies of women deciding whether or not to get an adoption, Jaeger said.

Leeann Schmidt, whose daughter placed a child for adoption when she was 16 years old, said The Cradle’s counseling services were hands-on but did not pressure her daughter into any decision.

“At first it was kind of scary, never having been in that situation before,” said Schmidt, who lives in Bartlett, Ill. “In the end I wouldn’t want anybody having to go through the decisions these young ladies have to make, but The Cradle was certainly standing by no matter what the decision was.”

When Chicago resident Alyson Green adopted her son Nathaniel in 2006, the entire staff at The Cradle came down to the living room, which is decorated with photos of children adopted through The Cradle, to wish the family well.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s just a social service agency or just a business,” Green said. “It was really profound to have that kind of love and support around us.”[email protected]