Amid the expressions of grief at the passing of one of America's greatest innovators -- Steve Jobs -- one offhand comment by someone on CNN was jarring. Describing his brilliance, his inventiveness, his business genius and his inspired leadership, one host added, "And his parents didn't want him! They gave him up for adoption, if you can believe that!"
It is one of the enduring misconceptions of modern life that birthparents who make adoption plans for their children "don't want them" and that this "rejection" scars the adoptee for life. Social science data refutes this. But even before considering the statistics about adoption, consider the absurdity of characterizing adoption this way in an age of widespread abortion. There are countless women who say, "I could never give up my baby for adoption" but who, strangely, see no impossibility in aborting their unborn babies.
But in contrast to the view so carelessly voiced by that news anchor, placing a child up for adoption is one of the most loving and unselfish acts imaginable. Consider 23-year-old Joanne Schieble, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin who became pregnant in 1954. She and the baby's father, a Syrian immigrant named Abdulfattah "John" Jandali were not married. (They married and divorced later.) Abortion was illegal in most states at the time, though plenty of exceptions were made, and many women got abortions. But Schieble chose to proceed with the pregnancy and give her son life. Our world would be so much diminished if she had not.
According to Jobs' recollection later, his mother had wanted to ensure that college graduates would raise him, and she had lined up a couple who met that specification. But at the last minute, the college graduate couple decided that they wanted a girl. And so Schieble agreed that Paul and Clara Jobs, a lower middle-class couple (Paul, a machinist, had not even finished high school) could raise her son on the condition that they would send him to college when the time came.
But, as the saying goes, "Man plans; God laughs." Though Mr. and Mrs. Jobs were willing to spend their entire life savings to send their son to college, he dropped out after a few months.
Jobs eventually made contact with his birth mother and his sister, the novelist Mona Simpson. But he was never in doubt about his parentage. "They were my parents," he said of Paul and Clara Jobs.
In this, he was like other adopted children, happy and well grounded in his family. When the Search Institute studied adopted adolescents in the 1990s, they found that adopted teens actually scored better than their non-adopted siblings and their peers on a variety of measures including: "connectedness -- having three or more friends and having access to two or more nonparent adults for advice; caring -- placing a high value on helping other people; and social competency -- friendship-making and assertiveness skills."
Confounding the stereotype of the tortured adoptee, the study also found that adopted teenagers were more likely than other teens to do well in school, to express optimism about their futures and to report high levels of support from parents and schools. A U.S. Health and Human Services Department study in 2007 found that adopted children tend to be happy and healthy, and 85 percent of adoptive parents describe their relationships with their children as "warm and close." Adoptees do have higher rates of ADHD and special health care needs, which is not surprising since many come from the foster care system.
The son of Paul and Clara Jobs affected all of our lives. But Steve Jobs himself, like every other child who has been placed in a loving home rather than aborted, would probably not have said that the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, Pixar and the iPad are the reasons he shouldn't have ended his life before birth. He'd probably say it was because he got to grow up, to love and be loved, to see the beauty of this world, to have children of his own and to enjoy (if tragically, not for a full, long life) the wonders of being alive.