“Why don’t you JUST adopt?”
Mere days and weeks after the stillbirth of our sons, this question began popping up more and more frequently in our conversations with friends, acquaintances, and even near strangers who had heard our story. Sometimes it is posed like this, blunt and outright. Other times this question may be asked a little more subtly –
“Have you considered other ways to expand your family?”
“Have you thought about adoption?”
“There are so many children out there that need a loving home…”
After our tragic experiences of four miscarriages and now the stillbirth of our twin boys, I believe that most people are expressing this question of adoption out of a place of compassion, subtly trying to move us to consider other options to create our family. In an effort to fix our pain, they try to offer us this seemingly brilliant solution –
You are parents without children and there are children in the world without parents; problem solved.
Yet, in all honesty, even if it is motivated from a place of compassion, even if it is meant to help, even if it seems like an innocuous and ingenious solution,
this is one of the most daunting questions that someone who is enduring infertility faces.
To explain, when someone who is experiencing infertility is asked “Why don’t you just adopt?,” the “why” can feel like a painful accusation and the “just” can feel like an ignorant oversimplification of such a complicated and difficult decision.
I can practically guarantee that anyone facing infertility has already considered adoption at length. I know we have.
In fact, our own story is even more complicated by the fact that my family is a birth family. When my own sister was a young, teenage mother, she chose to place her daughter for adoption. My niece, who is now seven, lives with her adoptive family across the country in Oregon, and our families remain remarkably close.
So I have an even more intimate experience with the complexities of adoption than most.
Adoption is beautiful. However, adoption is also complicated and it is not a cure.
To the uninitiated, adoption seems like a simple solution. Yet, for those of us in the trenches, those myths are quickly dispelled. Here are some of the complexities that you may not have considered, unless you too have been in the trenches.
Myth #1 – Adoption is charity.
“There are so many children out there that need a loving home…”
This ever-pervasive myth is both true and untrue.
It is true that UNICEF – which defines an orphan as a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death – estimates that there were nearly 140 million orphans globally in 2015, and an estimated 15.1 million of these children have lost both parents.
Tragically, even more children in this country and around the world live in desperate poverty, are victims of war or tragedy, or are abused and neglected and are in need of stable, loving homes. The world can be a painful place for children.
Yet, in the face of these startling statistics, Amy Julia Becker poignantly argues,
“Needy children are not the same as adoptable children.”
As she goes on to explain,
“There is no shortage of needy children. But that does not directly translate into an abundance of adoptable children.
When well-meaning people wonder why people go to great lengths to have a biological child when there are so many children in need of a healthy, loving home, they are conflating two separate phenomena—the sadly commonplace reality of children who are desperately poor, neglected, orphaned, or abused, and the much less common situation of children who have been relinquished by their birth parents and are available for adoption through legitimate avenues.”
Likewise, there is an mythical image of adoption as an act of selfless heroism, a portrait of courageous adoptive parents swooping in to save an “unwanted” child and give them a loving home.
And yet, I know firsthand that this picture is not necessarily true. Birth mothers, like my sister, are often the true heroes in adoption – women who desperately loved their children so much that they selflessly placed their babies into the arms of another family because, for whatever reason, they decided that was better for the child. My niece was never unloved or unwanted. Now she simply has the undying love of two families.
No, adoption is not charity. It is not heroic. Truly, if we were blessed to adopt our children, we would be the lucky ones.
Adoption is simply another way to create a family.
Myth #2 – Adoption is easy.
In this film adaptation of the Broadway musical, Little Orphan Annie, you can see just how easy many people assume the adoption process is for adoptive families.
“I am here to select in orphan,” Grace, a representative for “Daddy” Warbucks, tells Miss Hannigan, the orphanage director.
“Wonderful! What kind of orphan did you have in mind?” Miss Hannigan responds.
“Well… friendly, intelligent, and happy. Age doesn’t really matter… And I almost forgot, Mr. Warbucks prefers red-headed children.” And almost as simple as that, Annie comes home to live with her new “Daddy” Warbucks.
If only adoption was so simple – no home studies to determine your fitness as a parent, no lawyers and no adoption agencies to act as mediators, no exorbitant fees, no years of waiting…
The truth is that the adoption process is much more complicated than some may realize.
Adoption can be expensive
According to an in-depth article from the magazine Adoptive Families, which surveyed adoptive families across the country to discover average adoption expenses – Adoptive Families – Adoption Cost and Timing Survey
“With the exception of adopting a child via the U.S. public foster care system, it remains expensive to adopt in the U.S. or internationally. Total costs range from almost nothing, if you adopt from U.S. foster care, to more than $50,000 from several international countries. Of adoptions finalized in 2014 and 2015, international adoptions cost an average of $42,000; U.S. newborn adoptions cost an average of $38,000.”
These kinds of expenses are often necessary to ensure that ethical practices are promoted (i.e. – lawyers and adoption agencies help maintain ethical practices and must be compensated). However, these kind of exorbitant expenses often preclude less affluent families from even considering these kinds of adoptions.
The adoption process can be long
With home studies, creating profiles, matching with a birth mother or child, and waiting for placement, the adoption process can be a long and arduous journey. For some, the process may only take a matter of months. For others, however, the adoption process can take years, often added on top of the infertility journey that may have proceeded it.
Patrick and I have already been on our infertility journey for 2 1/2 years. When I recently saw that an adoption agency had a “desperate need for parents” to join their program in the Philippines, I looked into it. Yet, I was shocked to see that the average wait time for those parents would be another 2 – 3 years!
Adoption can be risky
Birth mothers can change their minds. Foster children may be reunited with their families. A country’s program may unexpectedly close based on changing political climates – as we are all witnessing with the Russian adoption scandal currently in the news.
For us, getting pregnant again would be a tremendous risk. But adoption or foster care would also be risky. There are no easy options and no guarantees when creating a family.
Overall, adoption is a much more complicated process than many realize. It is definitely not as simple as just going and picking a child out of an orphanage, despite what movies and musicals would have us believe.
Myth #3 – Adoption is a cure.
Finally, adoption is not a cure for infertility. It “cures” parenthood, yes. Adoption enables many to be parents when they may not otherwise have been able to. Yet, it cannot cure the grief of never experiencing pregnancy, or birth, or breastfeeding. Also, there is a very particular grief when contemplating never having a biological child, such as never seeing your genes mix with the genes of partner to create a brand new person.
Many adoption agencies will not allow couples to begin the adoption process until you have “fully grieved your infertility.” It is so critically important that an adopted child does not feel like an Option B or a last resort.
For us, this may be especially difficult. We know that no child, whether they are biological or adopted, will ever replace Ezra and Leo, our beautiful boys born too soon. It would be horribly unfair for us to place the burden of our grief onto a child’s shoulders. It is simply not their burden to bear.
Adoption is beautiful.
I have seen adoption’s beauty firsthand, and I have held it in my arms.
When my niece was newly born and still in the hospital, my family held an Entrustment Ceremony. My father, a Presbyterian pastor, led us all in a ritual in which we, Leva’s birth family, offered her all of our hopes and prayers for her new life. We each took turns holding her and saying good-bye. And then, bravely and heroically, my sister placed her daughter into her adoptive mother’s arms. Together, we prayed and we cried, and two families united in love around a baby who would change all of our lives forever.
Knowing this beauty – in all of its complexities, its grief, and even its pain – I do not take the decision to adopt lightly. Patrick and I have considered it all and more, and we do believe that adoption will likely be a part of our journey someday.
However, there is no “just adopt” about it…