The Impossibility of “Choosing” a Child

“Tell me,” the social worker asked over the phone, her probing tone at once both curious and inquistional, “why do you want a child?”

As I stumbled over my tongue, struggling to put into words this inexplicable desire that no other parent is ever required to explain or, worse, to defend, I knew by this first question that Patrick and I were about to embark on a journey to parenthood like no other.

“Well,” I said hesitantly, “Let me tell you about what we have been through…”

As Patrick and I continue to work our way through the mountains of bureaucratic paperwork that is required for our adoption home study, we have become painfully aware that every aspect of our lives is being judged. Our motivations are being questioned, our finances are under scrutiny, our physical and mental health have been evaluated, our fingerprints have been taken, and a social worker will soon walk through our home – all in an effort to deem if we are fit to be parents to a child.

It is all a far cry from the few glorious moments of pleasure that typically precedes pregnancy and parenthood.

In the same way, we have become increasingly aware that the child that we will  welcome into our family through adoption will be, in some ways, a child of our choice, and not merely the sheer happenstance of biology.

To “choose” a child is a daunting and impossible task.

As a part of our mountainous packet, Patrick and I were each given a fill-in-the-blank paper to complete.

I would do best parenting a boy ages ____ to _____ or a girl ages ____ to _____.

I would struggle most parenting a boy who _______________.

I would struggle most parenting a girl who _____________.

Each answer felt utterly impossible for us to fathom as first-time parents, when all of parenthood still feels like such an abstract dream in some far-flung future. How can we possibly know what we will do best at and what will cause us to struggle?

And these were the easy questions.

(Patrick copped out with his answers, stating that he would struggle most with either a boy or a girl who so conforms to gender norms! Statistically, though, girls are consistently preferred over boys.)

The questions became increasingly harder.

What about race?

A relatively easy question for us, we thought. As we looked around at the diversity of our families (where only Hispanic/Latinx is not already represented!), our NAACP memberships, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. poster already hanging on our wall, we almost immediately knew that we would feel open to parenting a child of any race.

However, this is not such an easy choice for most adoptive families. In fact, as we have learned through our all-day classes required by our agency, transracial adoption is a subject that is fraught with complexities.

Our own adoption agency, we learned, currently serves 155 – mostly Caucasian – families. However, currently only 30 of these families are open to adopting a non-Caucasian child.

This is not an isolated phenomenon.

A study by the Center for Economic Policy Research found that when it comes to adopting children in America, there is a noticeable bias in favor of girls and a significant bias against black boys. Overall, this study concluded adoptive parents were seven times more likely to prefer white and Hispanic children over African-American children.

Just take a quick glance at the pictures of the children who are waiting for families on AdoptUSKids, and you will see the darling faces of little black boy after little black boy.


(All of the children featured here are currently available for adoption. Information and details about each child can be found on AdoptUSKids.)

In fact, despite the high financial costs, extensive delays, and dual bureaucracies, adoptive families are oftentimes more willing to adopt internationally – crossing both racial and cultural lines by adopting from countries like China, South Korea, Guatemala, and even from nations in Africa – before choosing to adopt an African-American child.

As one recruiter for adoptive families at a Cleveland child-welfare agency was quoted by the New York Times as saying,

”We have families who say I’ll take Hispanic, American Indian, anything but black.”

While our own answer to this complicated question of race is clear, the next questions have proven to be even more challenging.

What about drug or alcohol exposure?

This exposure in-utero can possibly lead to a baby that is born already addicted or facing the potential of lifelong medical needs. Or it can have virtually no impact. The doctors really just cannot say.

What about disabilities?

Is cerebral palsy okay? What about blindness? Or deafness? Or some disability that requires a lifetime of 24-hour nursing care?

What about a family history of mental illness?

Is a history of depression and anxiety okay? What about bipolar? Or schizophrenia?

What about a child who was conceived in rape or incest? Or if their birth parent is incarcerated? 

On and on it goes, impossible hypothetical question after impossible hypothetical question.

Ultimately, because of the kind of adoption that Patrick and I are pursuing, we will not actually “choose” our child. Instead, we will create a key indicating which of these complex scenarios we feel comfortable that we can handle, and our profile will only be shown to birth mothers whose situation matches our key. Then, when the time comes, a birth mother will look through a pile of profiles from each family that matches her situation, and she will hopefully choose ours.

But until then, Patrick and I must face these daunting, looming questions and wonder with trepidation and uncertainty at our capabilities.

This week’s seemingly impossible question –

Can we “choose” Down’s Syndrome? And is that different than when biology dictates your choice?


As we start the next step in this journey to create our family, we are facing new challenges. We anticipate that the adoption process will cost somewhere around $40,000. Though our adoption agency is a nonprofit organization, these costs go to pay for the legal expenses, the counseling that the agency provides for the birth mother and her family, some of the birth mother’s medical bills and living expenses, etc.

If you would like to help us offset some of these costs, you can support our adoption journey here –


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