Monday, June 1, 2009

The adoption option

I want to start out this post by saying that I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who adopt, especially those who adopt children from foster care and/or with special needs. I participated in my law school's child advocacy clinic, representing abused and neglected children in foster care in court. I have volunteered as a CASA since 2002 and seen two very special little girls placed in permanent homes.

I also want to acknowledge the role that adoption has played in my family. My mother gave an infant up for adoption when she found herself pregnant, unmarried and unable to care for a child. All of my mom's sister's children but the oldest are adopted. In our extended family, there are other adopted members as well.

As with my post on IVF, this post is meant to outline OUR thoughts on adoption only. I am by no means saying that our choice is the right or only one. And if any of my/MM's assumptions are wrong, I welcome input from anyone who can tell us so.

Having said all this by way of introduction, I don't think that MM and I will adopt if we are unable to have a child on our own. I know many people who chose adoption instead of, or in addition to, having a children by birth, but I am also aware that, for many, adoption is a second-choice option. . . . only considered when attempts to have a child by birth have failed and all other options have been exhausted.

One of MM's primary drives to have a child--as I'm sure is the case with many people--is that he wants his "own child." When he uses those words, he doesn't just mean a child who will growing up knowing him as "Dad." He means a child with whom he has a genetic/biological link. Although I have no doubt that he would grow to love a child we adopted and would be a good father to him/her, that biological/genetic relationship would obviously be lacking.

While this rationale might sound selfish to some, I have blogged here before about MM's somewhat unique family situation. He is an only child born to two only children. When his parents are gone, all his blood relatives save a few distant cousins will be gone also. How many people can say that they will have no one in left in the world who is related to them once their parents have passed on? Given these facts, I think his attitude is more understandable.

I should also add here that both MM and I are white (I'm primarily of Irish descent; he, Norwegian). Were we to adopt, we would only want to adopt a white child. This choice is not due to any racism on our part; rather, we do not want to have any stranger on the street knowing at first glance that our child is adopted. We would want a child who "looked like us," at least a little bit. We also don't wish to pursue international adoption for the same reason and the added reason that we would know little to nothing about what to teach the child about the culture into which s/he had been born.

Another objection that we share is the expense of adoption. In contrast to doing IVF, at least when money is spent on adoption, you will end up with a child at the end of the process. It may take a while, but it is more of a "sure thing" than any kind of ART. Still, a little research reveals that adopting domestically usually costs at least as much as a cycle of IVF, and sometimes more; fees vary by agency and situation. From friends' experiences, though, we know that there is potentially a long wait to adopt a Caucasian newborn through domestic adoption.

There can be plenty of heartache along the way to domestic adoption, too. Even being chosen by a birth mother is no guarantee of adopting an infant. The son of one of the partners in my law firm had a birth mother change her mind hours after delivery just before Christmas last year, after he and his wife had anxiously and hopefully waited months for the birth of the child.

Adoption today is not like it was thirty-plus years ago. The movie Juno aside, many girls/women today who are giving up their babies for adoption have problems with mental illness or addiction. It is just not as common to find babies available for adoption for no other reason than that the parents are too young and ill-equipped to be parents. Our society has made single motherhood, even for teenagers, quite socially acceptable during my lifetime. . . . to say nothing of the fact that abortion--though not necessarily "readily available" to some--is an option chosen by many women finding themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy.

MM is of the mindset that when you adopt a child born to parents with mental illness or addiction, whether that child is a newborn or an older child, you are, to an extent, "buying into someone else's problems." Research has shown that both addiction and most types of mental illness have some genetic links. Even if the child you adopt is a newborn, s/he may have a propensity toward these types of problems that a child-by-birth would not have.

That is not to say that giving birth to your own biological child takes away the possibility of these types of problems. Mood disorders--anxiety and depression--are found in both my family and in MM's. The difference in MM's mind, though, is that when you bring a child into the world, you "take what you get," the good along with the bad. And you own it, because that child is yours, flesh of your flesh.

One path to adoptive parenthood that can be slightly shorter than adopting a newborn is adopting an older child through the foster care system. In many ways, this is near and dear to my heart because of my work with abused and neglected kids. I have family members and friends in real life who have gone this route, with both positive and negative results.

Children who have been in the foster care system are usually there because they have been neglected and/or abused. Because of this history and the disruption of being in "the system," these children may have issues unique to their early childhood experiences which will make them a particular challenge to parent. In seeing my friends' experiences, I think I can say that the majority of the time, parenting an older child adopted from foster care requires a different set of parenting skills than simply parenting a child who has lived in your home since day one.

And although agencies who place older children from foster care with adoptive parents are required to disclose the children's histories and family histories if known, the adoptive parents will always lack some crucial information about the child's history. You cannot know for sure what the child's life was like before s/he was in foster care or in your home. In some instances, little is known about the child's biological parents as well. You didn't have the opportunity to influence and shape the child during the earliest, most crucial periods of development.

In my opinion, adopting from foster care is a unique challenge and one I would not mind taking on. However, I don't think that we would go that route: MM doesn't favor it (for all the reasons I talked about above), and my career really wouldn't allow me to devote the time to it that it would require.

Had my life gone differently--for instance, if I were still a hospital nurse, who could work a part-time, flexible schedule, or had I married someone who earned more money than I, allowing me not to work at all--I would wish to pursue this alternative, whether or not I had a biological child of my own. As things stand, with me working full-time in a demanding career and being the primary breadwinner in our household. . . . it does not seem to me to be a viable alternative.

These are our thoughts. As with my post on IVF. . . . we reserve the right to re-visit this discussion if/when we realize we will never have a child by birth.


  1. Spot on. I'm always happy to talk to other infertiles about adoption because whether they will go down that path or not, chances are they have a much more realistic outlook on it.

    Most people don't get that we are carefully trying to decide whether we can provide the proper situation for an adopted child.

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us. We seem to share some of the same thoughts you are having regarding this subject.


  3. i don't think our path will include adoption either....i can't really articulate why, but just don't think it will. always thought no to ivf....but now thinking maybe :)

  4. my brother is adopted. and i always thought i would have adopted child/ren along with bio children like my parents did.

    but, for all the reasons you listed...especially the cost and the risk that the birth mother will change her mind...are reasons my dh is against it and why i am not pushing it.

    because my two ivfs failed, everyone, and i do mean everyone, is saying..."have you thought about adoption?" of COURSE we have. ug, it annoys me to no end because it just isn't as simple as they make it sound. your post explores it really well.

    i might have to steal it from you!! WITH CREDIT!! of course...



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