As I take some very early steps toward adopting a baby, I sometimes question the wisdom of talking openly with people about it at this point. At times it is excruciating to work through my feelings regarding trying to ease my grip on my dream of a successful pregnancy and a biological child while trying to learn about and digest and cope with the realities and complexities and losses that adoption entails for all involved. I sometimes feel that it would be wise to keep my plans to adopt to myself until I have more thoroughly worked through my thoughts and feelings about adoption. This might be preferable to telling people that I am pursuing adoption and thereby subjecting myself to hearing their often woefully uninformed opinions.
This feeling is not at all aimed at those of you who have left thoughtful and supportive comments on my previous posts regarding adoption; I greatly appreciate those. Also, I am not trying to stick my head in the sand and avoid input from people who have experience with adoption in various forms. To the contrary, I have gone out of my way to seek people out and to hear the stories of adoptive parents, adopted persons, and mothers who made adoption plans for their babies. I have sought input from people involved in domestic infant adoptions, adoptions of older children in foster care, adoptions with varying degrees of openness from totally open to totally closed and situations in between, international adoptions, transracial adoptions, etc. I have also been reading various books about adoption.
No, I'm not trying to stick my head in the sand. I'm not trying to avoid difficult realities about adoption. I just would like to avoid being the object of unsolicited and usually uninformed adoption comments for a while. For some reason, EVERYONE has their own opinions about adoption and, despite the fact that most people in the general public are fairly ignorant concerning adoption issues, they still for some reason feel entitled to share their opinions with me when they find out I am planning to adopt when a simple "that's nice" or "congratulations" would suffice.
Fertile couples can make decisions about how to build a family in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Couples who seek to build their families through adoption (usually after a long and heartbreaking struggle with the inability to conceive/pregnancy loss) must expose everything about themselves to strangers (adoption agency personnel, etc.) who determine whether they are worthy enough to become parents--understandably so and with good reason, of course: a vulnerable little human being should not be handed over to just anybody. This process of exposure and evaluation is a very necessary process, but not a necessarily comfortable and pleasant one for prospective adoptive parents.
This aspect of being a prospective adoptive parent--this being opened up for judgment--seems to bleed over from people who have a right to have a vote in the matter (adoption social workers and parent[s] who are seeking adoptive parents for their baby) into the general population. It seems that if a couple conceives a biological child together in the privacy of their marriage, they are lauded and generally are not bombarded with inappropriate commentary about their decision to build a family. After all, that's their business; it's their "own child." When a couple seeks to adopt someone else's child, it seems that every acquaintance of the couple and everyone under the sun who knows about the prospective adoption feels that they have a stake and an opinion to share in the matter and the right to question or judge the couple's choices.
Let me share some of the unsolicited input that I have gotten in real life when I have expressed that we are at the beginning stages of pursuing a domestic infant adoption: "Oh, you don't want to do that...(cue myriad adoption horror stories)." "We have been been wondering why you have been putting yourself through miscarriage after miscarriage when there are so many needy children who are already here and need good homes." "Wow, that's really wonderful of you. There are so many poor orphans who need a good home." "Why would you choose a domestic infant adoption when there are so many AIDs orphans in Africa and children in orphanages in Russia who desperately need good homes?" "Well, I'm glad that you're not adopting from Korea like so-and-so did; I think it's wrong for Asian children to be raised by white people who have no connection to their race or culture (this from a Korean American)." "Good for you for adopting an American baby. We should be taking care of our own first." "Why are you ruling out the adoption of a black baby? Is your family racist or something? Do you feel unable to love a black child?" "If you stay in touch with the birthmother through letters and pictures, aren't you worried that she might change her mind and kidnap the child?" "Are you going to have contact with the REAL mother?" "Once you adopt and relax, then you probably will get pregnant and have your own baby."
Why would a person think that any of these comments are the appropriate response to "We have started the process of adopting a baby"?
There are some themes that run through the pesky comments, such as adoption is second best, babies and children who are available for adoption are pitiful and adoptive parents are saints to take them (or sometimes, conversely, are baby stealers for doing so), adoptive parents aren't real parents, and the only acceptable motivation for adopting is helping a child in need by rescuing a poor orphan or a child with special circumstances or needs. Balderdash.
Let's focus on that last opinion regarding acceptable motivations for adopting. Do I think that it's a laudable, positive, wonderful thing to help orphans living in poverty and children with special needs ? Yes. Of course, I totally agree that those children deserve good, loving homes where their needs are met. Absolutely.
However, it irks me that, in my experience, the people who have expressed the opinion that it is my particular moral obligation to adopt such a child are always, without exception, fertile people who have one or more biological children and have never pursued adoption themselves. Why do those people think that because I have been through the heartbreak and hell of six miscarriages that it is more my responsibility than theirs to adopt an orphan from an impoverished nation or an abused/neglected/special needs child? Do they think that because they are fertile that they get a free pass from any responsibility to provide a home to a child in need? Do they think that they don't need to "go there" because they have children of "their own?"
Furthermore, have they researched attachment disorder or the results of fetal alcohol syndrome or in utero exposure to crack, for example? Do they understand the struggles of an older child who has been sexually or physically abused or neglected to the egregious extent that a court terminated their parents' right to them (and do they understand the child nevertheless considers those parents his family)? Do they understand what that all entails? Are they willing to integrate a child with those issues into their homes and their own lives? The answer for people who have touted their unsolicited opinions to me is "no."
God bless people who ARE willing to adopt children with particularly difficult special needs. I respect and admire them, and I also suspect they are the last people who would try to shame a person who realistically and thoughtfully decides not to pursue a special needs adoption.
After much consideration, I think that adopting a special needs child can be a wonderful thing, but it is not something to choose lightly. Especially for someone like me who has absolutely no parenting experience, it is not something to choose lightly. I think it is a calling, something that God particularly puts on a person's heart and gifts them to handle. I considered adopting a special needs child--particularly an abused/neglected older child in the foster care system. I trawled social services websites, looking at photos and biographies of waiting children. They broke my heart. I attended a two day conference on issues regarding the child welfare system and such children, and I walked away with the feeling that I honestly just don't have the heart or the skills and experience to handle the challenges that are involved.
After prayer, I don't feel that I am being called to a special needs adoption. I'm not particularly proud that I don't have that calling, but I'm not ashamed, either. It is what it is.
Like most prospective parents, I am hoping for a relatively normal, healthy child. Why do some people think that it is that okay for a pregnant woman to want a healthy, normal baby but not for a prospective adoptive mother to want one? I know that at least one of the babies whom I lost had a trisomy. If that pregnancy had continued to progress, and if that baby had been born and survived I would have loved him dearly and done my best to care for him tenderly to the best of my ability, but I certainly would not have chosen that trisomy and the troubles it would have entailed for the child or for me.
I think the crux of the matter is: what is the point of adopting for most prospective adoptive parents? According to a book I just read, 95% of people who adopt do so because they are unable to have biological children. Their motivation for adopting is that they want to be parents, to experience the joys of raising children and having a loving relationship with them, plain and simple. It's the same motivation that anyone has for having children. They just want to have a family.
That's why I am considering adoption. I just want to have a family, hopefully a happy one. I am childless at this point and have no experience whatsoever with parenting. Like any prospective first-time parent, at times the prospect of parenthood, while wonderful, makes me feel a bit unsure of myself. The prospect of the realities of of parenting a normal, healthy child in today's world can at times seem daunting. If I adopt, I already will be adding a layer of adoption issues to the parenting realities. As a first-time parent, that's enough for me to handle.
So, when considering adoption, I choose to pursue the domestic infant route. I chose this route in large part because if offers the opportunity to adopt a very young baby. According to my research, if an infant does not bond with a caregiver properly by having his needs consistently met during the first six months of life, it can create some devastating and lifelong emotional, relational, and behavioral consequences that to me as a prospective adoptive parent seem pretty scary and overwhelming. If I'm going to parent a child then I would prefer to be there during those first six months to create that bond with me and to make sure that the child is well cared for and not neglected or abused in any way during that crucial developmental period.
Likewise, in filling out the adoption agency's paperwork that requires me to state my preferences regarding a baby whom I am hoping to adopt, I am not going to check the box indicating that I would like to adopt a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome or in utero exposure to cocaine or certain other similar issues. Like most prospective parents, I would prefer a healthy baby.
There are mothers of healthy babies in this country who choose to make adoption plans for their babies. These babies need good homes, too; special needs babies, children in foster care, and children from other countries are not the only ones who deserve good, loving homes.
My personal choice--after much research, soul-searching, prayer, and discussion with my husband--is to pursue the domestic adoption of a healthy baby (a white baby, as I discussed in a previous post) through a reputable agency that, from everything I have been able to learn, interacts respectfully and in a non-coercive manner toward pregnant women who go through the agency to make adoption plans for their babies. If some people negatively judge my choice, so be it; that's their problem.
No human gets a vote or the right to judge why or how I adopt except my husband, the adoption agency personnel, and the parent(s) who make an adoption plan for their baby who choose us to raise the child...and I'm going to point that out to the next person who mistakenly assumes that they have some say in the matter.