Where Logic Meets Love

On Adoption and Selfishness

Sunday, March 6, 2011

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On Adoption and Selfishness | Faith Permeating Life
When Mike and I first started talking about having kids (we talked about practically everything before we got engaged), adoption was already part of the conversation. As I've said before, it feels wrong to me, when there are children without parents, to be a parent without a child and think the solution is to create another child. I'm not judging anyone else here -- this is just what I feel in my own heart is right for me. But Mike, like a lot of guys, was adamant about wanting to pass on his genes, and so the initial plan was something along the lines of: have a few kids, then adopt as many more kids as we felt called to have. I talked about adopting older children, but Mike seemed concerned about adopting any child older than a toddler, so that's where we left it.

I started to really worry about having a family that was a mix of "natural" and adopted children. Would I mentally separate them, group them? Mike and I discussed this and decided that we didn't want adoption to seem like an afterthought in building our family. We wanted adoption to play a key role in growing our family from the beginning. So the plan became: adopt one, have one, and go from there. Plus we both felt strongly about wanting our oldest to be a boy and, controversy on that point aside, we could have more control over that by adopting. We planned to adopt our first as an infant -- I think it's easier to adjust to being parents when you start out with a child that has a limited range of needs and then define more structure as they develop more wants and interests. We would be open to adopting older children later on, once we'd developed our house rules and schedules and would be able to welcome them into a structured environment (oft-repeated advice for adopting older kids -- lots of love, and lots of structure). And Mike apparently has no memory of saying he didn't want to adopt anyone older than a toddler, and in fact is very excited, in his social-worker way, about providing a permanent home for older children who need one.

The first question I always get when talking about adopting is whether we'd adopt a child of another race or ethnicity (domestically or internationally). Going along with the above point, I've always replied that I didn't want people to easily draw divisions between my children and say, "I know who your 'real' children are." There are other reasons as well -- I read "The Book of Sarahs," a memoir of a transracial adoptee who went through a lot of pain and anger at being so physically out of place in her family (she was black and her adopted brother was white, like her adoptive parents). There is also documented discrimination in the U.S. around how adoption agencies place kids of color, often preferring to place them with a white family than one of their own race. I don't want to have any part of that. And there are a lot of strides being made in other countries to find kids adoptive families within their own country. I may be a little oversensitive, but I hate the thought of exercising any kind of white privilege or "American superiority" in thinking I should be adopting "helpless" children from other countries. Again, this is just me -- I have no problem with those who feel differently.

More recently, Mike and I threw around the idea of maybe adopting all of our children.

There are a few reasons. One is with the before-mentioned drawing of divisions -- as much as Mike thinks it would be cool to pass on his genes and create a child with crazy hair (we both have thick, bushy hair), he doesn't want that desire to mean he'd show preference to his "genetic" child.

Another big one, which I finally voiced to him, is that I really, really hate the idea of being pregnant. Besides reading far too many horror stories of pregnancy and delivery, I also just normally tend to get sick a lot -- I'm sensitive to everything -- and so I feel it's almost guaranteed that I would have some sort of major problem while pregnant. And as I'm the primary breadwinner, it would be a huge upheaval to our family if I ended up on long-term bed rest or something like that.

This makes me feel totally selfish, that I want to have children and have a big family without having to sacrifice my body to do it. But I'm making myself think through this rationally. Let me put it this way: When I was younger, I used to believe that everyone felt positively and negatively about the same things I did, and that, for example, I should let other people play with my favorite toy because it was obviously everyone's favorite toy and it would be selfish of me to play with it. It took me a long time to realize that my preferences weren't necessarily the same as everyone's. Even with the work I'm doing now, I had to recognize and overcome this mental block that was telling me, oh, it must be really difficult to get this kind of job or everyone would be doing it. Well, no, duh, they wouldn't -- I just happen to be a pretty rare person to love analyzing datasets all day long.

So when I recognized this aversion I had to pregnancy, my brain naturally told me that every woman felt that way and that I was just trying to shirk my duty. When Mike told me it was important to him to pass on his genes, then I just figured I'd have to suck it up and deal. But as I'm reading more in both the adoption community and the NFP community online, I've had to acknowledge that there are many, many women who desperately want to be pregnant. They'll spend lots and lots of money on infertility treatments and view adoption as a last resort. And many of the women practicing NFP feel constantly "called" to have more children and sometimes, it seems, don't even feel right if they're not pregnant or trying to get pregnant. And so I think, well, maybe God has put this aversion on my heart because it's my calling to be an adoptive mother to children who need a mother.

The fact that I feel selfish about wanting to adopt in the first place means that I feel selfish about putting any limitations on which children I will adopt. Maybe God is truly calling me not to be pregnant and to adopt five (or however many) children, but can I really say that He's also calling me to adopt a white male infant from the U.S. who has no special needs? Now that sounds selfish. And what about all those couples who can't have children themselves? Aren't we selfish to adopt a child ahead of them? I hate this kind of thinking because you start inadvertently ranking children: "Well, the infertile couples should really get the healthy infants, and you should have to adopt older children with special needs." And that's just wrong.

Sometimes I think crazy big things, like we should both learn sign language and adopt all deaf children and then when we build our own house (which we want to do), we can have it specially designed for deaf children. But I know that I would never get Mike to actually go through with something like that.

Many older children have special needs (that's why they haven't been adopted yet), though not all do, but there's a pretty good chance that we'll end up with children with some kind of special needs. There's a whole range of what those can be, and you can specify your preferences. The "best" kind of special needs, from what I can tell, are those that can be fixed with surgery and aren't lifelong problems. This means, of course, more money to be saved up (although if the health care reform isn't repealed, we could at least get some insurance coverage). More reason to wait on adopting an older kid, right?

I have no idea what's going to happen. I can only trust that God knows who our future children will be, and that they'll be just right for us. Just like He made us just right for each other.

Thoughts, reactions, criticisms, stories welcome.

Update: A year later, I reflected on conversations I've had with other women about pregnancy and parenthood in Everyone Feels Selfish: Judgment in Parenthood.


  1. Oh man, I REALLY regret popping on the computer this afternoon and seeing this in my reader! In a GOOD way, b/c there's SO much I want to say about this subject!!! And I have MUCH to do--people coming for dinner in 4 hours! I have had many of the same thoughts as you, hopefully I can post something much longer (and more substantial!) sooner. But please know that I have many of the same worries/doubts as you, especially as I am more or less the breadwinner and my husband works in the social services field (not a social worker though) too. I am SO glad to see I am not alone as my DH & I think about our family in the future. Hang in there, lady! :)

  2. @Rabbit
    I hope your Fat Sunday dinner went well! I would love to hear your thoughts when you have a chance--it's always so great to know you're not the only one thinking something :)

  3. You and I have been commenting on each other's articles about how similar we are, but this is a difference: I've always known I would not adopt children. The idea feels creepy to me. I know adoptive families and don't feel *they* are creepy, but the idea of doing it myself--pretending a child is mine when I know it isn't--feels very wrong. My partner feels the same, so if we hadn't been able to conceive, we wouldn't be parents.

    However, if I *did* want to adopt, I am sure I would find some way to feel guilty about it. :-) But I think there's no sense to that: Making a home for children who need a home is not, at all, a selfish act.

    I say, follow the calling you hear and pursue adoption while continuing to practice NFP. If God means for you to have biological children, then you'll get pregnant anyway! Right?

  4. Jessica, I'm going to post a "comment" as an entry over at my blog because I have SO much to say. It's been rattling around in my head and I need to get it out! I will link to your post here.

  5. @'Becca
    Thanks as always for your honest thoughts! This is why I love blogging, because it helps me to escape the mindset that everyone thinks and feels the same way I do. I had never heard that perspective on adoption before, but it does help me feel like my desire to adopt (and my desire NOT to be pregnant) are just part of my unique life plan. And you're right, we are always "open to life" in that we're not putting any permanent barriers to pregnancy in place. So who knows :)

  6. @Rabbit
    Thanks for your extended thoughts and for linking to my post! I already replied over on your blog, but I'll say again that I enjoyed hearing what you had to say and seeing our similarities and differences!

  7. Thanks for sharing this!

    I have endo so we know there is a good chance I might be infertile, even though we haven't started trying to get pregnant yet. But in preparation I'm trying hard to not make getting pregnant this idol - must have, life incomplete without it. I'm not someone who desperately wants to be pregnant (it seems painful and uncomfortable) but I think its something that would be interesting to experience. So I'm trying to detach myself enough so that if it doesn't happen I don't turn into one of those women who thinks she is not really a woman and a failure at life.

    So I've been bringing up the idea of adoption a lot. I want us not to think of it as "last resort" but as a way of building our family equal to having biological kids. And the more I think about it, I like the idea even if we have kids naturally.

    The problem is my husband is very concerned about passing on his genes as well. I think he worries he wouldn't love an adopted kid as much (which I know isn't true). He wants to do IVF if we can't get pregnant...but I hate the thought of spending 10,000 on a procedure that might not work and having frozen embryos sitting around somewhere.

    Also, THANK YOU for admitting that you don't like the idea of transracial adoptions. My roommate in college has a mixed-race family and so while I know that there is nothing "wrong" with it and those kids are loved, I know other people who have really struggled with the sense of community loss. And I know the African American communities and Tribal communities are often against it.

    I knew a Chinese mother who had her son in Chinese school because she wanted him to learn her native tongue even though they were living in the US. She said there were a lot of Chinese kids who were adopted by American parents in the school as well, because the parents wanted them to know their heritage, and she thought that was pretty cool. I think it is a good way to go about a transracial adoption, not trying to hide where the kid has come from.

  8. @Jackie
    Thanks for all your thoughts on this!

    I've talked to several people who are interested in adopting along with having biological children. Adoption used to be such a hush-hush thing (secret unintended pregnancies, secret infertility), and I'm glad there's a lot less stigma around it nowadays. It seems like everyone knows someone who is adopted or who adopted a child--which can be a blessing and a curse, because whenever I tell someone we want to adopt, they want to tell me the story of that one person they know who was adopted, as if our experience will be exactly the same.

    Along those lines, it drives me nuts when I tell people we don't plan to adopt transracially (because they always ask) and then they want to tell me the story of the one person they know who was transracially adopted and it worked out great. As if I just came to this conclusion out of the blue, not after reading account after account of adoptees with a broad range of experiences and discussing it with Mike in depth. "Oh, your friend's experience was great? Oh, never mind, I guess I will adopt a child of another race! Silly me."

    Mike has a cousin who did IVF and he asked her whether they'd considered adoption. She said it was just as expensive, so they'd rather have their own biological children if they were going to spend that much money. I tend to think of it more like you said--if you're going to spend that much money regardless, why not adopt a child who already exists and needs a home? But I guess it depends on how important you think it is to pass on your genes.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this! It's nice to feel understood :)

  9. I appreciate your honesty. At one point, I looked into adopting from China (I'm Chinese) and I found out that it was expensive and could be a 2-year plus wait with no guarantee of getting a child. I was surprised that my ethnic background was only a small part of the consideration. I think that all things being fairly equal (household income, years married, etc..), it would be more beneficial for a Chinese child to be adopted into a Chinese household with Chinese grandparents! I am not against inter-racial families or adoption but I really think it is less traumatic for a young child who has to leave his/her home country.

  10. @oilandgarlic
    Adoption is definitely expensive and requires quite a bit of patience! I've heard conflicting reports but I think it's generally more expensive and time-consuming to adopt internationally.

    I tend to agree that, all else being equal, children should be raised within their ethnic culture. Like you, I'm not anti-transracial adoption by any means, but I think if the parents are the same race or ethnicity as the child to be adopted, that should be given some weight, because it can absolutely make things easier. People like to pretend like they're "colorblind," but I've read enough stories from transracial adoptees to know that's the worst possible way to approach adoption. Regardless of the parents' race/ethnicity, the child's culture needs to be talked about and celebrated, and that's easier when the parents and child share a culture.

    I am anti-discrimination, and I hate hearing about subtle discrimination that favors white families in adoption, regardless of the race of the child. That's just stupid. If there's a campaign against that, sign me up.

  11. Hi Jessica! You got me on a roll again with this post...so my apologies for making you read so much lately!

    I still haven't decided if I want to create a biological child. I too used to cringe at the thought of being pregnant. Then, a year or so ago I started getting incredibly curious about the process. I'm always pestering my friends with children about the experience. I purchased pregnancy guides at yard sales (and was directed to maternity clothes each time...yikes). The idea of actually giving birth still terrifies me, but the process fascinates me. Come to think of it...I've also developed a passion for gardening during the same time frame...

    But I also worry about favoritism issues, and I worry about age. I don't want to be an old parent...at least not in the beginning when I don't know what I'm getting into--how much energy children require. I absolutely don't want to give birth at an older age. So physical considerations, and some of the hurdles to adoption, make me think that having a biological child first might be best.

    Then I think about how my adopted children might perceive themselves and I wonder if beginning with adoption might be best. I know that I am unlikely to prefer my biological child over my adopted child....in fact, I have enough genetic deficiencies that I wonder if I might have to work to avoid the opposite problem. Seeing what I perceive as my own flaws in my children might be hard for me. Yet, what matters more is how does the child perceive me perceiving him or her. I doubt there is a formula that can determine which order is best for adding family members. Hopefully, love, grace and humility will be enough.

    Lastly, I struggle because I do want a multi-racial family even though I think this desire might be selfish and unfair to the children I adopt. So one reason I think it might be better not to have a biological child is because if I am serious about having a multi-racial family it might be more fair to the children I adopt if none of us look the same. Even then though, I worry that I would not be able to offer my children the support they deserve when confronting racism and prejudice because I would not have had the same experiences. Do I want to have a multi-racial family simply because I want to defeat social constructs or achieve something equally ridiculous?

    I suspect that time will take these questions out of my hands. I hope that we will give birth to, or be offered the opportunity to adopt the child/children that we are right for.

  12. @e
    Wow, it sounds like we've thought through a lot of the same issues on this! I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks about these things :) The age issue is one I don't think I've mentioned in this post; I know a lot of people wait until their 30s to have a child (or just don't have a partner until then), but because we want to have a large family, that changes things a bit. We will probably start the adoption process sooner than originally planned because of how long we might have to wait to get placed with a child.

    It's reassuring to me to hear that you want a multi-racial family because I feel guilty for not wanting one, and this is a reminder to me that everyone's hearts are pulled in different ways. Why should I pretend like I want to adopt a child of another race when there are people who actually do? So it's helpful to hear your perspective.

    Honestly I think any way of making a family could come with some measure of feeling selfish or guilty. You could say it's selfish to want to adopt just because you don't want to be pregnant, or that it's selfish to create another child when there are already so many who need homes. Selfish to want a white child when most children needing to be adopted aren't white; selfish to adopt a non-white child into a white family when that's not the ideal situation for them. But the truth is that anyone who's willing to forever change their lives to take care of another person is not really being selfish. I love the site offbeatmama.com because they celebrate all families, and after reading many, many stories you see that different things feel right to different people, but they're all beautiful. And that's really what I try to remember.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and making me feel more normal :)

  13. Thanks so much for your insight Jessica. I'll check out offbeatmama soon!


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