On Adoption and Selfishness
Sunday, March 6, 2011Tweet
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.