The Big Adoption Comment and Answer Post
Friday, November 29, 2013Tweet
Thank you for all of your supportive comments when I shared I needed a break. It turned out to be absolutely the right decision, and sadly I am not planning to return to a regular blogging schedule anytime soon. However, I told you I might pop back occasionally if I had something to say, and at this moment I do!
Mike and I started the adoption process in early October and have made it through most of the steps on the pre-activation checklist. I won't bore you with the long list, but it's included lots of paperwork, writing a profile about our life, taking pictures and filming video of our everyday life, getting fingerprinted (twice), asking for reference letters, and launching a fundraising page.
Throughout this process, I've heard a number of different comments, mostly well-meaning though not always. I realize that most of these comments come from a place of ignorance about the adoption process. So I thought, well, I've got a platform for educating people -- let's use it.
Below are some of the various things I've heard, and what I think but usually don't say.
It's ridiculous how hard they make it to adopt a child! Any person can just have sex and have a child and nobody checks their credentials!
People share this complaint with me all the time. Guess what? As the person actually going through the adoption process, you will not hear me complaining about the many steps we have to go through. There is not a single thing we've been asked to do to which I've said, "That's stupid; I don't understand why we have to do that."
In our case, we are doing a domestic private adoption, meaning someone who is pregnant (or has a child they've decided they can't parent anymore) is going to have to actively select us as the family to raise their child for the rest of their lives. If you were that birth parent*, would you feel comfortable placing your child with someone who hadn't had a background check to see if they had a history of committing child abuse? Someone who hadn't had a professional review their living situation to make sure it was safe for a child? In almost all cases, a birth parent is not making an adoption plan because they don't care about their child, but because they care so much that they want their child to have good life opportunities. In order to feel certain about that choice, that requires being confident that the family in question has been reviewed to be mentally stable, financially secure, etc.
And from the agency's perspective, who is helping to make these matches between birth parents and adoptive parents, their reputation is on the line. They're matching complete strangers with one another for a lifelong relationship. Of course they want to make sure that the families they're providing birth parents with information about, as options for forever families for their children, are going to be capable of caring well for that child.
There are additional concerns when you talk about something like international adoption. Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan, who has adopted children from other countries, has written a number of great blog posts about the importance of adopting through a reputable agency. There are too many cases of people separating children from their families through deception or bribery and passing them off as orphans, either as a money-making scheme or through a misguided savior complex. Of course there need to be safeguards on these processes. And when adoptive families are not screened carefully enough (or even when they are) and tragic things happen, a country may shut down its entire adoption process, making it impossible to connect available families with children needing homes.
Finally, even though we personally are not adopting because of infertility issues, you better damn well not say to someone who is adopting for that reason, "It shouldn't be so hard to adopt when anyone can just have sex and get pregnant." Way to pour salt in someone's wound. (And yes, this has been said to me by people who don't have any idea why we're adopting.)
I wish every single person had to go through a process like this before they could become parents! I know too many people who shouldn't be parents.
No, you don't really wish that. Do you really, actually want to live in a country where every single person has to be screened before they can reproduce? Aside from the general impossibility of that kind of biological regulation, I don't think anyone would want to live under that Brave New World type of control. And we certainly don't want to end up with more abortions or more children shuttled into foster care than necessary. We already have a terrible model from China about what happens when the government tries to control reproduction.
Also, whose standards would we follow for this kind of setup? There are already horror stories from adoptive parents of social workers conducting home studies and then denying people the opportunity to adopt for bizarre or trivial reasons. Many times those people can reapply or go through another agency to be approved. Would you want someone to be sterilized because one other person said they were unfit to be a parent? I don't think so.
The truth is that there are a lot of different ways to be a parent, and most of them result in the child being more or less fine, despite the raging debates about every aspect of how a child should be raised. If we have a good social worker for our home study, we will be approved even if they disagree with us about things like co-sleeping or babywearing. Making a judgment that another person shouldn't be a parent at all is a very serious judgment to make.
And even though this country doesn't regulate reproduction, this doesn't mean that people can continue to parent their children indefinitely no matter what. Child Protective Services departments exist so that there are consequences if people actively harm their children (no matter whether those children are biological or adopted).
So when you say "these people shouldn't be parents," do you mean, "I think they are abusing or neglecting their children and should receive state intervention"? Or do you, more likely, mean, "I disagree with these people's parenting approaches"? Guess what -- in the second case, even if those people did go through the whole long process we are going through, they might still have been approved to be parents.
Interestingly, I often hear these first two comments together, from the same people, who are effectively saying, "You should not have to go through this long, time-intensive process -- but I wish other people did." That's not really a comment on the adoptive process, then; that's just your personal opinion that we will make good parents and some other people you know (or know of) are not good parents.
It should not be so expensive to adopt when there are so many children out there who need homes!
OK, first of all, when people say this, they seem to be thinking about children who are already born and in foster care, which is an entirely different ball of wax, as I'll explain in a moment.
But more importantly, it drives me nuts when people say this because it makes it sound like there's this giant cage o' babies somewhere, and someone's standing between it and us with a key and setting some arbitrary, astronomical number in order to unlock it and hand us a baby. This is not even remotely close to how adoption works.
What we are paying for, when we pay for adoption, is services. We are paying the staff at our agency, which includes 1) people who walk us through the adoption process, 2) people who counsel birth parents, 3) people who market the agency so those who are planning on placing their child for adoption can find them and subsequently us, and 4) people who edit our adoptive family profile to help us communicate to birth parents who we are and why they might want to choose us to raise their child. We are also paying the staff at the local agency that's doing our home study to review lots and lots of paperwork (see above about the need for safeguards), and to take the time to come out and visit our home to make sure it's a safe place to raise a child, and to interview and counsel us to make sure we're completely prepared to become parents and have thought about the things unique to raising an adopted child. We have to pay the places that fingerprint us and run background checks. We may have to pay medical costs for the birth if the birth parent(s) are uninsured. We have to pay for our travel to where the baby's being born. We have to pay the lawyers who make sure that the adoption is totally legal and finalized.
We are paying for services associated with matching us with a child and making that arrangement safe and legal. That is what we're paying for.
We intentionally chose to go with an agency whose fees are a little more expensive than some. In exchange, we get our hand held through the entire adoption process (with people regularly checking in on us and going above and beyond to help us out with every step), and we also have a very good chance of having a child within the next year, not waiting multiple years like many people. That is because they are a very large and well-established organization, and higher fees allow them to have more staff members who specialize in different tasks. In the future, we may choose to go with a smaller agency with lower fees where we have to be more proactive and may have a longer waiting time. If we'd wanted to, we could have tried to do everything on our own -- designing our own marketing and using our own networks to try to find a birth parent who would entrust us with their child for life -- which might have saved us a lot of money in agency fees, but also would have added a lot of stress and could have taken forever, and we would still have had medical, travel, and legal costs.
In case you're wondering, some agencies (including ours) do have lower fees associated with adopting African-American children. This is not because it costs the agency any less to facilitate that match or because any of the other costs are less. It is not because the agency is assigning arbitrary numbers to different babies. It's because it is more difficult for the agency to find families who are open to these children. So in order to make as many successful matches as possible, the agency is willing to subsidize these adoptions by asking slightly more from the families who are not open to African-American children, and then using that to cover some of the costs for families who are open to these children.
It makes sense that adoption would cost so much. Children are valuable! They shouldn't be cheap!
Again, we are not paying for a child. We are paying for services that are going to match us with a child and make that arrangement safe and legal. In some cases -- for example, with some foster-to-adopt situations -- a family may pay nothing at all. Does that mean that those children are not valuable? Of course not. Nobody is setting a price on children. Only on the amount of work a family is asking other people to do in order to help them adopt a child.
Have you considered foster-to-adopt? It would save you a lot of money.
While I appreciate the concern, it strikes me as a little ridiculous that someone would think we'd entered this very expensive and time-intensive process without researching and considering all of our options first. We have a lot of reasons for choosing a domestic private adoption for our first child, and we may very well go a completely different route in the future as we continue to expand our family.
But private adoption and adoption out of foster care are two very different things. In the first case, you have a birth parent or parents intentionally deciding that they want another family to raise their child, typically playing a large role in choosing who that family is, and often having an ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship with the adoptive family and the child. In the second case, you typically have a situation where the birth parents are determined by some outside organization to be currently incapable of parenting their child(ren) for one reason or another -- the child(ren) may be taken out of the home as a result of abuse or neglect, or the parent(s) may be in jail, for example -- and it's likely that the parental rights will be completely terminated, making the child(ren) available for adoption.
Children in foster care need a loving and safe home just as much as children do whose parents decide before they're born that they won't be able to give them the life they want to. But children in foster care are more likely to have suffered abuse or trauma and are often older than children intentionally placed for adoption (who are generally newborns), and the relationship with the birth family is likely to be more difficult. That's something that needs to be entered into with a lot of thoughtful intentionality and preparedness as an adoptive parent. It's not something you do just because it's cheaper or because "the kids are already there and need homes." It's a very different way of growing one's family than private adoption, and not the way we've chosen right now.
Additionally, saying this to us when it's clear we're already well underway with the adoption process is a little bit ridiculous. We've already spent several thousand dollars in various fees and are more than halfway through the approval process to become an active family with our agency. If someone you knew was pregnant and realized they were going to need help paying their medical bills, you wouldn't say to them, "Have you considered fostering to adopt instead? That might save you money." It would be absurd.
In general, anyone who hasn't contributed to our adoption fund but wants to sit there and pass judgment on the cost of adoption / the cost of the particular adoption path we've chosen can just shut it.
Is there a reason you're going with an out-of-state agency? People in this state are looking for adoptive families.
This was actually said to me by someone at a local adoption agency whom I'd contacted about doing our home study. Our main agency is a national agency and not licensed to conduct home studies in all 50 states, so we needed to find a local agency to do that portion of the process. I contacted several and explained the situation to see if they'd be willing to do the home study for us.
This response irritated me for some of the same reasons already mentioned. Yes, of course there was a reason we selected the agency we did. We didn't just pick them randomly out of the phone book. And even if we had, I'd made it clear that we'd already selected and were well into the process with this agency, so disparaging our choice to go with a national agency wasn't going to cause us to switch to the local agency. It only ensured we wouldn't use that local agency for our home study either.
With a national agency, our profile is going to be shown to more birth parents in a shorter period of time. The fact that the pool of other adoptive families is also much larger doesn't really matter that much. It's not a competition; it's a matchmaking process, and the more options, the closer the match can be between a birth parent's ideals and the possible families they're matched with. Working with such large numbers is also one reason our agency has such consistency that it can tell us that most placements happen within 12 months of when a family's profile is activated. Again, there's no right or wrong option here -- many people have very successful adoptions with local agencies. But for the kind of situation we wanted for our first adoption, from depth of hands-on help to average length of wait time, this was the right agency for us.
I don't mind questions about the adoption process (assuming they're real questions, and not "Why didn't you do things the way I think you should have done them?" questions). I enjoy talking about it because I'm excited at the genuine possibility of our becoming parents in 2014. But I get frustrated by hearing these kinds of comments over and over, especially when people seem to assume I'll agree with them (about the process being too complicated or expensive). I'd be happy to answer any questions you have, to the extent that I can, in comments below.
By the way, if you're interested in learning some things not to say to a birth parent, I recommend this post from The Happiest Sad.
*I choose to use the term "birth parent" because it is the most common and most well-understood. I recognize that there are some who prefer to be called a "first parent" or some other term, while others think these terms are silly and that "birth parent" is most accurate term to describe them.