Ten Things Everybody Should Know About Adoption

11 Nov

Adoption is a truly amazing thing – it takes children and places them with loving parents, creating a beautiful family.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions, myths, and out-dated notions about adoption out there.  In celebration of National Adoption Month, as well as an attempt to provide friendly information and education for those whose lives have not been enriched by adoption, here are ten things you need to know:

1.  Never, ever, ever say an adopted child was “given up” for adoption. 

Be honest, we’ve all done it:  you’re talking about an adopted child and you say “Did you know that So-And-So was given up for adoption?”  Or you’re talking about a parent/relative/co-worker who “gave up” a child for adoption.

Please, stop doing that.

Think about it:  what do people give away?  We give away things without value or that we have no use for anymore.  I have never met a child who is without value.  A better option is to say the child was “placed” for adoption or a birth mother “made an adoption plan”.  These phrases more accurately reflect the painful reality:  placing your baby with another couple, whom you likely have never met, is one of the hardest, and yet most loving, decisions a woman can make.  And no child should grow up thinking he or she was discarded by their biological family, like an old couch set out on the curb.

Is avoiding “given up” another example of an ultra-sensitive, politically correct culture?  Some folks would say yes, but I’m guessing those same people would take a swing at me if I implied their biological children had no value.  My wife says it best:  “Please don’t say ‘you were given up’ to my child.  No, you, little girl, were created by God for a reason, and your mommy and daddy love you soooo much.”

2.  Families adopt for many different reasons.  When we were checking out daycares for our daughter, we met with a provider who told us that she typically did not accept adopted children.  As she put it, adoptive families “are so desperate for a child that they do not believe in discipline.”  Luckily for us, she could “tell that we were different.”  Needless to say, we did not entrust our child to this whack job.

There are millions of adoptive parents, each with their own personal tale of why they chose to adopt.  Yes, many families adopt in part because they are unable to conceive a biological child.  Infertility was one of the primary reasons we chose to adopt.  But do not assume adoption is some kind of “Plan B” to only be pursued once all available infertility options are exhausted.  Adoption was always on the table for us, even if we had a biological child.  We left several fertility options unexplored to pursue adoption because it was right for us.

Simply put, some are called by religious beliefs, some want to help a child, others want to enrich their family with a child from a different race, culture, or country.  There is no one size fits all reason.  Whatever the reason, adoption is a wonderful decision.

3.  Adoption can be incredibly expensive.  According to Adoptive Families magazine, the average cost to adopt a newborn domestically through an agency can range from $20,000 – $35,000.  Those costs include agency fees, costs to process paperwork and background checks, birth mother expenses (such as rent, food, and utilities), travel expenses to wherever the child is born, and much more.  International adoptions are typically even more expensive due to additional agency fees, the red tape of dealing with two governments, and more expensive travel costs.

Yes, the IRS does currently provide a tax credit for adoptive families ($12,970 per child) but that does not cover all of the expenses, nor does it put the money in your account when you need to write a really big check to your agency.

Some folks are lucky enough to work for a company that offers an adoption benefit (a few hundred to several thousand dollars) to help defray adoption expenses.  If your company does not have adoption benefits, encourage them to start.

4.  BUT…never say “you’re buying a baby” or “how much did your baby cost?”  If you want to be truly technical, yes:  adoptive parents do pay money to an agency (or other entity) for assistance in bringing a child into their home.

Of course, biological parents also pay money to different entities for assistance in providing their child.  Yet nobody asks the biological parent how much their numerous fertility treatments were, how much their doctor or mid-wife cost, or what they spent on the case of Keystone Light the night their precious little angel was conceived.

If you are curious about the costs that go into an adoption, ask a family that has adopted, check out adoptivefamilies.com, or use Google.  All are much better options than being rude and disrespectful.

5.  Adoptive parents are “real” parents.  

Here’s the deal:  my wife and I are caucasian with blondish-brown hair.  Our oldest daughter has a darker complexion with stunningly beautiful dark curly hair.  Our son and youngest daughter are African-American and will likely tower over us someday.  This disparity often leads to a variation of the question “Who/where are their real parents?”

These children may not have lived in my wife’s uterus for 9 months*, but she is their “real mom”.  She is the one who gets up with them at 3 am, changes their diapers, gets thrown up on, and does anything and everything that a “real mom” does – unless of course, their “real dad” is the one doing it.  Oh yeah, and it is our names on the birth certificates.

*Honey, I’m sorry for writing about your uterus on the internet.  It won’t happen again 🙂

I say this with absolutely no disrespect to the biological parents (a.k.a. “birth parents”, “first parents”, “bio mom”, or other titles) of our children.  Those two amazing women will never fully know the depth of our love for them, our gratitude for being chosen by them, and how blessed we are to raise their beautiful babies.

In reality, our children have two sets of “real” parents – the ones whose DNA they share, and us, the ones who handle their care.

6.  Adoption is not a cure for infertility.  I wish I had a dollar* for every person who has said “Now that you have adopted, you’ll be getting pregnant” or has shared the story of their co-worker’s cousin’s brother’s neighbor who adopted and got pregnant a few months later.  Sure it happens, but it is not like adoption magically triggers some “mom gene” that allows pregnancy to occur.

*And if I had that dollar for each time, my wife would not have had to skimp and save so much to pay for our second adoption.

7.  Despite what you have seen on TV or in the movies, adoptive parents are not concerned about the birth family trying to steal the child away.  The laws vary from state to state, but most are pretty similar to this:  once the birth mother signs the consent (which in many places cannot happen until at least 48 hours after birth) the decision is final and legally binding – her parental rights are terminated.  In other words, once she signs the consents, a birth mother has as much legal right to your biological child as she does to her own.  I know that makes for a pretty boring Lifetime movie, but that is the reality.

But if we’re talking about things that adoptive parents do worry about:  it is the birth mother deciding to parent the child before the consent paperwork is signed.  That is her choice, her right, and it does happen quite a bit (I’ve read about 30% of the time).  When that happens, it can be devastating for the adoptive family who has gone through a long and grueling process and is leaving broken-hearted and childless.  Trust me, it sucks.

8.  Most domestic adoptions are now “open”.  Another great TV and movie stereotype:  the adoptee grows up and somehow finds out that his “real mom” was living in the same town all along.  They meet for a tearful reunion, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Certainly, that happened in the past.  Most adoptions used to be “closed” where the birth mother’s identity was not known, or was locked in a file that was impossibly hard to unseal.  Or maybe the birth mom was not sure which family had adopted her child, or did not know where they were at.

But today, most domestic adoptions are considered “open”, where some sort of connection and relationship exists between the birth mom (or other members of the birth family) and the adoptee and/or adoptive family.  Open relationships can run the gambit from a letter and some pictures each year, to regular social media contact, to weekly visits and calls.  It really depends on the parties involved and what is in the best interest of the child.

These types of relationships are beneficial for all parties involved.  The relationships don’t always happen overnight – it can take time for the bonds to grow and strengthen – but the payoff is much better than birth mother and child meeting for the first time when the child turns 18.

9.  The process to get approved to adopt is long, costly, and frustrating.  Here’s a secret frustration of many prospective adoptive parents:  they want nothing more to adopt, but they have to jump through dozens of hoops to prove their personal, financial, medical, and legal worthiness to be parents.  Meanwhile, the news is always finding stories about the unemployed 22-year-old single mom who has 3 kids, and is pregnant with #4, parents accused of child abuse or neglect, or the big national story when we were starting our first adoption:  OctoMom.  For a domestic adoption through an agency, we needed:

  • Complete biographical information
  • A copy of our marriage license
  • A letter from our employers stating our salary and job stability
  • A complete financial statement – including a list of assets and debts and a monthly budget
  • Copies of our recent tax returns
  • A physical and report from our doctor stating we were free from major illness
  • Vaccination records for all of our pets
  • A local criminal history check
  • Two sets of fingerprints
  • A national criminal background check
  • Consents to verify that we are not on any sex offender registries or child abuse/neglect registries
  • Four hours of interviews and a house inspection by a social worker
  • Four letters of recommendation from our friends.

Aside from inducing carpal tunnel syndrome, many of these steps have fees attached to them.  If we were adopting internationally, the process would be longer, more complex, and subject to the unpredictability of a potentially unstable foreign government.  There is a reason that this is a popular mantra in the adoption community.

Throughout the process, you try to remind yourself that it is all necessary to ensure children are placed in safe, loving homes, but that doesn’t stop the frustration when you see those stories or fill out yet another form.

10.  Adoptive families typically LOVE to tell you their adoption stories and are willing to discuss adoption with other families who are considering it.  We faced a bit of a challenge when we first started considering adoption:  we did not immediately know of other adoptive parents that we could talk with to learn about the process, get their advice, and hear about the good and the bad.  None of our friends had adopted.  Aside from an uncle who adopted internationally over 10 years ago, we did not have family that we could reach out to.

So we expanded our search, and ended up talking with two couples:  one of my wife’s co-workers and a Facebook friend I had not seen since college.  Both were incredibly generous with their time, telling us their amazing stories and patiently answering all of our questions.

In short, if you are considering adoption or just have questions, reach out to somebody who has been through it.  The odds are very good that they will cherish the opportunity to talk to you.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll throw it out there again:  if you have adoption questions or want to get some basic information from folks who have been there, feel free to drop me a line at feitcanwrite (at) hotmail.com.  I won’t have all the answers, but I’ll gladly help.

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One Response to “Ten Things Everybody Should Know About Adoption”

  1. My Perfect Breakdown November 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Thank you for this list!! While we are only at the very start of our adoption journey, we have already learned many of the things on your list. And, we have also experienced number 10 multiple times already! Once I started blogging about our adoption thoughts I have received countless comments and emails of support and offering to answer questions (you included). Once we started looking for people in our city who have adopted, we discovered a whole world of amazingly supportive people who just want to help us make an educated decision. We are so thankful for all of this! My husband and I have now joked that by going down the path of adoption, we may be joining a community that we didn’t even know existed. 🙂

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