Shortly after we adopted our second daughter this past September my husband posted a picture I took of him and the girls to Reddit with a title that explained they are biological siblings and now both adopted by us. To our surprise it made the front page and received almost a thousand comments. Most were really nice, some were sort of nosy, and down-voted to the nether regions of the comment section was some very ugly stuff.
Posting the picture was Andrew’s thing — I didn’t know about it until it got on the front page and someone texted me about seeing it — but reading the comments was fascinating for me. There it was, a snapshot of how a cross-section of internet users who are not primarily interested in parenting or adoption react to seeing my family. Some of the responders were fellow adoptive parents, some were adoptees, but most just seemed to be people who either thought we were awesome, liked the photo or some element of it (Andrew’s Between the Buried and Me shirt got lots of props), or have some sort of opinion about the way we chose to build our family. More than a few had questions about our daughter’s first mom and her reasons for placing [for adoption]. Many assumed our children were from a third world country because of their skin color. Several made insensitive jokes about buying babies. A few were outright racist.
After reading through all the comments and thinking about it for a while I realized that I live in a very adoption-friendly and adoption-aware part of the internet. And that the language I use and certain things about adoption I take for granted are not common knowledge. That picture and what I learned from the comments it generated was the first thing that came to mind when Stephanie asked me to write something here for Adoption Awareness Month. So here are some things that I wish more people were aware of about adoption.
Nobody is “lucky” to be adopted. I am told fairly regularly that my girls are lucky that we adopted them. People are usually trying to be nice, to compliment me. But something every adoptive family has to deal with on some level is that all adoptions begin with a loss. And no child is lucky to lose their first parents. Loving adoptive parents are great, but we’re not providing something extraordinary for our children. We’re providing them with the thing every child has a right to — a loving and safe family environment. And they shouldn’t have to walk around feeling indebted to anyone for that.
Anyone would be lucky to adopt. Many parents’ road to adoption includes a battle with infertility, and that’s sad and hard. But to be able to adopt a child — if it’s something you can even consider much less accomplish — is an act of privilege. It means that you have the economic and community support to prove to several strangers that you’re qualified to parent. It means that you get to be part of a child’s life, and not just any child but a child whose landing was rougher than most, whose position in the world is a little or a lot more vulnerable. There are losses for adoptive parents too, but of the three parties in the adoption triad (first family, child, adoptive family) the adoptive parents wield most of the power and usually have significant privileges that the child’s biological family doesn’t. Adopting isn’t better than pregnancy and birth. But like birthing a child it is a privilege, and anyone would be lucky to be in a position to do it.
Adoption has a checkered and ethically complicated past, as well as a checkered and ethically complicated present.
Adoption is complicated. Maybe this is obvious in light of my first two points, but this is Adoption Awareness Month — not adoption celebration month. Adoption has a checkered and ethically complicated past, as well as a checkered and ethically complicated present. At its best the process is about finding parents for children who need them. At its worst it becomes about finding children for parents who want them.
I see examples of adoption at its best all around me, especially in friends who have or are adopting from foster care and adoptive parents who help their children search for first families or do the hard work of keeping their adoptions open. I see examples of adoption at its worst in stories like the ones that came out of Haiti right after the earthquake, or the stories told by birthmothers and adult adoptees who were separated during the Baby Scoop Era here in the USA. Adoption can be a good and valid way to build a family — otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen it — but by its very nature it is a complex thing. It can be awesome, but it can be icky too. If you’re considering adoption this is something you need to know before wading in to the hundreds of choices between you and your child.
Adoption Awareness Month started to let people know about adopting from foster care. According to the US Dept of Health Children’s Administration as of 2010 about 25% of kids in foster care had a case goal of being adopted. That’s 96,772 children who need adoptive homes. Adoption from foster care is less expensive than any other kind, but the kids who need homes are still socially stigmatized in ways that children adopted through domestic infant adoption or international adoption usually aren’t, making that option less attractive to many. I don’t think this figure should be used to make anyone feel guilty about choosing a different sort of adoption or choosing to have biological children but I do want you to be aware of that number. It’s sort of staggering. Any of us would be lucky to be able to parent one of those kids.