Anyone would be lucky to adopt: what we’ve learned after adopting two daughters

Guest post by Alissa
hugging  it out with Daddy
Love! And yes, you might remember this photo from this Mama Montage. Photo by Alissa.

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.

Sisters. Photo by Alissa.

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.

Comments on Anyone would be lucky to adopt: what we’ve learned after adopting two daughters

  1. You are lucky- to be in a country where adoption is possible. Here in Australia it really isn’t… here are some stats…
    Intercountry 421
    Local 60
    Known Child 95
    Total 576

    Intercountry 405
    Local 59
    Known Child 104
    Total 568

    Intercountry 270
    Local 70
    Known Child 100
    Total 440

    Intercountry 269
    Local 68
    Known Child 104
    Total 441

    • We have low adoptions because any kids over the age of one or who have any health concerns are instead pushed into the foster care or permanent care programs where adoption isn’t an option. It’s not that we don’t have kids that need families, it’s that we keep them in the care of the Government (with all the restrictions that brings) instead of giving them the chance to be adopted and raised with the same rights and opportunities as any other kid.

      Also, it takes 4+ years to be approved to adopt here with significant restrictions on who can adopt (straight, married couples who can commit to one person being home for 12 months, etc…). Also, average age of an adoptive mother is 44, partly because the process takes so long.

      Back to this post. I loved this. So often people present adoption as a wonderful thing or a terrible thing. It’s complicated. But clearly this gorgeous family is doing the best they can by their kids. Which is all anyone can ask of any parents. 🙂

      • I’ve been considering adoption for some time and knew it was somewhat restricted here in Australia, but didn’t realise there were rules like being home for 12months?? Well that…certainly puts everything in a more difficult light. I suppose they figure if you can’t afford for one of you to be without pay for 8 – 9 months then you shouldn’t adopt.

        Clearly I’ll have to investigate more. Those figures aren’t looking very encouraging though.

        It’s strange, because there’s always, always calls for more foster carers (which I’ve also considered). I guess because outright adoption is so discouraged. Hmm.

    • As an Australian who would like to adopt older children, this is so, so depressing. And most people are not aware of it. I say to people I have no desire to have babies but love school-age children, I get, “Oh, why don’t you adopt?”

      If only.

  2. I have to say I always love reading about your beautiful family and your story and thoughts on adoption. I’ve always figured one day, when me and my husband are ready, will adopt. It seems your very in touch and educated about the different issue relating to adoption. Which I find very helpful in considering how I’m going to make my own family one day.

  3. This article is AMAZING! I work in the family and children’s services social work orbit and truly appreciate how well (and non-judgementally) you articulated the complexity of adoption and foster care for those who aren’t necessarily in the know.

    • I work in that world too – as an attorney – so thanks for pointing out all the children in the foster care/children services system who need homes. My county has about 7 kids right now looking for adoptive parents, but the neighboring county over which is a metro area has something like 700. The need is huge.

      • I’m an adoptive parent to two kids (public adoption of an older sibling pair, then ages 9 and 11, in Canada) and I totally agree with how well you articulated the complexities of adoption.

        There’s so much I have to say on this topic, and I don’t know where to begin, as all adoption experiences are different and come with their respective challenges.

        As we adopted older kids, I have to put it out there that I wish more people saw that as an adoption option when considering adoption. For various reasons people shy away from older kids – fear of attachment issues, concerns about the kids history, time to parent and so on – and I wish that we could do more to demystify older kid adoption.

        Nothing breaks my heart more than talking to a youth who came into care later in life, wanted to be adopted and never was, and then ages out of the system at 18. No parents, no financial support, no one at all. Heartbreaking.

        • PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE could you write a post about adopting older children and the realities of public adoption?! I’m HUGELY curious about this, but have no idea what the real-life implications of these options are.

          • I think that’s dependent upon Offbeat Mama! I think I can speak about my experience, however, I can say that all of the adoption stories I hear are so very different. My blog has some of the backvstory on it written as we encountered some of the ups and downs.

          • I second this comment, I would certainly love to hear about your experience of adopting an older child….this is something my partner and I are seriously considering.

          • I would also really like to hear about your experiences! My wife and I are hoping to build a blended bio/adoptive family, and the more research I do, the more strongly I feel that public adoption is the route for us. But it’s by far the hardest to gather any information on! I would lovelovelove to read more about your thoughts/choices/personal experiences with both public adoption and the adoption of older kids (something we’re also considering).

  4. Beautifully written article. I wonder how many parents out there choose to adopt from the start. Though I am several years away from seriously thinking about having kids, I have thought for several years now that I really want to adopt my future son or daughter – rather than even try to have a biological child (I hope I’m using all the right terms here, I’m not trying to offend anyone). All of my cousins on both sides of my family are adopted so it’s something I’ve seen in action from an early age. It’s for that and several other reasons (my family has a history of rough pregnancies and I have several little health issues that could become an issue in the event of a pregancy) that I’d rather choose to adopt from the start. My mind may change if I find a partner to start a family with, but for now, that’s how I feel.
    I’m afraid though that if I express this desire to build my family through adoption rather than biologically people will think I’m very strange or somehow selfish for not having a child the traditional way. Has anyone out there had this experience?

    • It’s so interesting how prone we are (as women, as humans?) to thinking that pursuing our desires is selfish, no matter what they might be. I sometimes worry that it is selfish for me and my husband to pursue a vasectomy reversal so that we can have our own biological children, when there are so many kids in the foster care system who need a home. Kind of the opposite of what you are thinking about, but we both wonder if we’re being selfish… I say follow your heart and it’s not selfish at all! When my husband and I can afford a home to put everyone in, I hope that we can have a biological child or two AND become foster parents or adopt out of the foster care system. We’ll see…

    • I know more than one person who decided that adoption was their choice for family building before ever exploring having a biological child. I think it’s a fantastic choice, although the assumption out there in our culture is that people who have only adopted children couldn’t make a baby themselves. So be prepared for that!

    • Adoption was our first choice to create our family (and we did a public domestic adoption of siblings), which we followed with a baby four years later. We always knew that adoption would be part of our family plan and there are just so many kids who want and need parents. Adoption was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done, it’s still challenging, and it’s also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

      In my experience, we’ve never been called strange or selfish for building our family through adoption. On the contrary, we’ve been exalted as saints and simultaneously pitied because it was presumed we couldn’t have biological children and we were missing on something so incredibly important in life.

  5. Thanks for sharing! The photo is BEAUTIFUL! And I like the points you make, especially #1–I’ve heard way too many people make condescending comments about “lucky” adopted kids.

  6. “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.”

    THIS times a million. Great article!

    My sister was adopted at age 5 and it taught my brother and I (who are both “home grown”) some invaluable lessons about family, love, and life.

  7. I just gave birth to my first child and am hoping to one day adopt my second, but I know little to nothing about the various options. I hope to see many more articles on the subject!

  8. I never commented before but had to on this. Thanks for acknowledging the loss of the first parents. Heaps of people sweep over this with the ‘lucky’ talk as you said.

    As far as I can see Australias strict laws on adoption are because of the stolen generation and have a lot of emphasis on children staying as close to their family/kin/mob/homeland as possible. It is because of this that we ended up fostering extended family members even though we would NEVER have been given the chance to adopt as we were so young. We still have not qualified what a frustration.

    It took me a long time and a lot of heartache to realise that my partner and I were not suited to adopting after fostering. I think a lot of people have it as a romantic idea and the reality can be different.

    I know it can be so wonderful too and work perfectly for everyone involved! I loved my time caring for children and I love this story about your family and the very special way you told it xx

    • I’m curious, what made you decide that fostering and adoption weren’t for you? No judgment, I’m just interested in how this specific option plays out in real life.

  9. So, I’ve thought about adoption a fair amount, and read a lot about the emotional side, but any research that I’ve done on the process has left me really confused. Where does someone start learning about how adoption works logistically?

    • The process is very different depending on where you live and what form of adoption you pursue. I’d recommend that once you have given some thought about whether you’re interested in international or domestic, public or private, to contact a local agency.

      Here’s a quick overview of our process here in one province of Canada (there are 53 agencies for public adoption and each has their own process).
      1) Attend an info night on fostering and adoption (these happen once a month).
      2) Fill out some preliminary paperwork and return.
      3) Sign up and attend PRIDE training (a 30-hour course that is mandatory, Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education).
      4) At the end of PRIDE you are matched with an adoption worker and you go though a home study – a series of at home visits, questionnaires and more paperwork to ascertain your eligibility/fit.
      5) Presented with a possible match. (A case conference is held internally at the Children’s Aid with the foster parents, kids’ adoption worker, kids’ foster worker, and adoption workers where parents who would be a good fit are presented and the group decides on which one would be best and then the paper profile and some pictures are presented to the prospective parents for consideration. Parents may also have the opportunity to observe the child/ren from a distance to see if there is a fit).
      7) Match made and transition. You meet the kids, they learn about you as adoptive parents, and you begin to transition them to your home. This takes place over an extended period of time (rule of thumb is 1 week for every year of life) which starts with short visits and ramps up to an overnight or weekend visit.
      8) Gotcha day. The kids move in with you.
      9) Finalization. Six months to a year or more later the adoption is finalized.

      Hope that helps!

  10. “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.” These are complicated differences, but so important to pay attention to — so wrapped up and entangled in that process of creating a family.

    Thank you!

  11. Thank you for this. As an adult adoptee I so very often run into people who don’t understand the complexities that come with adoption and tell me that I was “lucky” or should feel “grateful.” It’s nice to have adoptive parents writing who “get it”!

  12. This is a really beautiful article about adoption. I dislike how most of the talk about adoption either paints it as this rosey, happy for everyone situation, or paints it as this horrible, terrible thing to do. It can be awful, yes, but sometimes it’s still the best thing possible. And there are lots of different kinds of adoption, it’s nice that you point that out as well. All in all, I have greatly enjoyed this and I thank you for writing a well balanced, loving and informed piece.

  13. FABULOUS series!! I just read all four parts for the first time thginot. GREAT job!!I grew up in an abusive household, so, to me, blood ties do not carry much weight. I would have much preferred to have been adopted by someone who would show me love than to have stayed in a household w/my bio family being repeatedly abused. There is a bias in our society that assumes that all women who birth a baby will be loving and good mothers. That is simply not the case. Susan Smith drowned her children. I don’t remember the name of the woman who snapped and murdered all of her children in a bath tub. These were women who were biologically related to their children but still took those children’s lives. There are many women who are bad mothers who are biologically related to their kids. It takes more than birthing a baby to be a good mom. Most people are unaware of the staggering statistics of abusive mothers, inflicting not only physical and emotional abuse but sexual abuse as well upon both boys and girls. Any child is better off in an adoptive home than with an abusive mother. There are entire message boards dedicated to healing from mother-daughter sexual abuse. Children who are abused by mothers experience even deeper levels of pain that they must work through to heal because they have been betrayed by the first person who they ever loved. Since society does not talk about or acknowledge abuse by mothers, people who suffer from this form of abuse feel even more isolated as they try to heal.Back to adoptism I see it more on line and in the media than I do in my day-to-day life. Perhaps this is because people who see me with my son can see how bonded we are. Perhaps it is because I am very confident in my status as my son’s mother and, therefore, do not invite those kinds of comments into my life. If anything, most people in my life will say things like, Does your son realize how lucky he is that you adopted him? to which I reply that **I** am the lucky one to be blessed to be his mom. :0)This is a really good topic. EXCELLENT job in covering it.- Faith

  14. As an adoptive of mother of 4 and a former professional in the foster care field, I can tell you it’s far more than social stigma that keeps the numbers of foster care adoptions low. It’s a completely dysfunctional system with a myriad of problems.

  15. Thank you so much. In my teens I entered foster care and after some time was placed with my now adopted mother. It gets my goat when people say how ‘lucky’ I am to have her, yes she is an awesome adopted mum (I’m Australian so it’s mum not mom here ) and I’m forever grateful she came into my life but even she agrees that the ‘ lucky’ phrase that people use so often, can be hurtful to us both as we both give and receive in the adopted relationship and she dislikes the connotation that I’m a ‘lucky’ charity case or similar. Thanks again, great article.

    • Hey Kathryn, were you formally adopted or are you in “permanent care”? I am Australian and was looking into local adoption but from what I can find out, these days we can only adopt infants (at least in Victoria) and for older children permanent foster care is the only option. I’m wondering if this is like foster care in that they’re still not legally our child, things have to be run by the first parents etc, or if it’s really adoption by another name?

      • My adoption happened as an adult but I’ve been happy with that as I felt it was my choice then, so I entered my foster care placement with my now adopted mum when I was 13 and adoption wasn’t something we formalised until I was in my 30’s. I know fostering can be a challenge but it would be great if more people took it up. I still maintained a ( albeit difficult) relationship with my father who was my sole parent before I went into foster care until he passed away a few years ago so it felt right to do an adult adoption with my foster mum after he had passed away. Hope this further info helps, it’s actually hard for foster children and adults to expand on their stories but I do it I’m the hope of furthering people’s understanding of a child’s view of foster care that can lead to adoption. Now that I work as a social worker I now this to be true for alot ( not all) children in foster care that there are often multiple parental and guardian relationships to make sense of emotionally and that needs to be thought about and allowed for and supported in any fostering or adoption process.

  16. Hey Alissa, I see in your bio that you’re a breadwinner wife — as am I. My husband is an artist and chronically under-employed, as we think about adoption for our family, I’m wondering how much impact this scenario might bring to our application. Obviously things worked out for your family, did this play a role at all for you or was it overlooked?

  17. There are some of us in Australia who would love to give some of those 96,000+ kids a home over here but as far as I’m aware we can’t do intercountry adoption from the US 🙁

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