25 June 2011
I’m a huge advocate for adoption. I love it. It is an absolutely miraculous way to create or expand a family. I am extremely passionate about adoption and desire to help those on the adoption pathway in any way I can. Because of that passion and because we have adopted twice (once internationally, once domestically) and because I worked for an agency for a short time, I often find myself being asked for advice on the topic. Just the other day, a friend messaged me to ask specifically about motivation to adopt. The topic really got my juices bubbling and I want to share more publicly what I said to him.
It seems to me that interest in adoption is growing and while that makes my heart glow with hope, it also creates a hitch in my spirit. Since joining the adoption community in 2005, I have seen many happy families created or grown; I have born witness to many successful adoptions. But, I have also seen a discouraging number of failed adoptions. Most of us heard about the child whose mother sent him back to Russia alone last year (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36322282/ns/world_news-europe/t/boy-sent-back-russia-adoption-ban-urged/). This news was shocking and horrifying. But it isn’t the only story of its kind. When I worked with the agency, I saw two children returned to their birth country under similar circumstances. And, I have heard of many, many more failed adoptions through the grapevine over the years. It’s tremendously disheartening to think of the emotional trauma created for children and families who find themselves in these positions. I understand that the families feel there is no other option available to them and I recognize they experience their own emotional carnage related to their adoption disruptions. And, even some parents with right motivations, good preparation, and lots of support can have trouble in their adoptions. But, I believe that at least some of these situations are preventable.
In the past, people adopted because they wanted to become parents. Almost all adoptive parents experienced infertility or secondary infertility. They simply wanted children (or more children) in their home, had the resources to raise them, and the compunction that children could be “our own” without coming from our bodies.
In recent years, adoption has begun to come to the forefront of the American Christian psyche. There is, in fact, a Christian adoption movement. And, a lot of good is coming from that (although I agree with them that there is much ground yet to be won). People are realizing that adoption is a positive (albeit challenging) way to grow a family. However, many well-intentioned people, stirred by the Bible’s clear injunctions to care for widows and orphans (Ex. 22:22, Deut. 10:18, 14:29, 24:17, PS 68:5, 82:3, Isa. 1:17,Jer 22:3, Zec 7:10) and Jesus’ plain instruction on caring for “the least of these” (Mat. 25:40,45), and taking a cue from our Heavenly Father’s spiritual adoption of each of us, consider adoption as the best way to obey these commands. I believe that is flat-out wrong. This “rescue-the-children” mentality is at the root of many adoptive parents’ dissatisfaction with their adoption experience as well as the fundamental reason some adoptions fail.
This rescue mentality can seem to blind people from their usual common sense. People seem to think that somehow an adoptable child is inherently good and, given the right environment, he will quickly and totally recover from his early trauma. But, these same parents, if they knew the next door neighbor kid had been involved in a gang even if only for survival, or had been sexually abused and learned to become an abuser herself, had learned to steal and horde to have food—would they bring that child over for a slumber party, let alone to be a permanent part of the family and share a room with their perfectly sheltered toddler? The reality is that many kids who have a less-than-ideal foundation (from malnourishment to neglect to abuse of any kind) can make great strides in their new families, but it isn’t instantaneous or even easy. Recovery for the child may demand an exceptionally high degree of commitment, advocacy, patience, selflessness, and persistence from the parent(s).
Another problem for parents who want to be a child’s savior is that adopted kids rarely feel much gratitude toward the family that has “rescued” them. From the children’s perspective, the adoptive family has ripped them away from everything they’ve ever known, the place they truly belonged. Far from appreciating all that the adoptive family can provide, the children are traumatized and grieved. These emotions and problems may surface immediately, or may develop over time, but at some point in an adoptive family’s life, they most likely will have to face this beast head-on. Adoption is far from ideal and adoptive parents who set themselves up as some kind of rescuing hero are setting themselves up for a fall. Unfortunately, many blame the children for the tumble from their pedestal, with tragic results.
This desire to rescue children from poverty can have devastating effects that reach far beyond the adoptive family. Not long ago there was a surge of people wanting to rescue impoverished kids in Guatemala. Rather than saving a generation of children, the situation ended up creating a black-market for healthy infants where babies were being stolen from loving mothers so they could be sold for adoption to well-meaning American couples (http://sites.google.com/site/internationaladoptionfacts/guatemala-adoption-u-s-adoptions-fueled-by-kidnappings). This, and similar situations, led to the closure of legitimate inter-country adoptions not only in Guatemala, but also in other countries which feared a similar fate for their children. Rarely is there a glut of healthy infants available internationally; even the poorest mothers want to breastfeed and care for their children as long as they can. If you're saying your primary motivation is to save a child’s life, but you only want a healthy infant (and you want to do it internationally so you don't have to deal with messy birth family issues) you have missed the point entirely.
I said above that these adoption failures could be prevented. If those who wish to adopt would take a serious look at their motivation, be honest with themselves before God and their spouses (where applicable), and take steps ensure their hearts are truly in the right place, it’s true—many of these sad stories would never occur.
For Aa and me, we stumbled into adoption because of secondary infertility. We conceived Punk easily when we wanted to, but we couldn’t get pregnant again (not for lack of trying!). We started our adoption journey because we wanted another child in our family. Honestly, we did like the idea that we were entering into a new understanding of the Father’s adoptive heart toward us and that we were obeying the Bible’s commands about orphans. And, in the end, I do believe we saved Pea’s life. If she hadn’t been adopted, she would have died. But, that wasn’t why we adopted her.
I think adoption is a lot like marriage—it’s a huge commitment, for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer. You are binding yourself to another person whose history you only know in part and whose future you cannot predict. When you adopt a child, you are committing to love and treat them as though they had come from your own body, without any guarantees about how the relationship will go. One adoptive mother who struggled in her relationship with her adopted daughter put it this way: “Unless you can imagine loving and being committed to a child even if they would NEVER love you, don't adopt.”
If you are considering adoption because it seems like the right thing to do, because you want to save a child from poverty, because you want to be the best Christian you can be, because you want to be hero, PLEASE DON’T DO IT. I cannot stress strongly enough the disaster that may ensue for you, your family, and the child(ren) you adopt if you enter into it for these reasons.
These motivations are not wrong in themselves. They are just not appropriate to adoption. As a Christian, you do need to step up and defend the fatherless. You do need to extend yourself on behalf of the widow, orphan, and the least of the least. As James 1:27 puts it, “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles.” (emphasis mine) It’s non-negotiable. But, these commands do not require us to adopt.
There are many other ways to fulfill these injunctions. In fact, adoption is really only a band-aid solution in the first place. It does nothing to address the needs of the birth family or the culture (domestic or foreign) into which the needy child was born. Advocating on behalf of the poor and contributing to transformational ministries which lift people out of poverty are very effective ways to create real, lasting change. Look into providing micro-loans for entrepreneurs in struggling economies. Or, support and promote organizations like Sports Outreach Ministries which is transforming the lives of Uganda’s inner-city slum children as well as families in rural villages of Northern Uganda in both practical and spiritual ways.
Most of the world’s adoptable children aren’t orphans in the truest sense; most have at least one living parent. They are adoptable because of poverty (this is true in the US and abroad). The exception to this is AIDS orphans. You can make a real difference and save children’s lives by advocating for ARV treatments in Africa and India and other places hit hard by the disease. Compassion, International has a stellar program for helping HIV+ mothers avoid transmission to their infants, as well as preventing infant mortality from other causes and helping the mothers live longer, stronger lives. Find out more at http://www.compassion.com/help-babies.htm.
Right here at home, you can make a real difference by backing ministries that support women in unplanned pregnancies (our local Lifeline is in dire need of diapers!) or mentoring an impoverished child. If you want an even more hands-on experience, apply for your foster-care license. It’s absolutely free to get started and it’s not a life-long commitment like adoption is. Many counties/states are desperate for solid, willing foster families.
In short, I want to let you off the hook. You don’t have to adopt! And, adopting doesn’t make you a hero or a better Christian. If you want to adopt for those reasons, please find an alternative. If you want to adopt because you desire to parent a child and are willing to face the challenges and difficulties that accompany adoption, I’ll be your biggest support!
the adoption experience
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Round Two Timeline
- 9/24/08 Home study update home visit for Ghana adoption
- 10/15/08 Dossier sent to AOHG
- 10/15/08 I600A application sent to USCIS
- 10/30/08 First heard about possible domestic private adoption
- 11/18/08 Last spoke with contact about possible domestic adoption; expected to hear back about meeting with birthmother
- 12/3/08 Withdrew application from AOHG
- 1/6/09 Found out another family had been chosen for possible domestic adoption
- 1/21/09 USCIS fingerprinting appointment
- 1/8/09 Received USCIS fingerprinting appointment notice
- 4/11/09 Sent Pre-Application to Covenant Care Adoptions for Domestic Infant Adoption program
- 6/8/09 Social worker visit to update home study from International to Domestic
- 7/24/09 Received completed home study update
- 8/25/09 Went "on the list" for birthfamilies to choose from
- 4/28/10 Found out a birth mom had chosen us
- 5/8/10 Met the birth mom
- 5/11/10 Got the call that birth mom changed her mind
- 5/19/10 Birth mom's scheduled c-section
- 11/30/10 Visit from DSS sw about foster parenting
- 11/30/10 Got the call that another birth mom had chosen us
- 12/21/10 Met with the birth mom
- 1/15/11 @1:42 PM BB was born!
- 1/19/11 ICPC (interstate) paperwork sent to GA for approval
- 1/31/11 ICPC Clearance Approved
- 2/10/11 Placement Ceremony and Pup comes home!!!!
- 8/3/11 It's Official! Pup's Adoption Decree was issued