Why We Don’t All Just Adopt

Ever since Jake and I began our infertility journey, I’ve realized that the world is full of people who can have healthy children for free, and usually don’t want them at all, telling other people that they should just adopt. I can’t actually speak for all couples who’ve sought fertility treatment, on this or any other issue of course, but I can share a few facts and explanations for why this “solution” isn’t as simple as people seem to think. I can also do so with a clear head and little emotional charge, which you’ll be fortunate to get if you actually suggest this to someone struggling to get pregnant. Spoiler alert: don’t.

To be clear, I am not telling anyone not to adopt. Adoption has proven to be a wonderful option for many, despite its challenges. It’s also just not a feasible option for many others, who are rarely given the opportunity to articulate why… or are too hurt to do so, because “Why don’t you just adopt” is a really hateful thing to say to someone dealing with infertility. I’m not the first one to discuss this and here is an article from Psychology Today that makes many similar points, if you don’t think I’m qualified to outline the reasons I found that adoption wasn’t a realistic option for so many people.

Adoption from Foster Care
When Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option to conceive, we did consider other possibilities, not just because IVF is unimaginably expensive and invasive, but also because it’s not guaranteed to work and we wanted children, even if they weren’t biologically ours. I started by researching adoption from foster care, assuming that these children would need homes the most and knowing that the process was low cost to free, when compared with other options. I quickly found out, however, that my home state is surprisingly honest about how difficult this process really is, how long it can take, the children available and the challenges they face. Adoptuskids.org spells out some of the same information, highlighting the fact that all of the children in foster care have dealt with loss or trauma and have the emotional issues that come with it, are an average of eight-years-old, often come in sibling groups, and may have special needs. Some resources even advised not entering a foster situation if your hope was to adopt in response to infertility, because the primary goal of foster care is reunification. Children aren’t usually placed in foster homes to find new families, but for their birth parents to have a chance to improve their situation and, ideally, take their children home once again. So the people who are most often asked “Why don’t you just adopt?” are actually being told that adopting from foster care really isn’t for them. This is the perfect version, as advertised on foster care websites, depicting pictures of cute, healthy, white toddlers on their adoption day, with no horror stories included.

As with IVF, however, you can’t mention the words “foster care” without hearing or recalling someone’s horror story and in the last year, I’ve heard several of them. I won’t spell out the firsthand accounts I’ve received, not just because they aren’t my stories to tell, but because you can ask around to find plenty of your own if you wish and every experience is unique. I also have no desire to paint DHS or the foster system as being run by mustache-twirling villains. It’s an underfunded and understaffed government agency without a lot of people waiting in line to become case workers or foster to adopt… often because of these stories, creating a vicious cycle full of people who are doing their best. The abbreviated version is that it just doesn’t always work out and when it doesn’t, it’s devastating. I know there are foster care success stories and I’m happy for the ones who can share them, but clearly this is not an option for everyone (and is arguably a poor option for some) and there is no shame in that. I’d imagine that those who have adopted from foster care know the challenges and aren’t asking people why they don’t “just” do so, themselves. It takes a special person to foster or foster to adopt (not the same thing) and it’s okay that that doesn’t describe everyone who wants to be a parent, as well as those who don’t want to be parents.

Tribal Adoption
In my state, you can flip a coin as to whether or not someone will claim to be native to one tribe or another. My own mother was adopted before the Indian Tribal Welfare Act, which I personally support as an effort to maintain children’s tribal roots, in part because I can’t actually claim mine, due to how my mother was adopted in 1960. I’ve heard many similar stories from those who don’t have their official cards and know just as many who do, so tribal adoption, around these parts, is a popular option. In fact, a good friend and coworker just finalized the adoption of her little girl from a tribe native to my state. She’s a registered member, herself, so it wasn’t fraught with the risk so inherent in trying to adopt outside of the tribe. I’m sure you’ve heard of these court battles and the arguments for why ICW should be abolished, but if you haven’t, it’s a very charged topic around these parts and one I can’t discuss dispassionately, so I won’t try.

The short story is that tribal adoption is an option worthy of consideration, if you’re a member. Results and processes vary by tribe, but it is often a simpler and quicker process. Even then, however, it’s not without risk, as there are still many hoops to jump through, before finalizing and you could inevitably lose custody before that point, as with any adoption process. My friend has actually decided not to adopt another child, specifically because she feels so lucky not to have had her heart broken the first time, after multiple failed infertility treatments. If you’re outside the tribe, you’re generally warned to steer clear of this option, as there are so many more ways it can fall through, in favor of a member, whether you agree with the policy or not.

Private Adoption
Private adoption is what most people picture when they hear the word “adoption.” They think of a pregnant teenager or young woman who’s unable to care for an infant and seeking a loving family, as seen on their favorite sitcom. Private adoption was used as a plot device on Friends, Sex and the City, and Modern Family… because that’s what infertility is to media, a plot device. The problem with these depictions, of course, is that they grossly misrepresent the process, from the waiting to the financial aspect to the risk of the adoption falling through.

Let’s start with the waiting. According to this source, the wait is between two and seven years for a healthy infant. It’s very difficult to find other figures, as those reporting them are the agencies looking to make money off of their services. Each step in the process is discussed independently and time estimates are rarely given, in part, because every situation is so unique. The reality of private adoption is that there are many more waiting parents than there are available children and it is very difficult to pin down a timeline. If it doesn’t work out, you’re that much older when you have to seek other options.

Then, there are the failures. It’s difficult to say how common failed adoption matches are, because no one is keeping track. One attorney estimates, however, that at least 50% of adoption matches fail, with scams to get money (while planning to keep the child) being difficult to prove, but not uncommon. He goes on to say that he feels that it’s become more and more common for adoption matches to fail, while more of the financial burden now falls on the adoptive parents, not the agency, estimating that number to fall somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000. Creating a Family displays surprising transparency, publicly reporting that their success rates range anywhere from 60% to 93%, depending on the year. This, of course, means that anywhere from 7% to 40% of matches fail.

This horror story is a terrible fertility clinic waiting room read and shares the tale of what one couple went through for their ultimate successful private adoption. Most people know, even through the grapevine, the story of a birth mother who changed her mind, either through the birth mother herself, as is the case with my step-brother’s nephew, who once had eager adoptive parents waiting for him… or through the heartbroken adoptive parents, such as with a high school teacher of mine. I’ve even heard the miserable recounts of a close friend who once worked with an adoption agency and had to assist in reclaiming adoptive children from their new homes. These women aren’t the villains, however, for deciding to parent their own children. It’s just a risk of a very difficult process, so it’s no surprise that said process is no one’s first choice.

Finally, the expense of private adoption must be considered. There are testimonials all over the Internet, in blogs or message board comments, sharing individual experiences, but I can’t validate those numbers, so I’m going to quote some average figures, such as adoption.org’s $30,500 to $48,500 for an agency adoption and $25,000 to $38,000 for independent adoption. American Adoptions, however, reports a higher figure, with a national average of $43,000 and their own averages of $40,000 to $50,000. Some estimates cite costs as low as $20,000. There are of course some very happy families built through private adoption, but the fact remains that, even when considering only the financial aspect, it’s simply unreachable for many Americans.

International Adoption
International adoption is actually not a favorite suggestion of those who lack an understanding of how involved all types of adoption are, often getting the response that there are “plenty of children here who need homes.” See above. For years, however, it was a go-to for people who wanted to avoid the complications of these other options, while still having the opportunity to become parents. It was often cheaper and came with less risk of having a birth parent attempt to reclaim parental rights. I remember looking at international adoption, more than 10 years ago, and seeing that adopting from Ethiopia only cost around $15,000 and was one of the cheapest and easiest options.

The landscape of international adoption has changed drastically since I last considered it, something I also discovered while researching in a fertility clinic waiting room. Today, all of the countries that were once so popular for international adoption (and still allow it) limit their available children to those with disabilities, sometimes mild and others severe; while only allowing the rest to be adopted locally, by their own citizens, who will raise them in their native countries and cultures. There’s merit to these policies, but they severely limit the options and it now costs much more for international adoptions.

Previously, in Ethiopia, only abandoned children were available for adoption internationally, which meant they often had severe disabilities. The cost was around $32,000 – $45,000. In 2018, however, the country ended international adoptions, as did Russia in 2012. Adoption from China costs anywhere from $27,000 to $37,000 and limits their available children to “special needs” and “special focus,” respectively children with one or more medical conditions. Only single women (as opposed to single men) are allowed to adopt, and must have a net worth of $100,000 or more, while married couples only require $80,000. Applicants’ BMI cannot exceed 40. Guatemala specifically limits their prospective parents to heterosexuals and discourages any single man from adopting. The estimated cost is $25,000 to $38,000. This is irrelevant, at the moment, because the U.S. doesn’t currently allow adoptions from Guatemala, Vietnam, or Nepal. Other, more obscure countries, often have trouble meeting U.S. immigration regulations, regardless of their available and waiting children.

In the past, some beautiful families have grown through international adoption. As you can see, however. this is no longer really an option for most Americans, considering the cost, limitations, and even immigration horror stories.

Our Reasons
That’s it, y’all. Those are all of the options for acquiring a child, without fertility treatments, short of a relative dying and leaving you one in the opening plot to a family friendly romcom. Jake and I discussed all of the above options, before moving forward with IVF and what it came down to, for us, was that we wanted the absolute assurance that the child we were raising would remain ours. We didn’t care about the genetics or appearance so much as we cared about knowing they couldn’t be taken from us. We also found that even one of the most expensive fertility treatments was still cheaper than most forms of adoption.

IVF and other similar options are not without risk, believe me I know. You can spend thousands of dollars on a failed procedure, as Jake and I personally experienced, or six figures on multiple failed procedures, which we fortunately did not. It’s emotionally, financially, and physically devastating, but of all the risks, from bankruptcy to cancer, having your child ripped from your arms isn’t one of them. For most couples undergoing fertility treatments, it’s not an obsession with pregnancy or having a child that looks like them or an inability to love a kid who doesn’t share their bloodline… you know, the things people who often don’t want any children (and therefore don’t want to adopt either) accuse us of thinking. They just want to be parents, without threat of having the title stripped from them, often after heartbreaking years of trying to conceive naturally.

If it came down to (a) spending tens of thousands of dollars on invasive medical treatments or (b) walking into the Baby Pound that my Gramma adopted my mom from (which people seem to think still exists today) and taking one home with the assurance that no one would ever show up to reclaim them, many people who want to be parents would choose the latter. It’s not 1960, though. I’m pretty sure the hospital administrator in charge of my mother’s adoption wasn’t even entirely on the up-and-up and my Gramma still feared for her family every time the doorbell rang, until her daughter was eighteen. So, it wasn’t even all that simple then.

Sure, most of us do want babies, because we’re complete monsters for wanting to be there for all of the firsts and know that our children weren’t traumatized, before coming under our care. If we could adopt healthy toddlers or young grade schoolers, though, even having to help them overcome some trauma, knowing they’d remain ours, many of us would! That’s just not really how the system works. As for teens, they’re totally my jam, from the nerdy, funny ones to the angry ones smoking pot on the library patio and calling me a bitch. Still, I know that it takes a special person to work with them for even the amount of time I do and I don’t begrudge someone for not being able to do it day in and day out, with any age child.

Adoption has created many happy families, but it’s not without challenges. Not wanting to take those on, as Plan A, after receiving the heart wrenching news that they can’t get pregnant, doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Not wanting to fight these battles, if there’s an easier way, is really no different than not wanting to fight the battles of having children at all, which is also a perfectly acceptable life decision. Quite frankly, unless you’ve adopted several children of your own, you should probably keep your opinions on the subject to yourself, because anyone who has likely knows that it’s just not that simple.

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