We went through the process of a private adoption more than seven years ago. Since that time, I’ve become much more aware of other people going through the process. It’s pretty normal: we bought a Subaru and suddenly I started to see Subarus all over the road. I don’t think Subaru has seen a huge uptick in sales, although they might have. Mostly, I think I’m just more aware of them.
So it goes with adoption. I don’t think I know that many more people who are adopting. I just think I’m more aware of it. Also, you might have noticed, I’m pretty open to talk about it. So a lot of people are referred to me and my husband as resources when couples are starting the process and want to know what it’s like.
For the record, it’s like having your lungs sucked out of your body while you’re still trying use them. You can’t.breathe.
I tell our story: the good, the bad, the ugly, the REALLY ugly, all of it. I figure if you and your family are going to start down this path, you should pack appropriately and prepare for the journey.
Last week, in a group of friends, someone who’s in the process said their profile was out for consideration by a birth mom. Everyone else made exciting squealing noises. Totally by reflex, I said, “Ugh. That sucks.” And I got the look I always get when I say what I really think: a mix of shock, amazement and confusion.
It’s an upside down world when you’re doing this. A profile out means a potential match with a birth mother. It also means you could be rejected. Again. Of course, this is after your body already betrayed you by refusing to do the one thing it’s been reminding you every month of your life since puberty that it was designed to do. And you just have to wait…wait for someone else to make decisions about your life. It all sucks…and that’s when things are going well.
The main thing all people who enter this world have in common: extreme want. This is not want, like I want new shoes or I want chocolate cupcakes. This is primal want. This is want that comes from a place inside you that you never really knew existed. This is want on designer steroids.
But it is, in fact, want. It is not need. This is a distinction that is completely lost on most people. The want is so big, so powerful, so all-consuming that they’re sure it must be need. It’s not. No one needs a private adoption. It’s a want.
I wanted an infant. I wanted a certain amount of control over the process. So I paid for that want.
And now we’re to the sticky part. This particular want is really expensive. Like $30,000-$40,000 on the low end. To put that in perspective, the annual median household income in Arkansas in 2012 was $39,018. So we’re talking roughly a couple’s income for a year to make this happen. That’s a lot of money.
Since the time that we adopted, I’ve noticed a trend: couples doing fundraisers through family, friends or friends of family and friends to pay for their private adoption. There are now fundraising websites in the model of “The Knot” or other wedding websites, except for adoption. They give a couple a template; they tell “their story;” people have the option to donate. Sometimes, people hold events, get items donated for a silent auction, and the proceeds go to the adoption fund. We’ve been invited to participate in numerous adoption fundraisers.
Let me absolutely clear: I do not think this is wrong. Anyone is allowed to ask for anything. Anyone else is allowed to give them the thing they’ve asked for. As long as there is no deception in the transaction, I don’t think there’s anything immoral about it.
However, these fundraisers make me uncomfortable. I’ve been thinking about it for some time. It surprised me a little how uncomfortable it makes me. I, of all people, understand the price tag here.
I posed the question on Facebook: Is this just my glitch or is this other people’s too? I got a big response. Most people landed somewhere around, “It just depends.”
I’ve given it quite a bit of consideration for several years, and I think I’ve finally come up with my personal set of criteria for giving related to adoption. Since I made up these rules, I reserve the right to change them at any time if I want to. But this is how I make some sense of the world.
1. I give to organizations rather individuals. I give money to groups who give adoption grants, usually for unforeseen expenses. I give to groups who screen applicants based on need and situation. I don’t want to be in a position of asking people about their financials and what they can and cannot afford. That’s none of my business. But if I’m handing out cash, I want it to be used in the most effective way possible.
This is similar to how I give cash for hunger relief. Typically, I give to food pantries, not individuals. I feel like the money is stretched farther and hits the most needy. That said, I have from time to time give money or food directly to a person I encountered because I felt like I should. But that is not my standard practice.
2. I donate items or help coordinate donations of clothes, diapers, formula, etc. for families who’ve been brought to our attention who had an emergency placement. Look, real life is messy. Sometimes, families take in children because it’s the right thing to do, but they might not have been prepared to buy an entire new wardrobe on the spot. I do what I can to ease the transition.
3. I will not donate to anything based on a hostage situation: by Bible verses or what I view as unethical demands being placed a couple to get a baby.
Yes, the Bible tells us to care for widows and orphans. And yes, I believe we should take that very seriously. However, Unicef tells us that 95% of the world’s orphans are over the age of 5. If we’re going to talk about orphan care, then let’s talk about the reality of orphans. Do not come at me with Bible verses to guilt me into paying for something that you want, not what a child needs. Those are different things.
When we talk about adoption in terms of “saving a child” or “fulfilling God’s command” we dramatically skew the parent/child relationship. We put adoptive parents in a category different from biological parents. I adopted a baby because I wanted to be a mother. It was not altruistic. It’s exactly the same thing when a couple decides to get pregnant. They’re not doing the baby some big favor. They want to be parents, and they have luxury of a body that carries babies to term. The motivation is the same.
While it might seem nice to praise adoptive parents, turn that around: who wants to be the kid who was “rescued”? More to the point, who wants to the kid constantly reminded of having been rescued? This does not create a healthy family dynamic.
If you really want to spend some time on the ethics of orphan care, I suggest you read Jen Hatmaker’s three-part piece. It’s incredibly well researched, and gives quite a bit of food for thought.
Here’s an ugly fact: not everyone in the adoption arena operates ethically. You have to understand the business model here: many reputable agencies lose money on every adoption. They rely on a foundation and donations to make up the difference.
Usually, this is because of services provided to the birth mother. The agency we used provides counseling before and after birth and placement. It provides educational opportunities from GED classes to enrollment in community college. It provides housing, prenatal care and maternity clothes. It provides an attorney for the birth mom so she is fully aware of her rights and obligations in this process. It provides a social worker to help her navigate this strange, new land where she’s found herself.
So if you’re a less than awesome player, the way to increase profit is to spend as little time on the birth mom as possible. This means super quick placements. It sounds something like this to adoptive parents: We have a baby that’s going to be born within the next week. If you give us $25,000 within the next seven days, that baby is yours.
Maybe the circumstances really are just as they say. Who am I to say they’re not? But any good attorney or money manager will tell you, if the appeal is to your deepest desire and the ask puts you in financial trouble, you should start looking for the catch. These are major red flags.
Trust me, I’m a big fan of adoption. I would also never tell someone they shouldn’t pursue what they want. But I’m probably not going to come to your auction or donate on your website. A lot of other people will, and that’s super.
We all have a different level of comfort on giving, so I say give where the Spirit leads you.
Now if someone comes to me in the next month with a request for money, and I give it to them, remember I said I could change the rules at any time. It just depends.