Friday, May 21, 2010

An Elegy for Adoption

Ever since I can remember, I have been drawn to the idea of adoption. When I imagined having children (during the periods when I wasn't convinced four dogs would be a better option), adoption was always part of the plan.

On my first "date" with Robbie, we stayed up all night talking and shyly holding hands. I only remember two specific things about those conversations: one had to do with Scooby Doo and the other had to do with adoption. When he told me he wanted to adopt someday, I checked off yet another box in the mental checklist entitled: Attributes of My Future Husband.

When we started to have children a couple of years later, we had to field the usual questions about how many we wanted. My answer was always, "Two biological and then probably adopt a third child." After I found out I was having a second son, my answer became more specific - "Two biological and then adopt a girl." The perfect way to complete our family.

Now that the dust has settled after the storm I lovingly refer to as "the birth of my second child," adoption has once again become a prominent theme. When I learned that the recent health care bill increased the adoption tax credit to about $13,000 and made it refundable, that sealed the deal.(You would think a normal person would enjoy the relative calm for a while before jumping back into the fray. But I'm obviously not normal. A fact that my husband reminds me of daily.)

Once an idea takes hold in my mind, it can only be satiated by relentless research and fact-finding. Luckily, I had a jumpstart since I had been researching adoption on and off for years.

I had already spent - and would continue to spend - countless hours learning about the numerous issues that adoptive parents face. I struggled with the idea of transracial adoption because it is the area of greatest need and our area of greatest interest...but it's also fraught with controversy on all sides. I struggled with the uncertainty and risk associated with a domestic adoption and the allegations of corruption and "baby-selling" associated with international adoption. I agonized over open adoption vs. closed adoption, agency vs. independent, accept special needs vs. don't accept special needs, infant vs. toddler. I read up on attachment disorders and adoption fraud and tips on how to advertise to birth parents. I spent hours poring over people's adoption stories on blogs and I leafed through the informational packets of every adoption agency in town (and some out of town).

I felt I had faced everything and had prepared myself in every way I knew how. I thought we were more than ready to take the next step. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. In the end, we were undone by indelicate logistics like money and time.

I want to share specifics, as boring as they might be, because when I bring up the fact that I'm researching adoption, many friends and family tell me they're interested in it too. I promised many of them I would share what I had learned, so here goes:

(This is by no means meant to dissuade anyone from adoption - and in fact, I will later list the factors that make it possible for many people to do it.)

Time and time again, I would find a program - whether domestic or international - that was desperately searching for qualified adoptive parents. I would talk to an eager agency representative who would tell me that not only were we qualified, but this was one of the "most affordable programs available." They would pause dramatically, and so would my heart.

"It's only $20,000!"

We are not poor people by any means, but coming up with that kind of money on top of the money needed to raise three kids, finish renovating our house, and put me through grad school, just wasn't going to happen.

There was one program in Detroit that we could afford, but there were so many adoptive parents applying that further applications were closed. We had the option of trying to do an independent domestic adoption and searching for the birth mother ourselves, but again we found a long list of adoptive parents and the reality that we could be taking an opportunity away from a couple facing infertility.

We found that independent adoption in Rwanda is within our budget, the need for parents is very high, and corruption is low if present at all. However, the reason the program is so great is because the government oversees each adoption themselves. Since they don't have the resources available to create a government entity solely devoted to processing adoptions, the process is long and uncertain. At best it would take 18 months from start to finish, but more than likely 2+ years. And then we would run the risk of missing the December 2011 deadline when the adoption tax credit is set to expire.

(On a sidenote, be wary of believing everything you read on international adoption agencies' websites. They often paint a very optimistic picture of the process, but the actual experiences of adoptive parents can be very different. Programs that have been established for a long time, like China and Russia, are the exceptions.)

Many agencies redirected us to the US foster care system, which is also affordable and in some cases adoptions can be practically free. However, the children available for immediate adoption are older (which would disrupt the birth order) and often suffer from severe mental or emotional difficulties. We could foster a baby or toddler and hope that we could adopt someday. But many people have told me that the emotional roller coaster of falling in love with a child and then facing an uncertain future is hard enough for adults, much less for the biological children already living in the house. Frankly, my kids have enough crap in life to deal with.

Again, I don't say all of this to be discouraging or damning. There are some employers who offer their employees amazing contributions to go toward adoption costs. There are many adoption grants available to Christian parents and/or couples facing infertility. There are many churches who consider adoption to be part of outreach or mission work, so they not only encourage couples to adopt, they also organize fundraisers for them. There are many options out there - they just don't apply to us.

The reality that adoption is not going to happen - at least not in the foreseeable future - has slowly set in over the past few weeks. It's painful to let go of a dream, but it's even more painful to realize that my long-lived convictions and ideals had limits. It turns out I can be practical, even if being practical in this case just plain sucks.

Part of me is holding out hope that someday the perfect adoption situation will magically appear. In the meantime, there's a different adventure ahead of us. I just have to figure out what it is.


  1. Ever since you mentioned adoption I have been worried because I have heard so many horror stories. I should have known better. You never do anything without analyzing it to the nth degree. I'm glad to see that you've decided to put it on hold for now, you really have your hands full with the boys and the house. You have years ahead of you and I have no doubt that if it's something you desparately want you will find a way to achieve it. Any child out there would be so lucky to get you and Robbie as parents.

  2. hi - don't know you, but definitively your description of the adoption journey rings many familiar bells. We came to this same spot in the road several times. Sometimes life does have great surprises in store, though, and here's to that next adventure of yours!

  3. Having been adopted, I think it's fantastic that this is a path that you and your family are willing to take. I sincerely hope that it can work out for you.

  4. Cassi,

    I have the best and true adoption story. I interviewed a couple for Mother's day who desperately wanted to have a baby, but were infertile. The women's father-in-law gave a ride to a very pregnant women, who on the ride, revealed she was desperate for a better life for her baby. Not two weeks later, they were in the delivery room waiting their first child being born (they now have six). So, I think if your heart is open to the possibility... you never know what might happen.