Sunday, October 30, 2005

Of Baby Shortages and Guilt

EDITED TO ADD: A call to my fellow adopters: how about a post in the next day or so about what brought you to adoption and what ethical/moral/political/personal battles you have had to wage surrounding that decision? I'm looking for something more than "I wanted a baby," because we all want babies (see, I'm a little selfish too. just a little. you know.). Everybody's story is so different and interesting. Lisa V? Cindy? Shannon? Shelba? the various Karens? etc. etc.? So consider yourselves tagged, yo.


I’ve been sneaky this past week: I had an ethical dilemma and I have allowed other bloggers to work it out for me. Well, not really. Dawn has provided a lot of much-needed information and discussion on the topic of perceived baby shortages, motivations for adopting, and minority adoption, which has allowed me to anchor my thoughts long enough to make some sense of them.

It all began with a couple of impulsive, and therefore, rude remarks on this post by the venerable Karen at the Naked Ovary. I, unfortunately, kinda started it. Fortunately, the other temporarily rude party and I emailed each other immediately and apologized profusely. Turns out that it is possible for two nice people in pain to occasionally scratch one another’s eyes out, virtually speaking.

But it got me to thinking. How, as a possibly fertile person, can I justify building my family through adoption? I mean, given that there aren’t an unlimited number of babies to adopt* and so many people are unable to become pregnant, how could I put myself in line with those who ‘need’ an adopted baby while I just ‘want’ one? The other temporarily rude commenter, when explaining her decision to switch to international adoption by the apparent shortage of babies domestically, put me on the defensive in an instant. I didn’t have time to think before I reacted, and badly. Of course she was talking about white babies. Everybody knows that agencies scramble for families to adopt babies of color, and that if you want to adopt a Caucasian infant you must wait 80 years and pay $80,000, right? Turns out she was talking about a 2.5-year wait even after accepting all races and some disabilities up to four years old.

I hear adoptive parents say again and again that they don’t want to be heroes, that their reasons for adopting are all selfish and that altruism plays no part in their decisions to adopt. I have to be honest: ten months ago, it was altruism that brought us to adoption. Attic Man and I were devastated by news of the tsunami. Our reaction wasn’t shock, and it wasn’t new; the primary source of angst and depression in our house is that we can’t stop seeing human need and suffering and we can’t stop feeling like we’re not doing enough. We wince at every news story of a woman being beaten in her home or statistics citing a 50% child poverty rate in our major cities, or another black Pittsburgher shot by a police officer. New Orleans didn’t surprise us—it just opened the wound afresh.

Understand that this explanation is in no way an application for my sainthood. If I were really saintly I would be in Africa right now handing out medication or emptying out our house for Goodwill. If I could sustain a vision for poverty reduction or world peace I’d be doing it. The pain comes from every day confronting my own lazy ass and the realization that I have no right to preach or judge because I spent yesterday morning at the mall buying clothes made in sweatshops and spent an ungodly amount of money at the grocery store (I won’t tell you how much—it’s embarrassing) buying stuff that I don’t need. Big spending is, by the way, my way of telling myself that something internal isn’t right; I’m not giving myself something I need, so I compensate. Granted, I needed pants. My jeans had the kind of holes that are unwise to enter winter with. But the joy I got from the sales! and the attention from the women at Anne Taylor! and having NEW STUFF! was a bit over the top. And the grocery store. Lord, the grocery store. I was unstoppable.

The point is that once in awhile the man (who really does live a life of service, so I’m only really speaking for me here) and I make a good decision that does, in fact, connect with our ideals and is an actual attempt beyond lip service to mitigate the horrible things we see everyday, me through the news, and him through his job. Our immediate, gut reaction to the tsunami was “we have to adopt. We have to do it now. We can rearrange our lives to do it now.” All of the sudden that pregnancy that seemed so ill-advised at this juncture in our lives turned into an adoption that we could, if we altered our vision of what the next few years would mean, more than see ourselves undertaking. We realized with some surprise that neither of us was particularly interested in pregnancy. As we started to talk about adoption in preparation for a decision about whether or not to proceed, we examined our motives. We discovered that adoption was in both our hearts, and that it was about much more than just a knee-jerk emotional response to an international tragedy. It was where our lives had been leading up until this point.

Altruism was where it began, but altruism uncovered a host of other considerations for us: we don’t want to get pregnant; we want a multi-racial family; we aren’t particularly keen on passing on any of our genetic material, cancer, heart-disease and all; we want to have an expanded sense of what family means, and through our children be connected in a very real way to other communities; we want to be a resource for women who are facing difficult circumstances.

When it comes right down to it, through my own reading and the stats Dawn so painstaking put together at my request (thanks, Dawn!), there is no African-American baby that will go into foster care because a family can’t be found. True, there isn’t a real ‘shortage’ of babies of any race—by the time people get through the application process and individual stories start to unfold, there are far few people adopting than that ’40 families for every baby’ statistic suggests—but there aren’t rooms full of them waiting for parents (domestically, that is—I cannot speak for every type of adoption. Domestic is what I know). If we don’t adopt plenty of people will step up to the plate. Babies are not going without homes.

When first discovering that in fact there isn’t the kind of dire need I supposed at the beginning (and indeed, our social worker has to scramble for families to take African-American babies), and considered the very real pain those of us who are infertile, I had a momentary panic attack. Whither my altruism, if the need isn’t there?

First of all, our reasons for adopting are complex and not limited to altruism. If it were merely a kind of saving-the-world thing, I’d have jumped off the adoption wagon then and there. But it’s not; for the reasons listed above and many more too private to mention here, adoption is the right way for us to build our family. A lot of it is so deeply a part of how we think that we can’t possibly unearth all of our motivations. And really, we could say that God wants us to adopt, but we have no way of knowing that. All we can know is that it is in our bones. We feel as strong a deep-down urge to adopt as some people describe feeling drawn to pregnancy.

If there’s any saving-the-world stuff left in our adoption plans, it is to offer women as many choices as possible. We are not, of course, single-handedly going to change the face of adoption and abortion by putting our birthparent letter out into the universe. But the more families that decided to adopt, the more choices potential birthparents will have. And that’s the advantage of having a so-called ‘baby shortage,’ if there is one, according to Dawn: birthparents can hopefully have more families to choose from, so that if they want a Christian family, or an atheist one, or one with two mommies, or one that has a SAHM, or one that looks a little like them, or one that’s into sports or reading or windsurfing, or whatever, they can have it. I don’t mean to be flippant here. I mean to say that when those of us who are birthparents are contemplating handing over the precious child they have loved and carried for nine months, there should be a family that is as good a match as possible to how the birthparent feels that child should be raised. It’s not much of a choice when you’re thinking about raising a kid with possible mental illness or domestic violence; ending the child’s life; or placing the child with a family whose values and lifestyle absolutely don’t match up with yours or what you want for your child.

So at the end of this week of talking, emailing, and reading blogs, I come again to adoption. In this process I have made the decision to adopt about twenty times, each time renewing my commitment in new ways. And it’s still right.


*I’m not, of course, talking about kids in foster care. Plenty of them, and sadly probably always will be, for a number of complex reasons.


  • At 11:34 AM, Blogger Dawn said…

    I'm glad my posts made you feel better!

    Amber (americanfamily) and I were talking about adoption a lot last night and I'm waiting for my caffeine to kick in to write more. your post reminded me of what I wanted to say so thank you!!!!

  • At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Lisa V said…

    I have to think about this some more and percolate beyond hijacking Dawn's blog.

    When I intially adopted I considered myself infertile, than 2 births later that title was gone.

    If adoption "feels" right to you and it's the direction you are being pulled, go for it, inferitle or fertile, this is your "calling."

    I will post more later.

  • At 11:04 PM, Blogger QueenBee said…

    My answer is short and not worthy of a post all its own. We want a family and have not been able to conceive. Foster Care adoption is something we feel called to - I believe with all my heart that it is what God wants for our family. I know it is right for us because I no longer want to be pregnant, I'm not sure I ever really did. I just wanted to have a "baby" and what I've come to realize is that for us a "baby" may not be an infant but a toddler or a sibling group. ??

  • At 10:20 AM, Blogger Gawdessness said…

    Do I count even though we are not looking at babies? I think so.

    I will be trying to post about it to my blog.

    This was a very interesting and insightful post btw.


  • At 1:00 PM, Anonymous mamamarta said…

    the imediate answer to what brought us to adoption is infertility, but like many of you, adoption was something we had long talked about, and assumed we would do eventually even if i had carried a pregnancy to term. we threw in the towel fairly early in our infertility saga, and the choice to pursue adoption was a very easy one, especially since sharing genes with my children never mattered to me at all (recovering from infertility and the loss of my dream of pregnancy and childbirth, a completely separate issue in my mind, was not at all easy, although i feel like i'm largely there).

    ethical/personal/political/moral battles waged regarding adoption have been much tougher than the decision to adopt. we always knew that if we adopted, we would adopt an african american baby (we are both caucasian). we assumed that a healthy white baby would be hard to come by, and it just didn't matter to us at all. we've lived for 13 years in a predominately african american neighborhood, go to an integrated (white/black) church, and our daughter (8yo, born to my partner) attends a largely aa school -- so it just wouldn't make sense to adopt another race, when we could offer an aa child such access to his community and culture. still, we worried and thought a lot about whether as white people we could give our aa child the tools he would need to face racism. we worried a lot about how the aa community we are a part of would view a white lesbian couple raising an aa child, especially a son. and how our child would be able to integrate so many disparate aspects of identity -- aa, adopted, transracial family, lesbian moms. ultimately we decided, through study, thought and conversations with friends and neighbors, that while these were all challenges we will have to face, they are also opportunities for great richness in all of our lives, and so we leapt ahead. our son micah was placed with us 2.5 years ago.

    recently we had a very upsetting experience with adoption phobia/racism on the part of a grandparent who blurted out a disparaging comment about micah's birthfamily (whom none of us knows by the birthfamily's choice), attributing to their "bad genes" some typical toddler behavior on micah's part, and suggesting that he needs to be spanked (something he never would have suggested for our daughter, his biological granddaughter). it was deeply troubling, all the more so because we never had any idea he felt that way, and gave all appearances of being a doting grandfather. there was another similar although less blatent situation with a close friend recently, all of which has really thrown me for a loop. that has been our greatest personal challenge, realizing that the "village" which we thought we had created for micah is not as secure as we thought it was. realizing in very real, concrete ways that we can't protect him from the ugliness in the world. that's hard.

    but we were so right about the incredible richness that transracial adoption has given all of us (i hope micah will feel the same way later in his life). sometimes i tire of feeling like so many aspects of my life are lived on the margins, but in the end i wouldn't have it any other way.

    i could go on and on, but i don't want to hijack your blog any more! thanks for asking. and best of luck to you on your journey.


  • At 8:30 PM, Blogger Foster Child Advocate said…

    I do not know any of you wonderful ladies, but I do want to put in my two cents if that is okay. I do a lot of work with foster care and am on my state association's board of directors and I am hearing a lot of people saying that in my state at least, there are more babies entering the system than in the past due to the meth epidemic my state has been dealing with. If a person does not mind giving their love to a drug affected baby (I sure wouldn't) there are apparently babies to be had in Iowa.


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