Of Baby Shortages and Guilt
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.
Understand that this explanation is in no way an application for my sainthood. If I were really saintly I would be in
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.