Probably one of the most mind-numbingly obtuse excuses that anti-marriage-equality advocates offer for opposing same-sex couples getting married is that same-sex couples "can't procreate naturally." They say that as if it were a bad thing. They say it as if we were deeply afraid that our population was dwindling and that rampant heterosexuality wasn't doing its job. Well, the bumper-to-bumper traffic I just went through says that it is. Of course, it is not true that same-sex couples are unable to procreate. We are fully capable of procreating with the help of surrogacy, or we can pursue private adoption, which, while not biological procreation, is pro-creation of a family. Another way that same-sex couples can be pro-creative of a family and help others is through foster care/adoption. A number of weeks ago, I mentioned this societal benefit in a piece about why Christians should support gay marriage. One of the reasons I offered was to save disenfranchised children.
Both my sons came into my family from foster care. For that alone I owe the system a debt that I will never, ever be able to repay. There are over 100,000 children in the system who can be adopted instantly (and those adoptions avoid some of the "reasons not to" listed below), and there are over 300,000 additional children who are in foster care whose cases could lead to adoption. I do not wish to imply that the road through foster care is a cakewalk. It is daunting at times, but doable.
Here are five reasons that might make you not want to pursue this avenue. If you are discouraged (and it certainly is not for everyone), then you should not do it. No harm, no foul. But foster care/adoption was the way for me. There are possibly some children out there who are hoping that it is the way for you, as well. However, here are some reasons that you might avoid it. (Disclosure: This is based on my experience in the California system. Other systems and your experience are likely to vary.)
1) Paperwork and training: The paperwork to get into the system and the bureaucracy around it make the IRS look fun by comparison. The paperwork then leads to training classes. While those seem to be a nuisance and are not required to have children by other means, I am of the opinion that training for parenthood is a good thing. You have to take classes and pass examines to operate a car; to operate another human being's life should require nothing less.
2) You will be judged: Then social workers check you out. The fear of their judgment is usually worse than the reality; they won't care how you dust or how you fold laundry, even though before their visit you will run around doing both. Where you will be judged, and where you will have to fight the temptation to fight back, is in the area of dealing with the birth parents. These are often scared, angry, defensive people who are on the verge of losing their children, and often for good reason. They may need a target at which to lash out. It can easily be you.
3) You will have no rights: When going to court for the birth parent's case, there are lots of lawyers. The birth parent has one (often a public defender), the state has one (the child is technically their ward) and the child has one. You do not have one. It can be frustrating, but the way to navigate it is to maintain a good and cooperative relationship with your child's representative and the one from the state.
4) Your strength of character will be tested: In many cases your child will be in need of emotional healing. Sometimes this plays out through bad behavior. Your good intentions will be foreign to your child, and even though those intentions are healthy, they may not be embraced immediately or in the way you hope and expect. The process will demand patience and determination to get through. The process also demands that you lovingly care for a child who may become your permanent adoptive child, but also that you be lovingly detached enough to let go if the birth parent is successful in completing their reunification requirements. The system was designed to protect and be optimal for the child, which unfortunately may require superhuman qualities from the foster parent.
5) You may have your heart broken: There are cases where the birth parent is a good person who made mistakes, gets their act together and everyone, including you, is cheering their success in getting their child back. Then there are cases where the birth parent is so blatantly incapable of caring for the child that everyone knows that it is not a matter of if but when the child will be yours. The hardest cases are the ones in the middle, the cases where you have to return a child you have come to adore to a situation with a parent who was successful in completing their requirements but whom you do not trust. You have to let go and hope for the best.
Those are the potential risks. They are not universal, and, as I said before, they can vary. For some people those reasons are enough to run. For other people who recognize that they can do it, here are even greater reasons to "go for it," starting from the lesser reason and moving up to the best one:
5) There is no more economically reasonable way to start a family: Your adoption comes to you without the charges of private adoption. There is no surrogate to pay, and there are no hospital costs. If this is your only reason for adopting through foster care, you need to rethink your motivation, but as a starter it is at least a small reward for what it took to get there.
4) You will probably be doing the best thing you ever did in your life: Looking for purpose? A reason to feel good about yourself? There is virtually none better than this. While other parents are creating a life that would not be here otherwise, you are saving a life that might have ended without you. You are taking a child who had no hope for a happy, productive life and giving them a viable future. There are very few accomplishments that you could hope to have that measure up to this one.
3) It will change who you are: You will be somebody's dad or mom. You will be indelible. Priceless. Wait until they call you that name for the first time, then call me and tell me whether I was wrong.
2) Love will have new meaning: Before I had my kids, I romantically theorized about a man I would "die for." Once I had kids, I knew truly and deeply what that kind of love really meant. I truly was unaware that it was possible to love other human beings this completely, with every ounce of my being.
And most importantly:
1) It will change your life forever: Whoever you thought you were, whoever you think you will be, this adventure will change you into a better you. You will not be a person; you will be a family. Life won't necessarily always be easy, but it promises to always be interesting, enriched and ultimately worth it.
When I was considering this choice in my own life, I decided to make a list of pros and cons. I started with the cons. Was I too old? How would I afford college? How would I deal with the terrible twos? Teens with car keys? The list went on. Then I made the pros list. I wrote the first one down: "The look of my child's eyes on Christmas morning." I stopped and looked at it. Then I heard the noise of paper being tightly crumpled. It was the cons list in my other hand.