November is National Adoption Month, or National Adoption Awareness Month, and to celebrate, I'd like to share with you the adoption questions my family hears most frequently -- and my answers. I have found that people are genuinely curious about adoption, but they often fumble through asking questions, or present those questions in the form of stereotypes. Families like mine aren't necessarily turned off by questions, but how, when, and where you ask your question is important. Remember, our children are right beside us, listening and learning. Demanding answers from children is never appropriate. Likewise, many families like mine prefer to keep their children's personal adoption story details private. Why? Because our children's stories belong to them.
My hope is that by sharing the answers to these seven frequently asked questions, I'll help you gain insight into adoption, the adoption community, and the need for more families to adopt children from our domestic foster care system.
1. "Are your kids real siblings?"
Any children who are in the same family are real siblings, whether they are biologically related or not. Likewise, children who were adopted might have "real" siblings who are in other families, either with their birth families or with other families-by-adoption. So yes, my children are real siblings!
2. "Isn't adoption really expensive?"
Adoption costs depend on the avenue through which a person chooses to adopt. International and domestic adoptions are usually the most expensive, ranging from around $8,000 to over $40,000. Some adoptions are expensive because of the agency the person uses to adopt, the country the child is adopted from, and the legal fees associated with the adoption. Embryo adoption tends to be moderately expensive (when weighing in the costs of the transfer, medical appointments, labor and delivery, etc.), and many foster care adoptions are mostly cost-free.
3. "Aren't there a lot of kids who need a good home?"
First, some kids who were adopted didn't come from "bad" homes. Often, it's assumed that children who were placed for adoption came from poverty-stricken, promiscuous, drug-using, young biological parents. There is no one-size-fits-all situation, though; every adoption circumstance is different. There are many children who do need forever families, especially the more than 100,000 children in foster care in the U.S. who are waiting to be adopted.
4. "Isn't open adoption weird?"
Open adoption means that the biological parents and the family-by-adoption have ongoing contact after the adoptive placement. This might include texts, phone calls, e-mails, Skype sessions, and even visits. Open adoption is an increasingly popular option for families and birth parents, particularly those who adopt their children domestically. As a mom whose children have open adoptions with their biological families, I don't think open adoption is "weird," but it can certainly be challenging and emotionally complex. With mutual respect and dedication, open adoption can be beneficial to those involved.
5. "Don't adopted kids have problems?"
Children who were adopted are referred to as adoptees in the adoption community. Adoptees may or may not have problems relating to their adoptions. "Problems" can stem from the abuse or neglect a child may have faced before being removed from their biological parents; these things can cause trauma, something the adoptee may deal with for the long haul. Some kids might struggle with reactive attachment disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, sensory issues, or hereditary conditions. However, some children who were adopted have a fluid transition into their new family and go on to be happy, productive, and successful adults. As Madeleine Melcher, author, mom, and adoptee says, every adoption and every situation is different.
6. "Why didn't you have your own kids?"
First, any child who is in my family is "my own" child. We chose to adopt because I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease, and I was concerned that pregnancy would be a risky decision. Furthermore, there is a chance I could pass the disease on to any biological children. We decided that adoption was the best option for our family. However, note that approaching someone and demanding that they proclaim why they chose to adopt can have an incredibly hurtful and frustrating impact. If the person has struggled with infertility or miscarriage, has had an infant die, or has had multiple foster children leave their care, there is a lot of grief. Please be sensitive.
7. "Why didn't you adopt a child from another country?"
There seems to be a commonly-held belief that one particular type of adoption is more acceptable or desirable than another. The truth is that any child who is in need of a forever family is deserving of that permanence. Each person who chooses to adopt carefully selects the avenue he or she utilizes. There is no best way. We chose to adopt domestically because our jobs didn't allow for an international adoption (three-plus weeks of out-of-country travel); however, we originally sought to adopt internationally. We also wanted ongoing relationships with our children's biological families, something that is generally more likely to happen when you adopt domestically. Also, note that a child who is a different race from his or her parents isn't necessarily an international adoptee. Transracial adoption occurs with some domestic adoptions, too.
When you meet a family-by-adoption, please act normally, treating the family as graciously as you would any other. Smile, say hello, and introduce yourself. If the adoption conversation arises organically, allow the family to share what is most comfortable and appropriate for them. If you want more information, you can always say, "I'd like to learn more about adoption. What is the best way for me to go about doing so?"
From "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption: