Where Babies Come From

When we were in the process of adopting our first child, a newspaper reporter once asked me why we would opt for a foreign adoption when there are so many American children in need. The question shocked me. I was so enthralled with our Vietnamese child — as yet unmet — that the immediate answer was: Because that’s where my daughter is.

November is National Adoption Month, and as we edge into a season marked by family celebration, it’s a question worth exploring. The answers aren’t easy, nor are they particularly satisfying.

First, let me state that while I love this country, I’m not the kind of patriot who would get a flag tattooed on her ass. I believe that Americans are more privileged and fortunate than most world citizens because of the opportunities afforded here, but not because they’re better than anyone else. So here’s my go-to, primary answer: My husband and I don’t think children are less deserving of families simply because they weren’t born here. We adore our multi-cultural family. Together, we were born in three different countries — the U.S., Vietnam and Guatemala. How cool is that? It’s like our own little World Unification project.

Answer number two begins with a question: Who are all these American children in need?

They are not babies. People who complain about corruption in foreign adoptions — the paying of birth mothers, for example — can find fault right here. Because in America, we pay birth mothers plenty — often upwards of $30,000. There is no law against a woman having babies again and again, and milking adoptive parents for tens of thousands in “living expenses.”

Caveat: Women who find themselves unintentionally pregnant and decide to give their children to families who want them are among the bravest, most selfless people on Earth.

But there are no babies — or even many toddlers — languishing in orphanages because Americans won’t adopt them. American parents sit on waiting lists for domestic babies for years. Until recently, parents could adopt African-American babies more quickly because they were considered “special needs” children — but even that barrier, thank the heavens, has begun to crumble.

So again: Who are these American children in need? They are the children in foster care.

Nearly a half-million children are in foster care, according to the National Foster Care Organization, and their average age is 10. Most of them have been in the foster care system for more than two years, and that’s about the least amount of time it takes for parental rights to be terminated. The goal of foster care, as it should be, is family reunification — and the courts give parents many, many opportunities to get their acts together and raise their kids.

By the time they are freed for adoption (and about half of them are adopted by their foster families), many of them are teenagers who have been through years of abuse, neglect and trauma. Some of it has occurred at the hands of their parents, and some of it at the hands of the very people who stepped in to save them. Many of the children have severe medical needs as well — physical disabilities that can be daunting to parents who just dream of a baby to rock to sleep.

Certainly, these children are no less deserving of homes. Certainly, every child should have parents. And the parents who step into this role? Special people indeed.

But adopting a teenager who has been emotionally brutalized or a child whose disabilities will prevent him from ever being independent is a different decision than that of adopting a baby. Adopting a baby isn’t a particularly selfless act; it’s more like an alternative way to create a family. The same could be said about adopting a child out of foster care, but it’s an alternative rife with risk, commitment and drama. There are no guarantees, of course. Our son suffers from Attachment Disorder, due to his time in an orphanage before he came home to us, and he may very well be traumatized by that forever, but these kids are our kids now. Should anything happen to any of them, that won’t change. Having been there from nearly the beginning was important to me.

Now, 11 years later, I can see the value of adopting an adolescent child or a teen — the lessons we could teach each other, the stability we could provide for a young person who’s never had any. And maybe one day, when our own children have learned how to tie their shoes, we’ll consider being a part of the foster care system. But now? With three little kids attached to my pants legs every day? That day will have to wait.

The final answer comes in the form of yet another question: Why has the adoption of children out of foster care become the sole responsibility of infertile couples? Producing your own biological progeny doesn’t absolve you from helping solve society’s most heart-wrenching, egregious problem. I know that I haven’t done my share to help.

But think about it. Have you?

Tricia Book

Booker is a local writer and educator. She blogs at mylefthook.c