Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Adoption Myths and Assumptions

We could never have an open adoption; we don't want to confuse our child or have the birth mother take them back!

Adoption is too expensive - how can someone 'buy a baby' for that much? It's like a black market!

Is there really a need for adoptive families in the U.S.? We heard there aren't enough babies to go around and we're not even infertile...

These are just a few of the comments I hear often from people who find out I work as an adoption consultant or from hopeful adoptive parents.

When it comes to the subject of domestic adoption, there are a lot of misunderstandings on the topic. Some stem from how adoption used to work in the U.S. (with primarily closed adoptions that were stigmatized), how some adoptions today are mishandled or unethical, or news and media that portray adoption a certain (often misinformed) way. But I've found that most of the myths and wrong assumptions people have about adoption are simply because they don't know better and need some insight and education.

If I'm honest, I probably believed a lot of these myths and shared these assumptions until I began working in adoption: as a birth parent counselor, an adoptive parent case manager, social worker, and adoption consultant and director. And after working with birth and adoptive families for years, I've learned a lot (and am still learning).

Today I wanted to break down some of the most common adoption myths and assumptions and offer some insight from my experience working in adoption. As in everything else, education is the best way to address what we assume we know or unknowingly and subconsciously learn from outdated practices or ill-portrayed media. Knowledge is power and that's especially true when it comes to learning about adoption.

WHERE the need is

Myth: There's a line of families waiting to adopt domestically and not enough babies available for adoption. 
Truth: There is a great need for adoptive families, specifically for babies who are minorities and substance exposed/affected.

Most adoptive families have the experience of working with a small, local agency. Very often these agencies do a handful of adoptions a year but do many more home studies for families. This often equates to a longer wait (1.5 to 3 years) for families to be matched with an expectant mom. It also means they sometimes limit the families they work with. But there are agencies (that might not be local to a hopeful adoptive family) that serve many more expectant families and are looking for hopeful adoptive families because they don't have enough locally. 

In addition, while it's true that there are a lot of families waiting to adopt infants who match their family portraits and they feel like come with guaranteed health, there are a number of children who desperately need adoptive families to say "yes." There are children every day who end up in foster care because there was not an adoptive family willing or available to open their home. Several years ago this need was overwhelmingly with children of color, specifically African American. Today, the need is for families open to children who were exposed to substances prenatally. 

So the need is absolutely there, but very often an adoptive family simply needs to connect the dots (or work with a professional who can help them make those connections) to find how and where they can meet the need.

WHY adoption is costly

Myth: Adoption expenses are unnecessary and exorbitant.
Truth: Adoption expenses are essential to ensure an adoption happens legally, ethically, and all parties in the adoption triad are cared for.

Adoption is expensive. Although adoption costs can be across the board from $25,000-$50,000, the average domestic agency adoption costs $43,239 (Source: Adoption: By The Numbers). These expenses include agency fees, birth parent care, medical expenses (if insurance isn't involved), and legal fees. Of course there are adoption professionals out there who do take advantage of some of these fees, but working with ethical professionals ensures adoptions expenses are used for the right purposes and that an adoptive family avoids the common financial pitfalls.

The good news is that financing an adoption isn't impossible. I've walked with hundreds of families who never had that amount in their bank account but were able to finance their adoption with a little creativity and hard work. And were you to ask any of them, now they they have their child in their arms if it was worth it, they wouldn't hesitate to say they would do it again in a heartbeat.

For more on this topic: The Cost of Adoption

WHEN a family should start the process

Myth: A family needs to have everything in order, especially their finances, before beginning the adoption process.
Truth: There are resources available to help families, starting in the very beginning, to help a family begin their adoption.

It's common that families believe they have to have everything figured out before beginning their adoption journey. While there's wisdom in having a plan, I've found that a lot of families can get paralyzed simply with the amount of decisions there are to be made in adoption. Where will we get the home study? How do we feel about open adoption? What about becoming a transracial family? How will we come up with the costs? How do we find a good attorney? The questions can seem endless.

The good news is adoptive families don't have to have all of the answers to begin the process of adopting. The even better news? They don't have to go it alone. There's a limit to the amount of "googling" and information seeking that can be done on the front end and without knowing how to filter what's helpful or not. Finding an adoption professional to help guide them and a community to support them is key to a successful adoption. Once that's in place, a hopeful adoptive family can confidently move forward, knowing they have the resources at hand they need to adopt.

For more on this topic: The Steps to Adoption

WHAT to consider with the complexities of adoption

Myth: Adoption is a happy ending for everyone.
Truth: Adoption is a complex mix of joy and challenges.

There's an assumption that adoption looks a little like a fairy tale; with nothing but smiles, sweet stories, and "happily ever afters." But adoption always begins with brokenness. The reality is that if sin and brokenness weren't a part of our world, adoption wouldn't be either; birth families would always be in a position to parent their children.

Adoption doesn't just begin with brokenness; it can be woven throughout. There's a child living outside their biological family, possibly outside their ethnic culture. There's a birth family who continues a life without that child. The impact of the grief and infertility doesn't go away simply because a family was grown through adoption. This doesn't mean that God doesn't meet us in our brokenness and can't redeem it, but being aware of the tension that this reality creates is so valuable when considering all that's involved in adoption.

For more on this topic: The Unexpected Journey of Adoption

WHO the birth family is

Myth: All birth families fit a common stereotype.
Truth: Birth families come from all walks of life and are just as unique as the hopeful adoptive families on the other side.

There truly isn't a specific box that all expectant and birth families fit into. In my work as a birth parent counselor, I've worked with birth parents who were young teens and grandmothers (truly). Mothers who were attending college and unemployed. Women who were expecting their first child, for others it was their eighth. Women who were single, married, lesbian, blue collar, professional...the list goes on.

But they always share one thing in common. Every single mother has a desperate, selfless, and sacrificial love for their child. Each one has made the courageous choice to do what they feel is best for their child, despite a tremendous desire for that to be to parent their child themselves. I've never met a birth mother who didn't have a tremendous love for their baby.

HOW openness really works

Myth: Open (and semi-open) adoption will harm and confuse the child and allows for ambiguity in parental roles.
Truth: Open (and semi-open) adoption has been found to be best for all parties in the adoption triad (the child, birth family, and adoptive family).

It's common that there is fear surrounding open adoption (for both the birth family and the adoptive family), but it's often based on the misunderstanding that open adoption looks like coparenting. Instead, open adoption simply allows for some level of ongoing communication and relationship with between the birth and adoptive family. Instead of threatening the adoptive family, this relationship offers more people to love the child, first hand answers and clarity about the child's adoption story, and assurances that adoption was in the best interest for the child. A recent longitudinal study showed support for open adoption and ongoing relationships and benefits for both birth families and adoptees, even into adolescence and adulthood.

The reality is that openness is both beautiful and challenging; a lot like many other important and valuable relationships in our lives. Some level of openness can offer tremendous benefits: a birth family can have the assurance that they made the right decision. An adoptee can know first hand about that decision and have critical information about their identify. And in addition to having key medical and social information for their child, and adoptive family can help build an incredibly valuable relationship for the entire adoption triad.

This has been just a few common myths and assumptions people have surrounding adoption. Do you have any you would add?

For more Adoption Resources, Tutorials, and Adoption Stories: click here!

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