Breaking Down the Myths About Adoption


adoptionNovember is National Adoption Month, which means it's as good a time as any to address some of the myths about adoption. As common as it is, there are a ridiculous amount of misconceptions out there, ranging form the well-meaning (you're rescuing some poor unwanted baby) to the outright bizarre.

Shannon LC Cate, who is a former coworker of mine at another group parenting blog and one of the smartest, most thoughtful writers you're ever going to meet, breaks down some of them in a BlogHer post this week. Check them out (comments are mine):

  • Birth mothers are all teens: Nope. Women place children for adoption for lots of reasons, and some already have children or are older and facing an unplanned pregnancy.
  • Open adoption is confusing to kids: Actually, if handled well it can be better for everybody in the "adoption triad". Kids don't lose their connection to their heritage and birth family, the birth mother doesn't have to wonder what kind of people are raising her baby or what kind of life they have, and the adoptive parents get another person who loves their child. Yes, it can be emotionally fraught sometimes, but what close human relationship isn't?
  • They hate girls in China: Do we seriously have to tell anyone about China's "one child" policy? That, coupled with a cultural expectation that wives become part of their husband's family and care for his parents in their old age, is why girls are more often placed for adoption. And you can adopt a boy from China ... my friend did.
  • Black babies are a trend among celebrities: Oh, there is much to be said about these celebrity adoptions from Africa, but "It's a trend" is not one of those things. 
  • Black children in the US, especially black boys, are least likely to be adopted.
  • Adoptive parents are saintly: Ha ha. No. People adopt because they want a child, not to "save" a baby. Every single adoptive parent I know would reject the halo ... they yell, get exasperated, and make mistakes just like all the rest of us.
  • Adopted kids are lucky: Again, no. Adoptive parents would generally call themselves lucky to have their children; their kids, on the other hand, had to suffer a lot of loss before landing in their loving home. And this makes it sound like these kids are such rejects they were incredibly fortunate to find someone to love them: not true.
  • Adoption costs a lot of money and only rich people can afford it: Here's where I part ways with Shannon. Adoption is really, really expensive if you go the international route, and the wait for a domestic adoption can take months, even years.  Adopting a child out of the foster system costs very little, but at least in my state it takes forever to clear children for adoption and often the kids are much older.
  • The child could be given back to or taken back by biological family members: Shannon points out that in many of the most high-profile cases of this happening, the adoption was never finalized and the adoptive parents knew about the issues that caused it to be disrupted. However, in my state, there is case after case of judges letting even the most tenuous biological connection trump the family that loved and cared for this child for most of her life. Even if the ink hasn't dried on the adoption decree, I think that needs to change.
  • Birth mothers are saints (or birth mothers are horrible): They're women who faced a crisis pregnancy and dealt with it as best they could. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Adoption is the opposite of abortion, and if one exists, we don't need the other: I wrestle with this one sometimes. I am pro-choice, but I struggled to get pregnant and had started the adoption process when I found out my daughter was on the way. I wish a lot more people opted for adoption; the picture would not be so bleak for so many would-be parents if that were true. But I have never dealt with a pregnancy that was anything but much-wanted and prayed for, so I don't get to judge that for anyone else.

If you want to see Shannon's take, and you should (as an adoptive mom herself, she knows a lot more about this than I do) check it out over at BlogHer. What it comes down to, though, fundamentally? Engage your brain before you open your mouth when you want to comment on someone's family.


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Pundi... PunditMom

Well, believe it or not, there are many people who don't know about China's one child policy.  As parents of a daughter from China, we have encountered that lack of knowledge frequently in the ten years since we came home from China with our daughter.

As for "hating" girls, no -- Chinese people do not hate girls.  But there is a deeply entrenched cultural indifference to girls in China that stem from the fact that there is no "social security" in China, and families do rely on boys to care for elderly parents in their old age.

The real problem in terms of people not engaging their brains before speaking when it comes to adoption is the fact that the media still insists on portraying families by adoption as somehow less than biological families.  No, there aren't stories that say that, but think about it -- why do news stories that do not involve the topic of adoption insist on describing children as "adopted?"  Stories don't describe children as "biological."  This is just one subtle thing that goes a long way to allowing our society to consider families with children by adoption as not quite normal, not quite the same.  As long as the media continue to do that, no matter how many articles like this there are, many people will continue to believe that families like mine are somehow not quite the same as theirs.

nonmember avatar Laurel

If celebs adopting from Africa isn't a trend (and you offer no evidence that it is not, only an assertion), then what is it? And if this next one is a myth, I'd love to see it dispelled. "Black children in the US, especially black boys, are least likely to be adopted." It has a bullet point, but zero explanation.

Why record two "myths" and then not bother to explain what makes them untrue?

Also, you set the record straight on the myth that original parents will show up and take their child back by noting that, in these cases, the adoption was never finalized or fully legal. Then you imply the myth IS true by saying "Even if the ink hasn't dried on the adoption decree, I think that needs to change."

If the "ink" is "on" the decree, then the adoption is legal and this won't happen. If the adoption is not legal, why should it be allowed to stand? The upshot of this bit of "myth-dispelling" is that would-be adoptive parents are still nervous if not more nervous than they might have been before reading the article.

This last one is presented a case of Shannon's opinion versus Sara's, but the first two confuse me.

starr... starrsitter

"Adoption is the opposite of abortion," 

I'm glad to see this included.  Telling women to consider adoption instead of abortion (while its intention is noble in most cases) ignores the physical and emotional demands of 40ish weeks of pregnancy.  These demands can potentially be life-threatening and even in the best of circumstances are life-altering and shouldn't be so casually dismissed.

The way to reduce the number of abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  The best way to help prevent unwanted pregnancies is through age-appropriate, medically sound sexual health education and real access to affordable contraceptives.

Mirah Riben

Here are other adoption myths:

As for adoption from China, please see:

Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

shay0810 shay0810

I was adopted as a child, and I feel very lucky. I was blessed to have the family I grew up in! And, from the opposite perspective, after we adopted a little boy in September of last year. I feel very lucky to have him, but on the same token, after having had 60 plus foster children through our home, and seeing the things they have to go through, being in and out of their birth homes, and in and out of foster homes, feel like our son (not "adopted son", just "son") is very lucky to have

shay0810 shay0810

Landed in his "forever family" so early in life. :)

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