In introducing a guest post I wrote for the NYT’s Motherlode blog, , Lisa Belkin quoted a friend of hers, an adoptive parent, as saying “I have faced the fact that my daughter is only mine because I have more money than her birth mother.â€ Lisa notes that her friend considers that a simple reality of adoption, but one that is rarely spoken aloud.
My guest post was about another reality of adoption–adopting the child who already has a family, but still needs one. So many of us have adopted our children out of loving foster homes, and seen them struggle to adapt–knowing that, ironically enough, the fact that they already had a family to love makes it so much harder for them in the short run and so much better in the long run. And I think all of us find ourselves, as we adjust, too, and fall in love with our sons and daughters–why did I have to take her away from a family she already loved? There are plenty of answers to that, but the simplest is that what our kids needed wasn’t just a family, but a future.
And the financial reality described by Lisa Belkin’s friend is a shorthand way of capturing why. Plenty of adoptive parents took issue with the statement, some quite reasonably, saying that their childrens’ birth mothers were young, or had surrounding life circumstances unrelated to finances. But many of the reasons our daughters and sons can’t be raised by their birth parents, or even their foster parents, have to do not with individual wealth (although that’s certainly a factor) but with national wealth. The fact that the United States is a highly developed, wealthy-even-in-the-midst-of-a-recession by global standards country with a hundred advantages of origin, economy, topography and more is one of the things that allows us to be an adoptive country, rather than one whose children are adopted. In some cases this has little to do with money itself, and everything to do with some sort of Maslow’s scale hierarchy of national needs. Even with as many problems as we have as a nation, we are more able to be inclusive when it comes to questions of physical disability, or race, or “blood ties” at least in part because we aren’t focused on, as a nation, providing food and shelter or even friends and family for most of our inhabitants (and believe me, I know that’s not true across the board).
We’re also invested in our national vision of ourselves as being beyond the lower levels of that national pyramid, which is what enables us to ignore the fact that, unlike any of the other countries that are most represented as adopting countries globally, we have large numbers of children in need of adoption and families right here. In Florida alone, there are 19,000 children in foster care and seeking permanent adoptive homes. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to picture them on a “special needs waiting children” website in Sweden or Australia. But we don’t send children overseas for adoption. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to adopt an older child across state lines. There are many complex reasons for that, but at least one is that we’re unwilling to nationally recognize our problem.
To say “I have more money than my child’s birth mother” is an oversimplification, but a valid one–in arguing about it, we have to look at even more of those hard truths about adoption that Belkin is referring to in her title to my guest post. People often think that I write about the negatives of adoption, but it’s only because I–maybe naively–believe that when we take the gloss off, we can see that each individual adoption is, can be and should be just one messy, complicated step towards more solutions. Frankly, I go even farther in my support for adoption than many advocatesâ€”in my heart of hearts, I think nearly everyone should do it. If everyone were an adoptive parent, we’d spend a lot more time looking at the global issues that underlie the need for adoptive parenting and a lot less time worrying about the fact that some adoptions don’t take, and others don’t result in the picture-perfect happy ending we demand.