What If We All Adopted?

A friend once said to me: Don’t you think the most eco-friendly thing you could do would be to not produce another person?

I looked down at my pregnant belly.  Before I had children, I knew that I would adopt. I was so sure of myself.

Lately, I’ve felt stretched to the bone. I have no time to sit and rest. I’ve given up running. I work, take care of my family, chat with friends and work again. I can’t imagine taking another child into our home.

I feel disappointed in myself, and I can’t help but question my drive to have biologic children. Why? Why did I insist on beginning a family with my own children?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my children very much.  And I clearly wanted a biologic child; otherwise, I would’ve used birth control. We were in classes for foster-to-adopt when I found out I was pregnant with my youngest. But we entered the class because we had been trying to get pregnant for 6 months without success, and I thought that perhaps we were supposed to adopt now. We withdrew from the class the day we found out I was pregnant because bringing two children into our home at once seemed too much.

The plan was to adopt later but in having another biologic child, Scott and I wonder if we’ve maxed out our parenting abilities. (He’s vigorously nodding.)

But finding myself here, makes me think: What if we all adopted instead of made babies? What would our world look like?

In the United States, there are 423,773 in foster care and 34% or 134,976 children have adoption or long term foster care as a goal.

Worldwide statistics are more difficult to come by since orphanages are not the best documented places, but a figure I came by that was attributed to Save the Children was 8 million with the caveat that it’s probably more. 8 million children were in orphanages in 2009. (Now, it should be noted that in some countries, a high percentage of these children have at least one biologic parent who cannot afford to feed and clothe the child, but I will count all 8 million since I solved poverty last week but no government has realized it. And before I get accused of swooping to save children with my first world homes and airplanes, I will contend that, although studies have shown that growing up with your biologic family is best (even when they are not the best), growing up in ANY family is well ahead of growing up in orphanages and group homes.)

Now, back to the United States.  Women in the U.S. birthed over 4.1 million babies in 2009.

If, for just over 2 years, everyone in the United States stopped making babies and chose to adopted a child, no one would be left in an orphanage or foster care in the world.

If less than a 1/3 of the U.S. mamas planning planning to give birth has instead adopted of an American child, we would have a permanent home for every American child after 1 year.

Yet, families in the U.S. adopted only 12,753 children in 2009, and at the same time, 1.3 million patients received infertility advice or treatment in the United States.

So why aren’t we adopting more?

Do people want tiny babies (since most children available to adopt aren’t less than a year old)? Do we just want to see ourselves in their faces? Are we afraid of “problems”?

I concede that 47% of births being unplanned plays a huge role. But then do we not understand how birth control works? And, honestly, would those mamas have adopted instead?

My friend, who originally called this green mama out on making babies, went on to concede 1 or 2 children to replace the baby-makers might be okay. But I kept thinking: With as long as we live these days, Scott and I won’t be replaced until my kids are at least 65 years old. (Yes, now I’m arguing with myself. Welcome to my world.)

Our population growth is putting pressure on our environment and infrastructure for feeding and caring for one another.  It may be contributing to the number of children in orphanages around the world.  Of course, I don’t want to get into population control and environmental impact — I’m going to try to get accused of being a Communist every other Thursday post — so let’s not go down the one child limit rules here.

But why don’t we take more children in who aren’t our own?

Why is creating new life so important to us?

I know that people argue for genetic and the desire to propagate one’s genes. Is that it? Just some animal instinct?  But infertility clinics were a $3.8 billion industry in 2009. How can that much money merely be based on a drive to survive?

Here I sit, with my beautiful biologic children and my fear that I will never adopt a child, and I have no idea why I chose this road to children.

Because we could afford to adopt.

But for us, making babies is easier.

So perhaps, the fault lays at the my feet. For choosing the easier way. For choosing the impulsive way. For assuming I had limitless energy and resources and time.

For choosing my children over those children.

One day, I hope to reread this with our third child who is ours through an adoption.

But hoping and doing are not the same thing.

I feel like I should apologize to someone. I just don’t know who.

Updated: Many people site cost as a reason so here’s some numbers. A child costs an average of $11,000/year. A domestic adoption costs between $7000 and $25,000. So adopting a 3 year old is actually CHEAPER than having a biological child.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

43 thoughts to “What If We All Adopted?”

  1. I think the cost is the biggest reason people don’t adopt more. My husband is adopted, and his parents desperately wanted more kids. But a combination of their age and the cost of adoption prevented them from bringing any more kids into their home.

    Being the in middle of my second pregnancy I find myself wondering if I want to go through this again for a third. I’m not enjoying pregnancy like I did with my first. My husband and I always talked about adopting, so maybe that is also our answer for a third child. It’s the cost that gets us though.

  2. I feel the need to say “Holy cow, woman! You think too much!”

    OK, I feel better.

    The cost of adopting is a big deal, along with all the hoops you have to go through, as well as the possibility that the adoption will fall through. I knew a couple that had 3 adoptions fall through, and one long term foster care situation go horribly wrong. They had given up on having kids when she found out she was pregnant at 42. I’m sure that’s not a typical story, but I think everyone has heard a similar story at least once, and that scares us.

    There is more here. But I don’t want to think that much right now. I will leave all the thinking to you.

  3. While I don’t agree with everything you say, I undertsand the connundrum. When Hubs and I were TTC, we talked about adoption and many friends encouraged us to adopt. We weren’t against the idea, but honestly we couldn’t afford it. IVF (after 3 1/2 years) ended up being the CHEAPER route (because insurance covered it).

    I think it’s fairly obvious there’s something in our genes that drives us to procreate, but we HAVE TO BE MORE RESPONSIBLE ABOUT IT! I was going to blog this week (but haven’t had time) about two co-workers of mine who are in their early 20’s, unmarried, with unplanned pregnancies. While I am thrilled that they’re both going through with it (although one is still smoking at 7 months), the other part of me rages because they don’t have the stability of a steady relationship or a home for these children. And then the other side of the coin is why can they get pregnant when I couldn’t and may still not be able to (because I would love to have another child)?

    Our society is so broken. We treat children like pets, or a gadget that can be tossed out or given away when things don’t work out. We don’t realize the gravity of the consequencs of sex. We can’t be bothered when things are TOO hard. I don’t know what the solution is, but maybe we all need a little more guilt to start to come up with a solution.

  4. That seems like kind of a mean thing to say to a pregnant woman.

    Along with my excitement at the new turn in my life, I struggled mentally with the idea of having a child, and then a little more with the second. It did not feel like an environmentally friendly thing to do. I can make logical arguments for and against it, but to be honest having your own children feels out of the realm of logical to me. The full experience of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding: it’s all very personal and intimate. And certainly that’s selfish, but aren’t we hard wired to be selfish? How else will our genes get themselves passed along?

  5. This is a conversation Jameson and I have had since we got married. We both wanted to have 2 biological children then adopt 2… but after having twins I know I want to be pregnant again. At least once. Even though it was freakin’ miserable for about 7 of the 8 months I was pregnant.

    We debated over adopting first or having our biological children first. But we didn’t expect to get pregnant, so that was answered for us. And with twins, I don’t think I can handle any more kids at the moment. Maybe once they are in school we’ll be able to look into fostering a child at least.

  6. Cost, for us, is huge with adopting. If it came to the cost of adopting bs ivf, for many reasons, for us, it would have been adoption

    But I also always worried that some day the biological parents would return and I’d lose my child. It seems so silly but I can’t stand the idea of losing my child. So there’s that.

    I guess I don’t have a good answer

  7. Just want to point out that some of us know how birth control works, it just DOESN’T. Accidents do actually happen, my dear.

    That said, I have had the same internal battle. I want to adopt. But I don’t. And I probably won’t. And I feel weak because of that.

  8. I am adopted. I was born to a 17-year-old single mother who didn’t know who my father was. I was adopted by 30-something parents with one child and 6 years of trying for another under their belts. I have had an incredible life because of the family I was given. Adoption can do great things for the children that need it.
    However, I don’t think you should feel bad. Just because there are children out there that need homes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create and birth your own children.
    I can’t answer why people are driven to spend 3.8 billion in fertility treatments either – personally my plan was to adopt if I couldn’t get pregnant myself. Never thought about the fertility doctor route. I still plan on adopting even though my body is fully capable of producing my own offspring – Exhibit A my 20-month-old.
    But giving up biological pregnancy and birth isn’t the answer to the problem of too many children without homes. The problem lies in young CHILDREN, or adults, that don’t have the money, the health, the means, the support, or the care to take care of a child they either did or mostly did not plan to have. Everyone could just adopt – but more babies would be born into a life where they wouldn’t be given a family. It is a never-ending cycle.
    I don’t know what the answer is to help those 411,000 children who are not given a permanent home. I wish I did. Because my life is SO much better because I was given a home.

    1. I’m adopted too. loved your comment. you brought up a good point. I think also it comes down to sex education and available birth control. I wasn’t born to a teen but I was born to a mom on welfare who couldn’t afford to feed me. so I’m very grateful she made the choice to give me up.

  9. Great post. Never considered adoption as I was not sure I even wanted children. Then I wasn’t sure I could handle being a mother to more than a baby, with my own genetic makeup. This is big food for thought and as my mind becomes less juvenille it may be able to take on this challenge. Got to get out of babyhood first. And I don’t want to be pregnant again. Thanks for taking the time to write this. And thank your green friend for asking the tough questions.

  10. My husband and I plan to adopt, eventually.

    But I will say, it’s only because we’ve been unable to procreate ourselves. I’m not sure if that puts me in a different boat, or the same, as you.

  11. Well said, Alex. Thank you for writing this. As an adoptive parent, I was certainly influenced by the reasons you state, but I also chose adoption because I’m solo. Sometimes I feel guilty that I went the international route when there are so many kids right here who need homes . . . Choosing adoption isn’t something you & Scott have to do right now ~ maybe in a few years when you catch up on sleep you will be moved again to consider it.

  12. For us, it boiled down to the cost. How sad is that?

    We’d still like to adopt at some point – perhaps when we’re older and more financially secure. I work on the education side of a foster and homeless youth program. My sister is in social work. The stories I hear break my heart. At the very least, we’d like to do foster care or perhaps work with older foster youth who need a mentor more than a parent.

    So maybe that’s a solution. Reduce the cost of fees associated with adoption to open the pool to more potential forever families.

  13. For me, honestly, adopting is not an option simply because of the level of care many adopted children require. I feel that in order to really “make a difference” in the truest sense, then signing onto a waiting list for the perfect newborn child (that everyone ostensibly wants – hence the list). And from what I understand, children don’t end up in the “system” without first going through some major crap. It’s not that I don’t want to deal with their issues, but that I feel ill equipped to do so. I work full time, as does my husband and we just don’t have the resources (monetary, emotional, and know-how) to take on a child who, in all likelihood will need much more from us, and challenge us more deeply, than our own homegrown variety kids.

    I also always thought I’d be a foster mom. And maybe someday, when circumstances change for us, I will. But at the moment it’s just not on the table.

    1. In that second sentence, I meant to say that signing up for a private adoption – at least in my county – is not the way to tackle the issue of motherless children.

      Hard to proof read in that teeny box… at least that’s my excuse for posting gibberish. 🙂

    2. I’m sorry, but I disagree. yes, taking on a child who was abused or neglected would take more effort. but most children just need homes just like any other child. I’m adopted and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a reason that I was more difficult than any other homegrown child.

      1. Just to clarify where I’m coming from a bit. I apologize, I know that many situation are wonderful experiences for all involved. It’s just that I have two close friends going through the public adoption process in the County of Los Angeles and taking all the requisite classes etc., and the sad fact is that the vast majority of children coming through that system have had to deal with some seriously effed up stuff. And so, through no fault of their own, many of these children are suffering from the mental and emotional repercussions.

        While I recognize that this is not the decision that would fit everyone, I feel like it’s only fair to myself, my husband and our son, and most of all to any child we would bring into our home, that I be honest with myself and admit that I do not currently have the capacity to handle that type of situation.

        As I mentioned before, private adoptions are often a completely different animal, though those are the ones that pose the most cost.

        Anyway I didn’t mean to offend or anything, just giving another perspective besides that adoption is cost-prohibitive. I’m glad that your situation worked out so well. Family is a wonderful thing, in any form.

        1. I wasn’t offended. I just felt like offering an inside perspective. I think it’s honorable that you wouldn’t step into a situation that wouldn’t be good for you or a child, because that’s not fair to anyone. and yes, private adoptions are incredibly expensive, depending on the agency of course. it’s not for everyone. but I did want to point out that there are many kids out there who just need good homes. I was adopted through LA county believe it or not. but that was back in 1980. things are actually better now.

          1. That’s awesome that you have such a good story coming out of LA County. My friends were a bit shell shocked after all the horror stories in the classes they took, though they are both still going for it, I think. I hope that there are a lot more good stories like yours because it is completely heartbreaking to hear the others. Thank you for providing me with a different perspective.

  14. do you know how much I love you right now? so much. so, so much.

    I do think there’s something to the evolutionary imperative idea. so many people feel it won’t be the same. which, as you know, I think is bullshit. I’m adopted and I can’t think that it’s not the same for me.

    but I also think the system makes it hard to adopt. I know a couple who tried to adopt for years. they held fundraisers and they finally got the money then they didn’t get approved for years. they finally got a child and it’s been like 4 years in the process. I know another couple that finally adopted a child and now the bio mom is contesting it and they live every day in fear. I also know that it’s hard to get approved for many. they have to have a certain income. or some agencies won’t place a child of a different race (way bullshit). or lesbian couples can’t get approved. for many lesbians, it’s easier to get inseminated than adopt. so sad, I think. I know they wouldn’t give my parents a second child back in the 80s.

    so I think it’s about two things: raising awareness and losing the stigma of adoption AND changing the system.

  15. Forwarded to my sister. Love this. She and I both want to adopt.

    Given I’m 33 and very much single, adoption is becoming more and more not just an option but the only option (I think I’d rather adopt than go through some medical intervention to have my own). We’ll see. . . . someday. . . .

  16. A note about the cost of adoption….

    Adopting a child through foster care is FREE. In fact, the child receives a stipend (paying for clothes/food, daycare) at least until the adoption goes through and often long after that.

    And contrary to popular belief, there ARE babies that come in to foster care. Infants are rarer than older children and involve a bit more risk for sure, but my daughter is living proof that adopting an infant through foster care is possible.

    There are almost 2,000 children in Virginia alone who are currently available for adoption. Anyone interested in more information can visit http://www.chsva.org/children.htm.

  17. The ecological purpose of reproduction is to carry on our genes. That’s why all animals/plants do it. A selfish need to keep our great genecode going into the future. I am sure you know that.

    We have only 2 kids too, to replace ourselves. I am in nearly the same boat as you, always thought I would open my heart and family to another child. But realizing I might not have the energy in me. And I feel selfish.

  18. I’ve been thinking about this all day now, and I can’t think of anyone I know who adopted because it was their first-choice method for starting a family. It doesn’t make my friends who have adopted any less wonderful for bringing in a child from another set of parents, or in some cases another country, but it all started because they couldn’t get pregnant.

    I wonder how many fewer children would get adopted if NO ONE had fertility problems. It’s a scary thought, actually. Maybe adoption should be – I hate to use the word “marketed” – uh, presented more as a first-choice option rather than a Plan B.

    And in case anyone’s wondering, I don’t have children. My husband and I are constantly over-thinking whether we should or not, and if we do, how we should go about it. Adoption is certainly on the table.

  19. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t plan to grow up and have 11 kids.

    And like all decisions made in early childhood, it seems sensible to stick with it throughout my life.

    (Weirdly, I’m not at all joking.)

    (Seriously, I’ve spent my life planning to have eleven kids. Still do.)

    (I openly acknowledge that I may have one kid, then have a mental breakdown and settle for just keeping that one and maybe getting a dog.)

    I do remember when I decided I was going to adopt them all. It was (brace yourself) while reading a Baby Sitter’s Club Book in 5th grade. Stacey was getting some award for something from the community and the other woman receiving an award was doing so for having taken in all these kids throughout her life (I think it was a number even more ludicrous than mine, like 30) and I remember reading and thinking, “there are kids out there that need homes? Well, I want kids. Done deal.”

    I probably didn’t use the phrase “done deal.”

    I, obviously, don’t currently have any kids, so who knows if I’ll actually stick with this life plan.

    But I’ve yet to encounter a single reason not to.

    (At least a single good reason not to adopt. There might be a good reason to not have eleven kids.)

  20. I’ve been thinking about your post all day. I love Thoughtful Thursdays! I’m in my 20s and not married and I have known for at least a few years that I want to adopt, mainly because I don’t see the point in creating more children when I could just help out children who already exist and need homes. I often wonder why more people do not adopt in our country, especially since lots of people could afford to. I do think cost is one of the factors because while adopting from foster care is free, it still has stigma. People want to do international or private domestic adoptions of kids who they perceive to not have “problems” – and most people also want infants, who can be hard to find through foster care. I think it’s sad and I hope public perception of adoption, especially through the foster care system, changes for the better.

    Also- a quick note about unplanned pregnancies- maybe we wouldn’t have so many if birth control were more accessible to ALL women in our country, and if we would ditch abstinence-only sex education and stop lying to kids in school about sex! (I have a friend from Texas who was actually taught in health class that oral sex causes pregnancy!)

  21. Alex,
    I appreciate this post alot. Why feel guilty about having biological children? It is a very natural human desire.
    As you know, I have 4 adopted kids. I adopted them internationally. I don’t feel guilty about not adopting kids from the US. For me, this was what was open to me at my stage of life. US foster adopt was harder (though cheaper) and slower and (although very rare) less “permanent”.
    Being a parent is hard – whether you come by it biologically or another way. Some adopted kids have many issues, some have none – same as biological kids. The key is learning as much as you can, making sure that you have (and are willing to accept) assistance when it is needed, and being open to learning about what your child needs (not much more than what is needed with biological children).
    I think that your desire to do this – to help a vulnerable child – will lead you. Whether it is by adopting – or by contributing to others adoption (to help with their expenses) – or by supporting good agencies that help children who need homes. Not everyone needs to adopt – Everyone needs to help!

  22. No answers here. Ithink there is something magical about growing a baby, made from passion. But, I’m also pretty sure there would be something deep and awe inspiring about welcoming a child who needs you.

    I have the deepest respect for a friend who adopted two kids after raising two biological ones. I’m not sure I’d have the energy in 15 years to take that on, but wow.

  23. I agree and have thought and felt all those things and more. I’m a bit more negative though which is not at all productive. In that everytime I see a pregnant belly I think “oh thank goodness, yet another human for the earth”. And I bitterly grumble to myself about the selfishness of that woman/couple. I can think loftily though as being in a same-sex relationship and having adopted our only child, I am actually walking the walk. But what if I was straight…I wonder if I too would just be talking the talk. Btw, I love your blogs, Alex, and think you and your family are pretty amazing. Thanks for what you do.

  24. I think the initial cost is one of the biggest reasons that people don’t adopt. Another is the fact that it is an older child with older child issues and different rules and behaviors from what you are expecting. I also have in my own family (inlaw) the feeling that an adopted child is never really your child or family they are just a child that you raise for someone else (yeah they are winners).
    On a personal note we are looking at adopting because we aren’t so sure that we will get pregnant again, T was a BIG surprise. Also my cousin has two children through adoption. We (biological)are a BIG adopting family!

  25. I will add adoption law that clearly favors the birth mother, even years later, over the adoptive family–the major reason that my sister adopted outside the country.

  26. Having been in very much the same shoes regarding the foster-to-adopt process, I think this is a wonderful and thoughtful post. Cost is not the issue. Say what you want about infertility treatments, cost of adoption, etc. but the truth is that you can adopt a child at no cost in Virginia. I think the problem is that people see these children as “damaged goods” because they are either older and/or a part of the foster care system. Most people want perfect babies. Or if their children carry any imperfection, it can be blamed on their own genetics or child-rearing, not someone else’s.

    We were inches away from fostering to adopt when we found ourselves blessedly (and surprisingly) pregnant. We never even considered IVF or other invasive fertility treatments. Foster/adoption was always on the table for the second child. Things have been put on hold for a while…maybe permanently…but I think that the option may still exist down the road.

    I know people who have made foster parenting their “second career” once their biological children are grown or mostly grown. They find it very rewarding. Kudos for the great post.

  27. I always thought I would like to adopt. Then I got divorced and stopped thinking about having children. Then I got pregnant. Being pregnant and giving birth was an experience I am so so happy I got to have. I love my daughter more than life itself. Now that I’ve got that mushy crap out of the way….

    So why don’t we all adopt? I’d guess it’s partially about race. I’ve heard that it’s really hard to get white babies in the U.S., which is why people are adopting Russian kids instead of American kids. And it’s also hard to get babies in general. Most people want a kid who looks like them and they want to start from scratch. It’s easier to get that if you have the baby yourself.

    Unless you’re adopting for completely altruistic reasons, it’s not a simple process. That’s my guess anyhow.

  28. Scott and I area always saying people need to stop having children. And then, here we are, desperately trying for another child. It must be something innate. But, seriously, sorry if this offends anyone, but those families with six kids on welfare? Gratuitous. Sort of like the people who have six giant dogs. Think of all the kids we could feel with the cost of all that dog food?

  29. You make an interesting argument… I think for me/us and most people, it comes down to the cost of adoption, but with three miscarriages under my belt, I don’t know if I could survive one more, adoption is NOT off the table.

    Thank you for writing this. I hope you high fived yourself after publishing. 🙂

  30. Thank you for being honest and informative. Adoption is an unselfish and wonderful act. I am adopted and my famy means more to me than anything. I also recently met my entire biological family- bio mom and dad-who broke up before I was born and their kids (three sisters and two brothers) bio grandma and three nieces. And I have two beautiful children of my own that my husband and I worked really hard to conceive with the help of our fertility doctor. We were not opposed to adoption but i had a need to be pregnant and combine my DNA with my husbands, even though my life experience with adoption is over the top good. I am so thankful for
    my kids, and so blessed for the life I was given.

  31. Adopting from foster care is generally free (the few legal expenses are either covered by the foster care agency or adoption tax credit). And in some cases the child comes with a subsidy to help the adoptive parents meet expenses of children with special needs.

  32. Hey there!
    Very good post. My husband and I adopted. We fostered to adopt actually and I have a biological child. You mentioned cost, another thing to consider with cost is there is a HUGE tax credit for adoption as well so that does help you get back a big chunk of the money for those who are interested. For 2011, the credit (not deduction) is $13,120. You get that back over 3 years once the adoption is complete. If you adopt a special needs child, the credit is more. Food for thought. You rock Alex 🙂

    1. Me again! It is free to Foster adopt. At least it was for us. It is a long and sometimes difficult process as well.

  33. We contributed to that billion dollar industry of infertility clinics and considered adoption because there were no guarantees despite the loads of money we gave our RE and the drug companies. And in that case, adoption would’ve been cheaper out of the gate than what we spent month after month.

    And as someone who grew up with a strong family model of advocating for children and social welfare and adoption as well as also being a wife to someone who came from a country where many children struggle, it still was, and is, really; not a clear path for me.

  34. Some serious food for thought… The numbers of for infertility vs adoption. I, too, am saddened by the degree of ego that we as a population appear to have invested in carrying on our genes. Then again… I’m trying to remind myself that children, let alone those that may not be biologically our own, are not for everyone… that each has the right to decide for him/herself… Mmmmmm… Gracias amiga..

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