Adoption and foster parenting
March 16, 2005 3:52 PM   Subscribe

What can you tell me about your experiences giving/raising/being an adopted child?

When I look ahead in my life, I seriously consider the idea of open or overseas adoptions. The response to this by people close to me, excluding my partner and my parents, has been overwhelmingly negative. The label "idealistic" or "unrealistic" is tossed around a lot. They also go on near tirades about how hard it would be. I'm not gay or infertile (well, probably not), so they can't understand why I would consider adopting over reproducing. But doing so seems right to me and my partner agrees (he was raised by one biological parent and one adoptive). Loving and raising a child to be a good person seems more essential to parenthood then whether I physically birthed the kid or whether my partner has genetic input. We know we want kids, should it matter the method by which they become part of our lives?

None of these naysayers know what growing up with adoption is actually like, they just have all the classic arguments against it (and love spouting societal bias towards reproducing). The problem is, I don't know what it's like either, so I can't respond. Maybe I have all the wrong ideas, maybe I am being idealistic.

I was hoping to hear some straight talk from those who actually know, who have has adoption as part of their life in one aspect or another. How hard is it really? What is it like? Are you happy/content with how the role of adoption has played in your family and life? What could have made the hard parts easier? Feel free to bring up any and all variables.

Responses from those with experience with foster parenting would also be appreciated. And if you'd rather talk to me directly, you can find my e-mail on my user page. Thanks in advance, and know I'm not going to base any life-altering descisons on this thread, this is something we have plenty of time to decide about. We both plan on being a Big Sister/Brother once we have more settled lives.
posted by nelleish to Human Relations (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My friends adopted a baby from Russia. It involved two trips there and a tremendous (to me anyway) amount of money. They couldn't be happier. It was crazy hard, jumping through many beaureaucratic hoops. They are planning to do it again, so I guess that is two thumbs up. They are a great couple and I couldn't be happier for them. We had a party for them when they came back from Russia and everything got settled. Another friend was adopted, and she gave the family a globe and told them to tell the baby where he was from and the story of his adoption when he was old enough to understand. A great gift and a great idea.

A woman that I am friends with is adopted. She decided to seek out her birth mother when she was in her 30's. Her birth mother turned out to be a ne'er-do-well who hit my friend up for money, and wasn't really interested in renewing any kind of relationship. I guess it runs the gamut, like other human endeavors.
posted by fixedgear at 4:11 PM on March 16, 2005

After having six boys, my uncle and aunt adopted 3 girls from Korea in the 1960s. At the time they met with some horrible racist comments -- "Who will they marry?" being one of the lighter ones. Thankfully, times have changed somewhat--my cousins are awesome and a much-loved part of our family. Now all are adults, with families of their own (they didn't have trouble marrying after all).
posted by GaelFC at 4:27 PM on March 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

My brother and I were both adopted as infants, and so was my boyfriend. As far as I know the three of us feel similarly about the issue, but I'll just speak for myself: to be honest, I can't think of a single way in which my experience has been difficult. (Well, it is a bit annoying trying to fill out the "family history" section of medical forms, but that's pretty minor.)

I have known I was adopted for as long as I can remember, and I think this is key. Most of the adoption horror stories I've heard -- and they are few and far between -- involve the adoptee being ceremoniously told when he/she reached a certain age after years of not knowing, or even worse, finding out accidentally. A situation like that is almost sure to cause some trauma for everyone involved. My parents' approach, on the other hand, was great; right from the beginning they spoke openly about my adoption as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and that's how I grew up feeling.

My parents are my parents; I couldn't care less that we don't share genetic material, and they feel the same. I have little desire to seek out my birth parents, as evidenced by the fact that my mom knows my birth mother's name and I've never asked her what it is. I admit to having a nagging curiosity about what my birth parents look like and I wish I had some medical information, but that's about it. I certainly don't desire a relationship with them.

If you'd like to give some specifics about what the naysayers are saying, I'd be happy to address them either here or over email (mine's in my profile).
posted by purplemonkie at 6:07 PM on March 16, 2005 [2 favorites]

I adopted a Chinese baby recently, and I've never been happier: I love her to bits. She's pretty happy too. There doesn't seem to be any downside to this arrangement.
posted by Wolof at 6:45 PM on March 16, 2005

I grew up in a family with eight adopted brothers and sisters. My parents both specialized in working with adopted children as well, so I feel that I have seen the whole range of adoption experiences both in my own home and through the organizations and family groups they belonged to. Here are some nuggets of advice which I would be happy to expand upon through email:

The time from the moment that child is born to the moment s/he is in your arms is critical. If the child receives love and proper nourishment for weeks and months before you become the parent AND the mother remained healthy and mostly drug and alcohol free while pregnant, then you have as good a chance as any parent to raise a healthy child and have yourself a happy family. If the child was abandoned and raised in an overseas orphanage only to be rescued by you, there is the likely risk that you will be adopting an emotionally damaged child that you will spend many years struggling with while all the while questioning your skills as a parent.

Ideally, if you did adopt, you would know something about the parents and take over soon after the birth. If the parents are a mystery and the early formative years are suspect, you risk too much in my opinion. Somebody has to do it, somebody has to be the foster parents, and God help them, because it is not an easy task. If you want to be a saint, and if you want to work really hard to help raise emotionally challenged kids, then adopt a child that was abused, or who has fetal alcohol syndrome.

I am a strong believer in the importance of a baby becoming attached to a parent. So often with both adopted and foster children, that early connection never occurs and this is a permanent emotional scar that can take years to overcome. Do your homework. Anytime someone has a child, it's a bit of a gamble and a lifetime sacrifice, and it's no different with adoption. But with adoption you do have the option of limiting some variables and giving yourself a better chance of success and happiness.

Adoption is a beautiful and noble act and I admire those willing to take it on, but I have seen time after time, parents who have no idea what they are walking into because it's never when the child is young that one realizes their charming and hyper kid will turn into a monster someday. Email me if you would like to hear more of my disillusionment and/or things to watch out for - I have some very positive stories too!
posted by brheavy at 9:09 PM on March 16, 2005 [2 favorites]

Not quite the personal testimonial that you were looking for but you, or others, might find it useful anyway...

Adoption Learning Partners have some on-line courses dealing with these kinds of adoption issues. Most of them are free, though they do require registration, but sadly the one specifically about international adoption costs money. ALP is connected with The Cradle an Illinois non-profit adoption agency and advocacy organization -- some of the courses are based on classes that The Cradle has taught in person for some time.

I know about them because my wife worked on several of the on-line courses. She interviewed a lot of people for the courses she worked on, so the stories are real, and express a reasonably wide range of experience. Being the product of an adoption agency LPI are obviously pro adoption, but they do encourage thinking about some of the problems as realistic expectations are better for all concerned.

The "Conspicuous Families" course deals with issues like the handling the "who will they marry?" question noted above, stories from the point of view of those involved and so on. It was the first of the courses my wife worked on, so I did the whole thing and found it thought provoking and informative.

"The Journey of Attachment" course deals with issues of the child becoming part of the new family -- as children move beyond infancy there can sometimes be serious issues with this process. My wife came across a couple of horror stories while doing her research, but many good experiences and even in the cases where there had been difficulties the regrets expressed were mostly along the lines of "I wish I had known more up front so I could have handled things better." As brheavy noted above, kids in this situation, especially those with other problems, are often really in need of love from those generous and brave enough to give it.

As noted, I am indirectly connected with them, so use as big a ladle of salt as you think it necessary, but most of their content is free, and they are a non-profit; also reaction to their courses has generally been positive. YMMV.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2005 [4 favorites]

My wife and I adopted a baby girl four years ago. We took her home strait from the hospital and in no time, we were totally bonded. In our state, the birth parents have three days to reconsider giving up their child for adoption. After an anxious three days, we began to only feel the normal anxiety associated with being new parents. It took two years from the time we started the process of searching for a child to adopt to the time that we took our daughter home from the hospital. We got a phone call and 12 hours later we came home with a new baby, making the final arrival seem very sudden.

Admittedly, the adoption process itself was difficult. We went through an agency, which is the only legally safe way to adopt in the United States. Adoption requires a lot of time and money with no guarantee of what the outcome will be. The agency charges a fee and there are legal costs too with no insurance to pay for them. My wife's employer would not allow maternity leave because she had not given birth, a policy that has since changed, so there was a small loss of income for us too.

We chose to adopt locally in hopes of being matched with an infant. Our decision was not influenced by much more than that. You can use adoption to your advantage by selecting the age, gender, and racial identity of the child you want to adopt. My wife and I were open to either gender and any racial identity but were really very interested in a newborn. Being too selective runs the risk of having to wait longer for a placement. However, it is your choice to make. As most adoptions are now, our adoption is totally open. In spite of that, our daughter's birth mother has never contacted us. We agreed to periodically provide pictures and letters through a third party to the birth mom. As far as we know, none of the letters and pictures have been forwarded. When our daughter is old enough, she will have access to all of the information that the adoption agency collected, including health history of her parents.

Coincidentally, I was also adopted as a baby as was my little sister. Both of us were adopted back in the day when the records were sealed. My curiosity never rose to a level where investigating my birth parents became important to me. My adoptive parents are my parents. They were always very open about our adoption and always spoke of it as a blessing and a very happy event for them. My experience matches purplemonkie's in that there really was no difficulty in being an adopted child. As my doctor says, it would be nice to know your family history but it is not necessary. Your family history is only a little hint, not a definite indicator.

I would encourage you to contact your local department of health and human services to see if they offer a class on foster care. You will get real life, perhaps face to face contact with people who have taken in foster children. You may even find that it will help you when you become a parent, no matter which path you choose to take.
posted by KrustyKlingon at 9:57 PM on March 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

We have had a foster child for the past year. She is leaving us next week to live with relatives. (Not our decision.) This little girl lived with her drug addicted mom until she was 6 yo. I have 4 kids of my own that run the gamut on personality, but I have never done anything as hard as raise this child for this year. I know you are looking into adopting, so I will just second the attachment issue above. If you take an infant, you will probably not face issues that you would face with an older child. I am so emotionally exhausted right now and no amount of classwork or books can prepare you for just doing it. We are not going to take in another child right now because one of my birth children has had a hard time with the situation, but later I do plan to do this again. Yes, its a struggle and hard, but aren't all things in life that are worthwhile?
posted by davenportmom at 6:32 AM on March 17, 2005 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite journal writers adopted a child from China in the past year or so, and is very up front about the challenges; I'd encourage you to read up her archives.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:58 AM on March 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

we know two couples with adopted children. both adopted young babies and they're both deliriously happy (the kids are dead cute too). i'm amazed that you're getting so many negative reactions about adoption. i assume it can be difficult if you adopt someone who's older and who's had a hard life, but then i've always assumed being a parent is difficult anyway. and morally the idea of adoption seems like it's something that should be praised, not disparaged. i think people who adopt are bloody wonderful and i wish you the best luck in the whole world. go for it.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:01 AM on March 17, 2005

My younger brother was adopted when he was about 11 months old. He spent the first months of his life in an orphanage in Korea. He struggled with some complicated issues from an early age. But he was never regarded as anything other than a member of our family, and he knows it. I think that is part of the reason why he is a well-adjusted adult. The rest I account to him and his own coping mechanisms.

After I left for college, my folks became foster parents for a series of kids who were abandoned or removed from the homes of their biological parents by the state. Almost all these kids had been physically abused. However challenging, my folks have found the parental aspect of this experience to be incredibly rewarding.

They've spent a lot of time learning to how navigate the foster care system where they live (Florida), and, if asked, I think they would say this has been the most difficult aspect of the experience overall. On more than one occasion, they had to fight to keep a child from being returned to an abusive parent. They’ve also waded through bureaucratic hell to manage simple tasks (like requesting a new counselor / psychologist when they’ve disagreed with the methods of the one appointed by the state).
posted by grubstake at 10:21 AM on March 17, 2005

I was adopted as a new born and have to agree with purplemonkey, I think it makes a big difference if you know from the beginning (as I did) or find out by accident. It will always come out since everyone knows the child was adopted. It was different gowing up and seeing brothers (in my case) or relatives who look like each other and wonder who you'll grow up to look like. But I have never had the desire to find bio-parents. It isn't the blood that makes a parent it's the love and care. My mom told me years ago when my bio-mom was pregnant she would call me "your baby" when speaking to my parents. Maybe that helped in my comfort level also. I also think of my bio-parents as hero's, knowing the best for me and giving me to a happy, loving family. I could only imagine how it must be to go through that. My daughter finds it a bit difficult when doing a family tree thing, I just tell her this is our family and use their heritage. The medical forms can be an issue, but sometimes I think it's better not to know what maybe coming your way later in life, but that's just my two cents. Good luck on your venture!
posted by slew at 11:45 AM on March 17, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you, thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses, I'll certainly be taking up the offers for email later on today. I wholly agree that it's the right idea to be honest and open about adoption (I won't go around inserting "adopted" between "my" and "child" though). Although I know open adoption as a concept is relatively new so there aren't many adults now who grew up with that, it would be something to consider. I would think it helps with the medical history information, and make it easier should they want to meet or at least find out about their biological parents. Everyone is always curious about where they come from. We also understand and often talk about, the heaps of paperwork, and effort, and time, and money that go into adoption. I think it would be worth it.
posted by nelleish at 12:44 PM on March 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

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