Who Do You Wish to Adopt?

Twenty-six years ago when I was deciding to adopt, I realized I had many decisions to make.

One of the first things my adoption attorney asked me to do was to picture the child I hoped to adopt:Was I looking for a baby of my own race or was I open to other races? How did I feel about adopting a child who had been exposed in utero to drugs and/or alcohol? Was I looking to adopt a baby whose birthparents wanted a very open adoption or a less open one?

Many agencies and attorneys will tell you that the more you can widen your lens, the more likely you are to adopt sooner rather than later. Still, it pays to listen to your heart and assess your willingness to grow in new, possibly unforeseen, ways.

Another question you may grapple with is whether you hope to adopt a newborn, a toddler or an older child.Infants are typically available through domestic adoption while toddlers and older children generally come through adoption from foster care or international adoption. Are you feeling that you want to experience every milestone in your baby’s life or are you just as happy to forego the midnight feedings? Do you welcome the challenge of helping your child adjust to a new language and a new country? Or is your fervent wish to be there for your child’s first word and first step?

When you picture your family do you like the idea of adopting a sibling group who may come to you through foster care? It can take some soul searching to uncover whether you are ready for the complexities and the rewards that come with bringing two or three biologically related children into your family.

Some people who are comfortable with diversity in their families may decide to adopt transracially. When you adopt this way, your entire family becomes a transracial family. Preparing to be a transracial family means making friends with people of your child’s race if you do not already have them.It means embracing the quest to find same-race role models for your child. And it means becoming sensitized to issues your child will face, such as street safety for an African American boy, or girl.

Before I adopted, I struggled with my desire to adopt a baby who was white like me, my husband and the child I gave birth to. Did this mean I was racist? At the end of the day, I don’t believe so. Yet, I was aware that others were making different decisions all around me. One white, Catholic woman I knew who was married to a white, Jewish man gave birth to a son one year, and adopted an African American baby girl the next. She felt that since there were already so many differences among family members, why not embrace even more?

How do you feel about drug/alcohol exposure in the child you hope to adopt? Did you know that alcohol exposure often has more ill effects than drug exposure? If you decide you are open to situations like these—and there are many—you will want to be sure you have an adoption pediatrician on your team. This doctor will help you get a sense of how (and in what way) your baby may be affected by substances before and after the birth.

Be careful if an adoption professional asks you if you are “willing to adopt” a certain type of child. Being “willing to adopt” and “wanting to adopt” are two very different propositions. Don’t forget that if there is a particular type of child you do not wish to adopt there are likely to be many adoptive parents out there wanting this very child.

When it comes to openness in an adoption, you and the expectant woman will hopefully see eye to eye about how much openness you want. Let’s say you’re open to meeting with her once a year and she wants to get together with you for a number of the major holidays.It’s up to you to see how much your heart can widen to encompass her wishes. If it can’t, you may need to back out and seek out another expectant woman whose wishes are more in line with yours.

I hoped to have a very open adoption, but this was not meant to be. My son’s birthmother strongly felt the need to have a relatively closed one. But in the end, I believed that this was the situation for me, and that I would respect her wishes in the interest of adopting the baby.

Sometimes the beauty of an adoption lives side by side with the twists and turns it may take. Often, we can go into it with a general idea of what we hope to find, knowing that we may become more flexible as the adoption process moves forward.

Carolyn Berger, LCSW, is founding Board Chair and Adoption Advisory Council Chair of Path2Parenthood.She has a private practice specializing in adoption, fertility and all forms of family building. She has a son through birth and a son through adoption.

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