Being in the adoption process has been an eye-opener for me on every possible level. One thing I was not prepared for was the kinds of (usually well-meaning but misinformed) things people will say.
Much of it seems to come from people not knowing what to say; after all, adoption isn't the "standard" way of growing a family. Other people want you to have a baby so much they say things they didn't think about first. And a few are just insensitive, opinionated, or obnoxious.
In the hopes of saving some other "in-process-to-adopt" parent some grief, here are four things never to say to someone trying to adopt, and what you should say instead:
1. It's taking so LONG!
Really? 'Cause we hadn't noticed. No, we've just been sitting around, sipping iced teas and fanning ourselves on our front porches.
Listen, for many people, they've gone through years of infertility, miscarriages, and waiting. For others (like me), they've wanted to adopt since they were kids. Either way, we are very aware of how long it's taking; pointing it out doesn't help.
Not to mention, when you are expecting your biological child, you know when the baby is coming. You can wait with a sense of definite expectancy; there is a specific end point you can look forward to. You can also prepare with a certainty of a deadline, so to speak.
When you are adopting, you don't have that. You wait and hope for the match, and even when that comes, you don't know whether you will be matched with a birth mom who's giving birth in 6 months or a child in China that needs to be picked up in 6 weeks. Either way, it's a waiting and worrying game that takes it's toll on adoptive parents-to-be.
What to say instead:
"Hey, I bet you are getting close now! Have you thought of names?" (or something to that effect).
2. Aren't you worried about not knowing the full genetic background on the child? I mean, what if she was birthed by a druggie mom?
With my sense of humor, I always want to respond: "Have you seen your gene pool? You've got some worries there, too, my friend."
In all seriousness, if you weren't worried about some latent gene showing up in your own child, then you were in denial. No one's gene pool is perfect.
As far as drugs go, yes, you can end up with a baby or child that was birthed by a mother on drugs, recreational or prescribed. However, you generally know that right away, as the child is tested at birth.
Just like any child, there are challenges you cannot know until you actually have the child. And just like any parent, you'll deal with those challenges the best you can when they come.
What to say instead:
"Wow, it's so wild that your child could be out there right now, waiting for you! Is that hard to imagine?"
3. Why do you have to hold off until you have enough money? Why don't you just max out some credit cards?
Short of adopting from foster care (see next point), adoption costs a great deal of money - somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 - $50,000+ (for international, with travel). Now, employers often have adoption reimbursement for some portion (generally $5,000 to $10,000), and you can also claim the adoption tax credit on your next tax return - currently around $13,000. However, neither of those things pay out until AFTER you've adopted (and sometimes well after), so you are on the hook for all the money upfront and for many months after.
When people asked me why I was holding off on submitting our application to adopt until we had money saved, I would explain that we don't think going massively into debt is the right way to start off our new family. I can't tell you how many reactions I got of, "Oh, don't worry about it! Just get started!"
And yet, none of these people offered to contribute to our adoption fund. Funny, huh?
If you have kids, you know how many expenses come with just bringing them home. There are clothes and diapers and bags and doctor's visits and formula and a crib and...and...and. However, when you've had the child yourself, you aren't already out $25,000 or more, so it's a bit less concerning when you have to pay $1,500 to get all the newborn stuff you need.
You've also likely had a baby shower, so you were given much of what you needed. In my experience, people don't think to throw a baby shower for people that are adopting. Even if people do think of it, it's always a possibility that you get called to adopt a baby who was left at a hospital, so you have about a day to get ready to bring the child home. Either way, you end up having to buy everything yourself.
What to say instead:
"Hey, are you doing any fundraisers/selling items for your adoption fund? I'd help you pull it together or promote it for you!"
"As soon as you are ready, let me throw you a baby shower. You let me know when you'd like to have it."
"Let me know if you'd like my baby monitor/baby clothes/crib/whatever."
4. Why don't you just adopt from foster care? It's pretty much free.
We'd LOVE to - we really would. However, after calling on three different children on the AdoptFlorida.org website and leaving a heartfelt message on how we think that child would be a perfect addition to our family and getting NOT ONE call back, I started to wonder if it was even possible to get a child out of the system. Mind you, we were calling on kids who were 7 - 12 years old as well as sibling groups, so we weren't trying to get a newborn.
After this disheartening experience, I called our home study social worker and asked if she could help. She quickly assured me that this was just how it was in the foster care system, and that it's almost impossible to get a child out at this point, even an older child. In fact, of all the people she works with, she's only seen 2 successful foster care adoptions in 5 years.
She told me a story that encapsulated the issue for me: She's working with a 28 year old woman who has chosen to adopt because she was in the Florida Foster Care System from ages 6 to 12. Because of this, she'd like to give back by adopting. She's also got a Masters degree in Child Psychology, so it's hard to imagine a more perfect candidate.
She's called on 15 children over 3 years and has yet to be able to adopt ONE child. Either she's gotten no call back from the child's social worker, or her home study was "not approved for this child." When our social worker called to see why in the world her home study was not approved, they just gave her the run-around.
Finally giving up, this woman is now trying to adopt an older child internationally. She, the perfect candidate for adopting from foster care, has been forced to give up by a system unbelievably broken.
The saddest part is that she said, "You know, I thought no one wanted me for all that time I was in foster care; now I know that people wanted me, they just couldn't get me."
For so many kids in foster care right this moment, this is their reality. It makes me sick that children are being served so poorly, and that they are being denied wonderful homes that want them.
What to say instead:
On this one, saying nothing is your best option. Believe me, many people have heartbreaking stories of trying to adopt from foster care; the faces of the kids I called on still haunt me, because I KNOW we could have them in our family right now, and they'd be cared for, safe, and happy. I can only hope that they are in a foster home that cares for them, but that is not the same as having your own family and your own place to call home.
On another note, it's time we demand better for foster kids in this country. I'm not sure where to start, but maybe a call to local representatives would be a good place.
Are you trying to adopt now? Or, are you an adoptive parent? What shocking things did people say to you and how did you respond?
Update on article:
I just wanted to note that the VAST majority of people are not saying any of this to be mean or inconsiderate; rather, they either don't really understand adoption (and until you do it yourself, you just wouldn't), or they really want you to get your baby as soon as possible. My intent in writing this article was to bring some light to the subject, and hopefully garner understanding on all sides.