Last week, I was making my four hungry kids a snack while the internet installer went in and out my front door. As he walked by our kitchen a third time, he piped up, “You run a daycare?” I chuckled and replied, “Nope. We’re just a big family.”
I knew what he meant. He saw a white woman with four black children in her home and his first thought was that I must be their child care provider.
Our multiracial family is used to the comments, questions, smiles, and stares we receive almost everywhere we go. Despite the fact that 40% of adoptions are transracial, some people are still shocked that we are our kids’ parents.
Though we don’t look alike and none of us share biological ties, we are a real family. And because our adoptive family “status” is obvious, we receive a lot of questions about adoption. What I’ve found is that there are a lot of misunderstandings, stereotypes, and myths regarding the adoption process, those who were adopted, and those who choose to adopt.
Myth #1: Adoption is expensive.
It’s absolutely true that some routes to adoption are expensive. For example, a domestic infant adoption, meaning, an adoption of a newborn within the United States, costs approximately $35,000-$50,000. International adoptions can cost even more. There are also embryo adoption options.
Why can adoption be costly? There’s a lot of legwork which can include fingerprinting, background checks, interviews, home inspections, legal fees, travel, birth parent expenses, and post-placement visits conducted by a social worker.
However, adopting from the foster care system is free. And in the United States, there are 400,000 children in the foster care system, and 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. The average age of a waiting child is eight-years-old, with many children part of a sibling group, are kids of color, are older, or have special needs.
No matter the route a family chooses, there are many possibilities to make adoption more affordable. These options include grants, employer adoption benefits, fundraising, and crowd-funding. Currently, the federal adoption tax credit totals $14,080 for qualified expenses.
Myth #2: Adopting a child of another race is no big deal.
Being a multiracial family is complex enough, but when adoption is the family’s foundation, the family’s transracial adoption status is conspicuous. And because of race and adoption stereotypes, a family built by adoption is subject to public interrogations and scrutiny.
I’ve been in the middle of a store’s tampon aisle — yes, you read that correctly — when an older woman approached me. Without an introduction, she started firing questions while two of my kids stood beside me. Are they all your real kids? Is their dad dark? Were your kids born drug addicted?
My family also receives a lot of “compliments.” Thank you for adopting children who needed a good home. I just love little brown babies! Do you know Sandra Bullock adopted her kids? I bet you just love her!
Hopeful parents who choose to adopt children of another race must be prepared for the realities, as well as commit to a never-ending racial education. Because colorblindness isn’t real, and children of color deserve parents who instill racial confidence in them.
Myth #3: Once you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.
I cannot tell you how many times someone has said this to me. The assumption is that having a biological baby is the best-case scenario and first-choice for those of us who adopt kids. Adoption is our last resort, one we settle upon after exhausting all other options.
A parent chooses to adopt for a number of reasons. Though one in eight couples experience infertility, that isn’t the sole reason someone may choose to adopt. Sometimes, like in my case, the reason is due to a personal disease or disability that could complicate pregnancy or endanger the baby. Sometimes a person simply has a desire to adopt.
There’s no current data on how many adoptive parents get pregnant after an adoption. However, it’s insulting that someone insinuates that pregnancy is a certainty after adoption, based on one person they know or a celebrity story, suggesting that it’s both inevitable and preferential.
On the other hand, couples who are struggling to conceive are ill-advised to “just adopt.” Adopting a child is a far cry from easy and simple.
Myth #4: Love is all the adopted child needs.
Adoptees, which are people who were adopted, come into their forever families for varying reasons and in many ways. Despite the polarizing presentation of adoption in movies and viral news stories — that adoptive families are either perfectly happy or deeply troubled — a lot of adoptees are in the middle.
There are some common, though not “always,” struggles adoptees can have. These include struggles with attachment and their identity as a child of color in a family of another race. Adoptees are four times more likely than a non-adopted person to attempt suicide.
Love is not all adopted children need. Not even close. Love is a powerful and necessary foundation, one the adoptive family can provide, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all. That’s why many adoptive families choose to find an adoption-competent therapist for their children and choose to parent their children differently, relying heaving on attachment methods.
Blanket statements about any group, including adoptees, aren’t helpful. Each child and family have their own unique joys and challenges.
Myth #5: Open adoption means co-parenting with the biological parents.
An open adoption is when the adoptee and family has contact with the child’s biological family. The contact can range from e-mailing and texting to in-person visits. 95% of domestic infant adoptions are considered open.
An open adoption allows the adoptee to have access to important information, such as medical history, as well as relationships with birth family members. This helps eliminate some of the secrecy and shame that existed during the Baby Scoop Era — the period from the late 1940s to the 1970s when young or unwed mothers were forced to place their babies for adoption — sometimes giving birth completely drugged or never being allowed to hold their babies.
Each of my four children has an open adoption with their birth families with varying degrees of relationship and frequency of contact. These open adoptions are hardly co-parenting. We are our kids’ legal parents, and we assume all the parental rights and responsibilities. When our kids are sick, we clean up the puke.
Are our kids confused having all their parents in their lives? No. Since our kids have been with us since they were infants and have always known they were adopted, open adoption is our norm and there’s room for all of us in the kids’ lives. Though we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs, we love our children’s birth families.
As a heads up, the best things an outsider can say when they see my big and loud crew are simple. “You have a beautiful family” or “I feel you, Mom” is always appreciated. Interrogations on the state of my fertility or asking if my kids are “real” siblings? No, thanks.