Why Adoption Is Not An Appropriate Clapback In The Abortion Debate

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Newborn's hand holding an adult hand by the finger
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I remember after we adopted our first two daughters, hearing a lot of people say to us, “Thankfully their birth moms chose adoption instead of abortion. They chose life!” This exclamation and off-handed compliment came across as pious and assuming. I’ve been a mom by adoption for almost twelve years, and I’m here to tell you that adoption is not the clapback to the abortion debate.

I’ve heard it all. Adoption is the loving option. Adoption gives the child a chance at a better life. Adoption is a gift. Adoption is the polar opposite of abortion. I need to clear the air and tell you, none of this is accurate. Clapping back at abortion with adoption is dismissive, short-sighted, and naïve, and here’s why.

Before I share with you why no one should throw adoption into the abortion conversation, I want you to know that I’m not going down the rabbit hole of the pro-life versus pro-choice debate. Instead, I’m going to share with you what I’ve seen and what I know about the adoption community, and what you need to know, too. No matter where you stand on the abortion issue, you must stop with the adoption praise and promotion when sharing your views on abortion. The following is from hearing thousands of adoption stories from friends, family, and followers.

When we first entered the adoption community, as a young couple who knew that adoption was the best way to build our family, I thought the best thing we could do is call every local Christian adoption agency. After all, we were Christians, so why wouldn’t we use an agency that believed as we did? This was mistake number one.

First, not all Christians are alike. We do not hold the same values, moral standards, or expectations just because we are under the term Christian. Second, a Christian adoption agency doesn’t equate, by default, an ethical adoption agency. Ethical adoptions are of the utmost importance. At the heart of it, an ethical adoption means that all parties are well-informed, well-supported, and child is always at the center of every decision made, every step of the way. It sounds remarkably simple, right? Do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, always. However, that’s not how much of the adoption industry works. (Luckily, we ended up adopting from a different, much smaller, and much more ethical agency.)

Oh yes, I said industry. Some ethical adoption agencies exist to help expectant mothers, no matter what they decide to do during their pregnancy. Unfortunately, these are few and far between and difficult to find. The reality is that domestic infant adoption can be quite expensive. Some expenses are expected and reasonable, including court fees, lawyer fees, paperwork and background check fees, fees for the social worker’s time to conduct interviews and a home inspection. Having separate legal representation for the birth family is one the adoption can be more ethical. A homestudy is a massive document written by a social worker that thoroughly lays out the investigation conducted on the hopeful adoptive parent, proving that they are capable, reliable, and safe. There are also the fees to operate an adoption agency, including employee salaries, a building, and supplies. Depending on how the agency uses the fees that are paid by the hopeful adoptive family says a lot about what they’re in the business of doing, and not doing.

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Some states allow hopeful adoptive parents to “help” an expectant mother by paying all of her living expenses for months and months on end prior to the child’s birth. If that sounds a bit like quid pro quo, you’d be right. Not only does this put immense pressure on the mom to place her child for adoption to the couple she “owes” so much to, but it can set the hopeful adoptive parents up to be scammed or to lose thousands of dollars. Money talks, right? This subject is controversial in the adoption community. Some believe that reasonable expenses are permissible, others believe they are outright unethical, and others believe “go big or go home.”

Some agencies charge hopeful adoptive parents based on their income. Again, I wonder why this is. Shouldn’t there just be a reasonable, ethical, set adoption fee? Why hike or discount the price of the process based on income? There’s no reasonable explanation other than that the agency is in the business of selling babies, not finding families for children. This also makes me uncomfortable, because it conveys that whomever has the most money “wins.” They have more options. However, being wealthy doesn’t mean those hopeful parents would be better parents or provide a better home for a child.

Some agencies move expectant mothers from one state with stricter laws to a state where the adoption laws allow the mother to surrender her parental rights as quickly as twenty four or forty eight hours after the birth of the child. Some agencies operate posh maternity homes and promise expectant mothers all sorts of assistance, like help with their college tuition, after they place their child for adoption. If you’re reading this and feel gross, you should. It’s playing dirty. A mother, who is likely in a place of crisis, shouldn’t be lured with dangling, and temporary, carrots in exchange for her child.

Here’s the real kicker. Some agencies charge hopeful parents different placement fees based on the race of the child. Yes, you read that correctly. Healthy, white infants are in the highest demand. Bi-racial, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and babies of other races are sometimes less desirable to hopeful parents. Now, I’m not advocating for anyone to adopt a child of color if they aren’t fully prepared for what the child will need. As a mom of four Black children, I can tell you that transracial adoption is a huge responsibility and honor, one that requires a lot of education and work. What I don’t understand is why the adoption process costs more or less based on a child’s race. (It doesn’t).

Adoption creates loss, even when the adoption is ethical. The birth parents lose their child, the child loses their birth parents, even when the adoption remains open, meaning, there’s ongoing communication between the families. Loss creates grief, confusion, and future difficulty. For example, adoptees attempt suicide at four times the rate of those who were not adopted. Talk to any adult adoptee, and listen to their journey. You might hear about RAD (reactive attachment disorder), trauma, isolation, and all of the unknowns that accompany some adoptions.

Click on some of the most prominent adoption agency websites, and you’ll see that the first thing under the “I’m pregnant and need help” button is a listing of hopeful adoptive parents, including Pinterest-worthy photos and descriptions of their lives. There’s extensive bullet-pointed lists of the benefits of adoption. What’s not listed is the potential for deep and forever loss of the child, the possibility of never seeing him or her again, the guilt and resentment of not raising the child, and the trauma that can occur from placing a child for adoption. These are significant, but they are not listed. Unethical adoption agencies paint adoption as a win-win-win scenario.

You might be wondering why I’m not sending you down a rabbit hole of links to agencies, lawyers, and other adoption professionals who unethically practice. First, I’m not giving them free advertising, giving them the opportunity to secure more “business.” Second, the truth is in the experiences of those who have been maliciously, or sometimes naively, misled by the adoption industry. I implore you to talk to those in the adoption community, including those who were adopted and those who placed children for adoption, who can tell you the reality of what we have also learned.

People tell me all the time how beautiful adoption is. There are beautiful pieces of each of my kids’ stories. I absolutely adore my family, and I’m thankful for our open adoptions as well as having the opportunity to work with ethical adoption agencies. However, adoption is complex and bittersweet, and anyone who paints it as a fairy tale has no idea what they’re talking about. Adoption changes everyone, the parents, the birth parents, and arguably most of all, the adoptee.

I’m not here to discourage anyone from considering adoption, but I absolutely think we must stop saying that abortion’s perfect solution is adoption. Telling someone to “just give up your kid for adoption” when she’s pregnant is dismissive and insulting. Treating adoptees like they’re prizes to be won rather than people to respect, is heartless. The adoption industry is wrought with unethical practices and people and shouldn’t be trusted by default. So the next time you are thinking about throwing adoption into the abortion debate, please, think before you speak.

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