August 27, 2012

A conversation about adoption may evoke a wide variety of strong feelings—a mix of happiness and joy along with pain, fear, and grief. Through this format of questions and answers, I hope to give insight and increase understanding of the adoption process, which joins families together forever!

What is the biblical basis for adoption? Adoption is a concept that flows naturally out of our Christian beliefs and teachings. In the Old Testament, there are over 40 references to orphans or “fatherless,” and the importance of caring for them. Several New Testament teachings refer directly to the concept of adoption (i.e. Galatians 4:4-7). Adoption is an intentional act of God whereby He makes us members of His family, granting us all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of that relationship. We were born into sin and shame, but God claims us as His adopted children, calls us His own, cares for us, and gives us what we need to thrive. God’s love for us through our “adoption” into His family is reflected when birthparents choose to love their child so much that they are willing to put aside their own needs, and intentionally choose parents for him/her who are ready to provide the kind of life they want for their child, but are, for whatever reason, not in a position to provide. The adopting parents fully accept a child into their family through another act of love and grace, giving the child their unconditional love, time, nurture, and providing for all of the material needs of the child.

Are adopted children “loved less”? Adoptive parents who have both biological and adoptive children indicate they love their child by adoption no less, and in the same way. Likewise, adopted children bond with their adoptive families, and with unconditional love, acceptance, and loving discipline, they flourish regardless of the genetic differences. Adopted children may experience regret that they are not genetically connected to adoptive parents, and adoptive parents may experience grief from time to time that the adopted child did not come from them genetically. Healthy families and strong attachment in parent-child relationships have more to do with emotional chemistry than biology.

Do adopted children become “problem children”? While there are no guarantees for any parents or children, the odds are approximately the same for children whether born or adopted into their families. Challenges in parenting can come into any family, both by birth and by adoption.

Can birth parents “reclaim” their child? The media has tended to sensationalize the few situations where this has occurred. These situations are typically the result of adoption laws not being followed, and many states’ laws have changed in the past decades to enable the child’s permanency with adoptive parents. (In Iowa—where I work—birthparents have 96 hours after signing a release of custody to reclaim their child, and could not do so after that without proving fraud, coercion, or signing under duress.)

What fears do birthparents have about adoption? Fears that birthparents may have when considering adoption may include a fear that the child will grow up resentful about being adopted; of themselves not being able to “let go”; that they will never see or hear anything about their child after an adoption; that family members and/or friends may reject them for choosing adoption over parenting. Careful planning and open communication between the birth and adopting families, along with mutually shared information and increasing trust, helps greatly to calm this fear for birthparents over time.

It is important for birthparents to focus on all the reasons they are planning an adoption, including the goals they have for their child as well as their own clear personal goals. Without their own clarity about why they are placing adoptively, the natural feelings of attachment and emotional connection can easily threaten to overwhelm the decision-making process.

Openness in adoption is an option for many, where ongoing communication between the adopting family, the child, and birth family is carefully crafted during the pre-placement planning.

Fear of rejection is usually rooted in a lack of information or over-generalization. A counselor’s responsibility is to listen for these fears and balance them with facts and information, including the high success rate of healthy adoptions.

What about the birthfather? By Iowa law, the rights of the birthfather are the same as the rights of the birthmother. For there to be an adoption, there must be a legal termination of the parental rights of both birthparents. If a birthfather is unknown or cannot be located, there are special provisions that must be followed to ensure that “diligent search” is conducted in order that his rights to parent the child are protected. The birthfather’s position in an adoption is very important. If the birthparents disagree about adoption, the concerns would be dealt with in court, with a judge making the ultimate decision.

What about the Lutheran Church and adoption? Beginning in the late 1800’s and throughout the early to mid 1900’s, orphanages housed many children whose parents were presumed deceased from hunger and war. Lutheran churches throughout the country were leaders in building and managing orphanages for children in need, and many children were joined with adopting families through these homes. Today, a large number of our Lutheran service organizations claim their beginnings as a Lutheran orphanage. Orphan trains moved homeless children, from the crowded and unhealthy streets of the New England cities, out to the Midwest and western states where families were available to adopt them. The phrase “put up for adoption” which some still use today is rooted in this history, as children from the orphan trains were literally “put up” on a platform so potential families could see them and consider their adoption.

Why do some people seem to consider abortion as a preferred alternative to adoption? (i.e. “I could never give up my baby for adoption,” yet the same person can somehow justify abortion.) When women consider abortion over adoption for an unplanned pregnancy, they are most likely making an assumption that there is less emotional pain involved with having an abortion. They may feel they would not bond with an embryo or fetus, but in carrying the baby to term and giving birth, there would be an emotional bond. They may view abortion as a means of merely terminating an untimely pregnancy; in making an adoption plan, they view it as giving up a beautiful baby after giving it life. Recognizing the facts of a developing embryo and unborn child may help her understand there is a new human being (a little boy or little girl) from the moment of conception.

When Lutherans For Life focused on adoption for Life Sunday a number of years ago, we heard feedback that a congregation did not want to promote adoption as it would interfere with their pregnancy counseling in which they encouraged the moms to keep the baby. Was this a valid reason not to promote adoption? A birthparent could choose adoption for the wrong reasons, and can also choose to parent for the wrong reasons. There are many parents who are parents just because they found themselves in pregnancy, not because they are committed to parenting, or are prepared to offer their best as a parent.

At Lutheran Family Service of Iowa, we believe we cannot “steer” the client into a specific way of thinking, but can enable them to make a competent choice by thoroughly exploring both parenting and adoption as viable options. Birthparents need to make the best decision possible based on their own unique thoughts, feelings, and circumstances—not guilt or pressure.

A ministry to single young moms may well feel they cannot effectively offer both options, but hopefully they would carefully listen to the reasons a birthparent may be concerned about premature or forced parenting, and offer referral and networking with adoption agencies to provide information and services to birthparents who want to consider adoption as a possible way forward.

What about singles adopting? We certainly recognize and value the unique and important roles that both a mother and a father play in the life of a child. We also recognize the importance of a permanent and loving home for a child versus years of uncertainty in foster care. If we weigh the consequences of a child not having a loving, permanent home, we can only conclude that Christian single parents may well “fit the bill” for many children. Single parents who have a strong support system and positive role models of the opposite sex can provide stable, loving homes for an adopted child. However, many older children who have experienced years of traumatic abuse from their families of origin would be best suited to a family with both a mom and a dad who have had parenting experience and have the maturity to manage challenging behaviors.

What age group of children is most in need of adoption? Numbers? Today in the United States, over 400,000 children are in foster care, and over 107,000 of these children are waiting for adoptive families. More than half are eight years old or older, and some have special emotional needs. Some are part of a sibling group who need to stay together. Most are children who have lived the early part of their childhood in chaotic and difficult situations. These children are legally free to be adopted, having had their legal ties to their birth families terminated. The only reason they are still in foster care is that no family or individual has come forward to adopt them.

What about the financial cost of adoption? Is financial assistance available? It is helpful if adoptive families understand what they are paying for and to explore what help might be available. When a family pays a domestic adoption fee to an agency, they are paying for the counseling services necessary to support the birthparents to make a decision between parenting and adoption, and to follow through on a healthy adoption experience if adoption is chosen. Fees related to the legal process of terminating parental rights for the birth mom and birth dad are also usually included. These fees (and what they cover) vary greatly from agency to agency. When families pay an international adoption fee, the costs can be comparable or higher and are related to legal fees, dossier (required documentation and paperwork) preparation, translation fees, orphanage needs, and travel costs.

There are resources to offset adoption costs, including tax credits, employer benefits, adoption grants, and lower interest loans. When families adopt children currently waiting in the U.S. foster care system, the cost can be minimal, as the state may provide full coverage of legal fees, and may even establish an ongoing subsidy based on the child’s needs.

What should one look for when choosing an agency to help with adoption? When a prospective adoptive family is pursuing an adoption, they will likely struggle with feeling vulnerable. Prospective adoptive parents would benefit from choosing an agency they trust and feel comfortable with. Adoptive prospects should understand and agree with the agency adoption policies and procedures. Before committing to an agency, they should ask questions about the fees and payment procedure, the agency’s philosophy on adoption and care for birthparents, and availability of agency staff support through the years if open adoption is considered. It is also always good to talk to other families that have adopted through the agency.

Do you find most Lutheran congregations support the promotion of adoption? There is bit of a double standard regarding adoption that runs through our society which can also be seen in our Lutheran congregations. That is that adoption is celebrated as “wonderful” for the adopting couple, while the birthparents typically struggle with a shaming societal message of “how could you do this?” In a healthy adoption, there is gratitude and honor of the role each of the members of the adoption triad (adoptee, birthparent, and adoptive parent) plays. When parishioners take the time to realize and understand the complexities of an adoption situation, they are helping the whole adoption cause in society, honoring each person involved as an individual with unique thoughts, feelings, and needs.

Adoption is both complex and beautiful. It involves loss, letting go of what was supposed to be, and resolution of these losses leading to healthy new attachments and valued life-long relationships. It has been said that adoption is rarely a “first choice” for any of the parties involved. However, because it is not the “first choice” does not mean it is second best! Adoption can be a beautiful solution for a child who needs a stable, loving home; for birthparents who want the best for their child which they are not able to provide; and for adopting parents who are ready in every way to parent but are unable to give birth to a child.

It is true that God can take what seems like the worst of all circumstances and turn them into the best. A healthy adoption is a shining example of this miracle!

Janette Clausen, LBSW, is Director of Pregnancy Counseling and Adoptions, Lutheran Family Service of Iowa.