Be not afraid of the adoption process


When I listened to this NPR story, I had mixed feelings. I’m so happy that this beautiful family has adopted two daughters successfully. Hearing about their challenging journey to their second daughter, however, made me a little uneasy because of how it depicts the adoption process.

Yes, adopting can be hard. Estimates on how long you will wait can be wrong—and you can wait for a long time. Countries’ programs do slow down and close. Prospective parents may have to choose different paths en route to their children. That’s all true. 

But here’s my fear. I worry that stories like this one will mean fewer children will come home to their forever families.

I imagine a couple who is just starting to consider adoption. I picture the woman, hoping to be a mother, listening to the radio and feeling discouraged. As she listens, she thinks, “Adoption is so hard. Too hard. Look what this family had to go through.” That evening she tells her husband that maybe adoption isn’t an option for them. They cry together. Then they give up.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, there are children living in foster homes and orphanages, surrounded by people who care for them—but whose hands and lives are already full.  

Yes, as this story rightly points out, many of those children have special needs. They may be toddlers or preschoolers or school-aged. Some of them have developmental and other health needs. Some have physical needs that can be addressed once home in the United States. Others have a minor need a pediatrician will dismiss with a shrug.

Their real need is for families. They are boys and girls who laugh and cry and climb out of their cribs and race to be first in line at mealtime. They were created by God, and they are beautiful.

Now, let me be clear. No one should adopt as an act of charity. You can’t adopt to save a child or save the world. You adopt because you want to parent a child, because you want to grow your family, because you can make a difference in the life of a child—not just because he or she needs you.

I’m not saying that the media shouldn’t report stories about the challenges associated with adopting. Part of me is pleased to see that the media cares at all that the world of international adoption is changing. And I like that this story mentions that more and more children who are available have special needs. That is the reality, and it’s something families should know.

What raises my hackles is choosing a family as the main subject that had such an arduous journey—and not explaining how unusual that is. Even with all the challenges families can face along the way, a family that hit this many issues has to be the exception—not the rule. I look at their story and think they were poorly advised.

John and I were novices to the process when we started this journey in the summer of 2008. Since then we have adopted our two sons. That’s fast—but it’s not magic. We had good agencies. We did a little research and prayed even more. We were open to adopting children with some special needs and to being matched with boys. That hastened the process for us—most people adopting internationally prefer girls—but that’s not why we declined to check the gender box on the form. We wanted to leave that decision in God’s hands. Our Father really does know best.

Of course, having listened to this NPR clip, I suspect this couple would say that in the end the long journey was worth it, that the obstacles ultimately led them to their daughter, and that they wouldn’t change the journey—even though they wish they could have met their daughter as a newborn.

When a person thinking about adopting hears or reads this type of story, I pray they will listen with their ears, but trust with their heart. May hope win out over discouragement. May they know that others have taken this journey before—and gone back again, some several times. An arduous journey—and I fervently believe it does not need to be arduous—may become a cherished chapter of life.

Whether the road is bumpy or smooth, predictable or full of surprises, the journey will all be worth it when you hold your daughter for the first time, or when you see your son’s first smile.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.