Ever since we first announced our intention to adopt, we regularly hear various people tell us we’re wonderful, saintly people because we chose adoption. They believe we’ve given our kids a much better life than what they would have known. I’ve heard words like “hero”, “brave”, “angel”, and others used to describe our role as adoptive parents.
This sentiment amuses me and makes me uncomfortable. I may be a lot of things, but I do not consider myself a hero – especially not because we adopted. Look: we didn’t adopt because we felt called to do it, found it our social/moral responsibility, or because we were inspired by Angelina Jolie or some other celebrity.
We did it so we could have a family. Period.
The possibility existed that we could have gotten pregnant on our own, but the fertility treatments we tried weren’t getting the job done. So we decided to trade the stress, expense, and uncertainty of fertility treatments for the stress, expense, and uncertainty of adoption. With adoption, we felt fairly certain that we would end up with a baby (especially considering we are white, Christian, married, heterosexual, and financially stable). With fertility treatments (the shots, the turkey baster, and/or the petri dish), we had no such assurance. Even if we could get pregnant, there was no guarantee that nine months later we would end up with a baby.
As for our kiddos, I’ve had people tell me that our children are “lucky” and/or “blessed” to have us as their parents. While we certainly try to give them the best possible life, it would be horribly conceited of us to presume that growing up with us gives them the ‘best possible life’. Plus, that sentiment is highly disrespectful to their birth mothers. I cannot begin to understand the circumstances that led our two birth moms to choose adoption – and it’s not my place to publicly discuss what we do know – but you’ll have a hard time convincing me that the lives of our children are automatically better because we adopted them. If people think we give our kids the ‘best possible life’ that’s only because we have an unspoken obligation to our birth moms to raise these children as best as we can – not because our “status” as middle class white people* is somehow better than what they would have otherwise known.
*Yeah, I think there is a bit of an unspoken (and hopefully unintentional) race element to all of this. And I know there is definitely a class factor. I think society tends to make assumptions about birth moms (i.e. young, poor, uneducated, possibly minority), just as they make assumptions about my wife and I (white, educated, professional). Whether or not they would ever vocalize it, I guarantee there are people out there who believe that our minority children are guaranteed to have a better life growing up in a middle class white home than they would being raised by a single black woman. I think that notion is absolutely ludicrous. Any “advantages” we may have are perception, and are likely offset by the fact that raising a child of color outside of his or her culture can lead to a lack of racial identity.
At times, I think the “hero” sentiment is a coded way of saying “I would never, ever adopt, so I applaud you for doing something I’m too scared/weak/unwilling to do”. This belief comes from my feelings on being a foster parent: I’m not sure I could do what foster parents do, so I have a high level of appreciation and respect for those who have chosen that path. Does that make foster parents heroes? In my mind, it kind of does, but my guess is they would be just as uncomfortable with that sentiment as I am when I hear it.
So consider me a hero if you want (although you certainly do so at your own risk), tell me how “brave” our choice was (even if that is a bit of a back-handed slap at adoption), and say how “lucky” our kids are to have us. But know that there are no heroes in adoption. The birth moms are the brave ones, and the adoptive parents are far and away the lucky ones.