The Great and Misunderstood Challenges of Adoption

(Dreamstime image: Davidtb)
That so many people are eager to adopt despite the perils of doing so speaks to the powerful lure of parenthood.

This Thanksgiving, a baby girl was left at a firehouse in Wantagh, N.Y. She was a mere four pounds, two ounces, and was immediately nicknamed “Baby Girl Hope.” It’s not every day that a young mom leaves her child at a firehouse — especially not on Thanksgiving — so the media covered the story, and within days more than 500 people had stepped forward, offering to adopt or care for Hope.

I had several thoughts at the same time:

On one hand, for all the lack of faith in our public institutions, we live in a country where a struggling young mom can leave her child at the door to her local fire station and know that it will be safe. And for all the partisan rancor Americans have whipped up over the last year and a half, we live in a nation so full of loving and generous hearts that this same mother can also know that her child will be adopted and loved forever. God bless America.

On the other hand, the story is also heartbreaking, because we live in a world where a young mother felt the need to abandon her child to be raised by strangers. It’s encouraging that she chose to give her child another home rather than pay a doctor to kill it in her own womb, but the sheer number of people who stepped forward eager to love this child demonstrates another sad reality: There are far more couples who are eager to adopt than there are children available. Our nation aborts hundreds of thousands of kids who could live in loving homes.

I tweeted this sentiment, and immediately the snarky responses rolled in. A contributor to Vice and The Atlantic tweeted back, “Tell that to all the unadopted kids in our foster homes.” Another person quickly chimed in, “Exactly. Because those kids are not as sexy as an infant wrapped in blankets.” Another tweeted, “But don’t you see? Only certain children are wanted. Some are not.”

On their own terms, these comments are despicable. Should children die because some small fraction will grow up in foster care, allegedly “unwanted” though still adoptable? How is it possibly a moral failing for a person to want to adopt an infant rather than wrestle with the immense and sometimes-terrifying complexities of adopting through the foster-care system?

Adoption is hard. There is no easy path, whatever those who sit in judgment of adoptive families might think. As my pastor says, every single adoption begins with brokenness. Every single one. In the best case, a mother voluntarily gives away her own child, which is heart-rending even when done for the purest of reasons. Other adoptions arise from far worse tragedies, including death and vicious abuse. An “available” foster child is only available because of a series of dreadful events. The older the child, the more often the scars from those events are deep and profound. It takes an extraordinary person to not just love a wounded child (that’s the easy part) but to know how to parent a kid who’s endured deep, deep trauma. Not every adoptive family is up to the task.

RELATED: The Priority of Adoption

For that matter, not every adoptive family gets to find out if it’s up to the task. If you want to adopt a baby in the United States, you should be aware that until parental rights are terminated, a young mother has the right to change her mind and retrieve her child. She should have this right, but words can’t express the anguish felt by adoptive families when it is exercised. I can’t imagine holding my kids as babies, believing and hoping I could raise them, only to have them taken away. That men and women are willing to risk this horrific loss speaks to their deep desire to adopt.

The process of adopting through foster care has its own perils. There are parents who are raising foster children with the goal of adopting, yet they can’t be certain the child they’re raising and loving will be their child until that final, irrevocable termination of parental rights. I’ve heard unbelievable stories of kids’ being taken from loving foster homes, exposed once again to terrifying abuse, and then given back to their foster parents even more traumatized than they were before.

Adoption is hard. There is no easy path, whatever those who sit in judgment of adoptive families might think.

Adopting internationally, as my family did, frequently means placing yourself at the mercy of court systems that can act arbitrarily and capriciously, breaking your heart. Adopted children who come from deep poverty and malnutrition often have lasting developmental delays, and the sadly common practice of abandoning handicapped children means that international adoptive families often immediately have to seek significant medical care for their kids.

And if you’re lucky enough to survive all of these pitfalls, you’ll still be forced to contend with those who either ignorantly or maliciously attack you for your choice. Adopt a baby and you’re accused of ignoring older children. Adopt a child of the same race and you’re accused of racism. Adopt a child of a different race and you’re also accused of racism, or, alternatively, “virtue signaling.”

#related#Yet in spite of all this — the potential heartbreak, the often-ruinous financial commitment, the sometimes-lifelong battle against the handicaps, developmental delays, and trauma that afflict so many abandoned children, and the judgment of others — adoptive families continue to line up and press onward.

Why? Because adoption is wonderful. I’ll never forget our adopted daughter’s first night in our house. We were jet-lagged after an 18-hour trip from Ethiopia and could barely stay awake, but when we laid her down in her new toddler bed, we couldn’t take our eyes off her. We’d brought two biological kids home from the hospital and gazed in wonder at them in their cribs. Now we did the same for our newest daughter. We felt that same astonishing love.

That’s why you adopt, and that’s one more reason why abortion is so horrible. Our nation is killing those who would be loved. No amount of sneering can change that indescribably sad fact.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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