Maybe Adoption is NOT the Best Option for You Right Now
**Disclaimer: This is a post about adoption & orphan care. Did you know that many “popular” or “professional” bloggers who write about orphan care & adoption report that they experience a drastic DECREASE in page views and linking when they write about orphan care & adoption? Don’t stop reading. Don’t assume that this blog post is not applicable to you because adoption just isn’t for you, or because orphan care just doesn’t interest you. Any time I talk or write about orphan care, I try to clearly state that everyone is NOT called to adopt. Orphan care is not solely about adoption or foster care. Please consider what role God is calling you to have in orphan care. Please consider simply praying for orphans or for a family you may know who is going through the adoption process. If you don’t know anyone in the adoption process, pray in general, or email me & I’ll give you a list of names! Please continue reading, even if you think orphan care & adoption are only for social justice advocates, extreme Jesus Freaks, and really “nice & “good” people. **
I really like talking about orphan care. My heart for the fatherless did not hail from a great theological awareness and understanding of God’s sovereign plan for humanity by salvation through His perfect son Jesus Christ ~ our adoption as heirs with Jesus. My story starts in a junior high Social Studies class in the mid 90s. I don’t even remember what I was supposed to be researching or studying, but I know I became somewhat obsessed with adoption during this 7th grade Social Studies class. I read something somewhere about the female infanticide that was taking place in China due to the Chinese Government’s one-child policy and the Chinese historical and cultural preference of sons. I think this was the first time my eyes were opened to the disparity of the world. I was horrified, I was really confused, and it was settled. I was going to adopt two Chinese girls. This fact was well known among my childhood and college friends, and it became a the standard litmus test with any potential suitor. Is he open to adopt? (Spoiler alert: YES ~ seriously cute & athletic guy during grad school was 100% on board & also wanted to adopt ~ we’ve been married 8 years now.)
I continued my hunt for knowledge about Chinese orphans and adoption and foster care in general. I researched and wrote papers in graduate school related to attachment and acculturation of internationally adopted children. I focused my graduate training and studies on working with children from hard places and underserved populations. I volunteered at CASA and completed the majority of my clinical rotations in settings related to or providing care for children in foster care and family reunification programs. Looking back, it is phenomenally amazing to see how God was working in my heart even at such a young age to prepare me not only to be an adoptive mom but also to work and be involved in ministry related to orphan care. God didn’t have two Chinese girls waiting for me to be their momma, but He did have a 7-year-old Ethiopian boy and a 7-year-old Ethiopian girl waiting. All of that to say, I’ve read lots, listened to lots, and learned quite a bit about adoption and orphan care. I’m not at all suggesting that I am an expert, but I do really like talking about orphan care and sharing what I’ve learned.
When Annie asked me to write a post for her blog, I was really excited and honored. It took me a few weeks to decide on a topic, because I think I could write 100 posts related to orphan care, and I know I could write 100 posts about the things we’ve learned from 4 years of parenting older, internationally adopted children. But, I finally decided to write about a not so popular and very sensitive topic related to adoption ~ Infertility.
Please know that the following dialogue is written with an extreme awareness of the difficulty, sorrow, and pain that is associated with infertility. Please know that this post is in NO way a rebuke or judgment on any husband or wife who has walked the difficult road of infertility. I write the following from an incredibly humble stance, as an encouragement to future adoptive parents to diligently and honestly grieve any child-related loss before embarking upon the difficult process and journey of adoption.
Adoption is biblical. Adoption is beautiful. Adoption is a blessing more glorious than I’ve ever imagined. But, adoption is hard. Adoption is painful and filled with many moments of falling-on-your-face-crying-out-to-God sadness. At times, adoption is WAR. Adoption exists and is derived from loss ~ ALWAYS. It reminds us of the broken, sinful world in which we exist. Adoption is not sunshine, cherries, or constant smiles. Adoption is hard work, and it’s ongoing. It does not end simply when our children finally arrive home and are sleeping in their well prepared, comfy bed. To be honest, and in most cases, adoption starts when our kids arrive home. I humbly and graciously propose that if both parents are not prepared for the task at hand, if both parents are not on the same page related to the intention of adoption, if both parents are not committed to raising this child as their own, and if applicable, if both parents have not grieved the loss of a previous child or the idea of children by birth, then likely difficulty will arise.
Here are a few crucial questions I strongly recommend every couple considering adoption take into account. None of these questions may apply to you, some of them may apply, or all of them may apply. Each question carries a heavy burden of grief, loss, and often times confusion and anger.
1. Have you grieved the loss of infertility?
2. Have you grieved the loss of miscarriage?
3. Have you grieved the loss of stillbirth?
4. Have you grieved the loss of abortion?
5. Have you grieved this loss & healed this injury?
Grieving the loss of a child is a task that no one wants to experience. When a couple experiences a miscarriage or a stillbirth, the experience is often somewhat public and noticeable especially to close friends and family. The loss, pain, sadness, and often isolation associated with abortion is too great, too vast & incredibly controversial to attempt to cover in this dialogue. But, abortion is relevant and not simply to women outside of the church. Grief and loss related to abortion is so incredibly profound and so incredibly relevant to many women and men in the church. Please consider how you have grieved and healed the loss of abortion if this is applicable to you in any way.
The loss associated with infertility is often a silent, personal, and very isolating experience. Many couples who are struggling with the depths of emotions associated with fertility problems rarely share their difficulties. Their disappointment, sadness, anger, and multitude of other emotions are often withheld and reserved for their spouse and often leads to marital strain or discord. Fertility problems are difficult and highly emotional. Treatments for fertility problems can be overwhelming, expensive, and even potentially Biblically confusing. Infertility is, unfortunately, not a rare situation. Recent studies suggest that approximately ten to 15% of couples in the U.S. are infertile. Couples who are considering adoption due to fertility problems should consider the questions listed above, pray over the applicable questions, and work through potential areas of grief and loss prior to starting the adoption process.
I think one of the most powerful statements I have ever heard related to considering the adoption process was from random woman at a small adoption conference we attended in Eastern Kentucky. I wish I could remember her name so that I could give her credit for this important and true-to-life Kentuckian statement. She told me, “make sure you and your husband have dealt with all your junk before you start this wild ride.” At the time, I don’t think I knew exactly what she was talking about, but now I certainly do. So, make sure you deal with your junk. Make sure you and your spouse are ready to welcome a little (or big) child into your home because:
Adoption is NOT a replacement.
I have not experienced infertility personally. I have worked with several women and couples in my clinical work, I have prayed with & listened to women in ministry settings, and I have several dear friends who have bravely shared the depths of pain that infertility can bring. Infertility is an unimaginably painful situation. Infertility almost always includes loss ~ either through miscarriage or the acceptance that a couple will not be able to have children by birth. Infertility often causes identity confusion or disruption. Women often question their femininity if they are unable to have children by birth, and likewise, men often question their manhood if they are unable to produce a child of “their own.” As mentioned, fertility problems almost always causes marital strain, if not discord. Infertility can cause depression, anxiety, excessive stress, anger, resentment, and multitude of other difficult emotions. Adoption will not make these emotions cease. Adoption will not heal your marital strain related to infertility. Adoption will not replace a child by birth. Adoption will not heal your deep sorrow, pain, or confusion related to infertility. Adoption is not a replacement.
Adoption is NOT a second best option.
Throughout our adoption journey many people deduced that since my husband, John Mark, and I did not have any children by birth prior to our adoption that we had fertility issues. As mentioned, we did not have fertility issues; we have not experienced infertility firsthand. Nonetheless, I was still shocked and quite bothered by the very personal and specific questions that many people asked related to our ability to conceive a biological child. If you know someone in the process of adopting, please do not ask them personal and intimate questions about their ability to conceive a child by birth. And, certainly please, please do not ask whose “fault” it is. These questions are personal, they are intimate, and often times they are really quite painful. Adoption is not a free pass into a couple’s fertility history. While infertility is a common precipitating factor for couples who choose to adopt, infertility is not the only reason people adopt. Adoption is not a family planning option that exists solely because couples are unable to have children by birth. And, most importantly, a biblical view of adoption is not a second best option.
Adoption is NOT a consolation prize.
My husband & I made a decision three years into our marriage that we were going to try to adopt prior to attempting to have children by birth. I think some of the most hurtful and emotionally draining conversations about our adoption journey were linked to the grim looks of pity we received when someone would ask really intimate and personal questions and erroneously conclude that in our situation, due to infertility, we had to settle for adoption. These sad faces of disappointment were often quickly transformed to expressions of confusion as we explained that our decision to adopt prior to having children by birth was not our Plan B. Adoption is not the silver medal. It is not the “oh well I guess we’ll have to do this.” When a parent or prospective parent views or harbors a distinction between a child by birth and an “adoptive child,” the situation will likely result in serious difficulty related to attachment and bonding. And, most importantly this difficulty will be causal to the parent’s unresolved issues of grief and loss due to not having a child by birth. Adoption is not about settling for something less than the best. Spiritual adoption is and always has been God’s ultimate plan of salvation for His people. God’s saving grace and our adoption into His family is certainly not the prize given to the runner-up. Christians are called to defend the fatherless, welcome a little child, and to the visit the orphan in their distress. Adopting a child is not a consolation prize to having a child by birth.
Adoption is NOT a way of bargaining with God.
I cannot tell you how many people, particularly Christians, who hear the story of our family (4 children in 24 months ~ 2 adopted, 2 by birth) shake their heads or laugh with a comment: ”Isn’t that “just the way it works? God will bless you when you adopt!” This statement again highlights the assumption that adoption is primarily for infertile couples. And, even more disturbing, comments like this suggest the idea that God blesses couples who adopt by giving them “real children” of their own. All of my children are real, and they are all my own. While I have no solid data on this and am solely basing this estimate on my personal experiences, I would estimate that, at minimum, 50% of American Evangelical churchgoers would agree with the notion that God will bless you with children of “your own” if you adopt. Please, please do not adopt if this is your goal. Adoption is not a way of bargaining with God in hopes that He’ll repay you or reward you for your adoption with “kids of your own” later. If your ultimate goal is to earn a few chips in the bank by adopting to cash them in for children “of your own” in the future, then please reconsider the role that God is calling you to related to orphan care.
If you read this post and identify with areas of unresolved grief and loss, I strongly encourage you to:
• Talk with your spouse about this topic. Pray with your spouse.
• Talk with a close family member or trusted friend about this topic; find someone that will hold you accountable and encourage your spiritual growth and grieving process.
• Ask your pastor for a recommendation for a Godly man or woman who can mentor you and help you walk through this time of grief and loss.
• Intentionally enhance your relationship with God through worship and spiritual disciplines.
• Honestly visit the past with fierce truthfulness.
• Be willing to let go of unresolved anger and resentment that may exist.
• If your issues are too elaborate or cause you emotional distress that exceed the level of care provided by ecclesiastical services, please find a professional therapist or counselor who will provide you with solid, clinical and therapeutic services focused on ultimate healing through Jesus Christ.
Guest Blogger: Karen Hutcheson is a pastor’s wife, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and mommy to 4 children within 2 years via adoption and birth. Karen provides clinical training and consultation related to orphan care domestically and internationally