Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Adoption and Ethics: A Memory Makes Me Think

There was a moment towards the end of our adoption journey where I had to stop, and think, and really re-evaluate how I was feeling.

It came from, of all things, a PEOPLE magazine article. There I was, on my couch after a long day at school, and I was reading about this place in West Virgina, called Lily's Place.

Lily's Place is a Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Center. In their own words:

"At Lily's Place, our mission is to provide medical care to infants suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and offer non-judgmental support, education and counseling services to families and caregivers. Together we can create healthier families and help end the cycle of addiction."

Sounds great, right? The article was full of hopeful stories of young women and couples who found themselves pregnant while either addicted or in methadone treatment for recovery, and were feeling at a loss until they discovered Lily's Place, where they could get help and support in weaning their infants from the drugs. Where their baby could stay and receive the treatment needed until discharge, and where they could receive training on infant care and the special needs of NAS affected babies, and follow up visits.


And you know what I thought when I read the article?

Sounds great, what a wonderful service. Oh shit, but what if that means that people who may have placed their babies in those situations will now choose not to, because they have support? What does this mean for MEEEEEEE?

I immediately felt a deep, dark, impenetrable shame. What the everliving hell was WRONG with me that I could think such a thing? I felt ugly. I wondered what the eff was up with my priorities.

Because, you see, services like this are incredible BECAUSE they make it possible for families to stay intact, for people to get the support they need in order to raise their babies despite terrific adversity. They are sorely needed in this era of opioid epidemic.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were more services to help people who find themselves expecting, but unclear as to how their future will pan out?

I felt insanely uncomfortable with the fact that even for a brief moment I was resentful that services existed that would make it less likely for someone to place their baby. That aspect of adoption -- that my only way of becoming a parent was through someone else's loss due to a variety of circumstances -- was tough to wrap my head around.

I felt the same way when thinking on profile opportunities where financial hardship was the main reason for placing -- doesn't that just seem WRONG, that money could be the only reason why you feel cannot parent your own child? That an inequity in circumstance, possibly built on privileges I hold that others don't simply by virtue of my race or geography or socioeconomic background growing up, could make the difference between someone raising their baby instead of placing him/her with me and Bryce? (And oh, yes, I have privilege -- I didn't have to work in high school to help pay bills, I didn't have to watch younger siblings due to lack of childcare, my family could afford my violin and my racing flats and my tap shoes without sacrificing food or bills, my state university tuition was paid for by my parents, I graduated free of any student loan debt...I had quite the head start from those things alone.)

I believe that there are many reasons to place, and there are many adoptions where placement was truly weighed and considered the best option by birthparents. I also, though, believe that there are many situations where someone feels that placement is the best option because there are no other options, no palatable services that would enable someone to feel that they could parent. And it makes me sad, because in my hopes to become a parent, I felt (albeit VERY briefly) resentful that someone had created a service that could do just that for many families.

How to justify these two things? How to take the desire to be a parent and the inability to become one genetically or biologically, and feel the complete injustice in that and feeling of every option being harder than the last, and weigh it against the ethical dilemma of who to service -- is it better to have more services for adoption, or more services to help pregnant women in need be self-sufficient? Does my desire to be a parent and to raise a baby to have "a better life" outweigh the possibilities of more people parenting their biological children because there were services available to give them a boost until things were stable?

I sincerely hope that most if not all adoption agencies provide a whole bunch of information about services that could help someone who's not sure what to do weigh out all the options, all the resources available, and then make a decision that's right in the long term.

In no way am I being a sour grapes person here -- I was not successful adopting and so no one should -- not at all. Adoption is a wonderful option, but it does seem like some situations feel...icky. Not coercive per se, but a little feudal, maybe. We felt very strongly that we were most comfortable with profile opportunities where the birth parents felt it wasn't the right time, or the situation's timing was terrible (pregnant after a breakup, pregnant and not with the person), or the person wanted to pursue other things (like education) at that time but stay involved through open adoption, or something like that. Luckily most of the profile opportunities we received were like that. But there were plenty that were financial reasons, like not being able to afford a third child, or worrying that paying the bills was difficult without a baby and it would be impossible and give fewer opportunities without placing. Those were far less palatable. We did have one situation where the birth parents had both gone through rehab recently and were in outpatient treatment, and felt that the added stress of a baby at that time when life was just coming together was too much. I'm not sure a place like Lily's Place would help in that situation, and they seemed satisfied with the plan they had made (it just didn't include us in the end).

I guess the upshot is that adoption is complicated, and it creates a whole lot of ethical quagmires that you have to wade through. I was horrified with my thought pattern when reading that article, and in part that made it clear to me that I was okay with moving on from the process, that something vital in my moral fabric could be irrevocably damaged if I put my desire for a child above other people's  possibilities to have a family without so much splitting. I hope that more services like Lily's Place become available, so that there are more choices and options for people who find themselves in a difficult situation, and adoption is one of several equally viable options for the future.


  1. It’s because of all the things you stated here that I’m very supportive of ethical and open adoptions. Granted, it’s usually a lot more complex than just finances or treating addiction, but if we could shift the focus on adoption from the perspective adoptive parents to the adopted, recognizing that there is going to be a huge loss for them and the decision needs to be made with them front and center, then I think there would be a big shift in the system.

    That said, I have 2 cousins who both found themselves pregnant as teenagers and kept their children. They have both severely neglected their children, despite having support to raise them. I really wish that they had gone through counseling both during pregnancy as well as once in motherhood because the end result isn’t one that I consider healthy for anyone involved. So I don’t view services as something that takes away adoption opportunities but something that allows people to shift their focus to what is best for the child.

    1. The whole thing is just so complex, which is why I want to stab things (pillows) when people say "just adopt" or "why didn't you do adoption?" to people. Grrr. I agree the child should be front and center, and there are totally times when placing prevents neglect and even abuse. I wish that the counseling that adoptive parents go through to be certified was just the norm, in general. I do enjoy United Way for the work they do with early childhood and baby education for parents. More of that would be wonderful for everyone.

      And yes, focusing on the adopted, the ones who have no choice in any of this and are at the center, would be the best.

  2. Okay – I’m a die-hard lurker but I have to respond to this. It is bone-chillingly terrifying for me to think of “young women and couples who found themselves pregnant while either addicted or in methadone treatment for recovery” having access to helpless babies/children BEFORE they fully managed to get clean. And getting clean is lifelong struggle and I imagine in the beginning stages (which could be years), takes 100% focus and concentration on doing just that. Which is impossible if you have a helpless baby/child whose needs need to come first.

    I feel like the drug epidemic is a game-changer. Get those kids out of there, preferably before any physical and emotional harm, and with people who can take care of them and love them. Full Stop. Period. The goal of family reunification needs to come second to the health – physical and mental- of the child, IMO. It doesn’t feel like that is what happens. Of course children deserve to know their parents and bio families. I also think they deserve to feel safe and to come before the need for (insert addiction source here).

    I think you’re a very good person dealing with a tough new reality and that you should be as compassionate with yourself as others are for you.

    1. Thanks for coming out of the lurky depths! :) So, I think for me I like that they are creating things like Lily's Place, but yes, before babies are discharged back to someone who was using during pregnancy (although the use of methadone during pregnancy for someone in recovery is for the safety of everyone involved, to my understanding) therefore resulting in the baby having NAS to begin with, making sure that the people who have dedicated themselves to raising the baby are actually okay to raise said baby, and it won't turn into a tragedy. I agree that baby's needs must come first, absolutely. I also think that it's good to give people the support they need to do the right thing. I'm thinking more of the people in methadone recovery who are on a solid path and then discover they are pregnant, and want to get the continuing support that these programs provide. I can see the point though in thinking that addiction is a powerful thing, and is it better to place a baby as an infant, or to try the services and supports, fail, and then have a CPS situation that could be far more traumatic to a toddler or a young child?

      See, SO COMPLEX. So many things. I think I was more disturbed by my thinking that a service to help people in need could "reduce the pool" of potential babies we could provide a home for.

      I thank you so much for the compassion, and for your thoughts, and I agree that considerations of emotional and physical harm for babies should be the priority in these tough situations.

    2. Crazy-baby thoughts are a thing! I have a daughter (DE after 3 years, 3 rounds of IVF, and $30K). After all that, she’s destined to be an only child – but I have the most ridiculous fantasies. A woman was on my train with her baby boy the other day. He was less than a year old – very giggly and sweet. The kind of baby you want to eat bit by bit. I spent an embarrassing amount of time in a fantasy where his mother got up and handed him to me, pleading with me to take him and raise him as my own. And then she disappeared and I had a son! Easy, peasy – and absolutely magical thinking. What are you gonna do

    3. Oh, yes. I had a dream the other night that Bryce came home and said, "so, this thing happened and there's a five month baby boy that's coming home to live with us next week" and I was torn between insane disbelief and joy and the sudden though, "BUT WE DON'T HAVE A NURSERY ANYMORE AND I LOVE MY OFFICE SO MUCH..." It was real weird. I get it!

  3. I confess to having similar self-centered thoughts while waiting. I hadn't yet stopped to think about the bigger picture. So I think it shows you are mindful to have this conversation within yourself, and courageous to share it here so others can process their own feelings that may be similar.

    Ethical quagmires abound in adoption. Proceeding mindfully helps so much.

    1. It is so much more complex than those who like to simplify it as a platitude realize, which can be so infuriating. Mindfulness and reflection are definitely good things, during and after. Thanks for your thoughts and true confessions, too!

  4. I hope you can give yourself the grace to not feel bad about your immediate reaction. From an evolutionary perspective, our ancestors didn't survive by worrying about others, they survived by worrying about themselves. That is, the guy who successfully outran the lion passed his genes down, while the guy who stood around worrying about his peers getting eaten by the lion, well, he got eaten and didn't pass his genes down! Long winded way of saying, the initial 'how does this impact me' reaction is probably a survival reaction, and I don't think anyone should feel any guilt about it.

    Now, the actions you take in your life, once that moment of instinct is past, to me, those are what define you as a person. I don't know you IRL, but from everything I can see, you are an amazing, compassionate person. I truly hope you judge yourself on that, not on any fleeting thoughts.

    1. Oh, I love what you've said, especially the second paragraph. I don't give myself to hard a time for being human, it's just how it made me feel about priorities and my desperation that made me feel particularly icky. But thank you, I will accept your edict to be guilt free about my feelings!

  5. So complex. I had perhaps analogus thoughts when we were considering DE IVF. Our doctor shared that many (most?) of the (American) donors were university students paying their tuition. Like you I graduated without student debt. I had scholarships, parental support and lived a fairly monkish existence. But I also paid for a lot because I was able to find jobs as a student. If I had been given the choice between a job and selling my eggs, I would choose a job. There might be people who feel differently but I assume most would choose the same. That made be feel that if I wasn’t exactly taking advantage of young women, I was using class and economic privilege in a way that felt icky to me. I liked to think people would donate because they wanted to help,but what if that really wasn’t the case. We got lucky and never had to use DEIVF, but I don’t know how or if I would have reconciled those emotions had circumstances been different.

  6. There are So Many ethical issues that the people who off-handedly say "just adopt" never (have to) think about. I don't have the time nor the energy to educate them all...

  7. I will never forget the feeling of utter joy and deepest despair when I picked my little guy up at the hospital nearly 4 years ago. I remember shaking because I was so nervous and happy for me and when the nurse wheeled him into the room, I saw him and thought of how broken-hearted his mother must be, having just been told she was going home empty-handed (this was a foster care situation, she hadn't chose to place him in adoption). I remind myself of that dichotomy of feelings because it is exactly what adoption is - the joy of one family is the loss and pain of another. The child too will fill the same bitter-sweet feeling about adoption. It is very complicated, to say the least.