Over the past several weeks, I’ve received a steady stream of emails and phone calls asking how Chris and I discerned that we wanted to pursue adoption, as well as how we decided upon the particular type of adoption we’re doing. I don’t want to turn “The Catholic Table” into “The Catholic Adoption,” but because I don’t think these emails are going to stop coming, I decided to answer those questions on the blog—not just for those writing and asking, but also for those of you who want to better understand the process of adoption.**
In order to keep this post from becoming book length, however, I’m going to break it up into three parts, which I’ll post over the next three days. On today’s docket: How we discerned adoption and began discerning what kind of adoption we wanted to pursue.
The easy part for both of us was discerning that we wanted to adopt. When we married, we talked a good deal about what it means to be open to life. There is, of course, the obvious meaning: having babies. And we really, really wanted to have babies. As many babies as God wanted to send us.
We also knew, however, at 41 and 47, that God wouldn’t be sending us a slew of babies. So, even before we were married, we talked about adopting as another way of being open to life.
For me, it was an easy decision and a long standing desire. I’ve had many friends who’ve adopted children or who were themselves adopted. I’ve also had the great privilege of writing in-depth stories about adoption and listening to people share their adoption stories with me. Through both the experiences of friends and strangers, I learned how beautiful adoption could be.
We live in a fallen world, which means babies are sometimes born into parenting situations that are not tenable. Not everyone who can conceive a baby is in a position to raise a baby—even with lots of assistance. Likewise, not everyone who can raise a baby can conceive a baby—even with lots of medical intervention. Adoption can solve both those problems. It can put babies into loving homes and it can bring a child to longing hearts. Adoption is not for everyone, but for those who feel called to it, it is a great and beautiful gift. It also is one of the ways we image God.
God, after all, has adopted us. We are not his children by nature. By nature, we’re just his creatures. But by grace, we are truly his. Through baptism, he has adopted us into his family, the Church.
Building our own families by the grace of adoption and not by the natural process of childbirth is an image of that amazing gift. Yes, it only happens because of sin—because we live in a fallen broken world where people make bad choices and bodies don’t do what they’re supposed to do. But the same can be said for our adoption as children of God. Without the fall, we wouldn’t have the cross. Without the cross, we wouldn’t have the resurrection. And without the resurrection, we wouldn’t have all the graces of baptism that bring us into God’s family. That’s how God works. He takes our messes and makes something beautiful out of them.
I knew that intellectually. I’d witnessed it personally. And I’d spent the whole of my single life welcoming my friends’ children into my home. I’d outfitted it for kids, with toys and dress-up clothes, sippy cups and highchairs, swings and pack n’ plays (I may have been the only single woman on the planet to own two pack n’ plays), and because of all that, the idea of welcoming a child into my home through adoption seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I mean, why wouldn’t I?
Chris wasn’t as familiar with adoption, but he too had spent the past 20 years being an uncle to family and friends’ children alike. He loves children, and they love him, so it didn’t take much thought for him to be open to adopting. If there were babies out there who needed parents to love them, we both felt called to be those parents, whether or not we could conceive children of our own. The fact that we haven’t been able to conceive just pushed us in a direction we were already leaning.
So, for us, discerning adoption was the easy part. The hard part was when we realized that it wasn’t so simple for a couple our age to adopt.
Last spring, after trying and failing to conceive for about 10 cycles, we began researching adoption. We knew we couldn’t begin the process just yet—because there were still 4’x8’ holes in our floor—but we wanted to know our options so that when construction was done, we could hit the ground running. The first thing I discovered was that no agency in Pittsburgh would work with us because of Chris’ age. Most agencies around the country in fact, won’t allow a couple to adopt when one of the parents is over 45 or 49. Mind you, if I were adopting as a single woman, I would have no problem, but as a woman married to a man seven years older than me, it was a no go.
The next thing we learned was that international adoption was also not an option. Almost every country we looked at had the same age restrictions as the local agencies. The ones that didn’t, required we be married for at least two (sometimes five years) before beginning the process. They also had waiting periods of at least two years or only were releasing older children for adoption.
We talked a lot about adopting older children. There are so many kids out there in need of a home, and we couldn’t just dismiss them because I wanted a baby. But ultimately, we decided we weren’t ready for an older child. Neither of us had ever parented before, we are still, sort of newlyweds, and handling the complex emotional issues that come with adopting an older child felt like more than we were prepared to handle. We really did pray about this, though, and ultimately, our hearts never opened to the idea. We’re not, however, ruling it out for the future.
At that point, we took a serious look at foster care and set up a meeting with an acquaintance of Chris’ who helps place children in Allegheny County. The first thing we learned from her was that our chances of adopting a baby through the system were slim. Maybe this has changed over the last eight months (and I know for certain this is not the case elsewhere), but what she told us was that because Pittsburgh is a large city, with many adoption agencies, most babies who come into the foster system with parental rights already relinquished end up going straight to the agencies.
That was one strike against foster care. The other was my emotional state.
Infertility has been, perhaps, the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. Studies show that the stress of trying (and failing) to conceive is on par with battling cancer. Every month that you don’t conceive is like a little death. First, there’s hope. Then, there’s grief. And after that comes rage. Mixed in with it all is a whole lot of questioning—Why me? What have I done wrong? For what am I being punished?
I’ve watched others try (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to adopt through foster care, and it can be just as brutal as infertility. You welcome a child into your home, you fall in love with him, you start to hope that he will be yours…and then, he’s gone, back to his mom and dad. Or, you take the child in, and spend months or even years, waiting for a court to decide if obviously unfit parents are fit to parent. I know God gives couples who are going through this an incredible amount of grace, but I just can’t do it at this point. My emotional state, after 20 months of infertility, is just too fragile to sign up for that.
Foster care may very well be how we pursue a second adoption. It is a beautiful and amazingly generous path. We’re very much praying about it. But, it just wasn’t the path for us to pursue with our first adoption.
So, to sum up today’s installment: Chris and I believe adoption is a call, not a back up plan. As we see it, God calls couples to welcome a child who needs a home, just as he calls couples to conceive and bear their own children. Answering that call is part of what it means to be open to life.
Within that call, however, there is a specific call to a specific child and a specific path to that child. Discerning that path and finding that child begins by walking away from shut doors and walking through open doors. It also means paying attention to your desires and your concerns—because God does speak to us through these. For us, many doors were closed, but one door in particular blew wide open almost as soon as we began the process: domestic adoption via a private adoption attorney. More on that tomorrow.
**Note: I am not an adoption expert. I’m just one woman, sharing my own personal story, so others’ experiences and conclusions will vary.