Adoption, Surrogacy, and Choice

Since we began publicly sharing our journey towards fatherhood, we have had many people ask us if we have considered adoption. The short answer is, yes, we considered adoption and remain open to it as an option. However, we ultimately needed to make a personal decision for what felt like the best option for us to start our journey.

As we have written about previously, we hope that, by sharing our story publicly, we will be able to start conversations about family planning and all of the many ways that families can be created and grow. Because we’ve been asked about adoption so frequently, we hope that sharing our own process and experience will help to dispel some common misconceptions about the adoption process and shed some light on its complexities.

Perhaps the most common way we have heard the question phrased to us is  “Why don’t you just adopt?"

While we always assume the best intentions on the part of the questioner, this has become a difficult question to hear. It assumes that adoption is a simple, straightforward process, and that a couple can “just” adopt a child in relatively the same way that they might “just” decide to have chicken or stir fry for dinner.

At one point, we both worked at Boys & Girls Aid, Oregon’s oldest adoption and foster care agency. Kirk was a case manager for youth in the foster care system, and Anthony worked in development and fundraising. From that experience, we both have a strong understanding of the challenges, risks, and rewards associated with starting or growing a family either through adoption or the foster care system.

Starting a family in any way except through the direct biological means involving a fertile man and a fertile woman is a complex process. Whether through surrogacy, adoption, or foster care, there is no “just” about it.

The adoption process begins with an in-depth screening and home study of the adoptive parents, as well as a series of workshops and trainings to help to prepare them for what the process will entail as well as the difficulties they may face.

As Selena MacIntosh has written,

Domestic US adoption has come a long way since the days when all records were sealed and young moms were giving birth in maternity homes, but treating it as though it's always positive for everyone involved erases the voices of adoptees, birth moms, and adoptive families who don't see it that way.

Domestic adoption has indeed come a long way and virtually all adoptions now have a degree of openness to them, allowing for the possibility of future contact between the adopted child and the birth family. But there are still many real challenges to raising an adopted child in a way that provides them with access to their story and the support they need to understand why their story includes adoption.

Once the screenings, home study, and trainings are completed, adoptive parents enter a pool of other parents waiting to adopt. The birth family, along with their adoption counselor, work to identify the waiting family they feel is the best match for their child to make an adoption plan with. This is, as you can imagine, a very difficult and personal process for them. For the families in the pool, it can also be a difficult process of waiting. On average, families can wait anywhere from six months to several years in the pool, sometimes with several false starts along the way, where their profile is presented to a birth family who ultimately chooses another adoptive family.

Starting a family through the foster care system, either by becoming foster parents or through the adoption of a child in the foster care system, requires similar screenings and trainings as those necessary to become adoptive parents.

Foster care, by definition, is the temporary placement of a child with certified foster parents. In Oregon, the state’s preference is always to return a child in foster care to the care of a biological relative.

If and when this is not possible, the state will release a child from the foster care system into a pool of children to be adopted. Sadly, many children in this pool have a history of abuse or neglect, which creates additional challenges to successfully parenting them.

We have been talking about starting a family almost the entire time that we’ve been together, and have been more seriously working towards that goal since we got married two years ago. We have had many long, difficult conversations with each other and with various professionals in order to understand all of our options. We know that we want to start a family based on openness and honesty, and one built on life-long connection and stability.  For these reasons, we knew early on that foster care was not the right option for us. 

Deciding whether to pursue adoption or surrogacy first was a more difficult choice, as they both offer the option of starting a family built on life-long connection and stability. They both also have steep costs associated with them, anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000 depending on the particular path taken (domestic or international adoption, infant or an older child, first-time surrogate or proven surrogate, etc). Ultimately, it was a personal decision that we needed to make in terms of which option felt like the better fit for us. We are not opposed to adoption in any way. But we have decided to pursue gestational surrogacy for now.

If we were an opposite-sex couple, one might consider this our “trying to get pregnant” stage.

When you take this perspective it’s difficult not to wonder why we don’t regularly ask opposite-sex couples if they’ve thought about adoption when they announce they are trying to get pregnant.

Isn’t ensuring that all children have a safe, loving, and stable home with the same opportunities to grow and thrive the responsibility of society as a whole?

As blogger Julie Robichaux has written,

“Don't fertile people have the same chance to adopt a child in need? That's a shared obligation, and when infertile people are singled out to bear it while others excuse themselves because conception was easy for them – well, it rankles.”

We are happy to talk about our choices when we are asked with sincere curiosity. The most difficult part for us is when these questions and comments convey implied judgement and the notion that we should justify ourselves for not choosing to pursue what the questioner might believe to be the simple, more obvious path. Simply put, there is no simple, obvious path to starting a family. And every family’s path is different and unique.