My Adoption Experience

Adoption has been one of the most enriching and important decisions in my experience as a dad.

While many people have stated that adoption has crossed their minds, often there is a gap between the thinking and the doing.  When it comes to planning a family, sometimes we over-analyze the pros and cons, dismissing or delaying the decision to adopt due to a number of reasons or unknowns.  On a personal level, when I meet other men who say that they, with their wives, have considered adopting someday, I like to share a few of my original thoughts that I hope might help:

I couldn’t love an adopted child like would I love my “own” child

Whether starting over or having a child for the first time, he or she becomes your own and you can’t imagine life any other way.  In 1996 we were trying to get pregnant with our second child and we already had a biological son, Landen, who was three years old and seemed to be the center of our life.  At the time I couldn’t imagine loving another child like I loved my son.

The day came when my wife, Melissa, and I first met with our adoption facilitator, our new son, Isaac, and his birthmother.  It was intended to be a let’s-be-sure-about-this match-making session, and it turned out to be one of the most important days of our lives.  The very thought of a young woman’s decision to give up her biological child for the hope of a better life in a loving home is all at once a sad and joyous thing.  I say joyous because the moment I looked into Isaac’s eyes for the first time, I experienced a rush of love, excitement and familiarly.  I can’t guarantee this feeling will come instantly to all dads but in this case I knew he was my son, and it was as if he was born to be my son all along.

Only five months after our adoption process began, my wife became pregnant with our first daughter, Emma, and then nearly six years later we adopted again, this time from China.  In my analytical mind, the same question presented itself with my second daughter: Can I possibly love this little girl, Maddie, the same way that I love my other children?  This time I knew the answer ahead of time.   If you have any number of children then you’ll know what I mean: I love them all equally, and each has their own unique, amazing, exhilarating and hilarious personality.  I cannot imagine our family any other way.

Isaac, wrote an autobiographical story in fourth grade last year where he briefly told the story about how his birthmother had spelled his name differently, but his “real parents” spelled it I-S-A-A-C like in the Bible.  He’s always known us as his real parents because he believes wholeheartedly that God meant him to be our son just as intentionally as his brother and two sisters.

What if people treat our new child differently because he/she doesn’t look like us?

I travel frequently and also enjoy talking about my kids.  Inevitably when I share photos of my children I can see clearly that it evokes curiosity about the ethnic tapestry of our family.

Before our first adoption we contacted a local agency to express our interest in adopting, and we explained that we would be interested in being matched with a “hard to place” child.  Adoptable children with this classification include those that might have special needs, sibling groups, racially-mixed children, or those who are older (many couples prefer to adopt newborn infants).

In 1996 when we began considering adoption, our first prospect was a racially-blended baby boy.  I remember spending several hours researching whatever I could find on the subject of interracial adoption in order to understand the issues and learning how parents dealt with them.  I became anxious about our decision, more out of concern for the child than for us.  I remember asking, How will the child deal with looking different than we do?  What if other children tease him or ask him embarrassing questions?  I wondered whether we were more ambitious than we were reasonable.

A year later, our son was in our home and was forever ours.  Today I seldom think about the physical traits that differ between my children, but I do understand the thoughts and fears that a couple might be concerned about beforehand.  More important than outward dissimilarities is the unconditional love and acceptance expressed at home.  And while life will have its twists and turns, ups and downs like any other family, I believe all my children know they belong equally to our family, no matter what.

We can’t afford it right now

One the most frequent reasons for not adopting is money.

I think we tend to not move forward on some very important decisions in life when we feel unprepared or do not have a well-constructed plan.  Finances are one of the measures of preparedness that can be a major show-stopper, but I wonder if money itself is less an impediment that it might seem.

The total cost of adoption varies depending on a range of factors.  For the sake of discussion let’s say an adoption costs around $20,000.  The federal government currently offers a tax credit of $10,960 as reimbursement for adoption fees and costs.  That amount alone will significantly reduce the final cost of your adoption.  (Be sure to consult a tax professional.)

When considering adopting again, I compared the overall cost of the adoption to the last several cars we purchased, each having a price tag greater than $20,000.  At the time we didn’t have the cash for those purchases, but we believed that we needed the cars badly enough to finance them.  When I considered this in light of our decision to go ahead and adopt a little girl, I thought we simply had to find a way.

We set up a “benefit fund” at our local bank, specifically for the adoption.  Not only could we keep track of adoption-related expenses, but also contributions from various fundraisers that we set up.  For example, friends, family and neighbors are able to donate empty printer cartridges, order items through online fundraising catalogs, and even make cash donations to help defray our adoptions costs.  We never imagined asking for help before, but we are amazed by people’s generosity and support.  While they might not desire to be adoptive parents themselves, they do want to help the cause of finding homes for orphans and foster children around the world.

As a precautionary measure, I contacted the credit union where I have had a relationship for nearly 20 years.  They agreed to establish an unsecured credit line for our adoption expenses, just in case we needed it.

We asked ourselves:  Is there a cost too great to bring our child home?  Are there sacrifices we wouldn’t make?  What price is too high for rescuing a child from an otherwise hopeless life?  Are there other things – cars, computers, boats, whatever – that would be a higher priority for us than bringing home our forever child?

If you have considered adoption, I understand there are some perplexing and unresolved questions to wrestle with.  My hope is that by sharing our stories and learning more from others, we might build a community of dads who can offer help and peace-of-mind for the decision. You can listen to Mark Merrill’s (founder of All Pro Dad) adoption story here.