Permutations

I can’t say it comes when you least expect it. The various permutations of the insidious question “Have you thought about adopting?” come at a fairly predictable point in the conversation about trying to conceive. I’ve found that to most couples using assisted reproductive technology think this question is akin to asking “Do you wash your underwear after use?”

It’s a fair question, but one that I feel should be asked of everyone, and not just gay or subfertile/infertile couples. Regardless of how it’s asked, the question gets under my skin and itches until I scratch it. This afternoon I’ve been ruminating on what has seeped out after the latest scratching session.

We’ve spent the last month reevaluating our strategy, which basically amounts to choosing between five options that each have more items in the “con” column than in the “pro” column. Three of the options–fostering a child in state custody in hopes of adopting him/her, adopting a voluntarily relinquished infant, or choosing not to parent at all–involve letting go of our hope for a biological child, which is no easy task. Choosing to remain childless is not on the table at this point, which leaves us considering foster to adoption programs and private adoption. I made an appointment to go to the orientation for a local agency’s foster to adoption program, but after my email exchange with the program coordinator I don’t have high hopes. While she did say that her agency does place younger children with gay/lesbian couples, including some with “lower needs,” she said that generally, the younger the child, the greater the chance that the child will be removed from our care and returned to his/her birth family, which is a risk we’re aren’t sure we’re ready to take. Although the financial costs associated with foster to adoption are pretty minimal after the federal adoption tax credit, the emotional costs seem high.

The alternative is to adopt a child that is being voluntarily relinquished by his or her birth parents. There is a local agency that processes a few dozen of this type of adoption each year. According to the information packet the agency sent, the total cost for this type of adoption would be about $30,000 (minus a discount for paying by check!), so roughly $17,000 after the adoption tax credit. More money does not mean more sanity, however. Approximately 42% of the babies have had moderate to severe prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, and we’d wait in the pool of potential adoptive families for an average of 14 months (the waiting time is 3 months shorter, on average, for straight couples) after we finish all the required orientation, counseling, and home study sessions. It all just seems like a lot to bear, which makes me feel selfish, because of course the child in question has the greatest burden.

To spend 14,000-30,000 to adopt a child who is likely to have some type of developmental delay, psychological problem, or medical need and may or may not be returned to the birth family seems like an even bigger gamble than the monthly spin through the assisted reproduction machinery. On the other hand, it seems like a more respectable decision.  I guess I’ll never have a great answer when someone asks me if I’ve thought about adopting instead of having my own biological child, because I think no matter what I say I will sound selfish and weak.  For now I might just turn the tables and ask “Have you?”

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