Demystifying Adoption: 5 Common Misconceptions Put To Bed

Adoption is important, complex, and sensitive. Let's give the process, and the people involved, the clarity it deserves.

January 29, 2018
img Common Adoption Myths

Based on the most recent data available, the United States Children’s Bureau reported in 2016 that nearly 120,000 children were adopted in the U.S. in 2012. And according to the last U.S. census in 2010, almost 2.5 percent of all children in U.S. households were adopted—or about 1.5 million out of 65 million total children.

We adopt infants. We adopt adults. We adopt children from the foster care system. We adopt babies from scores of countries all around the world.

As the facts, figures, and the multifarious forms of adoption suggest, adoption—a process in which “children become full and permanent legal members of another family,” as the USCB defines it—is incredibly widespread in the U.S.

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And yet some common myths about adoption still hang on. Some are naive, stemming from confusion about who is allowed to adopt or how much adoptions cost. Others are more nefarious, involving judgments we make about mothers who relinquish their children for adoption or stigmas adoptees unwillingly bear.

Let’s debunk some of these stubborn and insidious myths for a clearer picture about the process of—and, more importantly, the people involved in—adoptions.

Myth 1: Only married, heterosexual homeowners can adopt children.

A slew of misconceptions surround who is allowed to adopt in the US, with many people thinking only traditional families are eligible. As the USCB explains of domestic adoptions: “Most people are eligible to adopt, regardless of whether they are married or single, their age, income, or sexual orientation.”

What’s more, single-parent households accounted for one-third of all adoptions in 2011. Prospective adoptive parents also don’t have to own their own homes, nor does having a disability necessarily disqualify them from adoption.

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The legality of same-sex adoption is a more recent phenomenon, the culmination of decades of legal battles finally recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to adopt. Yet in some ways, the battle continues. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right protected by the constitution in 2015, a federal district court struck down a ban on same-sex adoption in Mississippi in 2016, making same-sex adoption legal in all 50 states. Ironically enough, UCLA’s Williams Institute found in 2013 that it was Mississippi which had the highest proportions of LGBTQ parenting in all of the U.S., with 26 percent of its LGBTQ couples raising biological, adopted, or stepchildren.

However, some states—most recently Alabama—have passed laws allowing faith-based adoption agencies to turn away LGBTQ couples on the basis of their religious beliefs.

For domestic adoptions in the U.S., eligibility comes down to an assessment called a home study. Basically, adoption agencies are looking for a loving household that will care for the adoptee—and yes, research shows that adoptive parents love their adopted children just like their biological ones.

International adoptions—commonly called intercountry adoptions—can come with a different set of restrictions. To adopt from China, for example, a parent has to be 30 years old, among other criteria. Many countries don’t permit adoptions by LGBTQ parents. A few countries, like Russia, currently don’t allow for adoptions to the U.S.

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Megan Caporicci, a teacher in Tustin, California, had already had was originally interested in adopting from China when she adopted her daughter over 12 years ago. As she tells HealthyWay, she and her husband already had two sons and were interested in a baby girl. Their research pointed them to China—whose former one-child policy and cultural favoritism of boys indeed led to the international adoption of tens of thousands of infant girls from the country over recent decades.

“I wasn’t 30 yet. I was 28, maybe 29, and you had to be 30 to adopt [in China],” Caporicci says. “Every country has specific rules: how long you are married, whether you are married, ethnicity, how much money you make.” The Caporiccis went with South Korea instead, where they were eligible.

If you’re interested in adoption from a specific country, first heed Caporicci’s example and consult each country’s policies.

Myth 2: Adoption always costs a fortune and takes forever.

Assumptions about the expense and length of the process may deter some prospective parents from adopting. Again, we have to distinguish between domestic and intercountry adoption. We also have to distinguish between the means of adoption, i.e., through an adoption agency or through an independent adoption attorney, as well as differentiate the age of the adoptee.

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Each year, the Adoptive Families magazine conducts a cost and timing survey. According to their 2016 report, the average cost of adoption from foster care—which happens when “children in out-of-home care cannot be safely reunited with their birth families,” explains the USCB—was approximately $2,800 in 2014–15. This included the home study fee, documentation, and paperwork processing costs, attorney fees, and travel expenses.

Many families, though, actually reported ultimately paying $0 for adoption from foster care and were receiving an average of about $850 in monthly subsidies from the government. By adopting from foster care, families can claim the adoption tax credit, receive health coverage through Medicaid, and even get support with college tuition in some states. Timewise, nearly 50 percent of respondents said it took zero to six months for the adoption placement to take place.

The average age of a child adopted from foster care is 7.7 years old, according to the Adoption Network Law Center. But a great many parents want to adopt a child from birth or infancy—which does become significantly more expensive. The 2016 Adoptive Families survey finds that for newborn adoption in the U.S. in 2014–15:

  • Adoption through an agency cost an average of just over $41,500, with 62 percent of families matched with a child within one year of application. Nearly $17,000 of the total costs went to agency fees.
  • Adoption through an attorney cost an average of just over $35, 500, with 67 percent of families matched with a child within one year. About $13,000 went to attorney fees.

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Cost and timing for intercountry adoption varies. Adoptive Families provided a breakdown for three of the top countries American families adopt from in 2014–2015:

  • China: average cost of about $36,000, with 75 percent of families matched within six months for its “Waiting Child” program, which supports children with special needs. Adoption of a “Traditional Child” has a considerably longer wait. About 70 percent of families adopt a child younger than five.
  • Ethiopia: average cost of just over $38,500. Fifty six percent percent matched within one year, and 78 percent adopted a child younger than six.
  • South Korea: average cost of about $46,000. Fifty six percent matched within one year, and 100 percent of families adopted a child younger than five.

Remember, these costs are averages, and the adoption process is complex—plus, we’re dealing with human beings here, who want nothing more than a good home.

For the Caporiccis, the “total cost was about $17,000, including travel,” Megan shares. “From application to actually finalizing, it was almost two years. But from application to baby in arms was one-and-half years.”

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They also elected for adoption from South Korea not only because their age and martial status met the country’s requirements, but the total travel time was less. South Korea was closer than other places they considered, and the agency only required one trip that lasted only about four or five days. “For us, having young kids, it wasn’t easy imagining leaving them for months at time,” says Caporicci.

Myth 3: The biological mother can come back at anytime and take her baby.

While we appreciate the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty that can surround the adoption experience, a biological mother can’t simply change her mind and reclaim her child.

Before a child goes up for adoption, the birthparent has to consent to terminate all parental rights in a court of law. Only in very limited circumstances—usually in cases of fraud or duress—can a birthparent revoke that consent. After the child has been placed into a new household for a period of about six months, a judge issues an adoption decree at the end of what’s called the finalization process. The decree makes the adoptee the permanent, legal child of the adoptive parent(s). In other words, the adoptee is their child under law.

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Contact between adoptive families, adoptees, and birthparents is a complex matter, involving issues of birthparent privacy and adoptees’ right to certain information, like their medical history. In closed adoptions, there is no contact between the two households, and no identifying information is shared, whereas open adoptions, which are increasingly common in the U.S., allow for various degrees of contact and identification between the birth and adoptive families.

The Caporiccis, for example, went through a closed adoption with their daughter, as is common for intercountry adoptions. She says there was some information required for each family to report to the adoption file, while other information was completely optional to share, such as birth name and family interests.

As we’d expect, views vary on the pros and cons of contact, as they do on the risks and benefits of an adoptee reuniting with their birthparent. One thing is for sure, though: It’s normal for adoptees to be curious about meeting their birthparents—and it doesn’t mean they love their adoptive parents any less. It’s also a very personal choice for whether or not an adoptee seeks out a reunion.

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Thomas Kelly, now an attorney in Cleveland, was adopted after birth in 1948 from the Father Baker Home in Lackawanna, New York. He was very open about the subject of reunion. His thoughts reveal just how unique each adoptee’s experience is, and are worth quoting at length:

I am certain that at some time or another, every person who is adopted has some level of desire to find the biological parents, to see what they look like, to discover why they chose to place the child for adoption. It’s easy for … an adopted child … to fall into the trap of, “Was I not good or not good enough?” or “I must be less valuable because my parents didn’t want me.” Self-pity clouds judgment, and it’s a minor form of selfishness. But we are all prone to it. … I am forever grateful to them for their decision to choose me and their lifelong love and concern for me. I had also decided long ago that the decision made by my natural mother (most likely without the involvement of the father) to place me for adoption was also a great gift and a great sacrifice that I should honor and that I should not disturb her life, which I hope was happy and fulfilling.

Megan Caporicci says her daughter, now 12, hasn’t expressed any interest in reuniting yet. But as for talking about adoption with daughter, she says, “All families are different.”

“The message in this day and age is you talk about it from day one. It was known as long since we could talk … don’t need to put a magic cover on it.”

In addition to her birthday each year, the family celebrates her Adoption Day, marking the date when she officially joined their family.

Myth 4: Foster children are broken, and adopted children are doomed to attachment issues.

Aggressive, troubled, damaged: These are some of the toxic labels cast on foster children, perhaps due to stereotypes of such youth being “shuttled from home to home” or because of some notion that they are delinquents or runaways.

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Truth is, most foster children enter into special care because of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and death. Like all of us, foster children want love, care, and stability. Being in foster care is no doubt disruptive, confusing, and challenging, so let’s dispel the myths that foster children are broken.

Casual jokes and everyday remarks, meanwhile, shame adopted children as “looking different from their family” or “being unloved by the parents.” Some of us may assume that adoptees are destined to struggle with forming trusting, meaningful relationships for all their days. The experience of adoption entails seriously grappling with identity—something we all do. But that doesn’t mean adoptees don’t go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.

Kelly writes of his experience: “I was about five or six years old when I first heard the word ‘adopted.’ Some kid had told me I was adopted; how he knew, I never discovered, but it seemed from how he had said it that it was not something to be proud of or happy about.” His parents later explained his adoption to him at home, but in a manner that has always made him feel “chosen” and “special,” he shares.

Fortunately, thanks to the “grace and dignity” his parents always brought to the topic, Kelly writes “being adopted did not come with any stigmas” or “cause me any setbacks as I grew.”

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Society has become indeed more open about adoption in the intervening decades. For her part, Caporicci says that her daughter “knows it’s a button she can use”—that she’s not her birthmother. When upset, her daughter will voice complaints like “Well, you’re not my real mom!” or “I wish I had my real mom!” Caporicci doesn’t react and instead acknowledges the reality that she’s her adoptive mother who does everything she can to love and support her.

And yet, “she’s so strong that she blurts it out there,” Caporicci continues. Her daughter will announce when she starts a new school, “I’m adopted.”

“It took her longer to realize she had a birth dad—the mom and the belly is such a permanent figure.” She recounts with a laugh when her daughter declared her discovery to her father: “‘Did you know I had a birth dad, dad?'”

Caporicci is quick to add, though, on a more somber note: “I feel like it would be not fair for me to say she doesn’t struggle … I think that there’s more details that I don’t know that she struggles with … that she probably can’t even verbalize.”

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Before adopting her daughter, the Caporiccis lost a son and learned they were carrying a genetic disease. “I do know a huge loss on my end. I do know she went through a loss, too.”

Myth 5: Birthparents give up their children because they don’t love them.

Which leads us to the final area of adoptions myth: What kind of a mother bears a child and then gives it up for adoption? Some have pictured such a mother as an irresponsible teen, a promiscuous woman, or a selfish person who just doesn’t love their child.

But mothers do not take the decision to relinquish their child for adoption lightly or easily, and the reasons that motivate them are often very serious and painful.

They include age, with some underage mothers and their parents wanting the child to grow up with parents who are ready, prepared, and able for childrearing. Inconsistent employment, challenges to stable housing, and single parenthood compel other mothers to relinquish their child, according to Cosmopolitan.

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Some mothers choose adoption because their child has severe disabilities they are unable to properly care for. Other mothers choose adoption because their child was conceived as the result of sexual violenceAnd in some countries around the world, poverty or other extreme hardships lead to adoption.

The decision is ultimately driven by an intense desire for their child to have a better, happier life in the care of an adoptive family.

The adoption process has enough challenges and trials. We don’t need any myths piling on guilt, shame, or other bogus judgments.

And we don’t need any myths obscuring the joys, the opportunities, the beauties, the blessings of adoptions—how “amazing and wonderful” it can be, as Caporicci puts it.

Or as Kelly concludes: “For many years I have said that I am the most fortunate man I have ever known. And much of my good fortune is the direct result of adoption. I am grateful to the woman who bore me, the good people at Father Baker’s who cared for me, and forever grateful to [my parents] for my life.”

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