Thursday, November 13, 2008

Domestic vs. International Infant Adoption

***ETA on 11/16: If you are arriving at this post through a Google search and have never read my blog before, please go back and read this post first. Thank you.***

***ETA on 11-15-08: In this series of posts I am only addressing the types of adoption with which I am familiar. H.S. requested that I tell her about our experience with domestic infant adoption and I'm only adding international infant adoption because J and I considered this option at the beginning of our adoption story and so we have done reading and research on the subject. Because we were adopting after infertility, we deeply desired to adopt an infant and we never did much reading or research about adopting older children, either domestically or internationally. Because I have little to no experience with adopting toddlers, older children, foster-to-adopt or special needs adoptions, I am not going to discuss them here. I have absolutely zero qualification to do so and don't want to pretend that I do. Needless to say, these types of adoptions are wonderful and necessary, but I will let other blogs address them.

Also, it might seem heartless to list money as a factor when choosing one type of adoption over another, but in my experience talking to couples who wish to adopt, financial constraints are a huge concern when investigating their options. Babies are not a commodity and should never be "bought and sold," but the reality is that adoption has associated costs and I would rather discuss that fact openly than cloak it in secrecy and pretend it isn't a factor. In my experience, things we don't discuss openly are things that exert inordinate power over our thoughts and emotions.

I thought it went without saying, but apparently I was wrong: all couples who desire to adopt an infant should go into the process putting the needs and rights of the child before any other considerations. Adoptions should meet the "burning building test," as described by Lori in one of her blog posts. Without betraying R and G's privacy by going into detail, I want to say that Evie's adoption meets this burning building test and J and I do not feel that any element of her adoption was unethical. Please read my pros and cons below as just what they are: considerations that prospective adoptive parents discuss when beginning the process. At that point, the child and birth family in the adoption triad are still hypothetical. Once the other members of the triad are specific flesh and blood people, the best interest of the child obviously trumps the best interest of the adoptive parents. My list below is focused on the needs of the adoptive parents because that is how many couples begin the process. Perhaps we should all start the process differently, but my writing here is intended to be descriptive, not proscriptive.***

Pros of Domestic Adoption:

  • usually lower travel costs

  • domestic infant adoptions are usually of younger infants/newborns so that you can bond with the baby from the beginning

  • usually fewer cultural and language barriers between you and the other members of the adoption triad

  • can be less expensive (lower travel costs, again, and no fee to pay the country of origin)

  • tax credit applies whether or not the adoption succeeds

Cons of Domestic Adoption:

  • usually the birth parents choose the adoptive parents, adding an element of uncertainty to the waiting period

  • it is more likely to have a failed adoption (i.e. the birth family changing their minds)

  • can be more expensive (medical costs for birth mother if there are complications or a C-section and no insurance)

  • going back to point 1: usually the birth parents choose the adoptive parents, adding a stressful element of choosing teams in gym class to the already stressful decision to adopt
  • ETA: you will be "competing" for fewer available infants and the other adoptive couples will always seem to have better jobs and prettier houses. :)

Pros of International Adoption:

  • (NB: I'm not good with this category since we didn't choose this option)
  • Frequently you get on a waiting list with a country and you're virtually guaranteed a baby at some point, which is not the case with domestic adoption.
  • The families I know who've adopted internationally say that the multicultural nature of their family has enriched their lives immeasurably and that they are very happy with their decision.
  • Related to the last point, international adoption is a way to connect in a personal way with a culture that you admire, or one from which you are descended.
  • This reason is one I'm uncomfortable mentioning since it's not in my worldview, but some people want to avoid open adoption altogether; international adoptions are rarely open.
  • Related to the last point, in international adoption it is more common for the adoptive parents to "choose" the child, as opposed to being chosen by a birth family. For those of us (myself wholeheartedly included) who have some control issues, this is very comforting. ETA: this point is poorly worded, but what I mean is that infertility causes feelings of loss of control over your body, your future and your family. Waiting to find out if a birth family has chosen you is similar to the 2WW to find out if an fertility treatment cycle has been successful. The "out of control" feeling is so difficult to deal with for some couples that they would prefer not to go through it by adopting a domestic infant.
  • Failed adoptions are usually a result of the country's laws and policies, which is less personal than having a birth parent change their mind and, while no less painful, is at least something you can rationalize and work on, by "lobbying" the country (I've heard of this but never known anyone who's done it).
  • Failed international adoptions are less common than failed domestic adoptions. ETA: international birth parents have fewer resources and rights, which is why they change their minds less often. This is an ethical issue of which couples should be aware when choosing international adoption. I am sure that the "failure" or "interruption" rate for international adoptions would be just as high as with domestic adoption if those international birth families had the same options and opportunities as U.S. Citizens do. Also, a reader pointed out to me that while international adoptions are less likely to fail before the adoption is final, they are more likely to fail after the adoption is final, as a result of physical, psychological, emotional and social issues with the adopted child that lead the adoptive family to seek a new home for their child.
  • Can be less expensive because medical care is less expensive in other countries (don't get me started...)

Cons of International Adoption:

  • (NB: I'm a little too good with this category since we didn't choose this option)
  • Often higher travel costs and other costs such as using vacation days or sick time to travel to the country.
  • You almost never get to meet the baby on their actual birth day the way we did with Evie; usually babies are at least 3 months old and often more that six months old before you get to meet them and/or bring them home. This issue is huge to me because I already obsess about whether or not Evie is bonding to me (see her Six Week post...) and I would be verklempt about trying to bond with a 3-month-old, let alone a 12-month-old. But that's just me?
  • Sometimes your communications with agencies/orphanages/lawyers/etc. while in country are made hair-rending by language barriers (I have heard). Translators are another $$$.
  • Can be more expensive. You still have to pay those blood-sucking lawyers in your own country but you also often have to pay a hefty "tax" to the government of the country. I don't know about all of you, but on principle that ticks me off. I think it gets under my skin because I perceive that the countries are taking advantage of the supposed "rich Americans."
  • No tax credit for a failed adoption
  • Often you have no opportunity to meet or have an open relationship with the child's birth family. Read about open adoption to find out why that's a big deal to me.
  • In some countries, children have been waiting in orphanages where they have received inadequate attention and therefore exhibit "failure to thrive;" they are behind on developmental milestones, smaller than a U.S. baby of the same age, less healthy and sometimes have social/emotional/psychological delays as well. Most parents who adopt internationally are eager to nurture these children and bring them up to age-appropriate weight and development/behavior, but it is a lot of extra work and stress and definitely falls in the "cons" category. ETA: sometimes a child's emotional and psychological issues do not resolve despite the love, attention and resources poured into them by their adoptive family, creating a difficult and sometimes tragic situation for everyone involved.
  • The biggie deal-breaker reason J and I abandoned international adoption: sometimes countries' laws and guidelines just don't make sense in U.S. culture. For us it was the fact that other countries often make certain drugs available OTC that are RX only in the U.S. Because of this, the only people on RX drugs in those countries are people with really serious illnesses, and the countries are biased against adoptive families with one or more parents on RX medicines (talk about cultural misunderstanding!). In our case, the first agency we worked with told me that to adopt from Latin America I would need to be off my Zyrtec for the entire 1-2 year adoption process (it was still RX at that point). No way! I have both indoor and outdoor allergies and I would be miserable without my Zyrtec; it is the only allergy med that works for me. I still think it's ridiculous that there is a baby in Colombia or Guatemala who might have been our child except for the fact that I have allergies. Give me a break!

OK, readers, what points am I missing here? I know there are several but it's 11:55 and I must post now! :) ETA: I've gone back and added some points that I missed, but feel free to leave comments with additional factors that I've inadvertently left out.


  1. I love that you are doing this. I went through a fairly decent chunk of the process back several years ago and I would have loved to have a resource like this.

  2. I think you've covered all of this really well. Our story has led down a similar path with how we felt about the two options and what we ultimately chose. The travel was a biggie for us as that can add a lot of extra cost. We also felt it would be difficult to accurately celebrate and embrace the child's country of origin and heritage the way we would truly want to. That would add an extra element of education and research we would have to do and that felt overwhelming.



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