This post has the potential to offend some people. I’m not sure that any of them will ever read this, so it might not matter all that much. But I do recognize that what follows may be viewed by some as incredibly, offensively ignorant. For all it’s worth, let me say that I have absolutely no intention to offend anyone. I acknowledge (without condoning) my ignorance on this issue. In fact, it is precisely the hope of eradicating my ignorance that prompts me to write this post. This is a topic which I admittedly claim not to understand. Help me, if you can.
So what is the topic? Importantly, it is not adoption tout court. Instead, it is a certain class of adoptions—namely, those adoptions that take place in families consisting of two happily married adults who already have multiple biological children and are biologically capable of reproducing again.
I recently learned (fourth-hand, mind you) about a set of parents that fit into this category. They already have four children, the oldest turning seven within the next couple of months and the youngest being just one year old. The parents are now in the process of adopting two babies from Ethiopia, a seven-month-old and a four-month-old. (The two babies are not related to each other.) It may or may not strike you as relevant that the adoptive parents are Caucasian and, from what I understand, have no special connection to Ethiopia.
When I heard about this, my brain immediately screamed, “Why in the world are they doing that?” And, to reveal the part of my post—or of my mentality, I suppose—that is most likely to offend certain people, I admit that I cannot think of a good reason for people like this to adopt. That is, I have a hard time thinking that adopting under these circumstances is really justifiable. Put even more bluntly, I cannot help but view the parents’ decision to adopt as a negative thing, as somehow reflecting poorly upon them. Like, if they really want to have more kids, they should—rationally, if not morally, should—just reproduce. There, I said it. I don’t understand adopting when you can have your own kids. Something about it just doesn’t seem right to me.
But wait? Isn’t adoption a good thing? Why, yes, it certainly can be. But is that the point here? Is adoption justified on the basis that it is performing some kind of charitable service? Providing a needy child with a loving family and a safe home—pretending for the moment that all cases of adoption have these benefits—is undoubtedly a good thing … if that’s as much about the issue as you consider. But let’s be honest, adoption is not the most efficient way of saving the world. Word has it that adopting these two babies will cost the adoptive parents approximately $40,000. (The babies were buy one, get one at half price. That’s putting it crudely, but I’m not joking.) One might quibble with how the term “saving a life” should be understood, but various sources will tell you that donating $40,000 to charity has the potential to save anywhere from 3,600 to 80,000 lives. (See here, here, here, and here.) In short, the Good Samaritan Defense for adopting doesn’t strike me as all that plausible. Improving the world might, in certain circumstances, justify putting a child up for adoption, and it might justify adopting certain children when and if one is going to adopt anyway. But I don’t think it qualifies as a good reason for adopting in-and-of-itself.
Here’s where I get even more controversial: I can’t help but think that some people adopt because it seems cool. It’s hip to adopt, just like it’s hip to be vegan or drive a Prius. I think some people view adopting a child as somehow forward-thinking and progressive. But to adopt for this reason is, in my view, morally repugnant. It strikes me as a poor attempt at “embracing diversity.” This is especially true when such people adopt outside of their own countries and cultures. Now, if a person is going to adopt, there may be very practical reasons for adopting outside of one’s own culture—it might be cheaper and involve less wait, for instance. But is that always the motivation behind adopting an overseas child? I swear I’ve heard some people say that they’ve always wanted to adopt a baby from this-or-that foreign region. I get the impression that, in these people’s minds, there’s just something cool about adopting an alien child, the same way someone might aspire to visit all seven continents or write a novel. I have absolutely no basis for thinking the parents I mentioned above fall into this category, and yet I have no basis for thinking they don’t. I sincerely hope they don’t. Adopting a child from another country because it’s cool to do so puts adoption a bit too on par with collecting shot glasses. What’s next? Have ten children and raise them all in different religions? Wouldn’t that be cool and forward-thinking?
With my rant more or less complete, it is worth reiterating that I don’t think adoption is a bad thing. I’m just baffled by those who would adopt under the circumstances described above. I’m inclined to think that if one is in a situation where having another biological child is a viable option, adoption is an odd way to go. Maybe the parents are thinking something like this: we want to have another child, so we might as well adopt a child in need rather than bring another child into an overpopulated world. I’m highly skeptical that this applies to the couple in question (for reasons not worth broaching here), but it may explain why some parents in a similar situation would choose to adopt. I’m leery of this being the general line of thought in the kinds of cases with which I’m concerned, but perhaps it is. At least it is a coherent position to take. There is more I could say on the matter, more questions that I might have even if this is the best answer that can be provided, but I’ll resist for now. I don’t think my questions would make me sound any more open-minded or any less judgmental. I guess it’s just hard for me to think of choosing to adopt when having my own offspring is achievable and would not change the family dynamic any more than—and indeed would probably change it less than—adopting would. It might be nice to avoid the challenges of pregnancy, but adopting in order to avoid being (or having a partner that is) pregnant is a bit off-putting to me. (Of course, I am not considering cases where pregnancy would pose a special threat to the woman’s health.) So, are there good reasons for adopting even when one can, without threatening the extant family unit in some way, have a child of one’s own?
If you’ve read all of the above and you think I’m a horrible person, please reprove me. I would appreciate it.