The other side of the adoption coin


Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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99 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    How about International adoption?

    From what I hear there are a lot of abuses in the International system including children being taken from their birth families in ways that basically amount to kidnapping. Many of the adoption agencies and agents might sincerely believe that a middle-class American life is better for children than life in a developing country but that does not make their efforts or tactics right.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    Agreed, I’m of the opinion that the anti-adoption movement is based on a great deal of emotional projecting: “I gave up my baby and regret it” or “I was given up as a baby and wish I had known my birth mother” “Therefore all adoptions are wrongful exploitation”.

    The good news, I cannot imagine that such a movement will be able to get any serious legs under it in a political or policy sense. The entire social conservative movement desperately needs adoption as an alternative to abortion so while their whole “every child deserves their birth parents” shtick that they used to cudgel gay marriage supporter would make them somewhat sympathetic that’d be enormously overshadowed by their logical need for abortion.
    Similarly while you can usually find some small liberal puritan segment on the left to scold just about anything I’m dubious that anti-adoption would get anywhere with the overall coalition since it’d fly directly in the face of both gays and feminists.

    The bad news is that if they raise enough of a stink such a movement, while unable to change policy directly, may derail or cloud the decisions around adoption procedures and generally make things more difficult. Obviously that’s the last thing anyone needs.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

      One of the difficulties, it seems, about evaluating the pros and cons of adoption is the impossibility of a control group.

      If Child A is adopted and has a rough go of it, it is impossible to say that adoption was the wrong choice, because we have no idea how things would have turned out for Child A had he not been adopted. And we can’t compare him to Child B, who wasn’t adopted, because there are just too many damn variables.

      The goal should be to make the adoption process work as well as possible for the children, the adoptive parents, and the birth parents. If we’re prioritizing, I’d put them in that order, but can probably be convinced of some other order. Regardless, the goal should be a good situation for them all. Adoption need not be zero sum; all parties can probably come out positively in the vast majority of situations.Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Awesome post, Russell.

    TNR’s piece makes me a bit uncomfortable, for reasons I can’t quite explain. Perhaps because I am far more likely to end up on the side of the table seeking an adoption, rather than giving my child up for adoption. Some of the reforms seem absolutely right (specifically, as you point out, adding the force of law to open adoptions). Some seem almost engineered to get parents to keep the kid just in case they change their mind, leave more children in a state of limbo, and in the case of withholding financial support to just abort.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

      I’m wondering what the numbers actually are…

      Let’s take 100 adoptions. Do 75 of them end up with kids feeling all this existential angst because they don’t know their “real” parents leaving a mere 25 of them to shrug and say “well, I could have had it a lot worse!”?

      Do 98% of them end up with kids shrugging and saying “my parents are the ones that raised me, the sperm and egg donors are only interesting insofar as I wonder about my family history of heart disease” leaving a mere 2% writing scripts for made-for-TV movies about the devastation that follows from just *KNOWING* that your *REAL* parents wouldn’t make you vacuum?

      All of the adopted kids that I knew, growing up, shrugged about the adoption thing. Their “real” parents were the ones who brought them up… but I don’t know how representative my experiences are.Report

  4. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Nothing to add; just wanted to say that this was an amazing post.Report

  5. Avatar Pub Editor says:

    over the course of two days, drove across more than a half dozen states.

    I’m sorry, Doc, but the knowledge that you live in New England makes this statement a tad less impressive than it otherwise might be.Report

  6. Avatar Bill Raney says:

    I too have been touched by adoption, in more ways than one. The first time I hadn’t an inkling of what had happend to my little sister who would have been about three year’s old at the time she disappeared mysteriously one night while I was asleep. The second time was when my wife and I adopted our baby son. The third time was many years later when, while I was searching for that little sister, she found me. The fourth time was later when that no longer little sister explained to me that she, too, had a sister by adoption whose mother was my mother. The fifth time was when she told me that I also had another younger little, like the others, my half sibling little sister. The answer to this confusing riddle lies in as form of adoption that is seldom talked about: forced adoption wherin children are taken away from mothers the State deems unfit, and adopted out by order of the court. Which raises the question, uncomfortable as it may be, might your adopted child–like mine–have been taken away from its genetic parents by force of law? Of course you would not have been told, kidnapping is illegal.

    I am an author who has written a book as a tribute to my son, Eric Xerxes Raney: “Letters to Zerky, a Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son and a Road Trip Around the World.” I am currently writing another one, “In Search of a Lost Penny” (that sister who found me’s birth name was Penny). More infomation abou this can be found on my website. I hope to hear from you.


  7. Truly an excellent post. I’m more pessimistic than some of the other commenters, though.

    The anti-same-sex marriage movement has mostly won — not lost — in this country. There will be scattered victories here and there for SSM, but these will have to taper off after a while. The sheer difficulty of amending a state constitution prohibits virtually any further progress in our lifetimes.

    So where will all those pent-up social conservative energies go? To attacking your family and mine from a different angle.

    So much of the language and thinking is really just identical:

    You can call it (marriage/parenthood), but it’s not really (marriage/parenthood). And no law is going to change that, not any more than writing can allow a man to marry a horse.

    What you have isn’t a (marriage/family). You call a cat a dog, it’s still a dog — and what’s your problem with reality, anyway? Because that’s what it is — denial of reality.

    Gay people say they just want to be like straight people, but if they really did want that, there’s an obvious way to do itThat’s to be straight, and until they do, well… no disrespect, but if they want to be different, they get treated different. If they want equal rights, they can do like the rest of us.

    Children need a mother and a father. Children do best with a mother and a father. Why are you keeping a kid from the ideal situation?

    If we lose the mother-father-child ideal, if parenting is just a lifestyle choice, then our civilization will die out.

    There are many, many people in our society who sincerely believe all of this. And they have nowhere now to go — states mostly either have SSM, or they never will have SSM. This is the next frontier.Report

    • The sheer difficulty of amending a state constitution prohibits virtually any further progress in our lifetimes.

      Seems to assume that the federal courts will not be active in this area. As Justice Brennan is alleged to have said, “I only need five.”Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      The sheer difficulty of amending a state constitution

      Huh? A lot of those were ballot measures. 50% + 1 and, presto! it’s overturned. The only reason it didn’t happen in California is that no one wanted to moot the court challenge.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      The sheer difficulty of amending a state constitution prohibits virtually any further progress in our lifetimes.

      Well, that depends on the state now, doesn’t it? Here in Michigan, all it requires is a majority vote of the public. (Yes, really, we treat our constitution like a mere statute.) Were it not that easy our ban on SSM might never have passed in the first place, as it passed with just under 59% of the vote, less than the normal “low” supermajority standard of 2/3 (although it might still have passed if the requirement was majority passage in two sequential elections, or during two sequential legislative terms). Fortunately that means we’re possibly poised overturn it soon, assuming our state courts don’t follow Perry and beat the public to the punch.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @ Jason Kuznicki : I disagree Jason for one basic political reason: abortion. You cannot bar both abortion and adoption otherwise that logically leaves you with only “don’t have sex or accept even the most smallest risk of children unless you are ready/willing to parent any potential children that result and pray to god(ess) that you don’t get raped.” That is utterly politically impossible. In a country where social conservatives can’t even bring themselves to substantively take aim at divorce it’s a non starter.

      Adoption is –the- conservative answer to abortion. You can fight one or the other but you cannot fight both. I agree SSM opponents might consider trying to go after gays through adoption but they couldn’t do it in a broad base fashion because the pro-life movement (a massively powerful movement within the right) could never countenance such a damaging to their primary foil against the pro-choice movement. Considering, also, how badly SSM opposition is running out of steam even within the right and I’d say your pessimism is unwarranted. They barely have the mojo to fight their own primary cause (and are having a hell of a time getting people to pay them money to do it), they aren’t going to have the will or resources to battle this out through a proxy fight on adoption*.

      *This presumes the current trajectory continues: the states continue, one by one, being tipped back to the SSM column and the Supreme Court doesn’t do a Roe vs. Wade** on us.

      **Though I feel like the window on a Roe vs. Wade scenario is closing as well. If the supreme court tenders a pro-SSM verdict after most people have been living with SSM for a few years it might be as much of a non-event as Perry was.Report

      • Avatar trumwill in reply to North says:

        I think this is mostly right. The SSM opponents will continue to be obstinate on gay adoption, but they simply can’t go after adoption in general. (I also get the sense that they are not the ones driving the hostility towards adoption, mentioned in TNR’s article.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to North says:

        I think you guys misread Jason (unless I misread you). He’s talking about attitudes about adoptions by gay couples, not about adoption generally. I read him to be saying there’s a core group who will never accept gay adoption (which for them is probably as much a result of not accepting gay marriage as it is a separate position of its own). It’s a matter of numbers whether that ends up seriously threatening the viability of adoption as an alternative to abortion (of course, it does inasmuch as without it the numbers don’t work like that, but then it also doesn’t inasmuch as with it the numbers don’t really work like that either); it’s not conceptually inconsistent to think it doesn’t (though it’s certainly impossible to deny it’s an impediment), even if it’s factually wrong.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        Not exactly misread Michael but I think I left addressing that point out. Basically I don’t see any opposition to same sex adoption specifically being able to take much popular or political root. The problems for SS-adoption opponents are multiple: gays have been adopting for ages now; there’s little to no scientific backing for opposition to gays raising children (and absolutely none that suggest that it’s better to be passed around the system than be adopted by a same sex couple); there is not a scarcity of children to be adopted (though there is a scarcity of blank slate kids, admissibly); and popular sympathy to a movement that specifically targets gays is at a historically low level; we have Uncle Vlad over in Russia essentially doing this right now and that’s really not a guy you want your movement publicly being lumped in with.

        For SSM foes to go after SSA would look like massive sour grapes and I am dubious that it’d take hold with the voters. You could maybe try and take on adoption in general but specifically going after gay adoption? I think that would have had to be something that they went after before SSM not after. The horse is so long out of the barn on this issue that the door has fallen right off the building.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North says:

        The big SSA battle is going to be over whether adoption agencies are forced to give gay couples equal consideration. Which basically means going forward, the SSA opponents will be on the defensive. It won’t get worse than it is now, and will probably get better.

        Either way, I am not sure the adoptions we are talking about (newborn, arranged pre-birth) are going to be all that affected by SSA opposition, even if it remains hard core. As far as I know, there remains a shortage of newborns vis-a-vis parents that want them.Report

  8. As an adoptee who has returned to his place of birth overseas and has been living here for ten years, I’m probably not the one you want to hear from. I’m not going to commiserate with your “loss” which is attempting to fill a “hole” which wasn’t yours in the first place. We should be joyful that a mother decided to keep her child. Period.

    I have spent nine years looking for family here, to no avail, and in that time I have researched adoption ten ways til Sunday. I am the first one to state out loud that for my own mental well-being I have sought to find something redeeming in adoption. The fact of the matter is that historically, politically, and economically, it is not there.

    Your argument concerning “what to do” starts with a faulty premise, which is the given status quo, as if there is no alternative. We can point to any number of countries—Australia and Scotland come to mind right off the bat—which have taken great strides in removing the profit motive from adoption (Australia) or have actively attempted to empower young mothers (Scotland). But the mediation in the States prevents this kind of information from getting out, because the Anglo-Saxon institution of adoption is not just a source of great revenue, but it is culturally bound to how that society sees as well as treats its poor and indigent.

    We cannot forget that adoption as a means of creating family only started post–World War II, when the ravages of war left actual orphans in its wake. This was the start of the public-relations campaign that the United States would become quite skilled at: Waging a war, and then “saving” its children. Hungary, Japan, Viet Nam, Korea…even Lebanon, during our July War in 2006. Needless to say, the 500 children who were killed during that war received little mention. Similar to Noah’s Ark, only the saved count.

    Going further back in history, adoption from colonial times onward was a source of indentured servitude, both for the colonies of Great Britain, and then for the expanding United States during its time of Manifest Destiny (see: The Orphan Trains). Adoption was used to destroy indigenous communities in every Anglo-Saxon society, and to populate their colonies (this was the fate of many Irish, with another generation later shipped to the Midwest). The Calvinist notion of the poor “deserving” their lot in life cannot be dismissed when discussing the social and cultural view of adoption, which is now a mix of a kind of leftover slavery and a salvationist sentiment that promises to the wretched of the Earth the survival of their progeny (even if they are doomed to destruction).

    So now we are faced with coercive systems which cater to adopters who, like pyromaniac firefighters, create the destruction that they then come to save children from. Unfortunately, this social inequality is maintained if not exacerbated. If everyone in the “First World” adopted a dozen children, we would still be faced with poverty, famine, and pollution, all equally functions of capitalist society, as much as the racism and classism that drive adoption as we know it today. If we are advocating for children, then the answer seems to be to alleviate the world of such systems, and the problem will fix itself. If we are simply hoping to own children by railroading it over the rights, dignity, and “journeys” of others, well, have at it. Nothing I will say can change that. But if that’s the case, let’s don’t pretend we are discussing adoption ethically or otherwise.

    This discussion about adoption so readily maps onto that of Abolition that I am surprised it even takes place. By that I mean to say we cannot possibly imagine someone suggesting that slavery was the status quo, as determined in God’s Order of things, and that slaves were better off on the plantation. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what they argued. And that is exactly how adoption is presented every time someone empowers themselves—whether a mother, like the women in Guatemala suing for the repatriation of their children—or adoptees. And just as there was no middle ground in the argument concerning slavery, there can be no middle ground in the argument concerning adoption. We didn’t “transition” to Emancipation. It happened. And it will happen with adoption as well. The truth will out.Report

    • So your proposed answer to birth mothers who would opt to make adoption plans is… ?Report

      • The New Abolition: Ending Adoption in Our Time

        Edit: Sorry, we don’t allow either ads or generic links to personal websites in the comments section. However, feel free to quote from you site, with links to the quote. -TodReport

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        It seems just a teensy bit unfair to judge Russell’s adoption based on things that other, totally unrelated people did, often in the distant past.Report

      • *sigh*

        Look, I am bracing myself for all manner of dissenting comments. I was chary of posting this at all, because it is a very personal story about a very personal issue. But I obviously went ahead with it.

        You have your own perspective and your own concerns. Fine. You are welcome to present them here, so long as you do so in keeping with our commenting policy. But a link to your own website is not an argument.Report

      • Sorry, I did not mean to post a link to draw away from the discussion or to self promote; unlike many who write about adoption I’d rather I didn’t have to, and I’d rather I didn’t know all I’ve learned about it. It is just that it’s a very long article that takes the time to spell out the issues that I don’t feel can be done in a conversation, or with quotes from the article.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Having reviewed his website and the article he referenced Doc his issue primarily seems focused on the phenomena of international adoption (which he opposes). So, as you noted to Newdealer, you don’t have a dog in this particular fight and his issues don’t pertain to your circumstances.Report

    • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Daniel Ibn Zayd says:

      Well, I’ll give the counter position:

      I was adopted, and I thank the heavens each day for this. The family I was placed with were good people, well able to support me and my siblings. They raised me in a good home, in a good community, where I was showered with love.

      The love has never stopped.Report

      • In this response, the implication is being made that I am not happy with my adoption, or that I am not loved. This is a filthy thing to imply. Thanks to the support of my adoptive family I returned. I did not have a bad upbringing at their hands; like many transracial adoptees it was the cultural and social aspects of growing up in a classist and racist society that today make me angry. It is the social injustice of adoption that makes me angry. It is the fact that my story is best understood where I now live by others who are dispossessed and displaced, such as migrant workers, refugees, the marginalized, etc. They get my story. Everyone projects and makes the assumption that I am speaking of myself when I am not. I rarely mention my own story. I am angry at the inherent systemic injustice that underpins adoption as an institution. I was once a Kool-Aid drinking “happy” adoptee, so forgive me if I take this reply with a grain of salt. This tactic to denigrate adoptees who speak out reminds me of house slaves in the master’s house spitting on the field workers. It’s rather repugnant.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to veronica dire says:

        Sorry, you are wrong, not to mention needlessly insulting. I have made no claims about your situation, only mine. For me, adoption was entirely wonderful, without any “systematic injustice,” with no “house slaves,” or anything like that — just a supportive family with happy children.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to veronica dire says:

        Um, you just lost any empathy for your position. So you’re an angry damaged person that’s going to lash out at anyone who has had positive experiences of adoption. I’m ready to listen to you now…. not.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to veronica dire says:

        @Cascadian — As a rule I don’t “tone police.” If he is angry, then he is free to express his anger, and perhaps he has something to say.

        But to my view, political anger must be situated in a lived experience, and the extent of that experience must be understood. Speaking for myself, I have much anger about the political situations I face (which do not include my family). But I will always put those in context of a privileged, middle-class, white trans woman who lives in a blue state.

        Mr. Zayd seems unable to do this, but instead must universalize his experience to apply to all adoptions, and see the entire institution as corrupt, and thus dismiss me and those like me as “Kool-Aid” drinkers. But this is its own kind of dishonesty, for my life is real, and my adoption was entirely wonderful, and I suspect my story is fairly common. Mr. Zayd, if he wants to be taken seriously, must address this.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Daniel Ibn Zayd says:

      “adoption as a means of creating family only started post–World War II, when the ravages of war left actual orphans in its wake”

      You need to look at more family trees. There are PLENTY of recorded births spaced less than nine months apart, from before World War II.Report

  9. Avatar Pub Editor says:

    1) Parenting
    2) Abortion
    3) Adoption

    In theory, it should be possible and practical for options counseling to cover all three of these options. I understand why the Catholic Crisis Centers and the like don’t cover (2), but I’m less clear on the incentives that would lead other organizations effectively to ignore option (3) (as the good doctor indicates in OP).

    Could the pro-choice centers be worried about emphasizing (3) for fear of playing into the hands of those who want to restrict (2)? (That may be too much conspiracy thinking on my part; other explanations are welcome.)Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Pub Editor says:

      If a woman can’t afford to keep a child, or doesnt’ want to, why would she be a good mother for the next nine months?
      You’ve been raped. Someone suggests you might want to give the child away. That’s kinda offensive, no? Well, sometimes folks can assume that you won’t tell them if you have been raped.Report

      • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Kim says:

        Kim, a favor — I know it’s your schtick to write comments a team of forensic psychologists could never hope to parse, but just this once could you gesture in the direction of sense?Report

      • Avatar Daniel Ibn Zayd in reply to Kim says:

        Suggesting the exceptional case as somehow defining the whole is a tactic most notably seen in the trope of the “crack whore welfare mother” trotted out to deny health care to working people, or the “recidivist rapist on furlough” brought up to make the case of imprisoning a large percentage of the minority population. You’ll have to do better than this.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kim says:

        @daniel-ibn-zayd :

        Tell you what… As soon as someone here starts referring to mothers who put kids up for adoption as “crack whore welfare mothers” or “recidivist rapist on furlough,” you can not only start fighting non-straw men, you can have a reason for putting those words in quotes.

        Until then, a warning: your comments are getting close to the line where we have to part ways.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pub Editor says:

      There are a handful of assumptions that show up in any given discussion of how abortion needs to be a viable option:

      Primarily, of course, is that it’s not an immoral act. Like, we shouldn’t restrict it, we shouldn’t legislate against it, it’s none of your business, so on and so forth. Heck, there are those who go so far as to explain that an abortion is like having a skin tag removed.

      Thus, those who get abortions, shouldn’t feel guilt and they should understand that if they make that particular choice then, hey, who among us haven’t had skin tags removed?

      That’s the one hand… how then to switch to saying “on the other hand…” and explaining that there are a lot of couples out there who want to have a beautiful baby like the one you have in your tummy and who would raise it as if it were their own. Some of these parents are heterosexual and barren for whatever reason, others are homosexual and thus have difficulty conceiving on their own power, but all of them will love, love, love that baby and make sure that s/he has help with his/her homework, gets driven to soccer games, and has a role in the chorus of the Middle School production of Once Upon A Mattress.

      Someone capable of switching back and forth between those two speeches is a rare bird. You can usually find someone who is only capable of giving one… and, hell, those people congregate, don’tchaknow.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:


    I read the first part of this piece, then had to step away.

    Then I read the second part.

    I was trying to find the part in between where you said, “And now I will turn it over to someone who has not had such emotionally powerful (both positive and negative) experiences with the adoption system to offer a nuanced, thoughtful, and fair critique of this article.” But you didn’t say that. Anywhere. So either you are plagiarizing someone’s work or you’ve demonstrated yourself even more capable than I previously thought to be nuanced, thoughtful, fair, and a host of other laudatory words that escape me at the moment.

    To the content of the piece itself…

    “They want, among other things, a ban on adoption agencies offering monetary support to pregnant women. They want to see laws put in place guaranteeing that “open” adoptions (where birthparents have some level of contact with their children) stay open. They want women to have more time after birth to decide whether to terminate their parental rights.”

    These don’t seem particularly unreasonable, particularly the latter two. I didn’t read the whole piece (though actually had it bookmarked to plan to but never actually read… now I must go and do so) so I don’t know how much stronger the “anti-adoption” crowd gets, but it seems to me that there is likely a way for folks on both sides of the issue to work collaboratively to improve the system for all parties. What stands out to me is a certain lack of transparency, which may be necessary to some degree. And a ridiculous lack of assurance or confidence in any party to be “steering the ship”. I don’t know what causes that, but it would seem like it could be remediated. There are likely ways to prevent what happened to you that also serve the interests of birth mothers. Hopefully, they can be realized. It wouldn’t shock me if you were the one to propose them.Report

    • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

      I really have no qualm at all with those latter two goals. I will say that the period of time between when the baby has been born and when the birth parents’ rights have been terminated (aka the “legal risk” period) is intensely stressful for adoptive parents, and God knows I would hate to see it extended too much because it is very difficult to endure. But some states have a legal risk period of a few days, and I would never argue that it should be longer.

      As far as paying living expenses for birth mothers, to my mind it just seems like the right thing to do. Hell, we would have saved thousands and thousands of dollars if this weren’t the norm, and so there’s certainly a financial incentive for adoptive parents to do away with it. But these are women who often have few resources of their own, and paying their living expenses strikes me as only fair and right. We were happy to do it. Yet on our end, we had no choice but to write them off as a loss when the adoption I describe in the OP failed. So on the one hand it strikes some as coercion, but on our end it felt like we were people of good faith who were taken for a ride, which is a risk all prospective adoptive parents have no choice but to take.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        The financial bit is probably the hardest one to parse. It risks creating some perverse incentives for both sides. That said, it serves a practical end whose value is hard to overstate.

        This strikes me as, callous as it may sound, an example of the reality that sometimes shitty things happen. Without knowing more about the birth mother’s situation, it is hard to assign any blame. Yet that does little to calm your struggle. I am glad that you had the necessary support network and that you have the family you have today. I hope the birth mother and her daughter are doing well.

        There is likely no solution to this particilar problem that doesn’t actually make things worse. There may be some improvements that can be made but, well, shitty things will still happen. Ugh.Report

  11. Avatar Mirren says:

    If adoptees say anything personal, it’s brushed away with an “Oh, that’s only *your* story.” If we talk more generally about what we’ve seen in talking to more adoptees, we’re told we cannot generalize, because someone’s cousin’s hairdresser is different. We’re told not to speak at all, really, unless it’s to support adoption. It’s a lesson I’ve observed many people impart. We’re the children, even as adults. Don’t speak unless spoken to; your opinion doesn’t matter as much as ours; what your parents want matters more than what *you* want. Really. Quite sad.

    The “reasonable” requests of the “anti-adoption” crowd are pretty simple, as laid out. I would just add that the adoptees count. We have feelings, too. Notice that in the paragraph delineating what the “antis” are agitated about, there’s no mention of what adult adoptees want, including access to original birth certificates, which are locked away at the time of adoption, along with our original identities. Stuff like that. Again, the children. Who grow up. And have voices.

    Worth thinking about.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Mirren says:

      Who’s asking you not to speak?Report

    • @mirren :

      That’s a very interesting comment. I suppose that when I think about adoption issues, etc., (which is rarely, because I just don’t think about it all that much, despite having in-laws who have two children through adoption), I usually don’t personally think about adoptees’ take on the situation.

      And although, like Tod, I don’t see a lot of people here asking that adoptees not offer their opinion or experiences, I recognize that I, personally, am very quick to formulate theories on the specific policies that usually don’t take adoptees’ perspectives into account. So thanks for the reminder that I ought to.


      Mirren might clarify his or her point, but I don’t think s/he speaking so much of being silenced as perhaps noting a bias toward not listening to adoptees’ points of view. Maybe at the end of the day, Mirren is wrong and most people treat adoptees’ views with more respect than s/he suggests. But if someone expresses a feeling of not being listened to, I find for myself that it’s often a good idea to give a benefit of the doubt. (Giving that benefit of a doubt in practice, of course, is hard for me to do, and I don’t usually do it, but I find that when I do, things work out better. Usually.)

      Finally, and I am very poorly informed on these matters, I have heard that there are practical matters that have a strong effect on adoptees’ lives, and perhaps these are partially what Mirren was referring to. I’m thinking of issues about how much access an adoptee might have to his/her biological parents’ medical history, for example. Of course, some adoptions are more open and some more closed than others, but for the more closed ones, I can imagine certain practical difficulties along these lines that might have very real effects.Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to Pierre Corneille says:



        I was trying to get a handle on where she was coming from in a more specific sense. I couldn’t tell if she was talking generally, or suggesting that she and others were being silenced in this thread.

        Call it a heat check.Report

  12. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    You and your husband are real mensches.Report

  13. Avatar zic says:

    Russell, this must have been a shattering experience; akin to losing a baby at birth. My mother lost two, and she speaks of it like you spoke here — this is what happened, but it’s at a bit of a distance.

    I do want to make one distinction here: we’re talking about the difficulties of adopting newborn babies; and there’s a huge demand for adopting babies. There are thousands of kids who would like to be adopted, older kids. And yes, they come with the baggage of their lives, not just the genetic baggage in their cells.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

      And Russell, I have severe migraine today, when I said you reminded me of how my Mom speaks, I mean I felt the pain of your story that way; it was personal, and deep. I don’t think I conveyed my sorrow well, and I’m deeply ashamed of that.

      I never met my two sisters, like your son never met this potential sister. One was two years older, one two years younger. The loss of the unknown. . . to have grown up with sisters my age. . . it’s a peculiar thing. I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing this story; a window into the many ways our connections to family are so fragile. I wish there was a way to give the promise of children for all those who long for them; even more, I wish the security and love you and your husband offer your children for all the children without security and love.

      Blessings on your family, heartily wished. Beautiful, joyful, ordinary blessings of family life.Report

  14. Avatar Barbara says:

    My husband and I adore our adopted grandchildren, and every other adoptive grandparent I know feels the same about their grandchildren. My friend has one adopted grandson among several biological grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and, although parents and grandparents shouldn’t play favorites, I think her adopted grandson is her favorite.

    I will forever be grateful to my grandchildren’s birth mothers, and I know their other grandparents feel the same.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Barbara says:

      And didn’t even know you could adopt grandchildren! I just assumed they were all kinda the same. I may have to look into that, because regular children are a pain in the rear but grandchildren are loads of fun.Report

  15. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I read this post this morning, been digesting it all day. The more I consider your plight, the worse it gets. You were wretchedly represented: the contractual arrangements your adoption attorney made with this fecund little monster momma were clearly defective. Before I’d wept my first tear, I would have reported that attorney to his local bar association.

    This story angers me in troubling ways. I can’t get it out of my head. You were hard done by, Dr. Saunders. Hard done by and my heart goes out to you.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I suspect a contract that says “I’ll pay your expenses in return for the baby” would be unenforceable.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Any contract which reads “I will take your money now. I might give you something. If I don’t, you can cry about it but there isn’t shit you can do about it.” should be used as a textbook case how to not write a fucking contract. That’s a defective contract in every respect, nu?Report

      • @blaisep Technically this woman is contractually obligated to repay us. We were told in the education part of the adoption process that trying to get money back in these situations is almost always fruitless, and we made no effort to get money from someone who had essentially no capacity to pay us back.

        [Edited: The Better Half has corrected my error. Apparently my memory is mistaken, and there was nothing in the adoption agreement about birth mother expenses being recoverable. Per his recollection, and his memory is much more reliable about such things than mine, the agreement is explicit that birth mother expenses are specifically stipulated to be not recoverable.]Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Which is why you’re a doctor and not a bank, otherwise you’d pile on penalties and late fees, and at least have the fun of ruining her financially.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I wouldn’t wish ruin on the woman, though I bear her no good will in all this. Promises were made and not kept. Dr. Saunders has explained the contract did contain repayment clauses and elaborated on the odds of being repaid.

        Doesn’t change anything for me. I am a bastard and everyone knows it. My only virtue is loyalty. I cannot explain how or why I was so angered and moved by this story. I think I do know. And here commences yet another Blaise Story.

        My brother got a girl pregnant when he was quite young. My grandmother, a well-meaning old soul, was talking to him about it. You must understand my grandmother and my brother were once quite close. She said he might consider putting the child up for adoption. He angrily rebuffed her, saying he would care for his own child.

        My brother married the girl, then heavily pregnant. The marriage has lasted to this day. Their child was born at 1 pound 4 ounces. The little guy lived in an incubator for many months, I used to call it his own private spaceship. He grew up, with no seeming problems except for his small size. The boy and I were very close, still are close. Truth is, I talk to him at least as often as I talk to my own children. He became a musician and still has all my guitar effects.

        There is another story which bears on this. A previous lover of mine who could not have children adopted a girl. The birth mother stayed in contact with the baby girl, coming and going in the child’s life.

        I am not immune to a mother’s feelings for her own child. Knowing someone on a blog doesn’t really count as “knowing” someone, I suppose. Truth is, nobody really knows anyone else: we’re often mysteries to ourselves, even. Financial restitution would help, I suppose, but that would only be a token. But in this story I was given a brief moment of insight into Dr. Saunders’ life. We all were. He’s an effective writer and a thoroughly decent human being. And he was wounded. It’s a moment locked in time. I take his side, his husband’s side. I make no apology for it, either.Report

    • About 15 years a friend of mine was discussing how he and his partner were planning on one day adopting children. Somebody brought up the idea of surrogate pregnancy. My friend demurred, saying that he was afraid the woman might try to keep the baby. Somebody else brought up the fact that courts, to her knowledge, were very good at enforcing the surrender of children born by surrogate mothers. My friend’s response was, “I’m not going to tell a woman she can’t have her baby.”Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Yea… Women who fall in love with their children upon holding them and regret offering them up for adoption are real monsters…

      I don’t doubt there exist potential scenarios here where we would all shake our heads at the women. But we know so little about her and her situation that the only monstrous thing offered here is your uncaring and unthinking assessment of her.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        She could repay the funds she took from Dr. Saunders, who paid her expenses. If I understand the post, she didn’t. That’s called deception. Our Libertarians would classify it as Fraud. wherein deception becomes a crime. That doesn’t seem to enter into your thinking. We know so little of this woman, except that she took financial advantage of Dr. Saunders.

        As for my uncaring and unthinking assessment of her, I care enough about Dr. Saunders and his beloved to read the tale of their tears and care for them, a sentiment we do not share. Dr. Saunders has made children his life’s work. Fate has denied his husband and him children of their own, a fate shared by many heterosexual couples. I know I am monstrous in believing they were harmed. A well-written contract would have obliged this woman to repay the money she took from him. But then, when it comes to uncaring and unthinking of this wicked world, that you might be numbered among them, of this I have no doubt.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        Mr. Pascal. I agree with Kazzy. We’re getting only Russell’s perspective. And although my long internet acquaintance with Russell at this site suggests to me that he’s honest and a person of good will, and although I respect that Russell is telling me the truth as he sees it, and although I also suspect that he is withholding evidence that would further support his take on what happened, yet still, I am getting only his side of the story.

        I’m not going even to venture that Russell is wrong, either on his take of what happened or, especially, on his reaction to what happened. But we’re not getting the woman’s perspective. In fact, it would be unfair to demand that Russell offer her perspective, even though, in my opinion, he does a good job in the OP at empathizing with what her situation might have been.

        Now on the issue at hand, what about Mike Schilling’s point above? What type of contract would or should be enforceable? Do we want to have a system of contract law that obligates a woman who just gave birth to abide by her decision, perhaps several months prior, to make an adoption plan? By not having such a system of contract law, we open the door to potential abuses, such as might have happened in Russell’s case. But by having such a system, we open the door to what, in my mind, is a potentially graver injustice. Your mileage varies, of course, as to which injustice we ought to tolerate, and in that respect, I guess we just differ. But I would prefer to err on the side of letting the woman change her mind upon giving birth and maybe upon the grace period of 3 days or so (depending on the state).

        Now, let’s say contract law allowed the prospective adoptive parents to sue for what was spent in the mother’s upkeep. (I have my doubts that an airtight contract could be written, but let’s assume that our dream team of lawyers negotiated a contract so strong that it could survive and bulldoze any legal defense that could be put up.) And let’s further stipulate that the mother is poor. Upon suing successfully for repayment, there seems to be two very likely results:

        1. Little actual repayment. The parent in question would likely not have the money. Perhaps her future wages can be garnished, but the thousands spent in support of her will likely not be seen again, or if seen, not for a very long time.

        2. An even worse economic situation for the newborn, who now is cared for by a parent with one more financial obligation.Report

      • Avatar Just Me in reply to Kazzy says:

        So you agree with Kazzy’s point that Blaise is uncaring and unthinking because he thought all day about how Russel and his partner must have felt in this situation? You all make me sick, physically sick, you know the kind of sick you feel after you are done banging your head on the table, that kind of sick.

        Yes let’s feel bad for the poor woman….boo fucking hoo, she has a child, that means she is not held to any kind of standards, like the standards of good manners. The standards of seeing face to face the people who just supported her for the last “x” months so that she could have a healthy baby. Maybe she could have said, thank you for all you have done for us. I want you to know that I have a healthy baby girl, you understand I carried her for 9 months, I felt her kick, I listened to her heart beat. I can’t bear to give her up. That would be too much to expect I guess, that someone who in good faith planned on giving up her child to adoption could say, Sorry. I guess we don’t hold people accountable for their actions any more though do we. We offer excuses for other’s bad behavior, we can’t imagine giving up OUR child so we excuse anyone’s actions that result in them not giving up THEIR child.

        Your right, we don’t know the other side of the story, but you do know one side. If you feel that the one side is unrepresentative then say so. Otherwise your view that this poor woman may just love her baby and have in good faith meant to give up her baby the whole time is worth as much as someone who says she probably was out for the money or at some time changed her mind and decided to stay on the gravy train a little longer. They are both opinions based on the same few lines of a written post and worth the same amount as that piece of toilet paper I just flushed.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        I know I am monstrous in believing they were harmed….But then, when it comes to uncaring and unthinking of this wicked world, that you might be numbered among them, of this I have no doubt.

        I don’t think you’re monstrous or uncaring, and I therefore disagree with Kazzy’s statement. I also disagree with your accusation against Kazzy of being wicked and unthinking. You both have different assessments of the situation, different approaches to what judgments can be made based on what available evidence, and different places where you would draw the line when it comes to actual policy or enforcement.

        And even though I’m much more inclined to adopt Kazzy’s posture in his assessments/approaches to judgment/policies in this situation, I should say neither of you is necessarily monstrous or uncaring or unthinking or wicked.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        I should be clear that when I wrote my comment, I just either didn’t read or forgot that part of Kazzy’s statement that suggested Blaise might be uncaring. My second comment I wrote probably at the same time you wrote yours (and therefore you didn’t have a chance to respond to that).

        This is obviously a very personal issue for you, and I suppose we just approach this differently. At any rate, I’m not going to engage people who address me in a tone like the one expressed in your comment. So I bid you good day.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        My comment at 8:22 am was probably too pissy, and I should have adopted a different tone. I also should have stated that I can see how, at my earlier comment, saying I agree with Kazzy without stating what specifically I was agreeing with might have made it seem I was calling Blaise uncaring. (In fact, one reason I skipped over or didn’t notice the “uncaring” comment was because I had perhaps jumped to that same conclusion and accepted it uncritically, even if I didn’t state it. To the extent I automatically assumed that, I retract it.)

        I still stand by everything else I said, however, and I believe it’s time for me to quit this particular discussion for the reasons stated above and also because it’s something that for me is largely (though not entirely) an abstract issue that affects mostly (but not entirely) indirectly.Report

      • Avatar Just Me in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yeah, your right I do have a stake and Blaise can well take care of himself, he doesn’t need me to jump on here. I think it is time I remove myself from this blog, I really don’t understand the need that some have to take every comment that someone makes and turn it into a bash fest on the person writing the comment instead of a comment on the topic. I get why the word gentlemen was removed, I really do,. I will stick to football. I seriously am not made to be a blogger. I like and respect people too much I think to be able to lightly ridicule them. I see the people behind the keyboard, maybe not as they are but I see that they are humans with feelings and I wonder sometimes how many of us can say that as we hit post comment.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        I plead guilty to a lot of what you’re saying. I also tend to take things very personally, maybe not so much on the issue in this thread, because I have less of a direct stake, but on other threads and on other topics. I actually like blogging and I like the blog/commenting culture here, but sometimes I personally feel I need to retire, at least for a few hours or days, when I get too….whatever.

        That said, I really must be going. Both for all the aforementioned reasons, and because I gotta go to work. Regards.Report

      • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy Unfortunately, many of the reasons we feel pretty sure that she had not planned to go through with the adoption are in details I do not feel it would be prudent to share in this context. I realize those unshared details do a certain degree of lifting in my story, and that readers are asked to take my word for things a bit. On the other hand, whether or not we were taken for a ride isn’t the entire point of what I’m trying to say in the OP.

        Whenever we can finally buy each other beers while watching the sports telecast of your choice (unless the Fates are especially kind, and we can flip back and forth to an awards show), I’ll give you more information.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        Monsieur Corneille, it little matters what anyone thinks hereabouts. I did not write my comment for your benefit or edification. It was a personal reaction to a powerful and well-written tale of what can only be described as misery and injustice.

        Yes, you were a bit pissy and it is good of you to say so, As for that ankle-biting myrmidon Kazzy, whom life and fate has blessed with a child of his own — that he calls me uncaring is truly of no import at all, nor should it be to you. I once counted him as a friend and I do not know just how I offended him. I suspect it is my positions on Political Correctness.

        Our politics and worldview are shaped by the injustices we have seen in the world. I went in search of spiritual enlightenment, a journey of many years. At one terrible moment, I believe I had a vision. In this vision, I perceived the suffering of the entire world and all its inhabitants, both great and small, human and animal, that to exist is to suffer, that this suffering unites us all. It was a singularly awful moment, a moment of transcendent sadness. I cannot expect others to accept this vision but it was mine and it came after many years of searching. I have never been the same, since. Buddhism seems to have reached the same conclusion about life and existence.

        Yet there is kindness in the world, decency and mercy and love, above all, the love shared by parents and children, especially.

        I read Dr. Saunders’ account, balled my fists up and tears sprang to my eyes. I decided not to write anything in haste, I would let it sit a while. In any event, the phones were ringing off the hook here. When the day died down, I was still thinking about it. Dr. Saunders was hard done by, promises were made and were not kept. His soul was wounded and a scar will always remain in that place.

        But whatever it was not, it was not one man’s view. It was two men’s view. Read the story again. I will not be hectored by anyone hereabouts. I say things people do not forget, ever. I was deeply moved by this story and said so. That I should have my ankle chewed by anyone for what I wrote — I will swing back my rhetorical foot and kick the asses of such ankle biters up to their shoulder blades. I really do not care. I will say what comes to mind, the Confederacy of Dunces and the Un-Gentlemanly have never deterred me before and will not in this instance.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        You know, I read this forum far more than I post, but over the months I have noticed that there are certain posters, who while smart and articulate, too frequently let loose their unbridled contempt for women.

        I mean, they hide it most of the time, but push a button and it comes pouring out.

        Others, when faced with the same situation, seem to find it in their hearts to identify with the woman — which is not to excuse her every behavior, but to see it in context of a woman’s life.

        Anyway, just an observation.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        To be clear, I described Blaise’s assessment as uncaring and unthinking, largely because it was uninformed.

        The fact is, we know too few details to make a fair assessment of the birth mother.

        Russell knows much more and I trust both his knowledge and his perspective in assessing her. I wouldn’t second-guess his feelings regarding her. But the rest of us… none of us know enough to declare her a “fecund little monster momma”.

        Again, there is a difference between commenting on someone’s actions and commenting on their character. I did not describe Blaise as uncaring. I described his assessment as such. He declared the birth woman to be a monster. Big difference.

        We express our deep sympathy and compassion for Russell without declaring a woman we have never met and know little about to be a “fecund little monster”.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        Uninformed? Do you hold with taking someone’s money by deception, Kazzy? Making promises you won’t keep, dancing around the issue, lies and evasion. Who’s uninformed here? All this googly-moogly about mommas and babies and biological bonds — promises were made and promises were broken and you find nothing monstrous about that. You naif.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Neither you nor I know what was in that woman’s heart and mind throughout the ordeal. As such, we don’t know her intent, which goes right to distinguishing between fraud and changed minds.

        Even Russell is limited to his suspicions (which I trust are entirely fair).

        Slam this woman all you want. Little will come of it.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        I don’t have to know her mind. I believe Dr. Saunders when he says he paid a great deal of money and I also believe him when he says he hasn’t been repaid. I do know he was badly hurt by this woman’s broken promises in this incident.

        Well, Kazzy, you just go on defending this fraudster. I can’t stop you. Wring your hands and shriek feebly at me, if it makes you happy. It sorta amuses me, truth to tell.

        Now you lay off me, Kazzy. I’m meaner than you. I adopted a child. I know, I know, ol’ Blaise is gonna try to take this trick by playing a personal card. You play your own often enough around here. Run along now.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        Again, there is a difference between commenting on someone’s actions and commenting on their character. I did not describe Blaise as uncaring. I described his assessment as such. He declared the birth woman to be a monster. Big difference.

        Fair enough.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I don’t think it can be overstated how big an issue it is when people confuse act and actor, to both the person offering the critique and the person receiving it. It can really quickly derail conversations, as it did here.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        I agree. And you’re very good at focusing on actions and not on the person’s essence/character (or whatever we’ll call it).

        As an abstract matter (and because I am a pedant), I would suggest that there is a connection between action and character, but it’s very complicated, and, as you point out, much more helpful and productive to focus on actions, which can be challenged, modified, or defended in a way that is much more collegial than focusing on character.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thanks, @pierre-corneille . I think a lot of that comes from my work as a teacher in schools that really emphasize the act-vs-actor dynamic. I actually took a whole class in how to observe children’s behavior and actions in this way, which was ultimately really challenging. It probably pushed us too far to one extreme, but in the idea of canceling out natural tendencies. E.g., Don’t write, “Julie makes Johnny happy” in your notes; write, “Johnny smiled after Julie sat down next to him.” Only after repeated data points were collected could broader conclusions be even touched upon.

        There is a point at which an actor is defined, at least in part, by his actions, but one would need a pretty comprehensive accounting of the actions and a fair assessment of patterns and the like.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        We are the sum of our actions. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Turns out this woman took Dr. Saunders’ money. Had no intention of giving him custody of the child.

        Now here’s how I think the story should end.

        We’ve already been given the leitmotif of treachery and deceit. The mother goes home with her child, having taken Dr. Saunders’ money and broken his heart. Leitmotif of motherly love, something sweet in the tonic, a few violins and cellos, but thin and dreary, at one time this woman did want to give away her child: that which we want once, we will want again. Dr. Saunders goes on with his life, adopts other children, sorrow is for a night but joy comes in the morning, that sort of thing, a zart theme in melodic minor.

        A child is a cipher. Hasn’t done much yet. We are what we do, hopefully a child grows up around decent people, good parents and teachers. I’m not convinced this mother will ever be any good. We grow in the image of those we love and in the shadow of treachery. The child will turn the wheel of karma. The debt thus incurred will be repaid. Oh, not to Dr. Saunders. His kids are gonna do just fine, oh they’ll have issues, every kid does. What’s a few tens of thousands to him? It’s not the money, it’s the treachery which wounded him and disturbs me. And doesn’t disturb you.

        But debts are always paid in cash. This woman will pay. Just give it time. Children are not evil because their muscles aren’t strong enough yet.

        If this woman were a good mother and not the monster I’m sure she is, she wouldn’t have strung Dr. Saunders along, taking his money.Report

  16. Russell,

    About six months after you wrote that piece at the League with the oblique references to your experiences, a very similar thing happened to my new in-laws. They had already had one child through adoption (they are medically unable to have biological children), and they were working with a new mother, who had given signs of not wanted to go through with the adoption plan. When the baby was born, they bonded with him for about one or two days, and then the mother decided she wanted to parent. As you know all too well, this was devastating for them. (A few weeks or so after that event, however, my in-laws got a call from the agency that someone who had just given birth–I mean, within a few hours–had picked them out of a book to be her child’s parents. We celebrated her birthday this last weekend, and she is adorable.)

    At around that time, I had thought back to your oblique post and came to the conclusion that that, or something very like it, was probably what you had been referring to.

    I don’t really have anything to say on the policy part of the discussion. I’m tempted to agree pretty wholeheartedly with what you write, but my theory is that while there are better policy approaches and worse ones, there are inevitably going to be situations where, at some point, some persons’ very legitimate interests or concerns will have to cede to another’s. And more to the point, there is probably a sadness inherent in all life’s choices, no matter how good and joyful, and that this sadness, intermixed with the joy, is especially concentrated in life’s most striking moments. (Here I can claim to speak only for myself, and not for my relatives or anyone else.)Report

  17. Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

    First, I gotta echo the kudos, doc. This was an exceptionally powerful and gripping story. Thank-you for the personal glimpse into your life; it couldn’t have been easy to write.

    Second, out of a grand total of thirteen nieces and nephews from both my and my wife’s side, six are adopted. Even with our two “natural” children, that’s still 40% of that crop of cousins. So adoption has played an important role my extended family.

    Third, I remember some years ago one of my nephews hooked up somehow, I forget the details now, with his “bio” father. It was a pleasant meeting and assuaged some curiosity but my brother is still decidedly “Dad.”

    Fourth, I recall many years ago running across some radical feminist on the Internet that was totally opposed to adoption as an alternative to abortion. Her notion was similar I guess to your critic above, in that she saw adoption as some sort of exploitation of poor women for the benefit of the wealthy. Pointing out that none of my sister, brother, or sister-in-law were particularly wealthy and the expenses of adoption were a considerable strain on their resources made no difference at all. Nor did pointing out that adoption had permitted (then) four children to be afforded the opportunity to grow up in stable, loving homes whereas in her world they would simply no longer exist. The mind reels. While I strongly support abortion rights adoption is a perfectly valid and loving choice to make as well and our society should more strongly support and facilitate it as an option.

    Now, go enjoy your beautiful family.Report

  18. Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

    I’m leaning toward–not settled on yet!–the opinion that perhaps these sorts of arrangements, we’ll-pay-your-expenses-and-you-give-us-the-baby-thingies, should be tightly restricted or out-and-out banned. AT BEST, they seem to be skirting dangerously close to either baby-selling or bribing a woman not to have an abortion, take your pick. Neither of which seems morally stellar in my opinion. The fact that the contract is non-enforceable as per specific performance changes neither the effect or the intent.

    It’s not my intent to criticize Russell and his husband, nor any other prospective adopters, by this comment. The system is what it is, but that doesn’t mean the system is ideal or even good. If there’s any faster way to fall totally head-over-heels in love than gazing into the eyes of a newborn, I have no idea what that would be. I know; I’ve done it twice. It’s almost eerie it’s so powerful. Setting up a situation where that could potentially happen to two parties simultaneously with the same child and the outcome be stipulated by contracts and money changing hands seems… inappropriate to me. At the very least fraught with peril.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

      Morally, yes, it is questionable.
      I truly hope we don’t ban it though.
      I’d rather the anti-abortion advocates
      have every single legal tool available
      (If nothing else, because I feel like getting
      a healthy child is in society’s best interest).Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Kim says:

        I don’t disagree, Kim. You said it yourself, “…getting a healthy child is in society’s best interest.” Well, if we really believe that then perhaps this whole paying-the-living-expenses-and-medical-costs thing should be borne by society as a whole. I bet most liberals would go along with that. Libertarians probably not I would imagine. For conservatives it feels like a real put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is sort of challenge.Report

    • I pretty strongly disagree. I don’t see anyone’s interests served by banning such things. Not the mother, who would be forced to pay for the pregnancy of the baby she does not wish to keep. Not the prospective parents, who want the baby’s needs taken care of in utero and who want more babies available for adoption. Not the baby, who is better off being born rather than aborted as well as potentially having a smoother term.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Will Truman says:

        See my reply to Kim. Ask yourself, “Is this really the best way to go about it?” It reminds me of the organ market debate we had here a few weeks (months?) ago. It seems like a lot of the same economic and moral factors are in play.Report

      • I was reminded of the organ donor debate, as well. Though I’m less willing to go as far with babies as with kidneys. On the other hand, I think I am willing to go farther with babies (more financial consideration) rather than move in the other direction (of no financial consideration for expenses).Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

      Adoption as an industry is rife with fraud and all sorts of problems. Would-be adoptive parents are often scammed, from a variety of angles. Reducing these sorts of arrangements to talk of baby-selling is not helpful. The adoptive parents have every reason to help the mother. Nothing dangerous about that, until promises aren’t kept, in which case the would-be adoptive parents are SOL.

      It’s perverse, to talk of the emotions surrounding the birth of one’s own child, to people who will never know that sensation. It’s mostly the oxytocin talking, folks. No magic in it. My wife already had a child when I married her. That child came into my life, I cared for her, she was my child thereafter. When my own biological children came along, I took her aside and told her plainly “I chose you. You are mine, more so even than the child which is coming. Never forget that fact.”

      The day came, many years later, when her ne’er-do-well biological father came to town. I put the word out, quietly, to his parents, who remained close to my wife — essentially another set of in-laws for me — that he was not to attempt to contact my daughter, for there would be hard feelings. Adoption is a legal process, all the eerie and powerful nature of biology notwithstanding.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Adoption as an industry is rife with fraud and all sorts of problems. Would-be adoptive parents are often scammed, from a variety of angles.

        Don’t you think it’s at least interesting–and potentially helpful–to explore exactly why that’s so? It seems to me that whenever you have some societal institution of whatever nature that is, as you say, “rife with fraud and all sorts of problems” then you have an institution with structural problems.

        Reducing these sorts of arrangements to talk of baby-selling is not helpful.

        I didn’t say it was baby-selling; I said they skirt awfully close to the line. Anytime you have contracts, money changing hands, “customary” arrangements, and a resulting quid-pro-quo, it seems to me you have something that looks and smells an awful lot like a market transaction.The only thing that keeps it from being outright baby-selling is that the “contract” is unenforceable wrt to specific performance and, thus, is not so much a contract as it is a letter of intent.

        The adoptive parents have every reason to help the mother. Nothing dangerous about that, until promises aren’t kept, in which case the would-be adoptive parents are SOL.

        In other words, “There’s no problem unless there’s a problem, in which case we have a big problem.” Uhhh… thanks for the tautology. And a side order of inexplicably missing the point.

        It’s perverse, to talk of the emotions surrounding the birth of one’s own child, to people who will never know that sensation. It’s mostly the oxytocin talking, folks. No magic in it.

        Now you’re just not making any fucking sense at all. First, I’m well aware of the role of oxytocin in parental (as well as mate) bonding. Believe it or not, I’m actually pretty scientifically literate. And, no, it’s not “magic” but that doesn’t mean the feelings are any less real. And why do you assume that Russell and his husband weren’t feeling that oxytocin rush just like any other set of expectant parents? After all, I sure as hell felt it when my daughters were born, but it’s not as if I was the one carrying them in my body either. Russell’s husband in particular seems to have spent a few days there doing some serious bonding. They went through all the emotional steps that any other expectant parents go through; the anticipation, preparing the nursery, poring over names in the baby book, daydreaming about the little tyke’s future, worrying over a hundred details. I can only begin to imagine the disappointment they felt at the outcome.

        You’re just being bizarre now. Are you so hell-bent on de-legitimizing any possible feelings the birth mother may have been experiencing that could have led her to withdraw consent? Why is it so important to you to cast her as a villain? She may well be a scam artist, or she may have originally acted in good faith and pulled out at the last moment, or she may have developed doubts somewhere along the way and just didn’t know how to unwind things. Whatever the case, it really doesn’t matter. Because the consequences to Russell are exactly the same no matter what the reason.

        [snip another pointless and irrelevant personal anecdote…]

        Adoption is a legal process, all the eerie and powerful nature of biology notwithstanding.

        Yep. A legal process that starts with the relinquishment of parental rights by the birth mother/parents and not one minute sooner. An unenforceable letter of intent makes absolutely no difference. And it never should make a difference. Because as soon as it does make a difference, as soon as such a document legally obligates the mother to hand over the child, then it becomes a bill of sale, no matter what we may choose to call it.

        And all I’m suggesting is that perhaps the problem is really rooted in the set-up whereby the adoptive parents are pinning all those hopes and dreams on the delivery of this one particular baby by this one particular mother on such and such a date. You know, just like delivery on a contract. Because however we elide that fact, it remains the fundamental nature of the deal.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Why is this so? With inventions and crimes, mankind is an ingenious creature. That’s why. Where there’s a transaction between two people, we may rely on one or both, or even a third party to find a profitable angle.

        When money is exchanged for goods or services, you’ve got a market. Doesn’t matter how well-intentioned it might be, I’m not hectoring anyone about its goodness or evil — whether you’re paying expenses with the expectation of taking custody of a baby or buying a chattel slave in the Charleston slave market, it’s a market, okay? Nobody gets healthy babies for free. Money’s being exchanged. There’s competition for these babies. Let’s get that straight right now. People want children.

        You don’t like the phrase baby-selling. Fine. Find another word. Contracts are being signed and every LOI I’ve seen (a lot) contain binding elements.

        You’re welcome for the tautology. That’s why I pay for good lawyers, so I don’t end up signing meaningless contracts or ones which get me fucked. Contracts have a way of doing that to people who don’t hire good lawyers to write good contracts. Not being a lawyer myself, I expect the lawyers to NOT miss the points, points, may I add in passing, answering questions I don’t even know exist yet — but they do.

        Googly-moogly and oxytocin are forces at work in the world, as surely as entropy, gravity and electromagnetism. That’s your problem, Rod, you’re scientifically literate. You’re not stupid enough. The world doesn’t run on the fuel of reason. It runs on a potent admixture of hope and fear and the combination is called Googly-Moogly and it’s been running the world for centuries now.

        Don’t ask me rhetorical questions. I’m hard on such people. I get rabbinical on them. Pop quizzes.

        1. Who wrote the checks?
        2. Who spent the money?
        3. Who did the crying?

        The answers are all proper names. Fill in the blanks. I’ll be waiting for answers.Report

  19. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    When I first read this piece, I felt awful for Doc and his husband. After perusing the comments, I realize how misplaced that sympathy was: they might have lost the opportunity to raise a child they’d become terribly attached to, but at least no one disrespected them on a blog.Report

  20. Avatar Beth says:

    Well, it’s kind of all a weird catch 22 the adoption industry itself has created. I mean just take a look for yourself in the rise in so-called “fees” in adoption since the innauguration of the adoption Tax Credit begun in the ’90’s for foster kids and then loopholed into domestic adoption. And these birth parent support funds created by these oh so ethical agencies?Umm… It is akin to what it really is buying babies.
    So you paid some woman of “loose morals” a bunch of money up front in exchange for the promise of her child and when she backs out, you have no legal recourse. You know why? Because the money you paid WAS in fact, illegal or at least unethical. Nobody told you to do that except the agency.
    But you’re “enraged” at the mother? Why.
    Caveat emptor and all that.
    Listen, if you want things to change, if you want any option to be ethical and legal, then you, the adoptive parents are the only ones who are going to make any kind of change.
    Demand transparency. Things like; Gee, why does this “class” or “classes” the agency is making me take to adopt cost more than several college credits taught by people with Phd’s? or Hey, is it actually legal to pay these “birth mother expenses” and to what amount do I get money back if she changes her mind? Am I ok with this?
    Or, and this is my favorite, Why doesn’t my agency want to actually discuss these “fees” and cost of classes with me? Why do they make it uncouth to talk about paying fees to adopt a baby when they are the ones asking for the money. Hmm…that doesn’t seem right.
    Adoptive Parents and Prospective Adoptive Parents, the real fact is that if you want to make your adoptions ethical and safe and not get gauged in the process (seriously, take a look at what that tax credit has done to the rise in “fees”), you are it. You are the only hope for saying enough to this nonsense. Because these agencies have turned adoption into a big, BIG business based on your need, your desperation and your tax credit.
    Are there babies that need good homes? Absolutely and it is up to you to procure those babies without them or you being fleeced by unscrupulous people and agencies.Report

    • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Beth says:

      Why was I enraged? Because I’m reasonably certain that we were lied to, that someone took a great deal of our money in bad faith, and did so in a terribly cruel and emotionally manipulative way. That’s why.

      Was it a risk we had to take? Yes, it was. So?

      The classes we took weren’t nearly that expensive. And I’m curious how you suggest that prospective adoptive parents create an alternate system out of whole cloth.Report

  21. Avatar ktward says:

    I’m incredibly moved by this piece, Doc. Truly, I’m … ah, crap. I’m choked up. (Gah. I hate being choked up.)

    For a very long time, I had no idea how easy I had it, becoming a parent: two healthy pregnancies, two healthy children. Nevermind the many health complications that of course might have altered my otherwise blissful (if sleepless) experiences, for sure it never occurred to me that I’d have to weed through, of all things, horribly emotional and complicated red tape.

    I expect that your experience, painful and challenging as it was, perhaps makes you and Hubby even better parents. By “better”, I don’t mean more loving. We all love our kids. Just that, surely you have a unique perspective in terms of appreciation of the gift of parenting which imbues your parenting style with a deeper perspective.

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting y’all have some kind of magic that thwarts the overarching horrors of teen years. Only vigilance and caffeine will see you through that shit.Report