I wanted to do this on the anniversary of my first post but then car accidents and house-buying stuff happened, and well here we are.
A little over a year ago, I mentioned Ethan and I were investigating what the road to having kids would look like for us. We did a lot of reading, a lot of research, and had a bunch of very uncomfortable discussions about it. And we settled on a plan, which is what we’re going to be running with until something happens that changes things or we have the kids we want, whichever comes first.
For background, our goals in this process are pretty straightforward. We know we want to have two kids, and we know we want to have the full parenting experience, from child birth (or as close as we can get to it) to adulthood.
That leaves us with several options:
- Surrogacy: having one of us (or someone else) donate sperm, have someone else donate an egg, and either the egg donor or a third person carries the baby.
- Fostering and adoption: registering as foster parents, doing our best to raise children that are currently in the system until they’re placed with a permanent family, and eventually adopting someone from the system ourselves.
- International infant adoption: adopting a newborn baby from a country outside the United States.
- Domestic infant adoption: adopting a newborn baby from within the United States.
Let’s talk about these, and why we decided against some.
Surrogacy is something people usually think of when they think of queer couples having kids, and I get the appeal. You get to pass on at least one parent’s genes, you control the timing as much as you would in a couple naturally capable of having a child, and you generally have a bit more control of the situation than you normally would. And a few people who we love and who love us have told us if we were considering surrogacy, they’d help us. Which is incredibly kind of them.
And on the surface, surrogacy doesn’t seem so bad. We get the full parenting experience, just like we wanted. We can do things on our schedule, which appeals to the control freak in me. We’re not super particular about being genetically related to our children; after all, only one of us could be, and it’s nice to have the child be equally both of ours.
But surrogacy has basically no protections that go along with it. If the birth mother decides to keep the baby, there’s nothing really protecting the parents or guaranteeing the return of the medical or living expenses they’ve paid for. Washington state law is such that a birth mother can’t give up her parental rights until after the baby is born, and no amount of contract legalese can change that. Of course, we trust our friends and loved ones to not do that to us, but that brings up a second concern. Our kids are going to have two dads and no mom. Whenever anyone–a teacher, a stranger in a store, a police officer, a friend–uses the phrase “your mom” (as in, “where is your mommy?”, “have your mom or dad sign this”, “ask your mom”), we need our kids to instinctively and intuitively know that the person is actually talking about their dads. If they see their mom every week at our game nights, or during holidays, or any other time we see our friends and loved ones, there’s a much greater chance for some confusion there.
And while I know our friends and family would be respectful and understanding, I wouldn’t be able to help feeling like I need to make sure my parenting lives up to their standards, like I need to do right by “their” kid. And while I have every intention of doing my best with my children, and raising them to the best of my ability, I married Ethan because I wanted to raise kids with him, not him and somebody else. I need to have the safety of only caring what he thinks about my parenting, and letting everyone else’s opinions bounce off me. And surrogacy with a friend or loved one complicates that.
Fostering and Adoption
There are a lot of kids out there that need a loving family and a stable living situation, and I get that. It seems like it should be an easy choice to give two of them a home instead of having a new baby. But that would almost certainly lock us out of the first year or two of child-raising–because infants are much harder to adopt through the system–which is something we really want to do. I also don’t think I’m emotionally capable of having a temporary child; if I form an attachment, it’ll break me to let them go to their permanent family, even when that’s best for the child, but if I don’t form an attachment, they get a cold parent who’s afraid to invest in them. Which isn’t a great parent.
It also plays back into raising a kid with Ethan, not Ethan and someone else. I don’t know that I’m up for the challenge of unteaching the norms and values someone else instilled in a child, and I’m not sure I have the right to. I don’t know that I’m capable of navigating picking up parenting where someone else left off.
International Infant Adoption
One of the quicker ways to get a child is to adopt from somewhere else in the world, usually an Eastern European, Asian, or African country. And that would give us what we want, which is the full parenting experience. But there are complications. First, there are plenty of horror stories about the context of some of these adoptions: mothers told they’d get their kids back in a few years, only to find out that they won’t later; babies being kidnapped and adopted out; etc. There are a lot of ethical landmines in this field I’m just not willing to step on. I want kids. I want kids really badly. But, maybe because of that, I’m incredibly unwilling to take someone else’s away from them unless they are knowingly, consciously, giving that child up for adoption. And I just don’t feel I can verify that to my satisfaction when dealing with international infant adoptions.
Also, a lot of the countries I indicated above are countries in which Ethan and I aren’t married, or in which Ethan and I are illegal. So navigating where we have rights is tricky. But also, raising our children without erasing their culture, while also unwelcome in their culture, is a minefield I’m not sure I want to step into.
Domestic Infant Adoption
This is what Ethan and I finally chose, a few weeks into reading and gathering info. The rest of this post is going to talk more about this process, the questions it raises, and our plans.
Basically, domestic infant adoption looks like one of three things: you know someone who is pregnant and does not want to raise their baby, and will allow you to adopt it; you put out a bunch of ads and find someone who is pregnant and does not want to raise their baby, and will allow you to adopt it, usually in exchange for medical expenses and/or living expenses; or you find an adoption agency that puts you in a pool of people looking to adopt, and who people who are pregnant but do not want to raise their baby will then contact. The agency will then show the pregnant person profiles of the families looking to adopt, and the pregnant person will choose a family to adopt their baby.
We chose to go through an agency, because we don’t know anyone looking to place a baby for adoption, and the advertise-yourself method generally leads to a lot of scams, and it’s entirely your responsibility to weed out the opportunities from the scams. It also carries no guarantee; again, a birth mother can decide to keep the baby at any point up until the adoption is finalised, and there’s pretty much nothing the adoptive parents can do to recoup the expenses they’ve paid out.
With the agency, they’ll take care of weeding out the scams, and a lot of them will offer a money-back guarantee if the birth mother decides to keep the baby. They also assume the advertising portion, which keeps you from fruitlessly spending an unspecified amount of money trying to find people. And because they serve as a gathering place for families looking for adoption, a lot of birth mothers end up going to them when they decide to place their baby for adoption.
With that decided, time to find an agency. From our research, we’re currently looking at American Adoptions. We haven’t committed yet, but it’s currently what we’re thinking of. They seem to have good reviews, we wouldn’t be the only same-sex couple to go through their program and their program is designed to accommodate couples like us, and their process seems to make sense.
So we reached out to them, and got some more information. My top priority was figuring out how much I should anticipate this costing. Mainly because we can only save money at a certain rate, and so the budget I should anticipate having would determine when we could do this.
We had a couple emails and a phone call with a counselor there, and got a lot more information than we had hoped for, which is great. The first thing we learned is that adoption is racist as hell. Like, adopting-an-African-American-baby-costs-less-and-has-less-wait-time-than-adopting-any-other-race-of-baby racist as hell. In 2018, the average adoption budget for the “traditional” program (non-African-American babies) averaged around $44,000-$48,000, and the average wait time was around 3-12 months. For the “agency-assisted” program (African-American babies) the budget averaged $38,000-$41,000, and the average wait time was 1-9 months. You could also start the agency-assisted program at age 22 with any number of kids, while you had to wait until 25 and have 2 or fewer kids for the traditional program. I have a lot of complicated feelings about those programs, and am unsure whether I consider the agency racist or just doing its best to respond to a society that’s racist, or if both of those things are true at once. I am definitely very uncomfortable about it.
But let’s talk about what’s included in those costs:
- Living expenses for the birth mother
- Medical expenses for the pregnancy
- Legal fees surrounding the adoption
- Termination of parental rights expenses
- Advertising fees
- An “activation fee” for the agency
- A video profile (to show to birth mothers) production fee
- An application fee for the agency
- Foster care and agency travel expenses, if necessary
Notably not included in those costs:
- The cost of having a home study done, which you must do to be eligible to adopt
- A $300 review fee for the agency to review the home study
- Any travel expenses the adoptive parents incur
- Costs for post-placement reports
As you can see, a lot of those expenses aren’t fixed costs, and vary depending on the situation. So rather than saying “it costs $X to adopt”, the agency asks you to set a budget for how much you can pay to adopt, and then only shows your profile to mothers in situations that they think your budget can cover. So the higher your budget, the more exposure you get, and the less time you’re like to have to spend waiting. We’re looking at setting our budget to about $50,000 per kid, which should make most opportunities available to us.
Of course, with varying costs, our budget may not get used up entirely. In which case, the money is refunded to us.
Once we’re ready, we submit the application fee ($295) and an application to be accepted as prospective adoptive parents. We then do an adoption planning questionnaire and complete a home study ($800 for the study, $300 for the agency to review it), and start preparing our online and print profiles, as well as our profile video ($1,300). We then pay an activation fee ($2,000) and an Online Marketing Services Fee ($10,750) to get our profile listed. Then we settle in to wait.
While we wait, the agency is showing our profile to any birth mothers that match our criteria–both our budget, and our preferences expressed in the questionnaire, which we’ll get to. When a birth mother chooses us, we have three days to wire the remainder of our budget to the agency ($35,655 if we have a $50,000 budget). At that point, we can start doing trips out to meet the mother, be there for any tests, ultrasounds, and check ups, and finally be at the hospital for the birth.
Once the baby is born, the birth mother needs to give up her rights, and we need to legally adopt the baby. Because this is likely to be happening in another state, we need to have judges from both states sign off on it, and a thing called the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children applies at that point. Which is just a fancy way of saying a lot of lawyers, time, and court dates, and that the kid isn’t legally ours until a judge from each state says so. Which, depending on states, could be a quick thing, or could take a week or more. So we’re likely to spend our first days as parents in a hotel room, waiting to get permission to take the baby out of the state. Also, because we’re likely to have to catch a flight to get to the hospital, and there’s a chance the baby could come before the due date, we’re already making plans with friends and my work that once our profile is listed, we may be leaving the house for an indeterminate time at a moment’s notice. We’ve discussed having go-bags we can grab, and a physical button we can slam that will send a Slack message to my manager notifying that I’m leaving and will check in when I can and sending messages to our friends saying we’re on our way to the airport and can you all figure out who’s going to watch the dog amongst yourselves.
But the situation also raises a problem of planning. I think I mentioned that I couldn’t deal with having a kid I had formed an attachment to taken from me. In a similar vein, I think having a nursery all furnished and coming home with no kid because the mother changed her mind would kill me. Ethan would find mean hunched against a crib, sobbing, in the middle of the night. So we also plan on just ordering the bare essentials to the house while we do that wait in the hotel room after the baby is born, when it’s finally ours. Our friends can bring the packages in, but we’d still want to build the crib, and do everything ourselves. Again, we want the full baby experience, and it would mean a lot to me to put that stuff together.
It also proves a problem for family. My parents are wonderful, and would want to throw a baby shower for us. But what do you do if you have a baby shower, and then the birth mother decides to keep the baby? Do you return the gifts? Do you just wait for the next opportunity? I think both would crush me. So we’re going to have to do that after we come home with the kid.
We figured this out through a lot of soul searching and talking and reading, and being brutally honest with ourselves about how we’d feel about various scenarios. But this wasn’t even the hardest conversation. That questionnaire I mentioned? That was brutal. It included a bunch of really uncomfortable questions, such as:
- What ethnicity and mix of ethnicities are you willing to accept in a baby? (After a bunch of really uncomfortable conversations, we chose ethnicities we felt our area had sufficient representations of such that we wouldn’t be the kid’s only exposure to that culture. No matter how hard we try, it would feel too much like they were only getting the white dude take on their culture, and we want them to have the opportunity to engage with their cultural identity in a non-appropriative, fulfilling way.)
- Are you willing to have contact with the birth mother? (The agency only does “open” adoptions, where both parties know who the other is, and there’s some level of communication. Studies have shown this to be better for kids, so we’re fine with it. Our line in the sand is that we need to obviously be the kid’s parents, and there can be no confusion about that–see the section on surrogacy.)
- What kind of medical history will you accept in birth mothers? (We checked off anything that science hadn’t linked to the health of the child, any mental health issues we felt confident we were equipped to handle, and in general any health concern that we felt we’d be able to adapt to.)
- What drug use are you comfortable with from the birth mothers? (We largely checked off anything that scientific studies hadn’t linked to health concerns for the child. This was one we were more restrictive about.)
- Will you accept a child that is the product of rape? (We said yes, because apart from not knowing the father’s medical history, it shouldn’t affect the health and well-being of the child.)
- Will you accept twins or triplets? (We said twins, which we’d actually love. But we can’t be outnumbered.)
- Will you accept sibling groups? (I believe we said no, because that implies that one child is not an infant. And if we’re going to have one child from birth, and one child from age two or three, eventually the older child will think we don’t love them as much because we don’t have photos/videos/keepsakes of their birth, first laugh, first word, first step, etc.)
- Will you accept a special needs baby? (I don’t remember what we said to this.)
- What’s the maximum age of a baby, in months, you’ll accept?
A really hard part of the questionnaire was shaking the feeling that I was designing a baby, or that I was saying I wouldn’t or couldn’t love my child if they fell outside our criteria. It took reframing the questions as “what risks would you minimise if you were having a child?” before I could stop feeling bad about it. Because I would minimise the risk that my child would have health issues from birth; nobody can guarantee they won’t, and I’d love them no matter what. But I’d not drink during the pregnancy to minimise that risk, because that feels like doing what’s best for the child to me. And that’s really what Ethan and I kept coming back to: what’s best for the kid? Is it better that they be placed with a family that is going to be better equipped for their specific situation? It’s easy to just say that you’ll accept any kid, but are you going to do as good a job for that child? That’s a hard question.
Because of the structure of the fees, we can’t really list ourselves until we have the money to complete the adoption, because we could be contacted that day and need to cough up the rest of the money three days later. So given our $50,000 budget, we’re currently looking at January, 2021 being when we list ourselves, meaning hopefully by January, 2022 we’ll have our first kid. Because of weird money things (my employer will reimburse up to $10,000 of adoption costs, for example!) we hope we can be listed for the second kid in January, 2022, and we’ll hopefully have both kids by January, 2023. Which puts both of us at 32 years old, which is older than we wanted, but what can you do? Money takes time.
It’s going to be a long process and one we’re incredibly anxious for. But at this point, it just takes time. Knowing our budget, and understanding that we’d need a home study, we wanted to buy a house before we started saving for the first kid. We’re under contract now, and hopefully will be moving in in six weeks. When that’s done, we’ll certainly have some house expenses we need to pay for, and we want to take some time to get our finances back in the shape we want them, but by the end of the year we anticipate making regular, large deposits into our savings account to start that $50,000 fund.
24 months isn’t that long to wait, right?