Is Adoption Good for the Baby?

Is adoption good for the baby? This can be an exceptionally complicated question with no clear answer. Each situation is usually unique; attempting to categorize adoption as good or bad can be as futile as trying to count snowflakes before they melt. Most adoptive parents wish to say “Yes, yes, adoption is always good”; however, adoption is sometimes a mixed blessing. It can be convoluted with shrouded identities and obfuscated outcomes. Infants and children can be suffering and Christ has called us to meet this need, but with the understanding that there are often inevitable consequences to this choice.

In an ideal world, adoption probably wouldn’t be necessary. There would be no unexpected pregnancies, infertility, mental health issues, divorce, illness, trauma, or poverty. Every infant would grow up in a safe place with parents who cherish and nurture their offspring. Tragically, this world doesn’t exist. We live in an imperfect place with imperfect people and imperfect solutions. Adoption is often a necessity, regardless of whether there may be negative impacts. Every year in the United States, nearly 450,00 children enter foster care, over 100,000 become available for adoption, and 23,000 age out of the system without ever having found a family. The need to save children remains mighty and the call must be answered.

Adoption can be a breathtaking demonstration of true love, from both the adoptive parents and the birth parents. Adoptive parents accept a stranger’s infant into their arms, promising to love and protect this child forever, while birth parents choose to give their baby the gift of existence and love them so desperately; they sacrifice their own desires to ensure their baby has the best possible life. Prayers have been answered with the birth of this child, what other term would one use than good for such an awe-inspiring transfer of love? This is often the adoption story we yearn for and often choose to believe, despite any contradictory evidence. The magnificence of this image transcends us and we crave to be part of the miracle; but there can be a voice missing in this harmonic narrative, the voice of the infant. This innocent has no control over what is transpiring and no role in decisions regarding their future. The actuality of adoption is that no matter how pure the intentions or dire the prior home situation, adoption creates trauma. A primal wound is often formed. Ultimately, it is usually left up to the adoptee to decide the answer to the question is adoption good for the baby? 

Some adoptive parents still give credence to the fable of infants being a blank slate, uncontaminated, and ready to bond with their new family. They may shield their hearts from the underbelly of adoption, grasping at an ideology that the birth mother will be a young girl who is healthy and intelligent, does not use drugs or alcohol, and has a loving supportive family to help her through the pregnancy. In the real world, this can be a rarity. Many times, drugs and alcohol have been used, domestic violence has been rampant, mental illness is prevalent, and the birth mother has continual fear and stress throughout the pregnancy. God can feel very far away from them. As a result, the fetus can develop with high levels of stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline running through its’ system, affecting brain development. A large amygdala can form with smaller temporal lobes, creating a neurological cascade where the baby has an overstimulated fight/flight response and, as they grow, difficulty controlling their fear reaction. Attachment can also be impacted, even in infancy. These are often the truths of adoption. Our cherished ones can be at a disadvantage when adoptive parents assume infants are “fine,” and disregard their behaviors instead of leaning into them. This perspective can lead to the answer is “maybe not” when asked is adoption good for the baby? 

 It would probably be an affront to adoptees to suppose this is always the case. Some adoptees grow into well-balanced adults who do not suffer from low self-esteem and insecurities such as feeling unlovable, different, or abandoned. In fact, they may feel blessed and that they are doing alright. But some do not, and they can also be correct. Each individual journey should be honored. These adoptees are not broken or weak; the only difference is the way their brain processes information. One of the best ways to help could be to acknowledge their struggle, their hurt, and fear and never expect them to be grateful for being adopted. You could try and see their behavior through the lens of neurobiology and brain development instead of as a flaw to be fixed or defiance which must be squelched. Honor where they are and meet their requirements without judgment. This can be incredibly challenging, as their behaviors can change with each developmental milestone. Prepare for a lifetime of learning.

Please hear me, putting the requisites of the child ahead of our own does NOT mean the deep intense emotions and blemished portions of our past should be “put aside” for the baby. Rather, they probably need to come to the surface and be seen. Acknowledge and profess your fears, sorrows, and weaknesses before God (and possibly a therapist as well), lay your burdens at his feet. This is perhaps the only way to truly let go of hidden pain and heal battered hearts. For birth parents, this often means a lot of grieving and self-forgiveness. Adoptive parents, it can also be essential to grieve, particularly if infertility, loss of a child, or broken relationships helped fuel the desire to adopt. This precious baby should be seen for who they are, not placed in a situation where they are expected to fill a hole in someone else’s heart. When one goes into adoption with the mindset that the child’s needs must be the priority, many things can fall into place as that infant becomes an adult. Search your heart, be honest with yourself about why you want to adopt. If you can be brave enough to face your own demons, then the answer to the question is adoption good for the baby will probably be yes. 

Domestic adoption is what comes to mind most often when the goal is to proceed with an infant adoption. However, only 15% of adoptions come to fruition in this manner. With domestic adoption, open adoption can lead the way for the adoptee to grow and thrive. God wishes for this child to be loved; he does not care how many there are to love them. Love is not a competition, pitting birth and adoptive moms against each other, it is usually a place where all may come to the table. Open adoption can allow for the infant to know his birth parents and often decreases the amount of trauma inflicted on the baby. If, for whatever reason, open adoption is not available, you might consider raising the infant and helping them to understand their origins. There may come a day when they choose to seek out their birth parents and love will probably be required to see them through and support their decisions. It is rarely a betrayal to the adoptive parents, but perhaps more of an attempt to try and repair the wound that was created at birth. 

Independent adoption is different than domestic adoption and should be approached with slightly more caution. This form of adoption often relies solely on an adoption attorney. Birth families and adoptive families may find each other independently without the assistance of an agency. While often faster, and sometimes less expensive, the method can be riskier for the adoptive parents but should have no long -term effect on whether the adoption is good for the baby.

Foster to adopt infant adoptions often come with a different set of necessary skills. There is often an exigency in these babies to be loved, given the difficult circumstances surrounding their birth. The potential adoptive parents may well find themselves also parenting the birth parents, supporting and encouraging them in any way possible to create a lifestyle that can be safe for their baby. This can be where “is adoption good for the baby?” gets really murky really fast. The potential adoptive mother must find the strength to love that child with every part of their being, while understanding that they can’t accomplish everything they wish they could; sometimes this includes the birth parents in their child’s life, and sometimes it doesn’t. This level of sacrifice on the part of the hopeful adoptive parents cannot be overstated. It could be temptingly easy to develop the opinion the baby would “clearly be better off” with adoption. Sometimes, this is indeed the outcome. However, studies show the trauma of separation can often be greater than the trauma of living in uncertainty with their birth parents. Attachment is often the key and if the birth parents can provide this, it can be the better choice. It is often when the parental rights are terminated that you can then adopt the infant, but this doesn’t always happen. Maintaining this perspective can take an indescribable amount of faith and endurance. Tragically, as life is far from perfect, these same dear babies too often re-enter the foster system later in life, where they have a diminished chance of being adopted and it remains our responsibility to continue to care for and adopt them, just as we did when they were infants. Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your path (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV). This could be the road less traveled; God has chosen you because you are courageous enough to aide his children in need. As servants of God, we must answer the call, regardless of age.

Then there is international adoption, which often has its own unique set of circumstances. These babies can be born into a world where they have no place and few resources. Their situations can be dire. All children are deserving of love and safety, no matter where they are born or whom they are born to. International adoption can be one of the most rewarding and beautiful forms of adoption, where the adoptive parents are truly saving their children’s life. However, one must be diligently aware of the dark side of this industry; a place where children may be taken from their families and sold for profit to a family that believes they are doing God’s work. This is also a reality and it could be safe to say this is not good for the baby. Take the time to be wary and research carefully international adoptions and the organizations involved. In addition, cultural differences become a topic of conversation as these infants are being removed from their own country, where they see themselves in everyone around them, to a place where few, if any, may look like them. This alone can lead to issues with self-esteem and identity. Parents who adopt internationally should be diligent in cultural awareness and education which helps make adoption good for the baby.

Finally, let’s talk about transracial adoption. This is another sticky area where the question Is adoption good for the baby must be seriously considered. Minorities tend to actually be the majority, particularly with foster to adopt and international adoption. The need for these babies to be adopted can be massive and should be met, as all children deserve a home regardless of race. Adoptive parents of babies from a different race often have to be diligent in focusing on the racial disparities as well as promote a strong understanding of the culture they came from. Studies show that the more aware and knowledgeable the adoptive parents are, the more capable they can be of raising a child with a healthy cultural identity. This situation may also call for a “village” to be involved. The more role models and influential adults who mirror the child’s identity, the better. Learn to accept and listen to advice from others who share the child’s ethnicity and beware of the desire to believe that because the dear baby is yours, you automatically know what’s best.

So, is adoption good for the baby? Yes, of course, it can be. An event has arisen where a beloved and worthy life may need a family with stability and safety so they may grow and become all that God imagined for them. Our Lord has been very clear on how he wishes us to treat orphans. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute (Proverbs 31:8). However, I cannot stress enough that the situation must be approached with honesty and humility for the things beyond the adoptive parent’s control. Acknowledge this can be a trauma, no matter how beneficial the outcome; see the infant for the adoptee they will become and honor who they are, not who you wish them to be. It is often imperative that the focus be on the needs of the child, not the yearnings of adults. The journey has been and will probably always be about them. Adoptive parents must arm themselves with knowledge as well as love. Sometimes all we as adoptive parents can do is trust in God and believe in the precious being we have been entrusted with. They may lead us in ways never imagined, but it may be the path necessary for healing and for adoption to be good for the baby.