AFTER BABY, NOW WHAT? The Changing World of Adoption
Rebecca, like many of the twenty-one other adoptive mothers in this study, wants to adopt a child who will not only fulfill her desire to be a mother but also fit into her preexisting private and public life. At first glance, adoption might seem like an ideal social institution that meets the needs of both childless parents and parentless children. Certainly the number of U. S. children needing stable, loving homes far surpasses the capacity of the domestic foster care system. Although there are more than enough needy children within the United States for each potential American couple or single parent, adoption is not always a win-win transaction. Race and age complicate the process and blur the lines between the needs and desires of all parties involved. Most potential parents desire certain kinds of children, who will blend into their established lives—meaning that most Americans want children of their own race (or at least be able to pass in public) and want to raise their children from infancy.
Legal adoption, a revolutionary innovation of the mid-nineteenth century, severed blood ties between birth parents and their children in order for adoptive parents to create a legal tie “by convention and by choice.” The law created an “artificial” way for strangers to become kin.1 Adoption law and social policies were implemented to imitate biological families: two parents of opposite sexes would share the same race as the child. Adoptive families would thus blend in, appearing as “natural” blood families whose children could have been born to them. These “as if” families would be matched by experts as closely as possible for race, religion, ethnicity, and sometimes social class background.2 This normative model of the “as if” family has mutated into new family variations as the market for adoption has changed. з Single women are a new segment of the group of potential adoptive parents; children from all parts of the globe are finding homes in the United States; U. S. birth parents, while still relinquishing their legal rights, are increasingly requesting open adoptions to facilitate some contact with their birth child. However, single mothers find that the original legal and social policies of the “as if” family shape the segment of the adoptive market that is open to them in the United States. Since other countries have their own adoption policies, often single mothers seek children elsewhere.
In order to build a cohesive family, potential parents explore the pros and cons of domestic versus international adoptions. They search both private and public agencies to determine which one will offer them the greatest possibility of adopting a child of the right race and age to fit comfortably into their lives. The adoption process is often long and painful, requiring prospective adoptive parents to fill out stacks of paperwork, confront difficult decisions, and make compromises. Many prospective adoptive parents agonize over the decision of whether to adopt interracially or wait for children of their same race, yet, surprisingly, studies show that families who adopt interracially and those who adopt same-race children seem to be about equally as happy. In the end, no matter what they
decide, the result is usually successful for both parents and children, but the process is always grueling.4
For a single woman desiring to adopt a child, the journey is often more difficult than for heterosexual couples. The bar is set higher and the hoops seem endless. Single women rank low in the adoption system hierarchy. Like their coupled counterparts, single women also worry about how an adopted child will affect and fit into their extended families and greater communities. Since these women have fewer healthy infants offered to them, they must make difficult compromises and choose one criterion to supersede others in their adoption search.