May 27, 2014

How Much Does a Baby Cost

Nobody wants to put it in those terms. "Can you put a price on your child?" and other saccharine, useless platitudes come to mind. But let's cut the bullshit and be real: If you are building your family in the "traditional" way, your expenses don't come even close to what those of us on the other end of the spectrum have to consider. And they *must* be considered - weighed in the pros and cons. Because these can be life altering expenses if you don't prepare yourself.

I've been investigating adoption agencies in my area over the past week. For the most part, fee schedules and individual expenses are either listed on websites or easily available by requesting the digital information packet. And this is what I've found:

M and I need to be prepared to spend $29,000 to bring home a baby through domestic adoption.

Twenty-Nine THOUSAND dollars.

I knew adoption was "expensive" in that vague, generalized way that most people think of a sports car being expensive. But when you're watching Top Gear and they tell you that the Bugatti Veyron costs 1.5 million Euros, the word "expensive" almost doesn't cover it.

To be fair, on average, the adoption agency fees only add up to $19,000 (haha, "only" is so relative, isn't it?). The other $10K comes from two expense categories: Birth mother living expenses and Birth mother medical expenses. In my state, Birth mothers are allowed to request up to $3,000 in living expenses from the adoptive parents before the baby is born/placed. A few websites I found indicate that medical expenses, if not covered by an insurance plan or Medicaid, are to be paid by the adoptive parents and you should budget $7K for an average in-hospital, vaginal delivery. Let's not even think about complications, emergency C-sections, etc. Fortunately, the baby gets Medicaid coverage (at least as far as I can tell), so there are no additional expenses when it is born.

Now, we are doing pretty well, financially, for a couple from our generation. I graduated from college a year before the economy tanked and we got married during the worst year of the recession. Due to a number of factors (many of them not of our own doing), we have managed to pay off my student loans, kept M's to a minimum, and had money already set aside for a mortgage down-payment so we could get a house as soon as M got a job. We have relatively low debt for our socio-economic cohort and have very healthy savings accounts. If we wiped out every cent of savings we have, it would not cover half the expense to adopt.

This is not to say that the full $29K burden rests on our shoulders. We do have to pony up the cash up front, but both of our employers have adoption expense assistance benefits and, combined, we can be reimbursed $9,000 after finalization. And most people know about the adoption tax credit which can be used for the tax year the adoption is finalized or up to 5 years after. For 2013, I think the credit was $12,500 or so and it goes up incrementally every year or so (I don't know for sure).

So now that the money talk is out in the open, I have to revisit a question: Is this worth it? I felt that IVF was emotionally as well as cost prohibitive - is this any different? Would we be better off throwing our savings at more medical expenses trying to have a biological child? A fresh IVF cycle at my clinic costs $12,000. You can complete a series of 3 for like $20,000 (bulk pricing?). ::sigh:: It is just so expensive to be on this side of family building. "Normal" parents gripe about their hospital bill, but here we are shaking imaginary money trees just to *try* to have a kid. No one is promising that it will work, whether we choose IVF or adoption.

Honestly though, I suspect our odds of bring home a baby are better if we go the adoption route. I'm very wary of our chance of success with IVF considering how every other medical intervention was one epic fail after another. I still think there is an un-diagnosed issue with either myself or M and if we don't know what that issue is, IVF may not work either. And then what do we have to show for our $12,000? More heartbreak. Even if a birth mother chose us and the placement fell through, we don't lose all the money we spent. Agencies will even refund some money if a match doesn't result in placement. You don't have to start aaaaaaaall over again, you just go back to showing your profile. There is still heartbreak, but the financial sting is lessened and you can jump right back into the pool of prospective parents without laying out another ten grand.

I know there are books and websites and Youtube serials all about how to adopt with no debt, but, to be honest, I have no energy or interest in hosting a hundred yard sales, bake sales, church fundraisers, etc. just to collect a few hundred dollars to *slightly* off-set the cost of adoption. I work full time, so does my husband, and we are tired bums half the time as is. If I tried to do that, I really would give up on adoption. (I would much rather make requests for help with furnishing our nursery and gathering the supplies to care for an infant.) And I already know we would not qualify for any special grants from non-profits or government agencies because we are planning on a private infant adoption. I can accept that. The adoption benefits from our employers and the federal tax credit are far more financial support than we have or would *ever* receive for infertility treatments.

Maybe we will match with a birth mother who has insurance. Maybe we will match with a birth mother who needs an emergency C-section. Maybe we will have to renew our home-study 3 times before we are matched. So be it, I guess. I want to go into this with eyes wide open. It doesn't change that $29,000 price tag, but if M and I make the conscious choice to commit our money to this, then I know we will get through it. God has provided through my whole life, it's not like He's going to ditch me *now*.

May 21, 2014

The Internet is my Best Friend and my Worst Enemy

No problem is unsolvable. No question cannot be answered. You are never the only person in the history of the world to come upon a certain issue. As my favorite fictional FBI agent, Dana Scully, would say "The answers are there, you just have to know where to look."

So of course I am researching adoption *to death*. And the internet makes researching any topic so easy because more information than you could find in a whole library is right at your fingertips - just a quick Google search away.

However, the internet contains a lot of...noise, for lack of a better word. I had no idea how many different communities and schools of thought there are on the topic of adoption. And in some of those groups, emotions run high. Particularly adult adoptees and birth mothers. Now, I am desperate for the knowledge I can gain by reading adoptee narratives. Adoptees are the ones in the "adoption triad" (am I using that right?) most impacted by the adoption process - the early loss, a life of feeling different or "other". I get that, which is why I want to see the process from their eyes.

You might be surprised how hard it is to find adoptee narratives. Way harder than finding the chronicles of adoptive parents. There are many, complicated reasons for why this might be, but regardless, it is a reality that is making my search more difficult. And there is only so much help I can glean from an adoptive parent explaining how they deal with questions about adoption and race. I'm more interested in how the adopted person deals with those questions on their own and how their parents provided the tools to do that in a healthy way. That's something that only an adoptee can explain. But here's another road block: the internet often serves as a safe space for nothing but negative, unproductive talk.

In my desperate search, I reach out and immediately cling to *any* adoptee writing. And there is a lot of negative writing coming from adult adoptees on the internet. Some of what they say resonates with me - validating the lack of the adoptee perspective from the mainstream adoption rhetoric, the suffering related to old, closed adoption practices, the importance of confronting racism and prejudice with transracial adoptees. But there is so much more to these adoptees' writings that scares me. Pointing out every word and action prescribed by other adoption communities and basically ranting "wrong wrong wrong!" "as an adoptee, that offends me!" It is terror inducing because the words and actions they are picking apart are things that sounded perfectly acceptable and appropriately sensitive to me. For example, one of the websites I found tore apart a popular "What not to say to an adoptive family" video. According to a collective of adoptees, everything in the video was wrong and the adoptive father who made it is a terrible, ignorant person. I was shocked!

But who am I to question the adoptees' perspective and opinions? What the hell do I know? I pride myself on my critical thinking and reading skills - always questioning information that is presented as "fact" but doesn't back itself up with objective evidence. You can't really do that when it comes to something as personal as the adoptee perspective. And my initial reaction to the negative views by adoptees is pretty much "Well, that is a valid opinion and I am recoiling from it because it challenges my pre-conceived notions. I cannot reject this information outright or I won't learn anything."

But honestly, what is there to learn? In the whole of the article about the video, no one made useful suggestions for what could have made the video better. At best there were vague, general ideas offered, such as "This video is focused solely on the adoptive parent when really the questions are all about the adoptee. The adoptee should always be considered and involved in dealing with these situations!" Ummm....okay, but how do you meaningfully involve a *3 year old* in the situations that the video discussed?? No help there, the comment did not elaborate. That is beyond frustrating for me. You can't just tear apart something that is done with every good intention, call it ignorant, and then not supply guidance for how it can be corrected or done better. That's just not helpful!

I am so frustrated to know that I am asking the right questions (for example, how do I know that the trans-racial adoption process does not damage the adoptee?), seeking knowledge and information from the appropriate sources (namely, seeking out adoptee narratives rather than adoptive parent reports of how children adapt), and yet still not finding the guidance that I need. There are so many opposing views about adoption and I can't believe how difficult it is to wade through the muck and discover the truth!

I have gotten so fed up with the wild west of the internet that I turned to my university's library for academic, objective resources. I have ten or so peer-reviewed articles to read about various aspects of transracial adoption. At least if there is any negativity in them, they will point back to specific data that provides a "why" or a "how" for the claim. The only other resource I have found that hasn't made me want to scream is the book Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge.

If all this frustration and questioning leads me to be a better adoptive parent, I hope I will consider this madness worthwhile.

May 19, 2014

Do I Have Enough Black Friends?

I don't know what triggered it, but all of a sudden last week, I was back on the "let's research trans-racial adoption" bandwagon.

I really haven't touched the idea since January or February. For a variety of reasons: Late-winter malaise, frustration with how complicated and expensive it is, and mental exhaustion. I think I needed more time to fully process the fact that life is not going to exactly be easy whether we choose to live childless or to adopt. No matter what we do, all of our choices are firmly outside the circle of "normal" (I'm gonna play fast and loose with a lot of loaded words, but please know that if I put them in quotes, I mean the word is supposed by society at large, not by me in particular). I think that was the hardest for me. No matter how hard I tried to be "normal", it just did not happen. And I never asked to be in this position! I don't want to stick out. But here I am, through no fault of my own, choosing in which way do I want to appear "odd" to others.

You might notice I am fixating on what other people will think. I don't know why I do that. My husband pointed it out on Friday when I told him I was researching again. He is...interesting. Ever since we started kicking around the notion of adoption, he just seemed to accept it very simply and move on. I don't know how he does it. I worried that it meant he wasn't truly considering the ramifications of that choice. That he was not soul searching to find out if he felt comfortable raising "someone else's" child - a child that will not resemble us. But after talking to him more, it seems he just truly doesn't care. "There will be problems we have to face no matter what way we have a child. You can't prepare for everything. I know that we will figure things out as they come." Maybe it is different for men because even with a bio-baby, they aren't getting the early physical bonding that the mother is through gestation.

And we aren't just talking about adoption, here. We're talking *trans-racial* adoption. A means of family building that is weighed down with judgments from so many groups. There is an organization of African American social workers who have published their beliefs that being raised by white parents is so damaging to a black child, that they should *only* be placed with an African American family. How is that not supposed to freak the shit out of me??

I mean, I get it, I'm white, so what do I *really* know about racism and prejudice, having always lived in my white-privilege protected world. I can see institutional racism, but I can't experience it, not in this country. At the same time, does that mean I am completely incapable of understanding my limitations and working to overcome them in order to prepare my AA child for the racism and prejudice that they will face? That's not rhetorical, I am honestly asking because I honestly don't know, never having had to consider it before.

And I feel like I can't accept "permission" to adopt trans-racially from another white person, even if they are an adoptive parent or an adoption agency employee. I feel like I need to talk to an adult adoptee who was raised by parents of a different race who can tell me they did *not* get screwed up. And then maybe tell me what the parents did that kept the kid from being completely ill-prepared to face a racist and prejudiced society. I need to hear, from someone who knows, that it *can* be done so I can wear that affirmation as armor when someone inevitably verbally assaults me for raising a black child in a white household.

It's one thing to honor a child's culture of origin. That, honestly, sounds easy to me. Buy health and beauty products meant for their skin and hair type, provide books and toys that reflect their heritage, skin color, historical experiences, expose them to art, music, TV, and movies that are created by people of that culture, etc. That might be difficult if we were adopting internationally, but it's not like African Americans don't have a deep and thriving culture here in the U.S. And it's not hard to find, you just have to step outside of your white-bread world. I can do that!

It is quite another thing to be aware of the unique difficulties a person of color (any color other than white, really) faces in their daily life. Do I have enough black friends? Am I culturally aware enough? Do I know the limitations of my own experiences? Is there a way to discuss race and racism in a meaningful, helpful way when I am one of the privileged majority? If not, what do I do? Do I have to let someone else, someone of the same ethnicity, be a mentor to my child, to teach them how to handle institutional racism that I may not even be able to see at times?

When I was in college, I had friends who were African American, Middle Eastern, Asian, all kinds of different cultures and backgrounds. College is an easy place to have a diverse group of friends, I think because people mix and mingle more than happens in the "adult world". But since graduating, we've all spread out and moved away. It doesn't mean the same thing to be friends on Facebook as to be friends who actually see each other from time to time. What resources do I tap to give me support and guidance on an aspect of parenting I am completely unprepared to face? Sure, I'll join adoption groups, but if it's a bunch of other white parents I will always question if their advice is right or if we are all convincing ourselves that our interpretation of race and prejudice is enough for our kids, cloistered in our white experience, with no outside perspective to validate what we are doing. Can I do right by my hypothetical, African American, adopted child? Wanting to and hoping to just aren't enough. I need to *know* that I will do the right thing.

Does this all circle back around to fixating on what other people think? I guess it does, but in this instance, I think I do NEED an outsider's validation. It is the only way I would know I am doing the right thing because I'm lucky enough to not deal with people being racist AT me. Does that make sense? I don't want to be the blind leading the blind - I want someone who can SEE to give me guidance, and that means relying on an outsider's judgment and opinion. So what do I do?

None of this is going to keep me from moving forward with information gathering. I'm even prepared to start narrowing down our agency choices. But it is something that is permanently housed in the back of my mind. I would hope that by being aware of this issue, that it makes me fit to parent trans-racially - that it means I'm not blind to the unique challenges and I will do my best. But I also worry that my best is not enough.

I'm in an extremely vulnerable place right now, emotionally and mentally, so please be kind in the comments.