open adoption roundtable: money
The topic for this round of the Open Adoption Roundtable is money: Does money have an impact on your open adoption? If so, how? (Could be issues pre- or post-placement, expectations, assumptions, costs of visit activities, travel, gifts–you name it.)
I almost didn’t write about this one, money being such a sticky topic and all. I mean, money is at the root of so many heartbreaking decisions to place a child. It’s at the root of so much of what is wrong with adoption, and family building in general. It permeates and clouds everything, from the ethics of professionals to personal relationships within an adoption. I wish money simply wasn’t a factor at all. I wish anyone who wanted to raise a child had the support to do so.
Obviously money is often a factor in the decision to place a baby rather than parent. Yet I never wanted to adopt a child solely because the biological parents couldn’t afford to care for him/her. In fact I anticipated a deep internal struggle over just this issue. I thought it would break my heart if finances were the sole reason an expectant mother would choose to place. I’d heard firsthand from a woman who would have parented if she hadn’t lost her job, if she had health insurance, if she could afford a place to live while caring for her baby. Heartbreaking.
The sad reality is that without solid support systems and services, expectant parents will continue to find themselves in this situation, possibly choosing adoption as a permanent “solution” to an often temporary problem. That is a tragic fact. But that has more to do with adoption in general, not necessarily open adoption or our adoption in particular.
Money was certainly a factor in our ability to adopt (or not), and also in the type of adoption we would choose. We were on a budget and knew what we could afford in a given situation. Because we wanted a fully open adoption (e.g., with regular visits), we limited outreach to our state and a few others we were likely to visit regularly. (We don’t get to travel as much as we’d like, mostly for financial reasons — it takes time and money and I work for a nonprofit and M runs a small business without paid time off, for example.) Not only were we limited in the type of situation we would consider, but we were hoping for a local match as we wanted the opportunity to develop a real relationship.
As it turned out, we did match locally. At the time we met, K was living just over an hour from our home. While financial support was a factor in our adoption, money wasn’t as huge an issue as I expected it to be. When we met K, she had a job, a place to live, supportive family members (at least some of them), and offers of assistance. Unlike many women, she had options. Money was not the reason she decided not to parent. She was young and had chosen a different life for herself, forgoing the comforts of home to live a more rustic existence, without amenities. But the life she chose was for herself, and it was not how she wanted to raise a child.
We did help K financially by paying for pregnancy and birth related expenses, including her midwives and regular acupuncture, groceries and maternity clothes. Once she stopped working, we bought her a gas card too. But before we did any of that, K was advised by a counselor that she was entitled to relevant expenses but that our support should in no way affect her ultimate decision. K understood that she was free to change her mind and wouldn’t owe us a thing, that our generosity was not expected to be re-paid in any way. We told her repeatedly that she owed us nothing, that she shouldn’t feel obligated to us, that her well being required her to make the right decision for her, not for us.
K was very modest about accepting our help. Several times she said she didn’t need anything, but then her mom would quietly tell us that yes, she did in fact need clothes that fit, or vitamins. We had fun shopping in second hand stores, because she hated the thought of us paying full price for something she wouldn’t need very long.
We were very fortunate to be in the situation we were in (i.e., ready to adopt and able to help), but we weren’t wealthy by any stretch. In fact, K chose us because of our shared values and not our big fancy home. So it was strange when people we encountered assumed we had boatloads of money. One health professional (not K’s midwives) actually told K that she should be asking us for more, because clearly we “owed” her. K was deeply insulted by the comment and never went back.
Today, K has resumed her adventurous pre-baby life. We don’t see her as often because of distance (she now lives more than five hours away). But she can always get home, and she can always visit us without great financial hardship. When she visits we treat her like any family member and take care of her. Yet we don’t know what the future holds. For instance, we don’t know how far or how often K will travel, or if and when she will ever be in a place to have visitors. So in between visits we stay in touch by phone and through her family. When we visit with her mom, we take turns picking up the bill.
Baby J’s biological father T is another story, one that I won’t go into in great detail. I’ve written about him before without revealing much about his personal situation. He too lives a rather rustic life, often dropping in and out of contact with his family and us. He knows how to reach us but we can’t really reach him. He sometimes has a cell phone with minutes, sometimes not. He gets by with very little. Some day we’ll have to explain this all to Baby J. I imagine that with him, money will continue to be an issue affecting our relationship and access. But to be honest, it’s just one of several.
To read what others at the roundtable have to say, click here.