I’ve wanted a child for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was because I was eager to do better than I thought was done unto me, or perhaps it was because I loved children even as a child myself. I grew up with a mother who was a Developmental Psychologist and always brought me around children, and we had many books on child development around the house. I was always interested in how to nourish children, what they need to thrive, and could hardly wait to have a child of my own one day.
I would one day embark on that journey with my best friend.
At one point in my life I was working on my Associate’s degree to become a Paralegal. I had interned at a Child Advocacy Center and got to witness and learn about the many disturbing cases that the advocacy dealt with. I read files and saw photos, and became more interested in the system we have that serves children in this country. There were so many cases of neglect and abuse, and the system wasn’t built to make it all better for those who need it most. This was one experience out of several that led to my interest in domestic adoption.
Later down the road, once my not-yet husband and I were living together and were financially stable, we headed down that road. We were somewhat young (early 20’s) but were both equally interested and dedicated in giving a child a home. Of course, adoption can be a lengthy process and we knew we would have to put in a lot of effort to make this happen. However we had a lot to give: our time and energy, dedication, genuine love, and financial means. We were confident in our ability and commitment.
Sooner or later we decided to start interviewing with multiple adoption agencies to find the right one. What stood out most to me was the amount of looks and questions we received regarding our age. Why do we want to adopt? Are we having fertility issues? As we explained our reasons with genuine enthusiasm, these agencies didn’t seem to grasp the simple concept: we wanted to care for a child who may have had a rough start. We had a lot to offer. Nonetheless, we were turned down repeatedly by every agency. I suspect a lot of it had to do with our age and the fact that we were not married. Finally we found one agency that was interested in working with us. We were looked at with an amused curiosity at why were doing this, but we weren’t turned away. We soon started taking the required classes for future adoptive parents, did multiple home studies and home evaluations, and setting up a bedroom for a little girl. We faced every minor challenge that came up and moved forward with the process. One thing in particular stood out to me as we attended the mandatory classes for adoptive parents: the people who attended. A majority of them were there to become foster parents. They seemed to have clear money constraints, and had no real idea of how to properly handle children in the system. They seemed to have this idea that children are inherently ‘bad’. There was a huge amount of sexism towards girls (insinuating that girls are promiscuous and need to be locked up, etc.) One thing that I won’t forget is how these future foster parents answered every ‘how do you deal with this situation?’ question with a tendency of physical punishment. They seemed to feel that hitting, and taking away food or toys were just a couple of methods for dealing with behavioral issues. I just want to point out that children who are in the foster system are already victims of physical or sexual abuse and physical punishment is not permitted by the agencies and by the state. A lot of them hoard and steal because they’ve never had an item to their name and have switched homes more times than we change underwear. Some of then have never had enough food, so they hide plates under their bed, creating a mold and bug infested situation. It was interesting to watch how the woman who led the class kept explaining this, just to have future questions answered in the same manner. There was a total lack of understanding for what these children have been through, what kind of experiences brought on their issues. I kept thinking to myself, what are these people doing here, how did they get approved?
We went on to do what’s called ‘shadowing’ with a woman who received a 6 year old child that was abandoned by his mother. He was often found roaming the streets crying, soiled and naked. He was clearly neglected and may have been exposed to emotional and physical abuse (it is never known for sure), and had seen his mother arrested multiple times. We would find out that he kept replaying this scene with his foster mother as he would try to ‘arrest’ her by putting her hands behind her back and playing out the events of what he had seen so many times. His foster mother complained to us that she can’t get the agency to place enough children with her, that she’s struggling for money. She had a very small home with one bedroom to spare. The room was small and was filled with multiple beds.
I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the way that the fostering system works in this country but every foster parent receives a small dividend for each child they take in depending on that child’s age and needs. For example, a child with special needs would receive more than a child without. However, to prevent people fostering children for the sake of this small dividend, there are clear requirements for financial stability in regards to becoming a foster parent. It became clear in that moment that she wanted to foster more children in her home because she needed the money that came with them. Don’t get me wrong, she may clothe and feed this boy and the other children that pass through her home. However somehow, hearing this stayed with me. How many foster parents take in children for the money and somehow silently pass through the filter that is supposed to protect these kids? Countless. ‘Foster parents pay scale’ is a popular search term on Google. The government can pay somewhere from $20-25 a day for a child without disabilities, more for a child with special needs. That adds up to anywhere from $600, and up a month.
Everything with our adoption process moved along. We were getting close to getting approved. We no longer needed to constantly check in with the agency and needed to finish our mandatory hours of training. After a couple months of not hearing from anyone, we received a phone call from the agency. It seems that employees have come and gone and the people we worked with were no longer working there. Our paperwork exchanged hands multiple times and we were now working with strangers. They brought up a few ‘issues’ to our process that hadn’t been issues prior. One was that Antonin was not a citizen, he had a greencard. The second was that we were not married. This was odd news, as neither factor was an issue when we first applied, and all our info was run by their attorney. However, we went on to make a big decision that would make our future adopted child’s life easier: we decided to get married. Adopting as an unmarried couple often requires proof of a common law marriage (usually 10 years, varies by state), or a complicated and lengthy process in and out of court that would almost surely get denied. It would likely take years in and out of courts, with Ant applying alone as the primary adoptive parent and then me adopting as a co-parent after that. After everything this child would have potentially gone through, we wanted them to bypass this complication. For clarification, we were not married and had no intention of getting married as neither of us is a huge believer of the concept. Nonetheless, we were determined to do whatever it takes.
After presenting the agency with our marriage documents, things suddenly shifted. We were all of a sudden told several uncomfortable things that we were not informed of prior. First, now that we were married we would have to wait at least two years to apply for adoption. Second, Ant could not adopt because he was not a citizen (he worked full time, I was ready to be home with the child). He could not be the primary adoptive parent because he wasn’t a citizen and I couldn’t be the primary adoptive parent because I wasn’t working. This news hit like a ton of bricks. We weren’t going to be able to adopt. None of these things were an issue before. We had spent time and money getting our home ready and making up work hours to attend the daytime meetings. We were in constant contact with someone from the agency following their instructions. We spent two years working on all of this. Why was this being suddenly brought up as an issue now and not before? Why was it said to not be a concern prior and was a concern now? Why were they pushing us away? All this time while we were doing everything we were told to do, while we were reassured and guided by an agency that was supposed to have childrens’ best interest in mind, shady things were happening behind our backs.
That’s exactly what was happening: we were being pushed out. The agency had undergone some sort of transformation. For some reason, employees who knew us and the director who interviewed us were gone. The agency was suddenly filled with strangers who hardly knew legalities or followed them. While we had done everything that was asked of us, we were suddenly told that although we would not be able to adopt at this time, we could always ‘foster’. That’s when I knew what had happened.
Agencies like this one are funded by the government. They get a payout for every child they place in foster care. They don’t financially benefit that much from a child leaving their system, in fact, they may lose out on a payout. I’ve heard of things like this happening before, yet I always wanted to believe that somewhere out there are people who truly care about children and who want them to be placed in good homes permanently instead of being placed in and out of foster homes. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still sure those people are out there. I’m sure that the people who work for these agencies aren’t evil, but the system is corrupt and broken. Agencies need money to function, and decisions need to be made. However those decisions are unfortunately not always in the best interest of the children who are placed with these agencies. Sometimes money comes first, and good people get pushed out because they want to give kids a permanent home. Our file switched hands and we were welcome to foster, but we couldn’t adopt because of a, b, c. We’ve asked them if they checked their facts with their attorney and they lied, because we double checked and found what they were saying to not comply with the laws.
Subsequently, just some time before we found out that we couldn’t adopt, I had missed my period for over a week. This has never happened before, or maybe once. I started suspecting a pregnancy and was surprised to find that I was kind of excited! I felt a bit guilty because here I was wanting to adopt, and I wasn’t ready to have two kids at one time. I didn’t want to end the adoption if I really was pregnant, so I was a bit conflicted. But regardless of my overthinking brain, I found that I quite enjoyed the idea that I had not yet entertained until then. I didn’t know it yet but this had planted a seed in my head and heart. We did take a test, and it was negative. I was a bit disappointed almost, but we went on with our lives to find out that the adoption had fallen through as well.
Unfortunately most kids who enter the foster system experience multiple recurrences of abuse, and this is a statistic I find appalling. I’ve seen the statistics and I’ve seen why children end up in foster care. I’ve heard how parents-in-training discuss their standard of care for foster kids and I’ve seen the kind of care these foster homes provide. Foster parents taking in children for a payout is not uncommon. Adoption agencies using kids as a paycheck is not uncommon. It’s a sad but honest truth.
Meanwhile, it was disappointing and heartbreaking to find out that something we had worked on for so long and put our heart into was not going to work out. This was something we genuinely were passionate about. This was our dream. We were never matched with a specific child but it felt like a huge loss. It was a sad time. We had to accept that we had to put the idea of adoption off for now, but we knew we’d come back to it again one day.
When one door closes, another opens. I came back to my feelings of excitement of a potential pregnancy. I didn’t realize until the moment I thought I may be pregnant that I was ready for it. I waited my whole life to feel ready to have a child come into my life! I thought it would be via adoption first, but it wasn’t. Our first child would come by pregnancy. And so we revisited the idea, and our pregnancy journey began.