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Adoption Misconceptions

There aren't many issues as emotional, complex and prone to verbal missteps as adoption. From the language used to the responses garnered by families, misconceptions abound. To honor National Adoption Awareness Month in November, we asked seven mothers and moms-to-be what they believed to be the biggest myths surrounding the process … and why everyone should take a second look at this extraordinary way of creating a family.

Myth #1: You can't love an adopted child as much as a biological one.

When Ginny Wagner, now 55, and her husband began the adoption process in 2005, they already had a 4-year-old daughter named Olivia who was the sunshine of their lives. "We always wanted more children but I was 48 and not having any luck," she says. The Crown Point, Ind., mom recalls being excited about expanding her brood, but admits to wondering, "If I already have a child, is it possible I can feel the same way about the adopted child as the one I gave birth to?"—a widespread misconception. "There was no need to worry. The strength of my love is the same for both of them. There's absolutely no difference. You bond with your adopted child and love them exactly the same." Now, she beams, "I just look at Sophie and think, 'That's my daughter.'"

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Myth #2: Adopted children will worry that their "real" parents didn't want them.

On the contrary, many might argue exactly the opposite: That one's birth parents loved her so much and wanted so badly to give her the home and life they didn't feel able to give that they were willing to make the ultimate selfless sacrifice. That's how Janet*, 44, and her twin sister felt growing up after being adopted at age 5. "My family always told me that my birth family couldn't take care of me and did the right thing by giving me and my twin up," she recalls. Other kids sometimes teased them, saying that their being adopted meant their "real" parents didn't want them. "We used to tell them they were wrong; that our parents wanted us so much they went to court and paid money, and that their parents got stuck with potluck! It was a big joke to us."Janet encourages other adoptive parents to trumpet their unique link with their children, rather than attempt to sweep it under the family room rug. "I can definitely imagine that if our adoption were less talked about and less celebrated, that I would have felt like the other kids said I should."

*Name has been changed.

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Myth #3: Adoptive parents don't have many options

"Many people think—as I did—that adoptive parents don't have many options and that in most cases, there will be something wrong with the baby," says Becca Gruenspan, a 42-year-old single mother living in Chicago with her 15-month-old adopted son, Trey. "But you do have a say: When you are yearning to parent or add to your family, it's difficult to pass anything up, but [you] can turn down an adoption opportunity if it doesn't feel right." In fact, Gruenspan passed on a few situations before ultimately feeling a match between Trey's birth parents and herself. That means that if your adoption agency presents you with an opportunity to adopt a baby who is of another race or who has been diagnosed with learning disabilities, you needn't feel pressured to say yes for fear of being blackballed. Gruenspan stuck with her gut, which ultimately led her to her happy, adventurous, Cheerio-loving son (pictured below), whom she first met just hours after his birth.

Myth #4: Birth mothers are always young teenagers

The media is quick to portray birth mothers as 15-year-olds who forgot to use contraception, but in reality, the majority of birthparents are between 22 and 30, according to a major domestic adoption study funded by the National Institutes of Health; one of five is older than 30. Steven M. Kirsh, past-president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and an attorney with Kirsh & Kirsh, PC, in Indianapolis, has helped women with their adoption plans for 30 years, and says that while much has changed, two things have remained constant: The ages of expectant mothers and their motivations. "Most expectant mothers considering adoption are not teenagers," he says. "Most are in their mid-twenties or older; many already have a child. They understand the realities of parenthood. I have found that the more mature, better educated, stable, and forward-thinking a woman, the more likely she will proceed with an adoption. I know that sounds backwards, but it is the reality."

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Myth #5: With so many children who need homes, you can "just adopt!"

East coast couple Ashley* and Grant have been on a wait list to adopt from Ethiopia since mid-2011, and anticipate (though there are no guarantees) that they'll meet their baby by 2014. "I do think people suspect adoption is fairly easy, because there are so many children who need families," Ashley says. "When couples struggle with infertility, a lot of them say, 'I'll just adopt!' but there's nothing simple about this process. Adoption involves a mountain of paperwork requiring frequent updating, it's costly and, if hiccups arise, it can be emotionally trying for the couple as well as their extended families." Calling it "an enormous exercise in patience, faith and emotional stamina," Ashley points out that, "we hear about what a miracle it is when couples make a baby, either easily or against all odds, but bringing home an adopted child requires some seriously divine intervention too."

Myth #6: Adoptions always take years to go through

Yes, we just spoke about what a lengthy process adoption can be, but, just like pregnancy itself, a baby seems to come more easily for some than others. Gruenspan, for example, decided that adoption was for her in September of 2010; by July of 2011, baby Trey was in his new nursery in Chicago. Joan Fortman, 46, of Morton Grove, Ill., was first matched with a child after just four months (ultimately, she decided to wait and met her son, Nicholas (pictured with Joan below), after 22 months.) According to a reader poll conducted by AdoptiveFamilies.com, half of all families were matched with a birthmother in six months or less (not counting time in failed adoptions); 73 percent were matched in less than a year and most families successfully adopted within two years of starting the process. Whether you have to wait two months or two years, Gruenspan, who tried to conceive on her own, says adopting assures that all the emotional ups and downs are worth it. "When it does happen and your child comes home with you for the first time, your emotional rollercoaster is soon forgotten!"

Myth #7: Your life gets put on hold while waiting for your child

Fortman started the adoption process at 43 "after realizing I wanted to be a mom and could do this on my own and Mr. Perfect wasn't coming along anytime soon. (She hates to admit that the tabloids helped, but watching single moms like Sandra Bullock adopt helped encourage her.) "People think it's so difficult, when having a baby via in vitro is much harder if you ask me. Adoption allowed me to live my life while I waiting—I traveled to New Zealand, dated and met my boyfriend, and it allowed me the option to change my mind. You can't do that when you're pregnant." She's now mom to blue-eyed, cherub-faced little Nicholas (pictured below).

Myth #8: You owe strangers an explanation

After seven years of infertility treatments, Megan, 39, and her husband decided to create their family through adoption. Reese was born in February of 2008. When Reese was just 10 weeks old, Megan received the shock of her life when she learned she was pregnant; they now have two daughters, 11 months apart. People usually think Reese and Josie are twins, and when they'd ask, I used to feel like I owed them an explanation and would explain the whole situation," Megan says. One day, after hearing the story, a woman pointed to Reese, then 14 months old, and announced, "Oh, so she's not your real child."

"So I picked Reese up out of her car seat, pretended to inspect her, and said, 'Actually, she looks pretty real to me!' Then I made the decision: I don't owe anyone an explanation. It's not that adoption should be a secret, but people make insensitive comments and I don't need to expose my kids to that."

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Myth #9: Everyone wants to adopt a white newborn from the United States

At 35, Amanda McKenzie says she has "absolutely NO interest in giving birth" but is thinking about adoption. One of 14 siblings, three of whom were adopted (herself included), McKenzie and her husband, who live in Hawaii, have discussed adopting an older child from Vietnam, Malaysia or Thailand. "We've visited these countries and were impacted by the poverty and discrimination against non-newborns we saw," says McKenzie (pictured at her wedding with both her adoptive and birth parents). "We see starving children who really need homes but the trend is that newborns are the most desired. I do not feel this way at all. I feel more connected to those who are most unwanted."

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