Making the Call: Turkey Baster, Medical Intervention, Adoption, or Cat Lady
(Future reference) for someone over 85% infertile, would you recommend risking the trips to the sperm bank or adopting a child?
Christina: This is a hard call and one probably best discussed with a reproductive endocrinologist. Also check to see if your insurance offers infertility benefits—having a biological child may be much more affordable that way, if that’s important to you.
Asher: It depends on how important having a biological tie to your child is, how much money you’re willing to spend to try to make a baby, and what adoption route you’re thinking of plus what your family/home situation looks like. If having that biological connection to your child is very important to you then I think it’s at least worth talking to a fertility expert. I think you would probably be looking at invitro fertilization (IVF) at that point and if your insurance doesn’t cover it then you’re looking at about $12,000 per cycle of IVF. Only you can decide if that’s a more appealing option for your family then adoption.
Adoption is not without risks either. A lot depends on if you do international, private domestic adoption, or adopt through the foster system. Adoption can be really expensive, you can face long waits, possibly have to be closeted, or deal with uncertainty with birth parents. International adoption tends to have a more concrete path and timeline but tends to be the most expensive ($25,000 is not unheard of) and some countries require you to sign an affidavit that you are heterosexual. Private domestic adoption tends to be a little cheaper than international adoption and a little quicker, depending on whether or not you’re open to a non-white child or a child with special needs, but birth parents may change their mind and chose not to place the child for adoption which can be heartbreaking for the intended adoptive parent(s). Adopting through the foster care system is the least expensive option but it’s fairly common for adoptions to take years to finalize and it’s not unheard of for a child that a family has fostered for years and intend to adopt to end up back with birth parents. In all these options (adoption and fertility treatments) queer families face discrimination so that’s also a factor.
Many people are able to easily adopt without too much financial hardship and people with high rates of infertility do manage to get pregnant, but I think too many factors are at play to give a simple “yes or no” recommendation based on risk. It really just depends. Sorry! I know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear.
Michelle: I presume this is a hypothetical question as I don’t know a fertility specialist that would ever put a % on how fertile or infertile a patient is. There are a lot of things they consider before they make their recommendations. Age is just one factor. There are blood tests such as FSH, Estradiol, LH, and AMH that they look at as well. Another thing they consider is a woman’s antral follicle count which they determine by looking at her ovaries on transvaginal ultrasound. If all these results are not favorable and do not show much “ovarian reserve”, they would recommend IVF with donor egg. That’s what they recommended to me after 10 rounds of FSH/IUI and a canceled IVF cycle. My donor egg would have been Marybeth’s egg but it’s a lot easier getting her egg fertilized in her body rather than mine. Since I didn’t think I would be a happy and comfortable pregnant woman (not many are and I know I have a low pain tolerance), I handed the baton to Marybeth. Using an anonymous egg donor does add a good $10,000 to the cost of IVF which is about $7,500 in our region. But prices are very variable depending on where you live. In some states and under some insurance plans, it’s fully covered.
What were the most influential factors in deciding whether to adopt, foster, or get pregnant?
Christina: We never considered fostering, but the debate between adoption and fertility treatments was decided by my raging hormones and money. I also really wanted to be pregnant and to have a genetic connection to the baby. On the practical side, our insurance declined to cover our fertility treatments but we were eligible for a 20% discount with the fertility center we worked with. With donor materials, drugs, monitorings and procedures, we spent approximately $8,000. Most adoption fees were $20,000-$30,000. Money won.
Lucy: We both wanted to carry a child so we did. I went first, she went second and we used the same donor. We didn’t really consider other options.
Asher: I had always planned to adopt. I didn’t want to be pregnant (even though I thought pregnancy and childbirth was the most fascinating thing ever) and I never believed that blood ties made a family so it seemed the natural choice. Unfortunately within the past two years it became pretty apparent that adoption was too pricey for my working class self to be able to afford anytime soon. I had to grieve for that imagined future. I’m already an anxious squiggle so the uncertainty of fostering to adopt would not work for me. I decided to go the pregnancy route for those reasons.
Jess: We initially planned to have bio kids. A few years and more than six rounds of artificial insemination later, we decided that bio connection was less important to us than having kids in our lives. I’d been involved in facilitating local queer youth groups nearly all of my adult life and knew how many LGBTQ teens were without stable homes. Remembering this fact got us involved in the foster system. We intended to take in only LGBTQ teens but, as with nearly every aspect of parenting, plans often change!
Marybeth: We did discuss adoption, but we would have wanted to adopt from China, based on Michelle’s heritage, and they don’t allow same-sex parent adoption. And I always wanted to experience pregnancy, so getting pregnant was the way to go!
KaeLyn: Like Michelle and Marybeth, we wanted to adopt from Korea because I was adopted from Korea. But they don’t allow same-sex or single parent adoption. I always thought I’d adopt. I thought it would be good for an adopted kid to have a mom who is also adopted because there are things about being an adoptee that are really…well, hard for people who aren’t to grasp. In the process of grieving that Korean adoption wasn’t going to happen, we realized that adoption itself was just going to be so much more expensive and harder. I also realized that I really wanted a Korean kid, which I know is like…maybe a little weird…or at least weird to me. I’d always judged white folks who only wanted white kids and here I was feeling like I wanted to share my ethnicity with my child. I mean, it’s different, but it was shocking to me that I was feeling this way. If I’m successful in conceiving, using Korean sperm (which is what we are doing), I will meet someone who has my genetic material for the very first time in my life and that is kind of cool. I can’t help feeling like it’s pretty cool.
I don’t have a girlfriend, but I feel like I’m ready to start a family. Is it going to be hard to adopt or to get fertility treatment as a single woman?
Christina: I can’t speak to adoption agencies, but most fertility centers will work with whoever wants to work with them. Most of the insemination procedures are relatively simply and do not require a recovery time after (I can’t speak to IVF, we didn’t go through that), so you’re not leaning on a partner for support. I will say that the two week wait after each procedure is emotionally agonizing, so it will be helpful to have someone to lean on. You will definitely need some kind of emotional and physical support for labor and the first two weeks of the child’s life.
Marybeth: I agree with Christina about the emotional impact and about having support when you are first home with a newborn. I do not know how single parents do it. I am amazed by them!
KaeLyn: Adoption can be harder as a single parent because part of the process is proving you will be a “good parent” to the birth parents looking to place their kids in “perfect homes.” There is still a lot of stigma out there, which sucks and is ridiculous. That said, it’s not impossible. If you’re ready, I’d say go and start exploring your options. Talk to an adoption agency. I agree with Christina that fertility centers will probably work with you no matter what. You should figure out if you have any coverage through your health insurance. It can be pretty costly without. But I doubt you’d have trouble finding a fertility clinic unwilling to work with you.
Are there lists of queer-friendly medical practitioners (gynos, primary care physicians, and pediatricians)?
Michelle: There is a great organization called GLMA (sounds like “glama” as in “glamorous”) which stands for Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. They have been advocating for equality in healthcare for LGBT individuals and healthcare professionals since 1981. On there website, www.glma.org there is a “Find a Provider” link.
KaeLyn: If there is a local LGBTQ organization near you, reach out and see if they have a community directory. A lot of it is word of mouth, so if you know folks who have kids, ask them who they go to!
Your Questions About Adoption
How have adoption laws changed for same-sex couples after Obergefell v. Hodges?
Jess: In New York, it really hasn’t changed anything because same-sex marriage was already legally performed and recognized, and I think in many other states things are still very much up in the air. In just the past few years, however, a major change in NY has been that same-sex parents can be listed on a birth certificate together at birth or at adoption. Previously, the parent with biological connection was listed at birth and the other parent had to go through “second parent adoption”. This was a full adoption process with a home study and court decisions, even if the parents were already living together and civilly united (or married) at the time of the child’s birth.
KaeLyn: Obergefell v. Hodges definitely sets the stage for adoption laws to open across the U.S. to same-sex couples. However, it isn’t an explicit change in law. I think it will go lawsuit by lawsuit and state by state, but eventually it should make it easier. This should be obvious, but just for clarification, I think this will eventually change for married same-sex couples. Unmarried couples may still have to go through second parent adoption. Wherever you live, you should talk to a lawyer if you are getting ready to adopt with your spouse and find out what the laws are and what your rights are in your state.
Is international adoption an easier option than domestic adoption? Why or why not?
KaeLyn: It is not necessarily easier or harder as a universal standard. Different countries have different laws and policies on adoption. Joint adoption by same-sex couples is legal in 21 countries and some additional territories. However, the countries that have the most adoptable children (Russia, South Korea, China, Ethiopia, Guatamala) all openly ban same-sex adoption. In the U.S., it is very possible to find a friendly adoption agency. Domestic adoption can be harder, in general, if you are looking for an infant or a white baby, specifically. There are plenty of adoptable kids in the U.S., but a lot of prospective adoptive parents look over kids of color, kids with disabilities, and older kids. Foster adoption is generally more affordable, but can come with a lot of challenges (as Jess outlines a couple questions down). So it’s not an issue of whether it’s easier or not, so much as what you want. And how easy that specific thing you want is compared to your other options.
Why is adoption so expensive? (I wanted to adopt but so far based on price range, I’m considering IVF.)
Jess: It’s kind of like private vs public anything (grade school, college, healthcare, etc.): paying more can mean more “choice.” Adoption through foster care has only a fraction of the monetary costs of private adoption. Our lawyer and filing fees were even covered by the state for our adoption.
Asher: What I’ve seen it attributed to is that there are many people are involved in the adoptions process (various lawyers, clerks, interpreters, secretaries, etc) who need to be paid for their services and the fact that filing legal documents costs money in and of itself. Personally, I’d like more government oversight on how much can be charged for adoption reasonably because even factoring in service provider fees and filing fees the cost of adoption seems excessive.
I’m an aroace, and I’ve always wanted to adopt, but I know I’d be doing it w/o a partner. Do i even have a chance?
Jess: At least in NY, single-parent adoption is the same as two-parent adoption, even through foster care. When we trained, there were many single-parent homes represented in our class and we know many single foster and adoptive parents now. Of course it’s going to present particular challenges but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Is it really easier to adopt through the foster system? Do I have to be a foster parent first to adopt through the foster system?
Jess: I don’t know that “easier” is a useful word here. Financially, this may be accurate because costs like travel, home study and certification, and legal fees are covered, but foster-to-adopt cases can be extremely emotionally taxing. Few children placed in foster care are instantly ready to adopt (even newborns), and the vast majority of children adopted through foster care spend years in care before becoming freed for adoption. Most states and counties work very hard to help bio families stay intact, and well they should. Our son was placed with us when he was discharged from the hospital at three days old and was not freed for adoption until just after his second birthday.
During those two years, there were many many parental visits, doctor appointments, and court appearances we had no voice during (in NY foster parents do not have any legal rights until a child is completely freed), and more than one time we thought he would leave us forever. In his case, the final adoption steps were uneventful and smooth, but this is also not always the case. For the past year and a half we have been fostering a teenager who was headed for adoption early on in the case, but just this past week the placement was disrupted (this is the nice way of saying it all fell apart). That is devastating and we will be grieving this for a long time, I imagine. So, yeah, easier is not the first word I’d use to describe foster to adopt situations.
Why did you decide to become a foster parent? Can you become a foster parent for LGBTQI kids, in particular?
Polly: We initially entered the foster care system to be able to provide homes from LGBTQI teens and never imagined that we would take anyone younger. For us, Monroe County foster care loves the idea of having homes that will take any teens and homes that will take LGBTQI teens are in short supply. We have fostered several LGBTQI youth and have enjoyed having them in our home (for the most part). However, teens come with a special set of challenges that many folks looking to adopt do not anticipate including bio families that sometimes do not like their children being in your home (no matter what the circumstances under which the children were removed). We often attend information sessions for prospective foster parents to encourage other families to take on LGBTQI teens. Currently, we are still open as foster parents because we would like to adopt another African American child so that our son has a sibling that resembles him.
What are your feelings on closed v. open adoption?
Jess: For us, this wasn’t really a choice since most adoptions through foster care are “open.” Although we have an open adoption for our son, his birth mother does not have freedom to contact him at her discretion. Because we adopted out of foster care, the terms of post-adoption contact were agreed upon in court with both parties agreeing in writing. However, since our son’s adoption was just finalized this past June, we are still early on in the whole “rest of your childhood” thing as far as contact goes. The potential benefits to the open arrangement (at this time) outweigh the negatives. Since ours is a transracial adoption, we hope that having some connection to his birth family will provide our Little Dude with cultural connection. We also hope that it might be a little easier for him in the future to understand why he was placed for adoption if he can have input from all sides of his life. To be honest, we don’t know that communication with his birth mother will stay regular throughout Little Dude’s life, but we will try hard to keep any connection we can.
KaeLyn: I feel super strongly about open adoption. As an adoptee, I wish I had more information about my biological parents and family. I wish I knew more about my health history, yes. But I also wish I knew more about where I came from and why I was given up. Or left for dead. Or whatever happened. It is very weird to have a whole part of your life, a really important part that non-adoptees never even think about, as a blank spot. Everything that happened to me before 17 months is completely blank. It’s a movie without a beginning, a story with no exposition. So you make up stories, origin stories. Or your parents do. Or you obsess over it. Or you bury it. I feel like I have a healthy relationship with my blank origin story, but I do wish I had something to fill that blank space. When people ask where I was born, I say South Korea, because it’s true and also because that is literally as specific as I can be.
It’s important to know there are different kinds of open adoption. You don’t have to assume that you’ll invite the birth mom over for Thanksgiving dinner if you choose open adoption. It doesn’t have to be that open. That said, many psychologists agree that open adoption is the healthiest choice for the adopted child. It can be more stressful for the adopted parents, for sure, for fear that their child won’t bond to them if the birth mom is in the picture. Or that the birth parents will try to regain custody. But I personally think anyone who adopts should be putting their kids first and thinking about what is best for their adopted children’s health and well-being before their own.
I have to say, my spouse felt differently about adoption and it was what ultimately made it so adoption was not even on the table. Neither of us felt we would change our minds and closed adoption was a deal-breaker for me.
Do you worry about adopting a child who is a different race? What kind of things should I think about?
Asher: I have so many feels about this. As a black person, it concerns me that most adoption agencies don’t require parents to take classes on race before adopting transracially. It concerns me that most white adoptive parents don’t seek to educate themselves on their own because they don’t think about the reality of parenting a child of color. It concerns me that white parents (I say white because it’s overwhelmingly white people who adopt transracially) may make few efforts to give their child a way to connect with their culture and those who do don’t often keep up with it long term.
If you’re white and you’re considering adopting transracially, you need to think about whether or not you live in an area where your child will feel like an outsider because of their race. You need to think about how your family will treat them and whether or not you’re willing to cut off contact with people who make disparaging remarks about your child or people of color. You need to be willing to educate yourself on how to care for your child’s hair if they have hair that is significantly different from yours or be willing to seek outside help in caring for their hair. You need to understand that while your child is in your presence they may get temporary shelter in your white privilege but when they are out in the world by themselves they will be facing the world as a person of color and will be treated as such.
You need to teach them how to deal with racism or at least give them access to others who can do such. You should think about your reasoning for wanting to adopt a child of a different race (are you trying to play white savior, are you seeing them as an exotic thing to be collected, are you open to the idea because it’s easier to adopt a child of color and not really considering the reality of raising a person of color in a racist world, etc). You should think about the fact that when parents try to raise their non-white child as if they were white, don’t talk to them about race, and don’t consistently provide them ways to access their culture, transracial adoptees can start to see themselves as being white. They may have a lot of trouble when the world doesn’t treat them like they’re white or when they realize that they’re not white and feel upset about being denied that connection to their heritage. So basically if you’re thinking about adopting a child of a different race you should think about how racism impacts people of color, how willing you are to put in the work required to raise a non-white child, and how best to support your child in connecting with their heritage and dealing with racism.
Jess: We most definitely thought long and hard about raising a black child before we adopted and issues of race and racism are at the front of our minds daily. Preparing our families for welcoming not just an adopted child into our world, but a black adopted child, was no easy task and is not truly over and may never be. We know that there are many white people and people of color who are absolutely against transracial adoption; we face the very loudest of them often, and we do understand why we are approached with strong opinions.
Neither my wife nor I grew up in particularly diverse settings (I had only two non-white classmates in high school and my wife had zero) so this has to be a very conscious effort for us. There are little things we do for our son like bring him to a black barber and make sure his toy and book selections represent him as much as they do us, and we consider our own education to be a lifetime process. We read (a lot) and participate in transracial adoption communities online. We recognize that we cannot adequately prepare our son for the world we live in alone so we truly make his cultural education and identity formation a community affair. We are lucky to live and work in a far more diverse environment than either of us were raised in and would never consider moving anywhere where this was not the case. Though he is just shy of three, we do discuss race (age appropriately of course) and make it a very present aspect of our family life.
KaeLyn: Growing up in a white family, it took me a long time to unlearn the internalized racism I picked up growing up. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. It is just what it’s like to grow up in a white family with white friends in a rural, white area and with white people everywhere on TV and in my Teen Bop magazine. It’s the world. I had a lot of curiosity about Asian culture when I was little and my parents got me books and found things for me to watch and experience. However, I didn’t really understand Korean culture as separate from Chinese and Japanese culture. Like it is in America, I learned about big “A” “Asian,” the white-washed version of what Asian culture is. Rice. Pandas. Peace signs. It wasn’t until I was much, much older that I really started identifying as Korean-American and exploring what that means to me.
A few years ago, I was on a trip with my parents and they were reading this book about Korean-American adoptees, essays by South Korean adoptees. My dad was like, “Was it like this for you?” and I read the book and I think he was surprised to know that it was, in a lot of ways. I never had serious mental health stuff because of internalized racism or feelings of being an outsider in all white and Asian cultures, but I empathized a lot with the essays in the book. My dad was really surprised and I think maybe a little sad that I’d felt that way growing up and still do sometimes. I don’t know if there’s anything he could have done to change it. It just is what it is.
I agree with Asher that it is really a travesty that parents aren’t given more education about transracial adoption. I think a lot of parents get it right, though, as much as they can. I’m not opposed to transracial adoption, not at all. I don’t think my parents failed me. I think it would be have been better, though, if both my parents and I had more info growing up. I think it would have been better if there were more resources for transracial adoptees and their adoptive parents.
What kind of relationship does your kid (adopted) have with their biological parents, if any?
Polly: Our son is young yet so he has no relationship currently with his biological parent. She is allowed one visit per year by our contact agreement and we will, of course, honor this agreement. However, since we live quite far apart geographically, and his birth mom is transient, it may be difficult for him to really develop a relationship with his birth parent.
KaeLyn: As an adoptee, I don’t have a relationship with my biological parent(s). I was abandoned, not surrendered, so I’d have to do some digging to find them. I used to imagine that it would be something I’d do. I fantasized about it when I was little. Unfortunately, with almost no information to go on, I think it would be too hard. I’ve come to an OK place with that. I don’t even necessarily want to have an ongoing relationship with my biological parent(s). I just would like to know who they are. (Oh, boi, I feel like I’m putting my adoptee shit all over this part. Hope it’s helpful and not annoying!)
Is it harmful for kids to not know their biological parents?
Polly: Based on everything that we have read and learned, yes, it is absolutely harmful for kids not to at least know some basic details about their biological parents. Many children, when denied facts about their origins, mythologize and aggrandize their birth families to a degree that proves harmful if the child ever obtains truthful information about his family of origin. We feel that it is best to reveal this information to children (if available) in an age-appropriate fashion so that being adopted and having a birth family becomes just another facet of their life-story.
KaeLyn: Accurate, Polly, very accurate. My cousin used to make me play a pretend game called, “Orphan,” in which we’d pretend to be living on the street with dogs as our only friends. I hated that game. I was in college when I realized that the story the adoption agency told my parents (that I was left with a note pinned to me that said my family loved me, but couldn’t care for me, etc.) was probably a lie. I realized because I met someone who had the exact same story, practically word for word. And who later found out they were abandoned in an industrial field in China. This kind of story, combined with the serious burn marks on my arms when I was little (I still have permanent scars.) makes a lot more sense than the note one. I looked into it and found that the standard story American parents are given is the “poor orphan with a note from a poor family.” It felt good to come closer to what probably really happened. It also hurt to contend with the reality that I was truly unwanted and was even possibly neglected and abused. I had to grieve the origin story I made up in my head, based on what my parents told me and what the adoption agency told them. I’m still glad to know. I think if you are able to tell your kids about their origin, you really should. Having that connection is huge.
How do you talk to kids about being adopted? What kind of questions do they have?
Jess: I am always stunned to learn that there really are parents out there who try to hide that their child is adopted: even from the child! I cannot imagine doing this. So far our son doesn’t ask questions since he is still very young, but we read books about different ways to make families all the time. We will always be open with him as he starts to ask more questions, tricky as it may be. He does understand (as well as he can) that he has a mommy and a momma, while some kids have a mommy or a daddy, a mommy and a daddy, or two daddies. Starting him with all of the possibilities means not having to change what he understands later on. So far it doesn’t seem to be a big deal for him.