On Veganism and Adoption
I've been under the radar for a bit, anxiously awaiting the adoption finalization of Baby Sky. But now that she's officially ours, I feel like I can write about a topic that means a lot to me without the fear that my words might somehow jeopardize the adoption.
As someone who was very, very late to the wanting-a-baby party (my desire didn't kick in until almost 40), and who did attempt to have a biological child, I'm particularly qualified to say what I'm about to say.
Marriage/coupleship is composed of two individuals. Adding a child to that partnership is an idea that is so important that I tend to say that people who know that they want kids shouldn't even date people who know that they don't want kids. Such pairings usually don't end well, though they do have a predictable trajectory, with each person either "waiting out" the other person or actively trying to change their mind . . . to no avail.
I don't, for the record, consider this issue analogous to omnivores dating vegans, as my husband went vegan overnight three years ago this month. I think vegans dating omnivores is a great idea as it's an opportunity to support someone in a way that you really can't support anyone else. I do the shopping, cooking and baking, and I find vegan accessories for him to choose from. When he travels or goes out with clients, I make suggestions or arrangements for him. This isn't to say he couldn't do all of that himself; it's easy for me and doesn't take much effort or time. The point is that I'm here, paying attention and anticipating needs. In three years my husband hasn't had one episode of backsliding or even the inclination. I can't say what would've happened if his veganization wasn't made so easy–all I can say for certain is that it was successful.
Back to kids, though. Each person in the couple brings their own beliefs about children and parenting, and any therapist will tell you that men have a more difficult time warming up to the idea of adoption than women. For some reason, they have a deep desire to duplicate themselves. They want to see some of themselves in the face of another.
I understand that desire, and though I might have had it for five minutes, I've also always been fond of the idea of providing a loving home to someone who needs one. And this is where I think about veganism. I wouldn't dream of paying someone to create a dog or cat–of intentionally bringing a dog or cat into this world–when there are so many who need homes.
It's common for men–and women–to be wary about adoption, and in particular about the bonding process. There's this suspicion that maybe because the child isn't yours biologically, you might not bond, or you bond in a qualitatively differently (read: not optimal) way with the child. Adoptive parents will tell you that there's nothing they can say to you to convince you of this, but it's simply not true. And though I have no human to compare Sky to (but I do have Emily, Violet and Charles!), I can confidently say that I cannot imagine loving Baby Sky any more than I do.
My message for today is that I think that vegans should be promoting adoption of humans more than we do. The adoption process isn't easy for vegans, and it's less easy for atheist vegans who don't think the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks in the developed world in 2010. But obviously it's possible.
Please know that I am not against anyone having a biological child. I not only understand the desire, but I also understand that you aren't the only person in your relationship, and sometimes it takes someone a while to warm up to the idea of the timing of having children, and to demand that they get on board with adoption in addition to timing is a bit much. However, as a vegan and environmentalist, I see a connection between the adoption of human children and the adoption of sentient nonhumans. I see a connection between veganism (and environmentalism) and the concept of adoption, in general.
Sky is so beautiful! I'm glad that you're able to build your family in such a genuine way. My husband and I also want kids, and have discussed adoption if getting pregnant doesn't work out. We have wondered if we'd be "marketable" parents, so to speak, being liberal vegans who don't do the mainstream-religion thing, but your story gives me hope.
Thanks, Shannon. There's definitely an art to presenting yourself in a favorable light, and being matched with the right agency or attorney for your is a big part of it. I'll be writing more about this and if you'd like me to address anything particular, let me know.
Congratulations! I really applaud your decision on adoption!
Even before being a vegan, I never thought about having a biological child knowing that there are so many abandoned children in need of a good home and caring, loving parents (and there are LOTS of kids in that situation here in Brazil). I'm even fine with people that have one child of their own and then adopt at least another one (or more). However, opting for having only one biological child (or children) is one of the most egoistic things I can think of. It even makes my blood boil as can't find a single rational excuse for it.
Not adopting means more pressure on the planet resources, will make the lives of those "unwanted" children unnecessarily hard, painful and will lower their chances of having good education, good jobs, which only helps to paint a bleaker picture for the future of our society (worst wealth distribution, more violence and so on). Not adopting is a shot in society's own foot.
Sorry for the rambling and about my bad English. And, again, my congratulations!
Congratulations once again Mary. And thank you for putting down in words what I too see as a strong link between adoption of human children and the adoption of sentient nonhumans.
My wife and I are currently waiting for that 'call' to say that we've been 'allocated a child'; all the other hurdles have been jumped. We, like you, will be 'older' parents, and s/he will also be our first human child.
In our relationship, it was my wife who had to come to accept adoption as an option, for me it was simple: we have adopted so many lonely, used or abused animals and birds and we love and adore every one of them. Why would a child be any different? For my wife though, she always felt she had to give birth to her own 'flesh-and-blood'. I assumed this would be the case for most women, and most men, like me, would find adoption a clear, early option.
I also realized that, despite my strong inclination towards adoption, there was no convincing/ rushing my wife. It took years of failed IVF and deep consideration of adoption before she looked at adoption in the incredibly positive light she does now. For my part, I had to accept that we may never adopt.
Most important, is that the decision for us to have a child changed from 'We must have a child' to 'We believe we can make the world a better place for at least one little human. And we might just find a whole lot of joy in return.' And 'lil 'un will just love Avondale and all his/ her fellow sentient adoptees!
I am adopting. I'm an atheist vegan and I haven't found those issues to be barriers. The vaccines… that could pose problems.
But I don't promote adoption anymore. At first I did. I wanted to educate people (they have so much ignorance about adoption, it's ridiculous!) and I wanted to overcome prejudices. But adoption is a really personal and tricky subject. It's the kind of thing people have to find themselves in their own way. I really can't guide them.
May I recommend a few websites?
@CesarVegan – As for having one biological child, I think that's a compulsion that's deep but likely learned. The good news is that if we educate our children about what families are and how they come together (similar to how we educate them about animals and how they have a right to live their natural lives), we have a chance at turning the old, untrue notions around.
@Harry – I wanted to experience carrying a child to term and giving birth. For me, that was what I was missing. Frankly, I've always felt like I'm not exactly a genetic prize and didn't really want to pass my genetics on to anyone. But of course, unless I used someone else's eggs, my wishes weren't going to be granted.
Good luck on your journey! I know how frustrating it can be, but also how joyful.
@anon-mom – I absolutely agree that adoption is very personal. And there also are many ways to come around to it, and as you say, so much ignorance. I do think we can guide people, though. There are oodles of things that I wish someone told me that would have saved me a lot of time and also some money. As far as barriers, many organizations, and even attorneys, require a statement of faith or even a belief in god. Though some are religious and don't require prospective adoptive parents to share their beliefs, others do. And I never said the word vegan so I can't say what would've happened if I did.
Two things are most important to me: 1) The judgment around adoption (re: why you're doing x and not y; why you chose international and not domestic; private independent versus foster-to-adopt; if you're adopting you must have "failed" the old fashioned way). That irks me enormously.
2) Discussing the connection between veganism and adoption, and opening up a dialogue.
Thanks for the post. Would you mind writing about the process of adopting as a vegan? Were there any particular issues that came up due to your veganism? Did that come up at all? Would it have been a problem if you had tried to adopt an older child?
@Jason – We didn't adopt as vegans. We adopted as a couple, married nearly ten years, who wanted a healthy infant, preferably Caucasian, through private adoption, from the US (although we did start our process as a couple seeking a one-year old boy from Russia, and you don't use the word "healthy" in that process, as all of the children have some kind of diagnosis and are considered special needs because they are in orphanages). There are so many issues that a comment isn't the right place to address them. We presented ourselves the way we did (and there was no lying involved as no one asked about our eating or clothing or other consumer habits) because part way through the process we were coached on how to market ourselves. At no point during the home study did the social worker ask us anything that made us uncomfortable about answering honestly and at no point did she mention food (the obvious component of veganism for most people).
The religion/god/faith part required more nuance and several agencies were clearly not appropriate for us. We answered honestly, of course, never using the word god. We said we'd teach our child about the literature, music and art of the world's religions, and that people believe what they believe largely because of where they were born and whom they were born to.
As for older children, they'd be adopted from outside the US or from the foster care system (i.e., not through independent, private adoption).
I'll write more about this shortly.
Thanks for writing!
Mary said, "many organizations, and even attorneys, require a statement of faith or even a belief in god."
That's probably true for private or charity-run agencies. But for the majority of US adoptions by nonrelatives religion is simply not an issue. The majority of adoptions occur through the foster care system and that system is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race or religion. In our home study we said we're atheists and we described our level of willingness to continue a child's religious practices in our home (we'd be willing to drive them to a place of worship once a week but not more often, etc.) and then we were matched.
Luckily, most children in foster care are not particularly religious and so it's generally a nonissue for this kind of adoption. For us, it didn't pose a single restriction.
Regarding veganism, at first we were urged to accept placement of very young children (even though we wanted school-aged children) because the transition to veganism would be smoother.
But once we got licensed as foster parents we were urged to take any and all children we could. The need for care-givers is so great that once you jump over a few hurdles to become a foster parent (pre-adoptive parent) you'll find yourself in the tragic situation of having to say no over and over. We found ourselves agonizing over the decision to accept of reject placements of many wonderful, adorable, young loving children who need homes. There are simply too many kids who need homes. Far too many.
For vegans, it's sort of like that moment when you realize just how enormous the problem of animal exploitation is. You go vegan and you think you're saying all these lives. Then you realize you're just a tiny drop in the bucket and your own choices hardly matter. You just have to do more.
Once you become involved in US foster care you realize just how many problems there are and how adoption barely scratches the surface of dealing with those problems. You just have to do more.
Like Mary said, there are lots of different kinds of adoptions and the trick is finding the one that best suits the particular situation.
It's complicated. There's no easy answer.
@anon-mom I'm so glad you found this post and you're engaged. From the number of e-mails I've received today I do see how putting myself out there could get very dicey, very soon. The reality is that our adoption story isn't like most and won't look like the majority of private adoptions. It was a fluke after rejecting several potential placements. We received a call from an attorney (not ours) and 48 hours later had a baby in our house.
But I at least want vegans, and also environmentalists who don't want to have biological children, to not stop at "I don't want to bring a child into this world" (or whatever) and move to "here's another way I can help" (yes, a dramatic understatement. As you say, "you just have to do more."
Incidentally, for a decade I was involved with several organizations that serve former foster youth and I was under the impression that you have to agree to provide a diet and a religious experience that the child came from/the birthparents wanted (I'm clearly not saying this right), so vegans would have to–as foster parents–feed accordingly. No major changes are permitted in foster care, I thought. Am I incorrect?
The foster parenting laws and guidelines require that a child be adequately nourished.
It's suggested that you offer foods the child is comfortable eating. And sadly, when it comes to foster kids, they're usually used to a lot of fast food and convenience food. Child after child says their favorite foods are "Mac and Cheese" (and they mean from a box), pizza (and they mean delivery), and McDonald's. But that doesn't mean we should feed them that. Foster parents have a duty to nourish and protect, not a duty to maintain the status quo.
If a kid has allergies or religious reasons for avoiding certain foods, obviously a foster parent has a duty to respect that. But if it's just "I like KFC for dinner" then that can be treated exactly the same as if the child said "I like cookies and ice cream for dinner."
Let me describe how our home study conversation went. It was something like this:
licensing worker: Would you allow the child to eat meat?
me: Not in our home, not with our money. But we're not delusional. We understand that they receive an allowance from the state and if they buy meat at school and eat that, we can't stop it. I wouldn't punish that behavior.
licensing worker: But what if they won't eat anything you offer?
me: I think we'll deal with that when it happens. From my experience, kids are pretty flexible. And there are a lot of fake meats and cheeses these days. Most kids I know will eat a hot dog regardless of whether it's real pig or not.
licensing worker: OK, I think you'd be best suited with young children who don't have firmly established eating habits.
me: OK, that sounds good.
It's all on a case-by-case basis.
I'm vegan, but I am definitely going to have biological children (assuming that I'm able to). Adoption is 100% out of the question for me, whether I'm fertile or infertile. I used to love the idea of adoption and considered adopting ALL of the children that I wanted, but it's not such a lovely option for me now that I've done more research on the adoption industry. Many/most women who adopted out were coerced and even forced into giving their children away to adoption agencies. As it is today, adoption isn't a free choice. When the adoption industry is reformed then I'll gladly promote it as a good option, but until then, I'd rather not risk exploiting a mother. When most people speak about adoption, the birth mother never even comes into the picture. As a pro-choice activist, I can't just ignore that. I have to address the problem and do my best not to contribute to the problem.
With that being said, I don't say this with the intention of portraying those who adopt children as bad people. They have good intentions. I just couldn't take that risk myself.
ProChoiceGal, I admire your convictions, but have you heard of open adoption? I am by no means an expert, but it's how I'd like to adopt if I have the choice. Each birth family is fully involved in the process, chooses their baby's adoptive parents, and remains a part of his or her life. To me, that seems a very healthy and positive arrangement for everyone involved, especially the child.
Sky is gorgeous! She looks so happy and healthy. Obviously a much loved little girl.
Fifteen years a go my husband and I attended a "MAP" program. "Model Approach to Parenting". Over the course of 6 weeks we learned a considerable amount about family dynamics, personal relationships and inner child work. A wonderful learning experience that hopefully would prepare couples to care for another life… A foster child – Possibly one that would be adopted.
Unfortunately there was always the message that the state expected foster parents to make all efforts to reunite child with biological parent. Meaning, if the child was removed from the parents because they neglected or beat the child… Or if the parent was in prison for violent crimes… It was still the responsibility of the foster parent to get the family back together again. "To work hard at it" actually. That this was the primary goal of fostering. I believe they were stuck in the "blood's thicker than water" mentality.
Although it would be painful to care and love a child then return them to a risky situation, if those were the rules, my husband and I were willing to do that… We were certainly ready to give it our best.
The first child we were offered was a 7 year old boy who had been sexually abused… That scenario was much more than I thought we could handle. It thought it was right to be truthful about my doubts and limitations. We declined the boy and were never considered for another child thereafter. 🙁
It left us feeling like something was terribly wrong in the system that would "disqualify" someone if they had specific (and justifiable) reservations. It shouldn't be this focused on returning kids to (monster) parents. But then… All that goes out the window with the realization that some older children, no matter how mistreated they were, still long to be with the only parents they've known.
It's very complicated. I don't have any sure solutions as to the unloved, unwanted, homeless children right now. What I do know is that this situation is the same as with nonhumans. We've got to encourage responsible and planned births. It is totally unacceptable for dogs, cats and human babies to be put in these tragic and desperate lives. I love them all now that they're here… But gee, I wish people would observe reality when they create more. I just wish everyone would just take care of whose here now. :/
Animal Angel, sweet Sky :)…Congratulations Mama.
You may want to do more research. It looks as if you've only considered one form of adoption, the form that happens to be rarest: infant adoption. You're right that there are lots of potential ethical problems with infant adoption but there are also solutions. And don't forget that there are still MILLIONS of children who are orphaned due to disease, war, famine, accidents, etc. Never doubt that there are plenty of children who NEED adoptive homes.
I'm sorry you had a negative experience.
You're right that reunification is the primary and first goal of foster parenting. Foster-to-adopt parents always face the "risk" of returning a child to their biological family. But once that initial time has passed as the bio family has not completed their requirements (drug treatment, anger management counseling, whatever) then the system moves to a new goal of permanency, usually adoption. Depending on your local agency, that process can move relatively smoothly in a reasonable amount of time (1-3 years) or it can be complicated and drag on. It all just depends.
In my current situation, for example, we haven't had to do anything at all to help reunify our foster son with his biological parents or extended family. There was little hope of reunification and all signs point to adoption. Our situation is atypical and I'd say we got a little "lucky" but it's worth remembering that it's possible.
I too am pro choice, and though I'm sure there are problems with the industry, I doubt it's fair to say: "Many/most women who adopted out were coerced and even forced into giving their children away to adoption agencies."
Many? Most? I'd believe "some."
In open and even semi-open adoption of an infant domestically, you speak with and meet the birth mother and father (if possible to meet the father–sometimes it isn't). Several times. You get to know each other to make sure that you're a good match for them and vice versa. I know this because I've been through the process. In open adoption you have direct contact for the rest of the child's life (and semi-open it's indirect).
To say the birth mother doesn't come into the picture is completely inaccurate. Agencies and attorneys usually require the birth mother/parents to choose prospective adoptive parents, although in some cases the match is made for them (and the birth mother wants that).
As a prospective adoptive parent is is YOU who is basically on trial. And the birth mothers can decide against you for any reason. I spent a decent amount of time with one woman who thought I was much younger than I am but then said, "I don't want my son's mother to be 60 when he's 18." And I said, "Well, I'll be 61." And she was so concerned by that, and so attached to that (and there are so many couples who want an infant), that she passed on us and stated our ages as her reason. And that's perfectly fine because she needs to do what makes her comfortable.
In many ways, the birth mother is the boss and the agency or attorney is the facilitator of their wishes. That was definitely my experience.
At no point in my brief work with a handful of agencies and attorneys did we ever encounter a situation where a woman appeared to not be in complete control of what she wanted. In fact, the agencies/attorneys considered it their jobs to make sure the needs of the birth mothers were met, often at considerable financial cost to them and the adoptive parents (within the extent of the law).
Now, I'm just one person with a handful of friends who have had similar adoption experiences (though mine was unique at the end). I wouldn't say "most" experiences are like mine, but I also wouldn't say "most" involve exploiting a mother.