The fact that we are adopting an orphan from Ethiopia in 2011 seems to be a conversation starter.  We get well-wishes, odd looks, and from the bold, questions.  On the chance that other people have the same questions, we will take a moment to share our answers.

Why are you adopting?

We can have kids naturally.  We have already done it three times, and if we wanted to and ever both stayed awake past the weather, there is a good chance we could have a fourth naturally.  To be absolutely clear, we are choosing to adopt in direct preference to conceiving and giving birth to another child naturally.  This strikes many as odd, but it isn’t odd to us because…

I was adopted and Marissa’s grandmother was a foster parent for decades, so neither of us ever saw adoption as anything foreign.  When we were re-exposed to adoption after we already had our family started, it held a soft spot in each of our hearts.  For us, there were no walls or myths to break through.  Then as we grew in our understanding of God, his spiritual adoption of us and scripture on earthly adoption, we felt a common call to choose adoption to grow our family.  When Marissa became pregnant with Connor, the conversation stopped for a while — but just a while.  After Connor was born, we explored adoption with more vigor.  We saw it everywhere we turned and each of us thought about it near constantly.  It seemed like everyone we met had adopted or was considering doing so.  In 2008, we moved church families and simultaneously adoption became a central mission of our new church.  In our daily studies, verse after verse kept bringing us back to it.  In our quiet times during prayer, adoption pushed forward and advanced.  All this to explain what we mean when we say we felt called to adopt.  I don’t mean we heard a thundering voice — maybe some do.  But from what we did understand, we were both certain that God called us to adopt a child to add to our family, so the question shifted from “why adoption?” to “why not adoption?”  Most objections are based more on myth than reality.  The three we heard most were that it is hard to bond with an adopted child, there was a lot of risk that something would be wrong with the adopted child, and it is so expensive.  No, No and No, but in order:

Bonding Issues:  Our childhood exposure to adoption taught us that it alone does not make a difference in relationship or feelings of kinship.  Almost 100 percent of these feelings are developed through common experiences and they are fostered by emotional investment.  We know emotionally distant, disconnected natural children and emotionally distant, disconnected adopted children.  There are certainly a few bonding hurdles in an international adoption or the adoption of an older kid that come more out of physical separation through key nurturing moments than the fact of adoption. But even tough I am not a scientist, I would venture to guarantee that a child adopted at birth will have the same emotional attachment as that same child were he born naturally, controlling for the larger variables of the parents and situations.  Even to the extent some of these variables are exacerbated by an adoption or the adopted child is older and has missed some nurturing and love, we are convinced that it is never too late to love the adopted child out of these issues.  We think that adoption is blamed for bonding issues that probably have more to do with other variables, and I even did so in my younger years (see John’s story).  Now, our family really looks at the boding question as a challenge for faith, love and focus.  I would be lying if I said there was absolutely no fear of bonding, but we refuse to reject a baby who needs a home out of fear.

There is an absolute risk that something will be wrong with the child we adopt, but that has more to do with the risks we have accepted as a part of our unique adoption (malnutrition and developmental delays are pretty common in Ethiopia).  Most agencies allow an adoptive couple to control for what they are able to take on.  Adoptive couples fill out a rather dehumanizing preference sheet, and if they want, they can rule out anything but the picture of health, and even select the gender and other features.  Ask any family who has been blessed by the birth of a child with special needs, and you will find that there is more control in an adoption than natural birth if you choose to exercise it.  I am not advocating adopting a designer baby, because I have been the most blessed and inspired reading the stories of adoptive couples accepting and loving children who were older and threatened with aging out of care, children born with AIDS, and children with other special needs.  These stories and the faith these families have is awesome.  What I am saying is that there is plenty of room in adoption for families to reach as far as they can to love an orphan, even if that isn’t very far.

Adoption costs some real money, but it isn’t as expensive as people think.  Our adoption will likely cost around $18,000 plus the travel costs.  Our travel costs will add between $7,000 and $10,000 and could run more if we are blessed with the means to take Owen, or Owen and Roni.  Taking the low side to give my argument more persuasive force, that is $27,000.  The US government allows a dollar for dollar tax credit of $10,300.  Taking that amount off my total, that leaves the cost at $16,700 once you get the credit back.  Childbirth can run $10,000 including all the prenatal, unless you have a great maternity plan (which still costs money).  So with a little subtraction, I get down to around a $6,700 difference.  That is just about how short we are, so I can tell you that is some real money.  At the same time, we are confident God will provide that money some way as long as we have the faith to not let a few dollars stand in the way of making an orphan our child.

Why Ethiopia?

This is perhaps the most common question we are asked and has may iterations:           “Aren’t there plenty of kids here?” “Isn’t that too much trouble?”  “Aren’t the children in Ethiopia black?”  While the answer to each of the questions is “yes,” the questions themselves really miss the point.

Most Americans adopt domestically either through an agency or through state child welfare agencies.  We never considered an agency adoption because there is usually a longer line of adoptive parents than available children.  We have three kids so we did not need to be additional demand in a situation where demand was high.  We considered Texas Family and Protective Services.  Thousands of Texas kids end up in the foster system because of neglect, drugs or disability.  The lingering challenges of neglect, drugs and disability are all the more reason that these children need homes.  I think Texas FPS is a wonderful option for many families.  We didn’t feel it was right for us right now, but it may be perfect for anyone who asks “aren’t there plenty of kids here?” Indeed there are and they need homes — please step up.

America has state systems of foster care; the rest of the world has orphanages, and there are 143 million orphans living in them.  Every morning they wake up in an institution without a parent to love them and without a family to belong to.  There is no dad to show the young boys how to become men and there is no mom to hold them when they are hurting.  Over time,the institution undermines the spirit and if the children remain in the orphanage until they age out, they are likely to turn to prostitution, crime or other bad ends.  To be blunt, the kids need out of the orphanages as quickly as possible, but most of the world’s orphans are crowded into the world’s poorest corners so there aren’t enough families in those countries to absorb the orphans.  Some countries allow those from other countries to step in to bridge the gap, and we felt called to rescue one child from the bad odds; to bring one former orphan from another country into our house as our child to share equally in all our family’s love  — an orphan no more.

We looked at Ethiopia first.  Maybe it was famine and telethons in the early 80’s, but Ethiopia has always been on our

hearts and minds.  From what we understood, 13 % of children in Ethiopia are missing one or both parents; 4.6 million are orphans — many from AIDS.  The numbers were so bad, we looked away.  We looked at China next; We looked to Guatemala;We looked at Eastern Europe/Russia.  None felt right, and we felt drawn back to Ethiopia.  We  heard and read stories about the problems and we met people who adopted from Ethiopia almost everywhere we went.  We tried to stayopen minded and went to an adoption information session on    international adoption from all countries, but everyone there gave a testimonial on Ethiopia.  The  more we prayed and talked, the more united we were in the feeling that Ethiopia was right for us, and  we decided to jump out.  There is nothing more elegant to the story.

Choosing Ethiopia promised a culture shock for our extended families and some friends.  It may be why this is the most common question we get, but we really don’t care about the color of the child — one way or the other. I didn’t need to have a black child as a badge to show anyone who looks that I adopted or to force a conflict with some ignorants, but neither does the conflict necessarily bother me.  All those people and their concerns aren’t the point; the point is we wanted to rescue an orphan from an uncertain fate and Ethiopia is a place that could use one less — nothing more nothing less.  We can’t say whether the adoption will cause some greater  life-long attachment or mission relationship with Ethiopia; maybe it will, maybe it won’t — that isn’t for us to say and that isn’t important right now.  Right now, Ethiopia is the center of it all because it is where our child is, likely just a few months old and we need to get there soon.