More on International Adoption: Why U.S. Parents Go Abroad

I have a story on our Web site today that attempts to make the case for international adoption, mostly by defending the integrity of prospective parents. Among other things, I point out that many parents who adopt overseas do so only after trying and failing to adopt in the U.S. That point deserves further discussion, and I want to unpack it a bit.

In the U.S., there is a difference between public and private adoption. Public adoption typically involves taking in foster children and then adopting them after several months. It’s significantly less expensive than private or international adoption, but more often than not means adopting children who are older than 5 or who have special needs.

Private adoptions offer a better chance of adopting newborns, and increasingly, birth parents select the adoptive parents themselves. That’s not a bad idea on its face, as it gives biological parents final say in whom they will relinquish their children. But this effectively puts prospective parents in the position of advertising themselves to birth parents in newspapers and online, something many couples feel uncomfortable with. It also invites somewhat arbitrary criteria into the process.

Most states allow birth parents to reclaim their children after the children have been placed with adoptive families, for time periods ranging from a few days in some states to several months in others. Critics of international adoption say this rarely happens. They are only partly right: it’s true that American birth parents don’t usually reclaim children once they’ve been placed with their adoptive families, but they can and do change their minds before the papers are signed—often after prospective parents have spent months planning for the baby’s arrival and in many cases paid the expectant mother’s medical costs.

Not only do adoption laws vary by state, but within states, the eligibility criteria for private adoptions can vary widely from one agency to the next. The different rules and regulations can create a nightmarish and emotionally fraught morass, often depending on little more than the luck of the draw.

International adoption is more expensive than any form of domestic adoption, but in many ways, it is also more straightforward. The chances of a birth parent calling the adoption off are effectively zero; and while costs are high, they’re also determined at the outset and tend not to change as the process wears on. By and large, single women, couples older than 40, and those that have been divorced, tend to have a much easier time adopting overseas than they do in the U.S.

The bottom line, I think, is that when it comes to young, healthy babies available for adoption—demand exceeds supply. And whether or not a given couple seeks their family here or in another country depends on a host of factors, not the least of which is chance.

Couples seeking to adopt should consider all options and get a range of perspectives before deciding which method is best for them. For more information on all forms of adoption, check out this Web site or these books.