Thursday, April 23, 2009

Question on Fees (a bit of a ramble..)

As usual, my heart did it's familiar flippity flop when I saw Liz's name in my inbox. But the title of her email left me feeling unsure of whether or not to be excited. The subject line read "Question on Fees." What did this mean? These days anything to do with money causes my stress levels to rise, and my tummy to take it's own crack at the flippity-flop.

Turns out what this meant was that Liz wanted to show our profile to a birth mother whose adoption would be more expensive than what we had originally planned for. Because of the grant program we're participating in the actual cost increase for us would be negligible, so we gave her the go ahead to put our book in the stack. But I don't think it will ever stop being odd to me that some babies are more expensive than others to adopt.

This baby is bi-racial, instead of 100% African American, whatever that means. Well, I know what it means, but it still freaks me out that it costs more. White babies, of course, cost the most. This is not why we are adopting transracially. But the system is designed this way so that more people will consider adopting black and brown children.

To be clear - all adoptions cost a certain amount of money, regardless of race. The actual, real money it costs might vary by state or agency, but not by race or ethnicity. For example, in states where there is good public health insurance available for low income pregnant women costs are less, because the agency/adoptive parents don't have to pay for prenatal care and hospital fees. Of course, the government is paying for them, in that case, so the cost is still there. And depending on the individual costs for the agency - salaries for social workers, travel fees, etc. which usually reflect things like cost of living in different areas, the amount of overhead an agency needs in order to stay afloat affects the costs to complete a good and ethical adoption. These are real costs, and no one is making a profit. The goal of a good adoption agency is to find good homes for the children they are working for, and so in order to do this, the agencies charge less than the actual costs for harder-to-adopt children and babies so that families who want to adopt but can't afford it (like us) have options. And, to make it up, they charge more than actual costs for the easier-to-adopt children and babies. The fact that race is one of the main factors, along with age, gender, and special needs, in what makes a baby or child more or less difficult to find adoptive parents for is a reflection on our culture, not on the agencies themselves.*

There is so much going on in this dynamic that it's almost impossible to unpack, even if I was able to get emotional distance from it, which is frankly impossible. It looks, from the outside, as if black and brown babies are the least valuable, which is just not true. This is the knee-jerk reaction we had, the first time we were exposed to this sort of pricing and this is the knee-jerk reaction that most of the people I talk to have. Indignation and disgust are common emotional responses. I agree. Yet, without these financial incentives we would not be able to afford adoption.

I'm not going to pretend that this dynamic isn't disturbing, or that it is okay. In an ideal world no babies would need to be adopted, or there would be no-cost very open ways to facilitate adoptions. But this is our world, where things like race, gender, economic status, physical ability, and location in the world do make a difference in how culture assigns value to individual people. The system is flawed. And Andrew and I on our own cannot change it.

But maybe our family can be part of making it change. I'm not naive enough to think that we can keep our little family unit insulated from the racism and judgement of our broader culture, but I am naive enough to be determined to build a family that both deals openly with that reality and works hard to reject the values that we know are morally wrong, such as racism and consumerism. Money isn't the most important indicator of value in our family. Neither is economic status, or physical ability or gender. Race and ethnicity, while vital and important parts of who we are that shouldn't be dismissed, ignored, or diminished, do not in and of themselves indicate how valuable, special, or important someone is. And our best hope for changing this system is our kids, who have the very best chance to do something totally different in the world.

So yes, this whole money thing makes me uncomfortable. But there is a lot about adoption that makes me uncomfortable. I do not think that is a bad thing. In fact, I expect that as I become a parent and begin to see the world from the position of advocate for my child as well as for my husband and myself there will be a lot that I see out there that makes me uncomfortable. I hope I have the courage to notice it, to encounter it, and to make good decisions about when to work with that uncomfortable world, when to reject it, and when to focus on being, and raising up a family that will be, change in it.

*I should note that I not an expert on adoption, these are my impressions and not a representation of cold hard facts.


  1. You know the thing about the outrageous cost of adoption, is that once you are able to really sit down with someone and see where the fees go, most of the time it does make sense. But it's so hard to explain to others, who just get caught up in "it's so expensive, that's just wrong" (like explaining how much IVF cost), which is a response that doesn't help when you are coming to terms with the cost yourself.

  2. it's all so ridiculous.. i can't say it better than you did.

  3. I've had the same issue with our adoption. We chose Ethiopia because of the fees were so much less than any of the other countries. To us, it didn't matter what race the child was, but evidently, that matters to a lot of people. It's very sad.

  4. It's such a complicated issue... I can't even pretend to know what to say. Thank you for writing about it.