Adoption by Another Mother

Tammy will have to adopt her daughter.

We live in an area that allows gay adoption (similar to straight adoption but more fabulous), but because there are so many shitty parts of this country that do not allow gay couples to adopt and we can’t risk being in such a place if/when an emergency happens, we have to spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer to draw up the necessary paperwork, spend a couple of months in limbo, go before a judge, be deemed fit, and then go back to living our lives exactly as they were before, but more…legal.

Insert jazz hands. Legalistic jazz hands.

I’m torn about the whole thing, to be honest. Part of me is insulted that gay couples have to go through this. If a straight couple has to use a third-party to reproduce (i.e. donor gametes), they don’t have to go through all this once they finally achieve their longed for pregnancy. It’s automatically assumed that whatever the mother gives birth to is automatically genetically related to the couple that is assumed to have created it.

But on the other hand, I’m certainly not gambling with my child. Our family will not be the test case family. Sorry. Too precious, too scary. Too much to lose.


While we’re on the general subject of adoption, can I throw a few (virtual) thoughts at you? Keep in mind that my thoughts are colored by my own interactions with people who were adopted or gave up a child for adoption, and my future experience of what we lovingly refer to as a half adopted child.

I have three cousins that were adopted. One of my adopted cousins has passed away so I have no way of knowing what he would have wanted to do, but the other two had different reactions to wanting to find out about their roots. One has reconnected with her birth mother (with the support of her adoptive parents), has gone to visit her and they are friends on Facebook. My other cousin started to investigate his birth parents (again, with the support of his adoptive parents) but after not much effort decided to stop looking. There could definitely be more to his story (maybe he found out something he didn’t want to know? Maybe he got overwhelmed?) but for now, he’s just living with the information he has. Neither of my living adopted cousins wish they had stayed with their birth families, or that they hadn’t been adopted.

My SIL gave up a child because she got pregnant as a teenager, and her family shamed her into it. That’s the long and short of the situation. She recently found the girl online.  My SIL wrote her a letter asking to meet up with her, but the girl, now a woman, declined, for reasons unknown to me.

I also have a friend who is adopted, and I’ve had a lot of long talks with him recently about his experience. It’s a long and complicated story, and while he loves his adoptive family, he feels like adoption is a traumatic, brutal and cruel thing, and every human being has the right to know where they come from. He’s gotten very involved in the adoption rights community.

Obviously, our child’s situation will be different from those I briefly sketched out above. She will know half of her genetic heritage, and we chose a donor specifically because he had agreed to be contacted when any offspring turn 18, should they want to know more about that side of their genetics

Our child will grow up knowing a kind man, called a donor, gave a small bit of himself to help Mama and Mommy make her. Parts from Mommy and parts from the donor made her who she is. She will know that Mama and Mommy are her parents, and that families come in all shapes and sizes. I’m a firm believer that genetics are only a part of who you are…but it’s easy for me to say that, as a person who knows all about her family.

I worry that our child will at some point start to romanticize the donor, or think of him as her dad. Will she wish that she was growing up with him and not us? Probably at some point she will. She will probably say something along those lines to us when she is angry at us. But as much as I try to prepare myself for that moment (or those moments) I know that hearing it will be like a knife in my heart. What happens if our daughter feels like we robbed her of something? What if she resents us? What if her life is less than, because she didn’t grow up knowing what Tammy and I both knew about our families?

What are your thoughts, dear readers? Do you support adoption? Do you think, like my friend does, that adoption should be an absolute last resort? Or do you think it is a beautiful way to build a family? Or is it somewhere in between? What about people using donor gametes?

What rights do children have to know about their genetic history?

13 thoughts on “Adoption by Another Mother

  1. We can’t agree on adoption so have ruled it out. I worry to many people are like your SIL – lacking support – so would have to allow the birth parents to be in our lives. My partner understands but wouldn’t want that contact.

    We’ve had similar talks about a donor that you have had. It’s hard and we have similar concerns. Our friends plan to tell their daughter that this nice man gave them a great gift- I think that romanticizes things too much but what is a simpler age appropriate truth? We only want anonymous donors so differ there but it’s a hard thing to know how to handle.

    We’ve also received criticism for not openly discussing things about the donor and saying we won’t answer questions about his attributes. I think it is rude people would even ask but I guess this is something people expect us to discuss with co workers and at dinner parties?

    In the end, your daughter will know she is fiercely loved by you and Tammy. You’ll answer her questions in whatever way is appropriate for you and encourage her to not look at you and Tammy or genetics to define who she is but instead to look deep inside herself.

  2. Your post is humbling.
    My 2 cents, totally personal and I hope I do not offend anyone else.
    We have no right in knowing where or to whom we will be born. That is fate, or I would say a gamble by destiny. Families are beyond genetics.You do not love a child because he/ she is your X chromosome or DNA # whatever. Every child in a loving environment adopted or not, grows up knowing and loving its family.
    If adoption is the only way out to be a complete family, I think every couple that wants to be parents should pursue it. I do not feel good thinking adoption and denial in the same vein. Denial would be child stealing, adoption is life giving. Your birth parents relinquished you for a reason, however personal, they did it out of love for you. Your adoptive parents did not steal you, they chose to love you.

  3. I understand your frustrations about your partner having to go through the adoption process. My husband and I want to have a baby via gestational surrogacy, and even though it will biologically be OUR child, I actually have to go through legal proceedings (like an adoption) to be their parent. It’s ridiculous. I mean, I’m grateful to whoever decides to loan out their uterus to us, but it’s still my DNA in there.

    My husband and I have also considered adoption but worry about how we’d feel if/when we had to explain the situation and our adopted child would want to meet their birth parents. It’s something weren’t quite sure we wanted to deal with…

    However, my Mom gave a boy up for adoption a few years before she had me. He recently contacted her and we’ve been talking. He’s great, seems like he really fits into the family (even after 28 years of not knowing each other) and we’re excited to meet him. He has thanked my Mom for the brave decision she made because he has lived a wonderful life. For this reason, I don’t think adoption is the worst decision. It works for some people and not for others, just like anything else. We’re hoping that this situation will give us a clearer picture on whether or not we could see ourselves adopting.

    Good luck 🙂

  4. That must be frustrating that Tammy has to adopt. In the UK if you can prove you were a couple before conception your partner’s name will be added to the birth certificate as the second parent.
    As for adoption we would have considered it had we stood any chance of being accepted to adopt in Thailand (where we live). I think an adopted child and a child concieved with donor ‘parts’ will face similar issues when they reach a certain age. I plan to just show them they are loved and supported and try to help them accept this part of their lives.

    • For the record, it’s like that some places here, too: my wife was on our son’s birth certificate from the beginning. The trouble is that much of our family law varies by state, and states don’t have to recognize each other’s laws to the extent that a birth certificate is proof of legal parentage in all of them. States do have to recognize each other’s court orders, though, and adoptions are court orders. That’s why many couples with the option to do so do second-parent adoptions like this. It’s immensely frustrating.

  5. Gah! Crazy that there are so many hoops to making your family. I find this all interesting. My cousin in law and her wife used donor sperm. C-I-L carried the baby but it was wife’s egg and donor sperm. So, wife is biologically mother, but C-I-L is legal birth mother for having birthed the baby. Fascinating and ridiculous that they had to do all of that, but they wanted to be sure both would have legitimate ties no matter where they live eventually. Also, have you seen the movie “The Kids are All Right”? Deals specifically with two kids of a lesbian couple who search out their donor and the effect on the family. Good luck with the adoption and deciding what/ how to tell the story. Either way, you will have lucky lucky kids to have you both.

  6. I absolutely hate that Tammy has to adopt your baby. It makes no sense to me. My dad was adopted by his step-father and we’re thankful every day as his bio-father is a major douche. However, he did grow up knowing his biological past. My husband on the other hand is a product of rape and knew nothing of his bio-father’s genetics. We were lucky enough to meet his half sister at our wedding who has done wonders to help us find answers. Our biggest concerns are what genes could we be passing on to potential children. Hubby never had a relationship with his father, obviously, but it would have been nice to get some answers before he died. I think your concerns are valid but since you plan to be so open with your child, I don’t think it’ll be as big of a problem as you’re worried about. Good luck to you and Tammy. You’ll be wonderful Mommies!

  7. Adoption is a very complicated subject for me. On the one hand, of course a child in need of a family should be given one. On the other hand, adoption by non-relatives is frankly not-ideal. My roommate and I were talking the other day about family history and mental illness. He feels his parents did him a great disservice by not letting him know that there was a family history of depression until after he had been suffering suicide ideation. In an adoptive family those things happen (family history is not known) and there’s no way for parents to do better about it. Even in open adoption, it’s not exactly easy to ask the woman who gave you a child “so, is anyone in your family nuts?” but that’s part of the problem with stigmatization of illness and mental illness especially.

    Adoption within a family is historically more common, and alleviates the family history problem better than adoption by strangers. Genes aren’t everything, but twins separated at birth show surprising amounts of similarity and genetic parents have family history (i.e. children tend to walk early/talk late/do this one weird thing that might appear to be leading to something worrisome but never has) that adoptive families don’t.

    Transracial adoptions are even more complex. The child’s adopted status is extremely visible, which invites children who don’t know better and racists to create uncomfortable situations. Giving a child a decent introduction to the culture of their first family is hard. As a white person, I don’t know much about how to raise a black kid to be a confident, culturally aware adult. I’ve never experienced being part of a visible minority. And from what I’ve read a good number of transracial adoptees struggle pretty much no matter what, varying from rejecting the culture they were raised in (mostly white) to rejecting the culture of their first family entirely, or obsessing to find the perfect balance to the determent of their own well being.

    2nd parent adoption is completely different and it has none of the negative effects, the biological mother/father is still there.
    Anyway those are my long winded thoughts.

    Anyway that was probably more ramble-y and off-topic than necessary.

  8. I hesitate to say anything, because I don’t know for sure, but I think that depending on which state you live in, using donor eggs/sperm/embryos can get complicated for straight couples, too. Not that it makes your situation any less sucky, it just sucks for a lot of people.

    I whole-heartedly support adoption. It’s not right for everyone seeking to build a family or coping with an unwanted pregnancy, but it’s a wonderful, loving option. For some it’s a last resort; for others it’s a first choice. Either way, it’s a deeply personal choice.

    I know there are abuses, like coercing someone into placing a child for adoption, and I don’t support that, of course. But I do understand that it’s a complicated situation. When my 15 year old cousin got pregnant, many of us in the family tried to convince her the best thing would be to place him for adoption. Both she and the father were addicted to some really bad drugs, and they were both so young. But, she told us all to fuck off and kept the baby. We all supported her, even though we didn’t agree with the choice. That boy just graduated from high school, on time and without getting into any major trouble. But he’s without direction and will probably spend his life working in low-paying jobs. She did have one more child with that guy, but the baby died from SIDS at just 8 months and they parted ways shortly after that. She just gave birth to child #5, all with different fathers (except for the first 2). So, even while things worked out okay, due in large part to the support of her large, loving family, I still believe things could have turned out much better for both her and her son had she chosen adoption.

    3 of my cousins are adopted, which is the only way my aunt and uncle could have children, since my uncle was sterilized after contracting the mumps as a kid. This was back in the 70s and early 80s, when it was easier and less expensive to adopt. It was a time when many pregnant teens were shipped out of town for the duration of the pregnancy, so as not to bring shame on the family. Only one of my cousins has found his birth family – actually, they found him. They live close by, so they are able to see each other on a regular basis. I’m not sure how well it’s going, but they seem pretty open and friendly on Facebook. His sister would like to find her birth family, to get some answers about her medical history (she might have MS or something related; it’s complicated), but she has little desire to have any kind of relationship with them.

    Finally, my cousin and his wife adopted their daughter almost 2 years ago and are currently in the process of adopting #2. They declined to use donor eggs after IVF failed and revealed that her eggs were “hostile.” Their baby is Native American, which is a much more difficult and long process, as the tribe has to approve the adoption. They prefer to adopt within the tribe, so had another couple or someone from the biological family come forward, my cousin and his wife would have been bumped.

    As far as donor gametes and adoption, I have no idea what I think. It’s best not to leave things open for potential legal challenge, so I understand that sometimes you have to go through an adoption-like process to make sure you close all those loopholes.

    • For the record, the law in our state (NY) for sperm, anyway, is as stated in the post: straight couples are automatically both parents, even though the father in that case has no more genetic relationship to the child than my wife has to our son. Of course, it’s also true that NY was happy to put her on the birth certificate from the beginning, and that we did the adoption for protection in other states. So maybe the real issue has to do with what is subject to scrutiny in “unfriendly” states and what isn’t.

  9. We don’t live in state with second parent adoption, but are looking into others states that will allows us to do it there, it is frustrating to have to go through all the hoops and pay ridiculous amount of money, but I can’t imagine not doing it. I have heard way too many stories. On another note, I think adoption is a great way to build a family. I also think it’s great that more open adoptions are happening. I have a friend who is adopted, along with many but not of her siblings. Their mother passed away a year ago and since she has tried to find out more about her genetic history and hopes to find her genetic family one day. Everything is sealed and/or thrown away and she is having a hard time finding any leads. It’s really unfortunate. Also, we have had many conversations about how our kids will think of the donor and all we’ve come up with is letting them have that experience and supporting them in whatever it is for them.

  10. My thoughts on adoption are…complicated.

    However, I can recommend the documentary “Donor Unknown” for easing fears that a donor-conceived child will identify the donor as a full-fledged parent. There’s a post on my blog somewhere about it.

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