I wrote this post a couple of years ago for another blog, and someone asked me about it recently, so here it is again. Our family is going through a tough time at the moment (more on that here) and I’ve found it helpful to read this again and remember why we chose to adopt.
On being unusual
When my husband and I told our assessing social worker that we hadn’t tried to conceive because overpopulation concerned us, we cared about children who needed parents, and that adoption was therefore our first choice for creating our family, she raised her eyebrows, put on her professional face, and said ours was an ‘unusual’ decision. (‘Unusual’ is social worker speak for ‘crazy’.) We’ve heard this more than once, and we’re fine with that. Well, we’re fine with it in that it doesn’t hurt our pride at all. We’re less fine with the business of it being unusual. We’d like it to be much more normal to adopt as a first choice.
I’m passionate about adoption. I’ve had this passion since the morning of Wednesday 27 February 2008, when meeting a little boy in an overseas orphanage flipped a maternal switch in me that I’d previously thought was missing from my circuitry. I am even more enthusiastic now, having lived the reality of parenting two fabulous adoptive daughters for just over a year. Of course it has changed all our lives. It is unquestionably hard work. And – here’s the bit where people say we’re unusual – I believe it’s better for the planet. And I’m passionate about that too.
Sex and statistics
According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), ‘If everyone in the world consumed natural resources and generated carbon dioxide at the rate we do in the UK, we’d need three planets – not just one − to support us. The impacts – not least climate change, deforestation and the loss of numerous species – are already starting to affect us all.’1 Figures for the US are higher still, requiring a hypothetical four planets if we all consumed the same amount of resources as an average American. WWF add, ‘Human population dynamics are a major driving force behind environmental degradation. One aspect of this is the overall size of the global population, which has more than doubled since 1950 – to 7 billion in 2011 and is forecast to reach just over 9.3 billion people by 2050.’2
It’s not rocket science to figure out that more people consume more resources, and that in addition to curbing our consumption, reducing the size of the population, particularly in countries that consume more than their fair share per person, makes ecological sense. But, like others, I found out the hard way that people don’t like to hear about this perspective, even when it isn’t posed in a personal or confrontational manner. There is a perception that people have a right to choose the size of their family, to create as many children as they wish, and that this is an intensely personal matter in which no one else has the right to express an opinion but those doing the procreating.
Where the two meet
As a Christian, I am particularly interested in this place where care for God’s creation intersects with care for vulnerable children. There is a Biblical mandate for Christians to look after both the planet and those the Bible calls ‘orphans’ or ‘the fatherless’. (In our day they may not be literal orphans with no living parents, but they are still in need of parents who can meet their needs appropriately.) I have the sort of personality that means when I see this connection, I assume it is such an obvious piece of logic that everyone will immediately agree and we will all rush out and solve it together. Overpopulated planet? Children needing families? Then the answers are contraception and adoption! But I am aware that not everyone sees things in such a clear-cut way. In researching the subject, I have become aware of exactly how complicated it is possible to make this discussion, especially when it comes to the delicate topic of international adoption. But the bald facts remain: there are children already born who need loving families in which to thrive, and the people already on the planet are overconsuming its resources and causing lasting damage.
I long to see the church take the lead in adopting children and tackling our overconsuming lifestyles. As far as I can see, the two are thoroughly biblical and intrinsically linked. Much has already been written about the lifestyle part of this equation, and the church is gradually waking up to the need for adoption, so books are appearing on this topic too. This is wonderful. But my passion is for both. Understood and acted upon together, they make a powerful statement to the watching world about who our God is and how much he cares at both ends of the scale – for the individual, setting the lonely in families3, and for the whole world, having created the Sabbath rest not only for the benefit of people but also the earth itself.4 As James Jones puts it,
‘The doing of God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven requires us to challenge unjust structures, political and economic, and to insist on fair trade and sustainable methods of food and fuel production. The earthing of heaven requires it.’5
Just to clear up any misunderstanding, I’m not suggesting that everyone should adopt. I am saying that (multiple births excepted) the ideal is that no one should add more than two children to the planet, and people who want larger families should endeavour to adopt where possible. But I’m also saying that many, many more people should consider adoption as a first choice and not just view it as ‘the last resort of the infertile’.
Where our story started
On the morning of Wednesday 27 February 2008, we’d been on what would be a five-week trip for all of four days. We were with an international organisation that places Western volunteers with local NGOs who can make use of their specialist skills. Our remit was to visit an NGO for the morning, interview people and get a good picture of their work, then write about the types of skilled volunteers who could be used by the charity. (This was the third of 25 NGOs we’d be visiting over the course of the five weeks, to do the same thing, in two different countries. Yes, it was really very busy indeed.)
A British volunteer met us and took us into the NGO’s daycare centre: a facility in the grounds of the orphanage into which they were allowed to bring some of the children for a few hours’ attention: singing, trying foods with interesting textures, and some physical therapy. We sat and joined in, taking a few photos of the children beaming as they sang and played percussion instruments. Next we were taken to the orphanage itself, which was run by the state. This was a strictly no photos area. And we soon saw why. The children were in blue plastic beds, which resembled vegetable crates, on the floor. It was silent. The children – mainly toddlers with a range of disabilities – were fed and changed but knew better than to ask or cry out for attention outside of those prescribed times. Seeing a room full of silent children was eerie. A few children were outside in high-sided cots, in the shade under the eaves of the building. We said hello to a little boy, and he grinned back. I guess he was about six and we think he had cerebral palsy. His smile was irresistible. Unable to communicate verbally, we tickled him. More grinning and giggling. I – the woman who wasn’t all that interested in children – was won over.
We learned from the volunteer showing us round that he had recently broken his leg and didn’t even call out to the staff then – they only found out later. We asked his name. No-one knew. Finally an answer came back. And that was the moment that I knew I wanted to adopt. Or to be more precise, the moment that I knew I couldn’t ever justify procreating when my resources – emotional and financial – could be better spent caring for vulnerable children like him. Now I had seen the face, held the hand, and knew the name of a little boy who needed a family.
I’ll probably never see his face again, and I don’t even have a photo to remember him by. But he changed the course of our family’s lives. Though I had no idea at the time, back in the UK, our elder daughter was already on her way. Five years further on, we legally adopted her and her sister.
I still remember that little boy’s name, and the giggle that changed our lives.