Siblings in Adoption: Yes, No, Maybe, Why?

A friend on an adoption forum on a website I occasionally drop by has been thinking about adopting a second child. That is to say, she has adopted one already and is now considering siblings. She asked us all, in the forum, about our own decisions about siblings in adoption and I told her I’d answer here, both to go into more detail and to share with a larger audience.

In addition, I thought some of you might just pick this up and meme it around a bit for her–and anyone else out there thinking through these issues. If you do, please leave us a link in the comments.

Here are her questions and my answers:

Before we tried to build our family, my sweetie and I envisioned having at least two kids. Now – thanks to open adoption – we have our precious son, and we are contemplating whether and when to adopt again. So, I’m interested to know:

- How will/does/did adoption influence the number of children in your family?

I don’t think that in our case, adoption has influenced the overall number of kids in our family at all. It’s funny, because we have two kids and I had always envisioned myself as one of three things: childfree, the mother of an only child or the mother of three or more kids. I never felt that I would settle into the typical two-kid life. My partner had no particular vision of these things at all and when I married her I told her I didn’t want children. The truth is, I was deeply ambivalent. We ended up adopting rather quickly after getting together and then were ambivalent again about whether or how to adopt a second child. After Selina, I considered getting pregnant briefly, but about thirty minutes of discussing that with an enthusiastic Cole made me realize it wasn’t what I wanted at all. I wrote a book instead.

The upshot? Life is what happens after you’ve made other plans. And we’re quite happy this way, though occasionally I dream about that third baby. Hopefully that’s my writing career coming to fruition.

- What do you think a family should consider before adding another child, or not? Which issues are adoption related, and which aren’t?

I think the main thing a couple should consider before adding children is “Do we want more children?” That’s more than half of it, right there. And both people need to want it. Someone (raise your hand if it was you, because I forget) told me once that the person who wanted the least number of children should always win. Adding children is too straining on a marriage to go into it without both people on board. (All this assumes there are two or more parents involved, of course.)

After that, I would look at your existing child or children and ask how it will affect him (since the questioner happens to have a son). Is the certain risk of adding more children worth the possible benefits?

You can never know with any certainty what kind of relationship siblings will have. There’s no way to guarantee that they’ll benefit each other, though the odds are they can, if you raise them well. But there’s also no way to know with certainty that your new child will be free of health or other concerns that might rock your existing child/ren’s world in ways beyond the usual rocking of any kid’s world when a new sibling arrives. This isn’t really adoption-related unless you’re specifically considering a child with known special needs. I have a lot of friends with kids with special needs and they are easily a 50/50 bio/adoption bunch.

I suppose cost could be an adoption-specific concern. It wasn’t in our adoptions, which cost very little–no more than birth would have cost us as lesbians who would have needed medical intervention above and beyond the typical pregnancy.

In our case, the only part of the decision that was related much to adoption was race. One thing we figured was that Nat would be better off with another family member here who looked like her. Guess what? Selina is biracial and almost “passably” light-skinned. We do talk about how both girls are African American no matter how they look and we have books that specifically address phenotypical differences among “Black” Americans. But all the same, the girls look very little alike. So much for that.

- If you’ve already completed your family, how do you feel about your decision now? Which issues are adoption related, and which aren’t?

I still sort of wish we had three kids, but now that we’ve got a 6 and a 4-year old, I see just how expensive raising them is going to be–because of our choices about how to raise them. People with less money than we have can happily and healthily raise more children than we have, because we are making expensive choices and we like those choices and want to stick with them. (For example, we live in a major city, which, even though it’s in the Midwest and is cheaper than the coasts is still city-expensive. We are sending the kids to a private school, which is a change from our original home school plan and thus an unexpected expense. We eat very, very well and 90% organic. These are all choices we have the extreme privilege of making. I am more than aware of that. We could cut back and raise another child, but we’d rather do it this way. Others want the bigger family more than they want private school and organic food. This is just what we’ve chosen.)

None of it is adoption-related at all.

Sometimes people are concerned about how adopted siblings with different levels of openness will be in the same family. Our girls have different birth families with very different levels of openness and it’s really just another thing to talk about when we talk about adoption in general–why one family is in more contact than the other, how that feels, what we wish were true, how to express our feelings productively, etc.

We did turn down a pre-birth adoption “match” before we adopted Selina, because we sensed we were not going to be able to have an open adoption with the baby’s mother. We have a decent level of openness with Selina’s mother, but it’s not what we would have ordered in a world in which we had a real choice or control over the situation. And that’s just adoption. Whatever everyone says they will do going into it, that may change dramatically once people are actually trying to live it out.

We are very lucky that our girls get along so well. They have very different personalities and don’t compete for the same niche in the family. This isn’t really adoption related because siblings by birth can end up getting along or not getting along, can end up being very much alike or being very different. It’s all a crap-shoot, really, what any child is going to bring to a family dynamic, adopted, birthed, or dropped by circumstance outside your control.

I actually think if we had decided to try for a baby by birth it would have raised more issues than adopting again did. Mixed adoptive/biological families have another ball of wax. Some of my readers are living that out, and can address it far better than I. But we felt no particular need or desire to try the birth route (besides my brief moment of “I’m turning forty next year” bio-clock panic), so we didn’t.

Again, these things are so individual, so based on your preferences, desires, values, hopes and dreams that I can’t tell you what to do. But this is what it is (so far) for us.

Please share your own insights if you are so moved!

2 responses to “Siblings in Adoption: Yes, No, Maybe, Why?

  1. Our son is Ethiopian born, so we would prefer to have a sibling arrive from Ethiopia. We had to nix a 2nd adoption due to the costs (and now parents have to travel twice to Ethiopia, once for the adoption sentence and then to pick up their child – Italian law states min. stay of 10 days for children under 5 yrs of age and 20 days for siblings and/or children over 5 yrs of age). We also nixed a 2nd adoption to sheer logistics, we don’t have family near by to help us…I need to badge into work at 8.30 a.m. and work 30 minutes from my son’s school, so he needs to go to pre-school. The school has two half-days, but my husband and I work full-time, so we pay for after-school activities for those two days. My son plays soccer and swims, he has two soccer practices per week and one swim day. Soccer games are usually on Sat. and/or Sunday….with two we wouldn’t be able to handle chauffering them everywhere cause while my husband picks up my son at 4:30 p.m. I don’t get home until 17:50 or 18:00.

    And then there is age…my husband is over 50 and I am turning 50 this year. I just don’t think I have the energy to keep up with a 5-6 year old again (our son is almost 9).

    My son would love a sibling, he really wants a brother or sister he can cuddle and teach…unfortunately he will be an only child, breaks our heart cause both hubby and I are from big families….but we wouldn’t be able to give two kids what he is getting now (in terms of time and attention).

  2. Thanks, Shannon, for sharing all of this!

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