Adoption is one of the most important and frequently misunderstood institutions in the United States.
Currently, there are more than 390,000 children without permanent families, living as wards of the foster care system.
Of those, more than 100,000 are eligible for immediate adoption. Yet, nearly a third of them will have to wait three years or more to find their way into the loving arms of a new family.
I don’t have to tell you this is a tragedy.
What I will tell you, though, is public opinion surrounding the practice of adoption has been improving steadily for generations.
With National Adoption Month upon us, there’s never been a better time to turn our attention to dispelling some of the more persistent myths surrounding adoption.
Myth 1: Birth mothers are young and immature.
One of the most pervasive and damaging myths surrounding adoption is the caricature of the young, immature, unprepared teenage mother who gives up her child because she's "selfish."
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Single women under 30 represent more than half of all birth mothers in the United States, and a significant percentage of birth mothers are older, typically in their 20s or 30s.
In some cases, these women are already caring for children.
In any case, the decision to surrender a child is not taken lightly.
For those who have never done so or have never had to consider the reality of it, committing to becoming a mother represents a significant investment of time, energy and love.
If a mother decides she's not ready for that commitment, giving that child up for adoption is actually, by just about any measure, the most responsible and humane decision she could make.
In other words, birth parents who choose adoption are making perhaps the most courageous decision of their lives, and it would be a mistake to write it off as a folly of youth, inexperience or worse yet, selfishness.
Myth 2: Adoption is expensive.
It’s no secret raising a child is an expensive endeavor, but adoption has a particularly stubborn reputation for being out of the financial reach of interested parties.
It is true that adoption carries certain costs, and these vary from state to state, depending on local and federal laws.
These expenses can include legal fees, medical fees for both the birth mother and the child, living expenses for the birth family, travel expenses, networking fees, application fees and much more.
That’s a long list, but don’t let it discourage you.
Many families who consider adoption make a point of adopting children from their area, which cuts down on travel and other expenses.
No matter what you choose, though, be sure to request a written explanation of the expenses you're expected to shoulder before you get too far into the process.
A very rough estimate of what you can expect to pay for a domestic adoption is in the $10,000 to $30,000 range.
International adoptions can cost somewhat more, with a range of $20,000 to $45,000.
But bear in mind the United States tax code is friendly to adoptive families, and provides a variety of tax credits on the state and federal levels, as well as subsidies, reimbursements, loans, grants and much more.
The bottom line is, if you have adoption in your heart, there is almost certainly a financial tool at your disposal to help make your dream a reality.
Myth 3: Adopted children have emotional and behavioral problems.
You’d have to paint with a very wide brush for this particular myth to be true across the board.
The fact is, children from all walks of life, whether they live with their birth family, a foster family or were raised by wolves, have a possibility of having developmental, emotional or behavioral problems.
But, research suggesting that adoption plays a larger role than other forms of parenting in trends like these is fuzzy at best.
The truth is, the debate rages on about nature versus nurture.
When trying to trace the origins of developmental difficulties in children, some people will look to the genetic profiles of the birth parents, and others will point to imperfect prenatal care.
Others still can blame the adoption process itself.
Children are influenced by a wide range of factors, of which adoption is just one.
What we do know about adopted children is the vast majority of them grow up to be well-adjusted, happy and productive human beings.
The foster care system has become increasingly better at early detection of and support for developmental problems in children.
Thankfully, there are resources available for special cases.
Myth 4: Birth mothers will never see their children again.
This particular myth has its origins in truth.
In years now long behind us, it was simply a matter that birth mothers would never know their children.
It was thought by all parties that a simpler process, with no potentially complicated emotional attachments, would be better for the child in the long run.
Thankfully, we know quite a bit more these days about what is and isn’t healthy for adopted children, and both our laws and our practices have changed to keep up with that growing body of knowledge.
Today, virtually every birth mother has a say in how much contact she is entitled to have with her child.
In fact, it’s her right to choose a family that will honor her wishes.
What this means in real-world terms is roughly 67 percent of private adoptions make allowances for at least a degree of openness when it comes to the birth mother’s contact with her child.
The other side of the coin, of course, is the 33 percent of adoptions that don’t have a degree of openness are done that way because the birth mother requested it.
In other words, it all comes down to the mother’s choice.
I think almost everyone will agree that’s a good thing.
Myth 5: Adopted children are better off not knowing the truth.
Finally, we come to a myth that concerns what happens after the paperwork has been filed, the dust has settled and you’ve brought your adopted child into your household.
The question is whether it’s better to tell your child early on about how he or she came to be with you, or whether it’s best to wait until he or she is more emotionally mature.
As we've learned above, in years past, it was pretty common for adopted children to be kept in the dark, but an emerging consensus now tells us waiting can have a host of detrimental effects on the child, including feelings of shock, guilt or even shame.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this could be a painful or difficult conversation to have.
But the truth is, it can be a beautiful moment of openness and honesty between parent and child.
Most importantly, know you’re not alone.
There are numerous resources out there, both online and in print, to help you choose the right timing and wording.
Your child will thank you some day for trusting him or her with the truth.
I hope this has been an instructive look at the myths and realities of adoption.
More than anything, though, I hope a more thorough understanding of adoption will help all of America recognize we need to support and empower all kinds of mothers across this country.
Destigmatizing the decision to give up a baby for adoption, making adoption easier for willing mothers, taking Europe’s lead in providing family leave to working mothers and fathers and getting serious about eliminating pregnancy discrimination in the workplace are all great strides forward in the way we honor women and mothers.
We still have a long way to go, but the future looks a little rosier each and every day.