What I Spent to Give Up My Child for Adoption

A response to the New York Times article, What I Spent to Adopt My Child

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

The title of the recent New York Times article on adoption horrifies me. “What I Spent to Adopt My Child” by David Dodge profiles three couples that adopted children by three different paths, tallying the cost of each method. Okay.

There’s much to be admired in each story. How does one point an accusing finger at a single schoolteacher living in a one-bedroom apartment, or the couple (one spouse, an adoptee himself) who adopts a nine-year-old from foster care, or the couple drowning in over a hundred grand in student debt who work extra jobs to pay it down and buy a house all for the cause of qualifying to adopt? I don’t have any criticism for those parents. But the title of this piece in a pre-eminent newspaper begs for a response.

The first unacknowledged truth is that every adoption begins with loss. Loss so great it cannot be quantified by a dollar sign. Every adoption begins with unquantifiable trauma. That trauma involves a child and at least one other person — the child’s mother. Most likely the trauma will ripple outward, encircling others — whether or not they know it at the moment of the child’s birth, the adoption, or later.

Here is what I spent to give up my child for adoption: I departed with my self-respect; my feeling that, as a 17-year-old, I had a viable future; my sense that most problems were solvable; the idea that I was basically a good person. I paid for my predicament with a lack of concentration, achievement, and enjoyment both in high school and in college. I paid the exorbitant price of missing every infant, childhood, and young adult milestone that my son experienced. I staked my future on the lie that I would forget my first baby when I had others.

What’s the price of a grandchild? That’s what my parents paid. What’s the price of a nephew? That’s what my siblings paid. How about the price of a cousin? How about asking adoptees how much it cost them to be adopted? They might cite the price of their cultural identity, their medical history, the name they were born with, their original birth certificate, the connection with the mother who carried them, the love of the entire family that lost them.

Adoption is not a business transaction. It is not comparison shopping. Don’t characterize it as deserving of a price tag. To do so demonstrates a complete lack of awareness of the loss and the trauma that are the genesis of all adoptions.

DENISE EMANUEL CLEMEN is the author of the memoir, “Birthmother. Subscribe to her blog and check out her website at https://deniseemanuelclemen.com.

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