It’s National Infertility Week, a great time to pause and focus our attention on the variety of ways that our friends long for families and create families. Many of us choose to adopt.
Today, I’m glad to introduce you to my new friend, Chris Thomas. Chris and his family have waded deep in the waters of infertility, adoption and all that comes with both of those circumstances. I’m so glad that Chris offered to share his wisdom with all of us today.
It was my last year of seminary, and I traded my two-seater pickup for a sedan.
After all, after I graduated and received a full-time call to serve a church, my wife and I would start a family—you know, “the old-fashioned way.”
We moved back to our home state, bought a house, and began dreaming about what it might be like to have a baby.
We knew we might have trouble conceiving; it seems like so many in our generation have trouble because of diagnoses and prescriptions we were given when we were in high school.
We scheduled appointments with a specialist, and after weekly trips, extremely personal examinations, a couple of outpatient procedures, and more than a few dollars, we were faced with the decision to either take the next, big, even more expensive step (with all of its own risks) or stop trying to conceive altogether.
I’d like to say it was an easy decision—it was less agonizing given some of our convictions and the depth of risks involved in continuing to pursue pregnancy, but it was still a difficult one.
We had always considered adoption as an option for growing our family, but I think we had always just assumed it would be an additional option, not the only option.
We began our journey with adoption the way many folks do: we Googled adoption agencies, read articles about all the ins and outs of adoption, and bought the books—so many books—written by well-intentioned people of faith who made adoption sound like a missional mandate, a calling placed upon a select few who would make the sacrifices necessary to change the future of one or more children.
If I can be honest with you (and remember, I’m a pastor), it was all a bit off-putting.
Something just doesn’t feel right to me about viewing adoption (and in a less than subtle way, those families for whom adoption is the way to grow their families) as some evangelistic opportunity.
We wanted to adopt because we wanted to have a child, because we couldn’t have a biological child.
We wanted to adopt internationally because of the lack of foster care and adoptive families.
We wanted to adopt a child that would be fully ours.
We wanted to adopt, and we wanted to adopt in the most unambiguously ethical way.
For me, in part, that meant adopting from countries that were a part of The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercounty Adoption (Google it), using a reputable agency with a history of successful, legal adoptions, and it meant a longer process, with more hoops to jump through (and more checks to write!).
It also meant that our motives and understandings about adoption were different from those who were often at our trainings and meetings.
Don’t get me wrong—they were all wonderful people, fantastic social workers who deeply cared about children and families and great families who loved their adopted kids, but we definitely had a different perspective about what role adoption was playing in our lives.
In short, part of their understanding about adoption was that it was an evangelistic/missional opportunity, a chance to spread the gospel through their international travels and by bringing these children (and it was often more than one or two) into their Christian homes so that they too would grow up to be good, Evangelical Christians.
Honestly, it feels like another shade of shame.
There’s the unspoken, perhaps unintentional feelings of shame that come from infertility, the feelings of not being able to have a child that shares your DNA.
Then, there’s the unspoken shame of adopting a child because you want to be a parent, not because you want to be an international missionary to orphans.
We have adopted one son from China (in 2015) and are adopting our second (and likely, last) son from China this month.
Both adoptions cost somewhere around $35,000 each.
We love our son, and I know we’ll love our next son. We are beyond grateful that we have been able to adopt them, and we are even grateful for the path that has led us here.
But, in the years ahead, however, rather than attempting to adopt more children, we will give to organizations that offer help to birthmothers keep their children and to organizations that care for orphans in-country.
We will advocate for adoption as a way for others to grow their families and support those families and agencies that assist in such adoptions.
Infertility accelerated our arrival to adoption, but it was our love of children and our desire to be parents that gave us the courage to pursue it.
Chris Thomas is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Williams, AL. And the wife of Sallie and two boys. You can read more about him here.