The Choice Myth

When prospective adoptive parents start specifying what they want in a child, there are people who like to say, “But if you were having a baby, biologically, you wouldn’t get that choice.” I already wrote about what PAPs get to do in adoption. Today, I’d like to look at the choices that biological parents have in pregnancy.

Let’s look at what adoptive parents get to specify when they adopt:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Substance exposure
  • Family health and mental health history
  • Certain special needs (deaf, blind, cerebral palsy, and so on)
  • Circumstances under which the child was conceived (rape, incest, prostitution, unknown birthfather)

Let’s look at what biological parents get to specify when they have a biological child.

Age. If you’re choosing to have a child biologically, you’re pretty certain that you will have a baby. I don’t know of anyone who has birthed a 5-year old.

Race. If you are having a biological child without the help of reproductive technology, that child will be the same race as you and your partner. You cannot choose to have a child who is not of your race. Of course, if you’re using egg donors, sperm donors, or both then you do get a choice.

Gender. The technology to allow bio parents to specify gender does exist. I know some doctors use it to ensure that couples who have disorders that are passed down to one gender (such as hemophilia) have children of the opposite gender. People can fly to other countries to have that technology made available to them without the medical necessity. Given that the US has so few laws governing reproductive technology, in my lifetime, it may very well be possible to specify gender when having a biological baby.

Substance exposure. Although we are slowly poisoning ourselves with toxic chemicals, so we can’t control exposure to every substance, pregnant women do get to choose if their children are exposed to drugs (prescription, legal, and/or illegal), alcohol, and cigarettes.

Family health and mental health history. Bio parents will have children who share their health histories (unless using donor eggs or sperm). Of course, some bio parents don’t know their own health histories. However, the fact remains that you’re not going to birth a child who has a different health history.

Certain special needs. Here’s where the choice myth really comes into play. People like to say that bio parents don’t have a choice as to whether or not their children are born with special needs. To a limited extent, that is true. However, bio parents do have control over many of the substances that go into their bodies, which can greatly affect a child’s health. A child isn’t going to have special needs associated with drug exposure if he wasn’t exposed to drugs. Bio parents can choose to have tests done to determine if a child will have certain special needs. They can then decide if they want to continue the pregnancy. Interventions are available to correct some special needs in the womb. I submit that bio parents have more control over their children’s special needs than people seem to give them credit for. Obviously, this isn’t true for all special needs.

Circumstances under which the child was conceived. If you’re a bio parent, you have almost complete control over how your child was conceived. Any time you have consensual unprotected sex, you’re essentially saying, “Sure, I could have a child who was conceived this way.” And, as a bio parent, you can choose not to have a child that you conceived.

Furthermore, I hear a lot of people criticizing adoptive parents for not wanting to adopt children who have been abused, or who have histories of trauma and/or neglect. They again cite the rationale that, if these people had birthed their children, they wouldn’t be able to choose what they got. If you birth your own child, you have quite a bit of control over whether or not that child is abused, neglected, or traumatized. Sure, strangers hurt children, but 87% of abuse is perpetrated by family members.

My point? Telling prospective adoptive parents that they “wouldn’t get to choose what they got if they had a biological child” is just plain stupid. As I’ve argued here, it’s not entirely true. Furthermore, it’s a moot point, as PAPs are not having biological children.

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19 thoughts on “The Choice Myth

  1. Like most (maybe all) adoptive parents who have made particular decisions that direct them down a certain road during their adoption process, we find these issues particularly poignant right now. We’re only a week or so from being listed with our agency as waiting parents, and as more of our friends and family join in our excitement to be taking one more step, we have fielded several questions about our decision not to adopt from foster care, in particular. Feeling like we have to justify our decision to pursue domestic infant adoption (to people who have never even considered adoption) is frustrating, though we have been able to move past feeling guilty for it.

    • Oh yeah – I have at least two posts in draft form about adopting from foster care, the guilt parents who adopt privately are given, and why foster/adopt is not free, nor is it for everyone.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. “If you are having a biological child without the help of reproductive technology, that child will be the same race as you and your partner.”

    If the reproductive technology you are using means the child will have some other race besides that of you and your partner, you and your partner are not having a biological child together.

    If you’re using someone else’s egg, you’re adopting, not having a biological child.

    If you’re using a sperm donor, your partner is adopting, not having a biological child.

    It does not suddenly and magically become your biological child just because you grew it in your body. It has to come from your cells too. That’s what reproduction IS. The pregnancy part is just where you grow the baby til it’s old enough to live outside your body.

    I’m pro-choice, but this is still true.

    • There is no adoption involved in egg or sperm donation. My understanding of the terminology is that, if a child is born to a woman using donor eggs, that child is still the woman’s biological child, but not the woman’s genetic child. There is a difference between biological and genetic. And yes, being a biological child does mean “being a child of the parents by birth.” So, if a woman bears a child, even if that child is not genetically hers, it’s still biologically hers.

      Fun huh?

  3. Also, while some of what you’ve said here is true, adopters still have a lot more choice over what sort of child they get than biological parents do. You haven’t disproven that at all. You want us to believe it’s the exact same thing “as if born to,” then you don’t want to act as if it’s “as if born to.”

    You can’t have it both ways.

    • We can have it both ways. Some things about adoption are just as if our children were born to us, and some aren’t.

      Legally, we, as parents, have the same rights and responsibilities to our children as if they were born to us. Our children have the same rights as if they were born to us as well. I can’t imagine loving my children any more or any differently if they were born to us, so I assume that I love them as if they were born to us.

      However, the adoption process isn’t like pregnancy, and I really don’t like it when people equate the two. There also are differences in raising adopted children than if one were raising children who were born to them. So, in some ways, it’s like our children were born to us, and in some ways it’s not.

      I disagree that adoptive parents have more choice over what child they have than biological parents do. When you’re the one raising the child from conception, you have a lot more control than adoptive parents do. Ultimately, you have more choices. I’m not saying that any parent – biological, step, adoptive, etc. – has all the control or all the choice, just that biological parents have more choices than people think.

  4. As someone who has both biologically related and adopted children, I agree with Robyn’s post. We do have it both ways. When pregnant, I chose whether I wanted to drink something as typical as caffeine, eat a candy bar, or allow medicines into my blood stream. Those choices were ALWAYS made with the baby in mind-okay, well almost always, sometimes a girls gotta eat a candy bar.

    The choices are just different depending on if I’m growing a child in my uterus or I’m adopting a child from someone else’s uterus (and sperm). Could I select every single thing about my children by birth, UM, NO, but I couldn’t about my children through adoption either. The children are who they are. Because seriously, if I could’ve chosen personality traits for any of them, well, I might’ve chosen differently.

    So, the real question is, what do people NOT want PAPs to be able to choose? I’m always curious. Because that’s the real argument it seems people are making. Are you asking why my husband and I said yes to just about everything except an HIV + child and/or birth mom? Or maybe you’re asking why we said yes to every race except Native American? Please, if you’re going to ask these questions, ask THESE questions. Most of us won’t mind answering them after we’re over the shock of the rudeness. But it’s impossible for us to answer a global question of why.

    Also, please be sensitive to our children and ask when they’re not around. Whether or not these things are discussed with them at home, out and about in the mall is not the place we want to be answering these…think about how you’d respond if someone asked you who was on top as you were creating your son/daughter in front of them…

    • Melanie, you put it so well! I wrote this post specifically in response to people on a forum criticizing a woman for wanting a baby without drug exposure. Several people piled on her… it was awful! PAPs deliberate, even agonize, over these decisions, so for others to be so flippant and rude upsets me.

  5. In the end anyone who passes the homestudy process can adopt. I however cannot become pregnant. So if you want to choose the gender of your child, are really wishing for a perfect 5 year old, or choose to decline a child with Down Syndrome without the ethical dilemma of terminating the pregnancy (or whatever other disability) you are more then welcome to adopt! I’d love to have that control of what goes into my body during a pregnancy and have a due date, but since I can’t I get a few other choices.

    Also I think the health check list is misleading and all adoptive parents sign a form saying there maybe health issues that are unknown because no one has a perfect health history. There also are things on the form i.e. Hep C that can’t be test for until well after a child’s adoption has been finalized.

    Also with sperm/egg donation you again get a profile of the donor and can make choices as to which donor you use. Once that embryo is placed into the womans womb the woman again gets choices about how she cares for herself during that pregnancy which will have a profound impact on the health of the child.

    Well outlined post Thank you Robyn!

    • Thanks! I agree with you on the health check list. I think the other part of the “choice myth” is that adoptive parents *can* choose *anything* they want. Obviously, they can’t, as you noted in your example.

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