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Why don’t you just adopt?

Why Don't You Just Adopt

It’s the ‘just’ that gets me every time.

Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to face-palm myself and say “Damn! Why didn’t that occur to me!”

The bizarre thing about this throwaway line that so many of us childless women have had tossed our way is this:

If we were to say casually to the same person that we were thinking of getting a dog, quick as a flash they’d say “But who’s going to look after it in the daytime?”

Yet they think adoption’s an option?

In the UK, married couples where one partner can afford to stay at home get turned down for adoption because they are not the right ethnicity, or the age difference between the partners is too great, or their relationship isn’t thought to be sound enough, or a host of other qualitative and quantitative reasons.

So, what hope is there for single, working woman like me? Much as I imagine I’d be a great adoptive mother (patient, inventive, compassionate, caring, good at paperwork, training to be a psychotherapist, etc) I know that I can’t afford to take the time out of my work to give a child who’s already been in the British care system the support he or she would need. A kid who’s been through several foster homes already and is suffering the emotional and behavioural consequences is not just going to ‘slot into’ my life. Realistically, I’d need to take at least a year off work to help him or her adjust to having a loving home, and attend all the school, social services and additional support appointments necessary. Even though I might meet adoption ‘criteria’, logistically and financially I couldn’t do it.

As Adoption UK write on their website:

“You do not need to be wealthy or a homeowner to adopt, but will need to give details of income and explain how you would support a child. You must have adequate space to cater for the needs of the child and, depending on your circumstances, may be eligible for financial support from the local authority, reviewed annually. You can apply for means tested benefits and tax credits like any other family.”

The fact is, that if I were to have a baby, nobody would check these things. And indeed, it is the case that many babies are born into less than ideal situations – some of which result in children being taken into care, and some resolving themselves as their parents adjust financially and emotionally to have a surprise baby. But sometimes it seems that by focusing on tangibles like square-footage and income, the adoption process is missing out on intangibles like emotional intelligence, compassion and the capacity to parent.

Last year (2011), according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics, the number of adoptions in England and Wales in 2011 was 4,734, an increase of 6% since 2010 when there were 4,481 adoptions. Of these, only 77 were babies.

Diagram showing age of adoption in UK in 2011
Source: Guardian Data Blog

Less than 5,ooo adoptions, when between April 2011 and January 2012 10,199 new applications (new!) were made for children to be taken into care. Now, not all of these children will or should be adopted. In many cases, they will be able to return home after the situation that made their home life unsafe is resolved.

According to the Who Cares Trust, children in care are

“more likely to move around, are about ten times more likely to have a statement of special educational needs and may be distracted by the fallout from a history of abuse and neglect. These are not things that are easy to leave at the school door: children in care are also eight times as likely to be excluded from school.  All of this makes it unsurprising that in 2011 only 13.2% of cared for children got 5 GCSEs at A* – C grades including English and mathematics, compared to 57.9% of other school children.”

Suddenly, “just adopt” doesn’t look quite so straightforward, does it? And if it was such a great option, why aren’t the parents glibly recommending it to us already doing so?

But what if we were possible for a grant to be made available to single adoptive parents so that we could take ‘settling in leave’ for the first year of adoption?  A sort of legally enforceable ‘parental leave’ payment for adoptive parents. Imagine if the cost of keeping one child in care for one year were instead to be made available to support the new adoptive parent and child as they work together to help that child settle into a new life? It’s going to be a big transition for them both, and an expensive one.  Currently all there seems to be is help with medical care, court fees and some childcare costs if you are on a very low-income or benefits and adopt a child. Whenever I mention this to anyone, the first thing they say is “but that would be open to abuse”. Is that really a good enough reason not to try to do something?

It seems criminal to me that these children, who have nothing wrong, often end up on the bottom rung of life emotionally, socially and educationally, when there are so many wonderful non-mothers who would love the opportunity to parent.

I am pleased to say that Martin Narey, who was commissioned by the UK Government to advise on adoption writes in The Guardian on Monday 30th July 2012 that “the government is exploring the reform of adopter leave and adopter allowances to match maternity leave arrangements.”  It’s a start.

Pam St Clement, the former EastEnders star, grew up in an orphanage after the death of her birth mother at 18-months but was then successfully fostered. She says in an interview in The Guardian Family Section on 1 September 2012 that:

“Despite lacking a consistent mother figure I don’t feel emotionally incomplete, and I think that’s because I ended up with the right people.” 

Adoption could be a happy ending for so many more children if we could persuade the government to make it easier for single women to adopt.

If you know of any single women who’ve adopted, or if you have experience of trying to adopt (as an individual or couple) or if you are an adoption professional or involved in policy around this issue, please do comment below or get in touch. It’s an issue that I feel needs to be more widely discussed and understood.

Having worked through my grief over my childlessness, and with my Plan B rocking along, adoption is not something I’m looking into personally.  Is it something you’d consider, if there were more support and information available? Do you know where to get the advice you need?


Photo of Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women (UK)Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women: an organization she founded in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. She works with women who are still hopeful of becoming mothers as well as those for whom that time has passed.  She holds a certificate in integrative counselling and is training to qualify as an integrative psychotherapist. Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. A Godmother & Aunt many times over, but never a mother, she speaks regularly at events and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her at

For priority booking for all future Gateway Women events including our upcoming series of monthly talks, please check that you’re on the events mailing list by clicking here.

14 Comments on Why don’t you just adopt?

  1. I just read my own comment and I don’t want people thinking that I’m shallow. I’m a very nice person that has worked my butt off to own my own business and have a great career in the process. I just didn’t allow myself time to enjoy the benefits of it until now. I wish I hadn’t waited so late to have children.

  2. I’m new to this site and I just wanted to thank all of you for your care and comments regarding being childless. I was so depressed today and happen upon your site. here’s a bit of my story; I’m 49 years old and I’m always walking around in a state of highs and lows. I not only can’t have kids but I lost my German Shepard last Christmas and I’m afraid I’m just not going to make it through this Christmas coming up without support. I had to have a Hysterectomy 5 years ago for Endometrial Cancer. They took out my entire ovaries to which sealed the deal on us having children. I would love to adopt but my husband doesn’t want to. I feel so depressed all the time. People say to me all the time that I should adopt, or get a new dog. I want to scream at them and say these words: “Listen you idiot”, I raise my dog from a 6 week old puppy and she has been my friend, companion and a part of my family for 19 years, how am I suppose to act like she didn’t exist. Now for adoption, I have informed you that my husband doesn’t want to and I have accepted his reason so why are you trying to make me go against my marriage and my husband wishes? I have all the joys of life but I just don’t enjoy them the way I should. I going to get the book because I’m tired of crying, being left out and there must be a better way. If anything, while my friends are making me feel bad at parties, dinner, Christmas and so on, I can at least feel good about my vacation destinations that they can’t afford because of children, my bank account balance for retirement plus my over all life without children that I can plan to have and enjoy it. Thank you again for waking me up.
    Sincerely, Girl on a mission

  3. first time reading gateway comments and I am so happy that there are other women out there in my situation. After ending a 23yr relationship, 2 miscarrages and countless suggestions to foster or adopt ( i was told i could only foster children aged 15yrs+ and go part time in work to even have a chance) I have come to realise that I will be a childless women. However this doesnt mean the end of my life and thanks to Gateway.

  4. “Why don’t you just adopt”…while I doubt I ever used the word just I do have to hold my hands up and plead guilty to having asked the adoption question before my own life taught me better. Casting my mind back to those days I think there is a certain ignorance as to what it really means to be unable to have your own children and of all the difficult emotions that come with that. We live in a society where we expect to get what we want and we’re not very good at coping when things don’t go to plan either in our own lives or in the lives of others,..we don’t know what to say so rather than attempting to empathise or at least acknowledge the real situation and pain by saying “sorry to hear must be difficult for you” we end up trying to give some dumb ass “solution” which I now know negates the real pain and challenges that are being faced.
    When I was single adoption was always what I had in mind as the thing I would do if I won the lottery…it would never have been feasible otherwise…I had to work long hours to cover the costs of living in a small one bedroomed house..there was no way on earth I could have given an already troubled child that care and support that they needed.
    As a married woman (hubby appeared later on in life) adoption is no longer a unilateral decision and I have to admit that our own TTC journey (although less arduous than some as we haven’t gone down the assisted conception route) has left me too emotionally exhausted to embark on the adoption journey. I am also now aware having looked at my own feelings that bringing up some-one else’s child is not the same as having your own biological child. Like many of the other correspondents in this blog I wanted to be able to have our child and while adoption is a very worthwhile thing to do I now know that it is not a substitute for having one’s own child and I think it would be very unfair on the adopted child to view them a vehicle for healing your own pain which is what the why don’t you adopt comment suggests…you don’t need to feel this pain when there are so many unwanted children out there.

  5. Thanks for this extremely reflective and well-thought-out post on adoption. I completely fit your core audience – I am 47 and ‘childless by circumstance’; that is, I always knew I wanted children and my own family but due to a relationship breakup at 36, and a much-regretted bad relationship at 38 that ended two years later, I found myself in a more-or-less stable relationship only at 44, trying to conceive. As it happens, my husband is a practicing Catholic so IVF, donor eggs, etc were out of the question. Terribly frustrating for me as a non-Catholic, but frankly at 44 pregnancy was so unlikely even with the assistance of these interventions, I didn’t feel it worth breaking another relationship over. Such are the compromises we all end up making.

    So now, three years later, we are trying to adopt. We live in Ontario (Canada) where I get the feeling the adoption is similar to the UK, although the age restraints don’t seem to be in place, or we would have no choice at all. (My husband is 43; it’s my age that’s the problem). And, somewhat miraculously given my own history, I find myself financially able for the first time in my life to throw money at the process, which it certainly requires. It is really unbelievably expensive!!! (We are going for domestic, private adoption, not an international adoption) And for this reason, very effective at eliminating people who aren’t extremely comfortable, let alone able to prove able to take the time off to care for the child, etc. Regardless of our ability to pay the bills, I am still very pessimistic about our chances for many of the reasons you highlight – here too, there are fewer and fewer infant adoptions (the kind we want) and many more people looking to adopt, than infants/children available for adoption.

    People really need to know how fraught the process of adoption is, how long it can take, and the many reasons it might not work out, EVEN IF potential adopters have the money, stability, secure employment, good health, and right age/ethnicity.

    It is absolutely not a given that a ‘childless by circumstance’ woman or couple who wants to adopt will be successful. And it most certainly is not a response to give to women who are mourning their childlessness, and who aren’t necessarily interested in adopting in the first place.

    Thanks again for your posts, etc. This is the best website I’ve seen that addressing the issues connected to the unwanted childlessness of women our age.

  6. Hi Jody, I thought that I had already commented on this blog but I guess I must have started and never finished…anyway, for me, another version of the “why don’t you ‘just’ adopt” is “you can ‘always’ adopt”. Oh gee, can I ‘always’? Right…I’ll just walk right into an adoption agency, say “I want a baby” and they will hand me a perfectly healthy newborn – and for free, right? Sorry to be sarcastic but I don’t get why people can still be so ignorant…but glad that we have each other and we are here for one another.

  7. This blog really echos with me, I’ve lost count of the number of times adoption has been suggested. The latest thing from one friend, with whom I’d had the ‘we looked into it but decided if wasn’t for us’ conversation, was to suggest fostering. Duh! I thought she was a good friend but she really doesn’t get me, does she? I suppose that once people have children they find it hard to imagine that anyone else could cope with a life without them. I’m another one of those ‘selfish’ people who wanted a child with the shared DNA of me and my husband. For me it was never about a child at any cost

  8. Jody, thank you for this post. So many people ignorantly think we can “just” adopt. It’s not that easy. My husband and I looked into adoption before we got married, but he was already considered too old, and like Mrs. Spit, I was not driven to acquire a baby just to have one. I wanted a child who was part of me and my husband. We did adopt a puppy, however.

  9. Yes…..All the time!!!!!

    I agree with all comments made in the blog….my experience of successful adoption was observing a very well off couple adopt two beautiful small children (less than 18 months old), a couple of years apart, and each time mother had a year off work…..sigh 🙁


  10. I was 41 by the time we reached the end of our fertitlity treatment, and my partner was 63. He wasn’t keen on adopting, having known a family for whom it had been the source of enormous problems. I was very keen, but felt it was wrong to press him. We both needed to want it. I looked into it, just for my own satisfaction, and found several organisations who said because of our combined age, the youngest we could adopt would be a 17 year old. I’m sure with effort and research we could have found a way of adopting a younger child, but it seemed the odds were stacked against us in so many respects, so I said goodbye to the dream. For me hearing the ‘why don’t you ‘just’ adopt’ hurts, as does the moral judgement which sometimes accompanies it, if unsaid. ‘You wanted children, you can’t have them, so you are the people in society who SHOULD adopt.’ I’ll choose the ways in which I make a contribution to society, thanks very much.

  11. Perhaps, more than that, for me, it didn’t answer the issue. I wanted a child that was mine. Had my eyes and my partner’s hair. I wanted a child that came from our families’ DNA. Call me small and petty if you like, but I wanted our baby. I didn’t feel the urge for motherhood at all costs. If I couldn’t have our child, I realized I was ok with not having a child.

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