Adoption: A Life-Giving Choice

In the December 19-26, 2011 issue, Christopher Pramuk reexamines the story of the Nativity in light of his family's decision to adopt two boys from Haiti. In 2004, Timothy P. Muldoon, author of Longing to Love, reflected on his own family's struggle with infertility and their eventual decision to adopt two girls from China:

Our experience, like that of many adoptive parents, began in heartache: the inability to conceive. Few experiences challenge faithful Catholics as much as infertility, which even in light of contemporary biblical theology still feels like alienation from God’s greatest gift. Because so much of Catholic theological reflection on marriage and family life centers on the theme of procreation, the experience of infertility can be a wrenching call to examine the very vocation to marriage itself. Even after writing a doctoral dissertation on Catholic marriage and sexuality, I found it difficult to mine from the traditional resources much that deals directly with the emotional, psychological and theological challenges associated with infertility.

Over time, though, what emerged from our experience was a more profound understanding of the paschal mystery, the mystery of God’s invitation to move through death to new life. In our case, the response to that invitation came from my wife’s past, a past in which she had been falling in love with the idea of adopting an orphaned girl from China. I, like many other eventual adoptive fathers, was resistant. For me adoption seemed like resignation instead of courageous fighting for successful conception.

Yet when it became clear to us that the choice was between expensive and uncertain medical interventions or adoption, the latter emerged as the more life-giving. We began the paperwork that led eventually to our trip to China in December 2000. It was there, in a hotel in a modestly sized industrial city, that we saw the face of Jesus in a scared, wailing 10-month-old baby.


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6 years 9 months ago

My wife, Jenny, and I are blessed with two adopted children. We didn’t go abroad for them; they were born in Washington, DC when we were living in suburban Maryland.  Our two adopted boys, Jeff and Kevin are treasures, to us and our other kids.  I can’t imagine what our lives would be like without them. 

We had five children.  Along the way there had been a few heartbreaking miscarriages.  After our fifth was born, we had several more miscarriages in succession and no successful pregnancies – and no hope of one.  A social worker in our parish, knowing our situation, suggested that we join a then new program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.  We would take newborn babies who were to be placed for adoption for the time between birth and placement in an adoptive home.  Part of the agreement was that we would not even think about trying to adopt any of the children given to our care.  We had to agree that we would never try to follow up on their lives – no attempt to learn their whereabouts or anything about their adoptive parents.  And we agreed to love them without condition while they were in our care – and then let go.  When we returned a child to the agency for placement we were not even allowed to see the adoptive parents, though we knew they were in another room somewhere in the agency’s building awaiting the baby. 

Over the years we had eight babies in foster care, including the two that stayed.  Our foster care and adoption was a family endeavor.  All the kids pitched in to help with all the babies.  We used to joke that our oldest son was the only freshman at an all make Jesuit university that could change diapers.  Before we accepted any baby in foster care, we asked the kids if they were ready to do it again.  There was never a moment’s hesitation.  We also brought them into the adoption decisions, and again, no hesitation. 

Jeff was the third baby we welcomed in foster care.  When he came, he was 9 month old, suffering severe gross motor developmental delay.   He was unable even to hold his head up.  We put Jeff in programs to develop his motor skills and followed up treatment with at-home exercises.  Our other kids playing with Jeff, which they did often, were doing the exercises called for in his therapy.  He responded well.  They were a major factor in his successful development.  There was also concern that Jeff might have had some undiagnosed genetic disorder.  Due to the uncertainly of his prognosis, Catholic Charities was unable to place him for adoption.  Which opened the door for us and we happily made him a permanent part of our family.

About two years later, Catholic Charities decided that we had had a long enough break and asked us to begin taking infants in foster care again.  We had several one after another for about 18 months.  Of course, babies that young never to get to the point of sleeping through the night.  So we went for those 18 months without sleeping through the night either.  We asked the agency to give us a little respite and they agreed.  We were just about to return our then guest infant to them when they told us they had a baby in crisis who urgently needed to be placed with a family.  Of course we agreed and Kevin arrived.  Kevin was withdrawing due to a lack of bonding with a parent and was being seen, at two months of age, by a psychiatrist.  It was feared that if he was not placed with a bondable caregiver, he would withdraw further and stop eating. 

When the social worker delivered Kevin she said that if we thought we might consider adopting him we should let her know.  Kevin had some genetic issues and needed a long-term home do deal with the bonding issue.  Of course there was no “decision” to be made.  We were delighted to welcome him into our family.   

Jeff and Kevin are now 31 and 28 years old respectively.  Jeff, recently married, served a fifteen month tour in Iraq with the US Army, and then 6 years as a police officer.  He has returned to college full time.  Kevin is a fledgling writer, working for a local nonprofit company to pay the rent while he established his writing career.  Each one has a marvelous sense of humor that gives life to our family in a very unique way.

They have always been just as much family as our first five.  All the kids are close, and close to us.  I can’t imagine what our lives would be like without these two “nativities”.  Kevin makes us mindful of the Nativity, as he was born on Christmas Eve. 

Timothy Muldoon (Adoption: A Life-Giving Choice, America, November 29, 2004) is so right about adoption as a life-giving alternative.  Had we not been able to adopt these boys, they likely would have been stuck in the infamous Washington DC foster care morass.  With their special needs as young children, I hate to think what might have become of them.  We were able to give them a particular kind of life and they have given, and continue to give, life to us and our family.  We gave our love to these babies and they return it “hundredfold”. 



Tony Podlecki
6 years 9 months ago
As an adoptive father, I was moved by both Timothy Muldoon's article in America and Patrick Nugent's response. It is sometimes (often?) difficult to accept what God has in store for us but when we do, as both authors make clear, the rest of the way seems easier.


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