Too Old to Adopt? by Margaret Hart
Recently, I wrote about our desire to grow our family. It was always in our plan, but as we all know, sometimes plans don’t work out as you would like. Our seven-year-old son has always wanted a brother or a sister and regularly laments not having one. We constantly find ourselves trying to find appropriate and easily understood answers to his questions. For a “later” mom, it’s a topic that is frustrating and painful.
In order to answer my son’s questions, I have to answer my own. Why is it so difficult for an older mom or dad adopt? Why is someone over 40 typically deemed too old to adopt when women over 45 (and increasingly over 50) are becoming mothers via IVF and surrogacy? Who decides when a woman or a man are too old to be parents? It is a fact that if you are an older mom (over 45, and in some countries, over 35), you face barriers to adoption due to your age. You could be physically and mentally fit, intelligent, loving, and financially stable, but because you are considered “older,” your chances of adopting a newborn, or a younger child are slim. Most foreign countries require that at least one parent be under age 35 or 45, and in the United States, most agencies have the same requirement. And if you are over 45, you are far less likely to be chosen by a birthmother due to your age. Of course, there are exceptions.
If you are over 40, or 45, and you want to adopt, what are your choices? As one social worker told me, “there aren’t many options, I’m afraid.” In the United States, some agencies will accept your application but caution you that the wait could be very long. You can adopt an older child from the foster care system, a child with special needs, or you can try your luck with a private adoption attorney. You can place advertisements on your own, but most professionals agree that this strategy is high risk. If you are looking into a foreign adoption, countries like China and Russia will allow a mom to be over 45, but your chances of adoption a young, healthy child are low. These are all complex issues to explain to a child who desperately wants a sibling. How do you tell your child that “the powers that be” think you are too old to be a mom?
The facts are that, if you are in your 40s, you’re not too old. Over the last three decades, women have been waiting longer to start having children. We all know that. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009, the birth rate in the United States was 66.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The number of births for women age 45 and older increased slightly, while the number of births fell in all other age categories, by as much as 6 percent for women under age 39. So if the data are correct, births in women over age 40 are increasing. Why can’t adoption agencies keep up? There are more and more “later” moms over 40 having children and they are doing a great job, thank you.
It’s time that adoption agencies realize that later moms are more experienced, typically more financially stable, and usually more relaxed about raising children. I will go out on a limb and say we often have better judgment than our much younger compatriots. What agencies will often tell you is that their age requirements are based on what birth mothers (or in some cases, birth fathers) want. I don’t disagree with that. But I don’t agree, either. I know for a fact, from personal experience, that many birthmothers are very comfortable with adoptive parents being over 40. As the co-founder of an adoption group in my area, I am friends with many adoptive families, and I know their stories.
So is it a perception that women in their 40s are too old to adopt? And what can we do to change this? Talking about it is a start, and continuing to foster positive discussion can only help. And speaking of fostering, let’s talk about the children in foster care who need good homes and loving parents. These children do not discriminate. They don’t care how old you are. They just want someone to love them. There are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system in our country, according to the 2011 AFCARS Report (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report). Approximately 5,000 of those children are in my home state. I’m taking a closer look.
If you want to become an adoptive parent, I would argue that it doesn’t matter how old you are (within reason). An adoption social worker once told me, “The children find you.” If you are a later mom over 40, don’t give up hope if you want to grow your family through adoption. Sooner or later, a child will find you.