National Adoption Awareness month draws to a close with the news that one of American politics’ greatest adoption advocates will be in the White House come January 2017. Vice President-elect Mike Pence made adoption reform a key issue during his tenure as governor of Indiana and made his pro-adoption platform clear throughout the election. During the vice presidential debate, he boasted of Indiana’s record of “expand[ing] alternatives in health care counseling for women.”
“I’m also very pleased,” he went on, that “we’re well on our way to becoming the most pro-adoption state in America. I think if you’re gonna be pro-life, you should be pro-adoption.” He had previously declared, “I want Indiana to be known as the most pro-adoption state in America.”
Pence also took steps to bring that aspiration closer to reality. Under his governorship, the state established an interim committee on adoption and tax credits for adoptive parents, as well as reformed record laws that balances the interests of adopted children, adoptive parents, and mothers who give their child up for adoption. As the Indy Star reported, Indiana is a “national leader in adoptions,” with the fourth-highest rate of adoption per live births, the ninth-highest adoption rate for nonmarital births, and the eleventh-highest per 100,000 adults.
Adoption has gotten a recent bump from positive pop culture publicity as well. NBC local news anchor Melissa Mollett’s personal adoption story for this past Saturday’s National Adoption Day, for example, went viral in my Facebook feed. The teary anchor describes her and her husband’s struggle with secondary infertility and their eventual turn to adoption. She said they were “open to any race,” “a boy or girl was fine,” and they would be happy to adopt an older child or a child from foster care. What they got, she says, was a “perfect little love.” When she learned of their impending adoption on Valentine’s Day, she says, “it felt like finding out I was pregnant.”
A CBS News montage of photos of foster care children on the day of their adoption similarly blew up on social media, as did a comparable spread on Upworthy. The Upworthy post was entitled, “These adoption day photos bust myths about adopting from the foster care system.” Indeed, social media may very well be changing the way people perceive adoption, giving it a personal face, as Americans are invited into the most personal moments of the adoption experience. In my favorite of the countless viral stories and videos, one mom videotaped her children discovering the newest addition to the family, an adopted baby, under the Christmas tree and completely losing it with emotion. It gets me every time.
Adoption has even garnered celebrity status, with a growing list of stars who have adopted and speak openly about the joy it has brought them. Kathryn Heigl stunned when she and husband Josh Kelley adopted not once, but twice, and then went on to find themselves unexpectedly, expecting. Heigl grew up with an adopted sister and said, “adoption has been a part of my life and a part of my family, so it is how I wanted to start.” She got unusually candid in an interview with parent magazine Scholastic, saying:
Anyone who doesn’t have experience with adoption wonders, does love for a child come through DNA? I knew it didn’t. My mother had biological children and an adopted child and said it made absolutely no difference. They’re yours. You love them the moment they’re put into your arms.
The positive publicity for adoption comes at a time when awareness is growing about the need to reform and improve the process, as well as the staggering number of children in the foster care system. In 2014, there were almost half a million children in the U.S. foster care system, and almost 60,000 children waiting to be adopted. But adoption is no easy or cheap task. The average cost to adopt a newborn ranges from $25,000 to $40,000 and the process can take 12-18 months, often involving numerous legal hurdles and an extraordinary amount of emotional volatility. Unsurprisingly, adoption has been on the decline for decades. As Mollett’s husband says in the NBC video: “I wish it was easier for people to do, and I wish more people could do it.”
Perhaps the endless stream of affirming social media coverage, more and more celebrities speaking positively about it, and a vice president in the White House with a proven record for adoption reform will help make 2017 adoption’s moment to shine.