The old idea that single people should not be allowed to adopt is being put to rest as the single demographic grows and attitudes begin to change.
Single people of a certain age have never enjoyed the richness of life available to us now. We are buying our own homes, creating partner-free social circles, even adopting children. In the 1970s, when I was coming of age, marriage was the only route to a family — the portal through which one had to pass in order to have a child.
But in recent decades, adoption by unmarried people has become not only accepted, but commonplace. This is not only true of gay couples, but of singles living alone. The entertainment industry ― always at the forefront of social trends ― has seen a minor baby boom in recent years, with adoptions by Sandra Bullock, Sheryl Crow, Calista Flockhart, Mary Louise Parker, Edie Falco and, of course, the queen of adoptions, Angelina Jolie, who began taking in children long before Brad Pitt was by her side.
“I have definitely noticed an increase in adoptions by single women, especially in the last two to three years,” says Nicole Witt, executive director of The Adoption Consultancy, based in Florida. “The early 40s is very typical. By this age, many women have decided that they don’t have to wait for the perfect husband to come along to have the child they’ve always wanted.”
Barbara Thatcher, a public relations professional living in Northern California, began the adoption process four years ago. “I waited as long as I could for Prince Charming,” she laughs, “But I had two serious relationships in my 30s, and neither one worked out. When the last one ended at 38, that’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands.”
She’s far from alone. According to Adoption.com, a clearinghouse for adoption information, single-parent adoptions are the fastest-growing trend in the field. And single parents also prove themselves to be big-hearted ones: Adoption.com says that fully 25 percent of all adoptions of special-needs children are by unmarried people. Of all other adoptions, it’s estimated that 5 percent are by singles.
Challenges of Adopting
The single-parent adoption process is not without its challenges, says Witt, who describes her job as “like being a wedding planner, but for adoptions.” For one thing, there are fewer babies available.
“International adoptions have dropped because a few countries have closed to Americans ― especially single Americans,” she says. “China is now closed to single women, except for special-needs babies. Vietnam and Guatemala are also closed. So a lot of people are turning to domestic adoption. But the number of available children is not increasing.”
So the demand is higher now. Also, she says, birth mothers tend to prefer married couples.
“With open adoptions, the birth parents get to choose who adopts their baby. It can be harder for single parents to get selected, because the birth mom often has a preference for a traditional family. It really depends on whether there is a connection between the two.”
Thatcher says she was concerned about that possibility. “I was afraid it would take longer to be chosen by the birth mother because I’m single. I thought ‘Why wouldn’t you pick a nuclear family if you could?’ I know I would. But that’s the interesting thing about this open adoption process: Because the parents have the ability to meet, it then becomes as much about chemistry as anything else. Something in my profile attracted the birth mother, and although she was very emotional at first and backed out, she went ahead with the process and chose me.”
Thatcher’s adoption of her “beautiful baby girl” was complete six days after the baby was born. “It has absolutely changed by life for the better,” she says.
Like Sandra Bullock, Thatcher adopted an African-American child. “It’s important that any adopter who wants a child sooner than later be flexible as to their race,” says Witt. “If they are willing to adopt an African-American or bi-racial baby, or one who may have had some drug exposure, they are guaranteed success. I am seeing more and more people interested in the idea of adopting outside their race; we are becoming more comfortable as a society.”
Support Is Key
Chicagoan Michelle Hughes, who describes herself as “a loud, proud bi-racial,” also adopted as a single woman in her early 40s. She is so deeply committed to cross-cultural adoptions that she started a multicultural mothers’ group. She is also an adoption attorney and educator. Her story is fairly typical.
“I had been thinking about it for years but kept putting it off,” she says. “I had not found the right guy. I got to the point in my life where it was now or never, and then a situation presented itself where a birth mom chose me. Maxwell was born in January 2010, and he is now 17 months old.”
She is calling from a local park, and Maxwell is heard in the background, squealing with giddy pleasure. “People stop me on the street and say he has such bright eyes!” she says with pride.
Hughes has no regrets about becoming a mother in her 40s. “I think that the 40s are an ideal decade to adopt in that I feel more confident and relaxed now than I would have if I’d been a younger mom.”
And by this age, she adds, most women have a great network of support. “My parents and friends have been amazingly supportive. I have people who will babysit and relieve me. I also have a network of people who give me everything from hand-me-downs to soccer lessons.”
Thatcher agrees that this is key. “You have some extra challenges as a single woman. Even married parents get exhausted, and you’re doing this on your own. The combination of being the breadwinner and full-time nurturer is the trickiest part.”
And where it’s harder for single people to become parents than married couples, all agree that it’s absolutely doable. Hughes’ advice to single women is to “be assertive and aggressive. Shop around and know your options — there are many different ways to adopt.”
In the end, she says, there are enormous rewards for your efforts.
“It’s beyond rewarding,” she says. “There’s nothing like having a little man in your face first thing in the morning, saying, ‘Hi, Mommy!'”