Is adoption right for you if you can’t have children?

If you are one of the relatively small number who need a hysterectomy before your fortieth birthday, but have never had a family and the dream of becoming a mother has not gone away, there are still options open to you. Pre-frozen eggs and surrogates are a miracle which will do work, but only for a tiny minority. However, adoption is an alternative possibility you might consider worth exploring. You can read more about the process of adopting a child on the family lives website.

If you managed to hear the recent Radio 4 series about ‘Bethany and Ben’, you will have gathered that an immense amount of time and care is taken to find the right permanent home for children being adopted out of the care system. The World at One news programme explored the various elements involved in the adoption process from different perspectives. We heard from the Social Workers for the children, and those tasked with finding a suitable adoptive family for them. We heard from the foster carers, the birth parents and grandparents, and not least from the children themselves, busy playing and giggling over the airwaves.

Very few babies are relinquished for adoption these days. The vast majority are placed because of difficulties in their birth families, meaning the children have been removed by the courts, after a careful legal process in which all parties will have been legally represented, including the children. Their ages will thus range from birth up to teenage.

The children available for adoption come in all shapes and sizes, with different personalities and characteristics, as of course do birth children.

Babies who are removed at birth are, most often, a second or subsequent child of a mother who has a  history of difficulties, possibly through drug or alcohol usage, or mental health issues. This may have implications for the long term health of the adopted child. The father’s medical history, name, or ethnicity and background may, or may not be known. Older children, even those removed before their first birthday, may have experienced neglect, or abuse, which will affect their ability to trust adults. They may need continuing help over a number of years to come to terms with these experiences.

Efforts are generally made by Social Workers to match ethnicity and religion but with many children coming from backgrounds of multiple diversity, this is often not possible. The priority is to find a suitable home for the child. Children, like ‘Bethany and Ben’ sometimes come in larger packages. Finding homes for sibling groups is challenging but may be the right solution for the children, although there are some families where it is considered best to place brothers and sisters separately. These are often described as the ‘hard to place’ children, alongside those with medical conditions, or learning difficulties. Could you be the mother these children are looking for?

There is plenty of information available online, and adoption agencies will be only to happy to include you in preparation discussions and assessments, where different possibilities are considered. These days, children are adopted by single people, as well as couples, and by straight and gay and lesbian households. You need to have sufficient space to accommodate a child and you need a basic level of income, although adoption allowances can be paid.

Most of all you, and your partner if you have one, need to want to look after a child through to adulthood.

During the assessment, some soul searching will be required. People sometimes find this intrusive but its purpose is to examine those deeper feelings which surround the whole question of fertility and parenthood. How do you really feel about your inability to have your own biological child? How does your partner feel about this? Do you blame yourself, or your partner, or something you did, or didn’t do in your past?

How does it feel to be different from other women, not able to be included in those conversations about giving birth? Do you feel less of a woman having had a hysterectomy? Your adopted child will almost certainly not be a newborn baby. How much do you mind missing out on those early months, or years?

How will you cope with telling your child about her past, or when your child starts to search online for relatives? Could you deal with meeting birth family members, or keeping contact with them? Do you mind not knowing where some of your child’s characteristics come from, or their full medical history? Will you feel guilty about the sadness which birth families may feel at the loss of their child?

How will you family and friends react? How much does their approval matter to you? How will you cope with those funny looks and leading questions about why your child does not resemble you?

There is a great deal to be thought about but of course, one can overthink a situation. There are lots of positives, and you have a right to continuing help from a post adoption service if you experience difficulties as your child grows up. You may have to fight for help, especially if your child has special needs, but there are others out there in the ether who may be able to help and support you, as well as the professionals.

Adopted children are eligible for Pupil Premium, which could be a boost to their school and provide the means of getting additional help for them. They also have priority in getting school places.

If you decide to embark on the adoption journey, just like a pregnancy, birth and parenthood, it will be a roller coaster of ups and downs. A few adoptions sadly do not work out, but the vast majority, like the vast majority of parental experiences, bring many moments of joy and satisfaction.

Personally, when I watch my adopted son being an excellent father, especially to my grandson, who looks just like him and nothing like me, I know it has all been worthwhile.  Take your time, time to consider your feelings and what it will all mean to you but, if you decide to give it try, to find out more, I believe that you will find the exploration worth the effort.


Tina Shaw is a retired social worker who spent most of her working life dealing with all aspects of the adoption process. She has two adult adopted children and two grandchildren. She says, “I have derived great satisfaction from both my personal and professional experiences.”

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