Why We Adopted Children In Our 20s

Photographed by Emli Bendixen
“Society's stereotype is that middle-aged, wealthy couples who unfortunately can't conceive biological children are the [main] adopters. Which is why people were so shocked when we did adopt, I think.”
Molly was 25 when she started the adoption process with her husband. While she already had a biological daughter at 21, a series of miscarriages followed by a traumatic birth cemented that she never wanted to be pregnant again. But that didn’t mean they only wanted one child. “The whole experience [of pregnancy] for me was just one that I never really wanted to relive, as much as I adore my daughter and I'm grateful for her” Molly tells R29. “And every time someone would say "when are you going to have another one?" it just filled me with dread.
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Which is how, in the summer of 2019, she ended up looking into adoption. “I don't want to say I fell in love with the idea” she says, “because it's such a bittersweet thing – it comes with a lot of sadness, a lot of loss and grief for the children, but I knew instantly that this was for us.”
And so, Molly and her husband went to an information evening for a local adoption agency which she describes as something of a revelation. “We just came out of that on cloud nine. For me personally, any pressure I felt to be pregnant left me, the weight came off my shoulders. I was just so excited!” While her husband wasn’t ecstatic like her (which she attributes to the fact she didn’t have to be pregnant again) they were both fully onboard. “I was like yes, this is amazing! We can raise and love a child. DNA doesn't matter.”
Now aged 27, Molly and her husband live with their 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son in the North of England. She is an advocate for adoption at any age, particularly on the younger end of the spectrum, and speaks to many younger adopters who often feel like the odd ones out at the mandatory information evenings and training courses.
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While you can adopt a child from the age of 21, the average age of adoptive parents in the U.K. is 38 years old. So when you are on the younger end of the spectrum, there can often be a presumption of naivety about your decision, or even outright dismissal.
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For married couple Leigh and Bee, who were 27 and 25 respectively when they began their adoption process, their age, together with their queerness, often meant they were the odd ones out at in-person events. “Everyone else was an older straight couple who had previously gone through fertility treatment,” says Leigh. “So for us as a young queer couple who just wanted to adopt and didn't want to be pregnant, we didn't feel a connection.” They both felt that their age meant it was the perfect time to start a family, but they felt laughed out of one of their training courses for saying this. “We thought ‘this is the norm, plenty of our friends and our peers have children or are having children [at this age]’” says Bee. As part of the course, they went round the room answering the question of ‘why adoption now?’ “We said if ‘we don't do it now we won't do it – this feels like the right time for us’ and they just laughed at us and said 'you're so young, what are you talking about?' And everybody else in the room was about 35 years plus.”
Luckily, not everyone faces derision for the decision to adopt in their twenties. Chelsey, who lives in the Midlands with her husband, started the adoption process when she was 27 and their daughter came to live with them at 29. When they realised they couldn’t conceive naturally, adoption immediately became their first choice.
“I think we were drawn to [it] because as a child, though I wasn't adopted, I lived with someone who was non-biologically related to me because of trauma in my own life,” Chelsey says. Once they started the process, they found they were often the youngest ones in the room, but don’t believe they experienced any dismissal based on age. In fact, the life experience that led them to adoption enhanced their training experience as Chelsey was able to share how children would feel at certain times. That being said, her background also increased the background checks.
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“I'd already got a basis of knowledge so [maybe] that helped the process” Chelsey tells R29. “But it was still very in-depth, and probably a lot more detailed [for me] because I had to have extra checks on my background and my family.”
Similarly, Emma, who lives in Yorkshire with her husband, didn’t feel that their age was questioned. They started the process when she was 28 and he was 30 when the prospect of undergoing IVF steered them towards adoption. 
“We started the process after quite a long period of unexplained fertility,” she explains to R29. While they’d gone to the doctors and sought an explanation, Emma knew that the route of fertility treatments was not one for them. “I decided that the stress of going through all the fertility tests was too much. Plus the prospect of IVF, which could potentially not even work, was just something that I didn’t feel I could cope with”. Instead they pursued adoption, and their children,  2- and 4-year-old siblings, came to live with them a year later.

“People, no matter how they choose to have a child, know when they are ready. Age doesn’t come into your ability to parent.”

Leigh
For Emma, age came up occasionally as she and her husband had never parented, but in the end their relative youth was a bonus.
“There were certain training classes, some compulsory and some advised, that we had to take because we'd never parented,” Emma tells R29. “But my husband and I have godchildren so we've got quite a lot of experience even being younger [carers] and could prove that we've got the experience. Our age was never put into question really. And actually the children's social worker was looking for younger parents, because the children are very young, very energetic, and also very close in age.”
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When it comes to adoption, the only point at which age really should become a factor is whether it affects your ability to care for the child: many children in the care system will have specific needs and traumas and in order to place a child with you, the social workers have to be sure you are able to accommodate those needs. This might mean being sure you will not have any biological children as that could be distressing for children, or being able to support particular behaviours as the child gets attached. And if you’re younger there may be more questions raised about whether you are capable of meeting those needs.
Happily though, despite stereotypes suggesting otherwise, there is a robust network of support for younger people who want to adopt. Whether you’re straight or queer, single or married, in your early 20s or late 40s, adopting a child is something that anyone can do, and should do, if they want to. You just have to be prepared to stake your claim that you are ready to make that commitment, no matter what age. As Leigh tells R29:
“People, no matter how they choose to have a child, know when they are ready. Age doesn’t come into your ability to parent.”
If you're curious about adoption, you can visit Adoption UK

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