How Much Is a Hispanic Baby Worth?

When my wife and I decided to adopt, we were stunned to learn that our agency based its pricing on race

Photo: Tuan Tran/Getty Images

WeWe sat across from each other at our favorite Mexican restaurant. All of our most important decisions seemed to happen over tequila. Our first kiss came after tequila shots. Want to get married? Tequila. Should we buy a house? What do these tasty margaritas have to say about it?

Should we start a family? Definitely a tequila question.

My wife didn’t know what I had in my pocket, and I wasn’t quite ready to tell her yet, so I began with, “Perhaps we should just consider a black or biracial baby?”

Adoption is a strange process, and perhaps the oddest part of our experience was the pricing. While many adoption agencies had a “retail value” for the child, and discounts based on family income, our agency — and it was not alone in this — based its pricing on race.

Not our race, of course. They were more than happy to take our white money! And I’m sure they were more than happy to take brown money, black money, and any other color so long as the check cleared.

The price of the adoption was based on the race of the baby. White baby? $44,000. Hispanic? $37,400. A biracial baby was $28,600, and a black baby was $22,000. At our first meeting with the adoption agency, we were told that the waiting list for a white baby was long, and the list got shorter for those willing to accept other races.

The idea that a black baby was worth less than a white baby seemed just plain wrong.

I wish I could say we were the couple that said, “Just give us any kid!” We weren’t. After going through a series of miscarriages — our world record of staying pregnant was 10 whole weeks — we took solace in the fact that adoption would allow us to specify the type of baby. We took that magic wand, waved it, and demanded, “We want a healthy baby.”

But as for the race of that healthy child, why did that matter?

As we would find out, it did matter — at least in terms of the price tag. From a purely logical, supply-and-demand standpoint, discounting a baby based on race made sense. If there was less interest in the non-white children who needed homes, offering a discount would seem like a reasonable strategy to boost demand.

But this wasn’t Vulcan, and we weren’t dealing with the pure logic of Spock’s Adoption Agency. We were in Dallas, Texas, and the idea that a black baby was worth less than a white baby seemed just plain wrong.

Were we at some crazy redneck adoption agency? Not according to the internet. After querying a forum for prospective parents looking into adoption, I found that race-based pricing wasn’t as uncommon as you might think.

BBack at the Mexican restaurant, I still wasn’t quite ready to reveal my secret. We were only on our first margarita, after all! So, in a bit of misdirection, I started the conversation on race. It was something I had been contemplating for a while: If a black baby was $22,000, a biracial baby $28,600, and a white baby $44,000, why would we want a white baby? Because the two of us were white? We didn’t begrudge adoptive parents who wanted their child to look like them, and that urge isn’t exclusive to white parents. But for us, it seemed like a silly reason, especially when you considered that a black baby would come with a built-in $22,000 college fund!

My wife agreed, and we declared right then and there — at the exact moment that second margarita was arriving — that we’d rule out those white babies. Who needs a retail-priced baby? We were going to shop the sales!

That’s when I reached into my pocket.

For us, the process of adoption started by creating a photo album of our family (or lack thereof) designed to attract the attention of a birth mom. A few times a month, we would receive an email with information about a birth mom and baby, including details like sex, expected arrival, and any potential health issues. We could respond with either a yes or a no. If we said yes, our photo album would be sent along with several others for the birth mom to choose from. At the time of our fateful Mexican dinner, we’d never been chosen.

While the adoption agency tried to create this match between birth mom and adoptive parents when the birth mom was about eight months along, there were at times special circumstances. In the case of “Baby Girl,” she was about three weeks old when I received the email about her. Because she was immediately put up for adoption, Baby Girl was the name on her original birth certificate. (Don’t worry, we changed it when the adoption became official at six months.) And while most emails we received from the agency came with a photo of the birth mom, Baby Girl came with her own picture.

My daughter is three-quarters Hispanic and one-quarter white. Which, in the eyes of the adoption agency, made her… white.

“But what about this one,” I said, reaching into my pocket, pulling up the email with the picture of our future daughter, and passing it to my wife. “She’s not on sale,” I added. “She’s a full-priced baby.”

I should pause at this point to note that my daughter is incredibly cute. Like off the charts. When people remark on her cuteness, I always reply, “She takes after me,” and they immediately give me the stink eye. Not that they necessarily know she’s adopted. I think it’s simply because she’s way cuter than me. And as cute as she is now at eight years old, she was even cuter at three weeks. I’ve always been of the opinion that most babies look like Winston Churchill. Mine looked like a goddess.

If you think it is odd that babies can be priced based on race, my daughter’s pricing was even stranger. She is three-quarters Hispanic and one-quarter white. Which, in the eyes of the adoption agency, made her… white.

Here’s how it worked: If a baby had any white in her, she was white, even if she wasn’t mostly white. Unless she had black in her. Then she was biracial. Even if she was mostly white. Even a Vulcan would be hard-pressed not to find that racist.

Despite the bizarre pricing, I’ll give our adoption agency credit for a quick turnaround that would have impressed even Amazon. On Tuesday, we got the email. On Wednesday, they told us to come pick her up on Friday. On Thursday, we had a crazy shopping trip to buy a car seat, pack-n-play, diapers, bottles, and other essentials. On Friday, we wrote the check and brought her home to an eerily quiet house wondering what exactly we were to do next. Fifteen minutes later we were taking selfies with her.

AAdoption definitely gives you a different view on race. From the white parents who must figure out how to raise a black child in a society still struggling with racial tensions — a prospect made only more frightening by the realization that no white person can truly understand what it is like to be black in America — to the parents of a Hispanic child in a country that wants to build a wall to keep them out. How do you tell your daughter that some people won’t like her simply because she has skin slightly darker than their own?

“I’m glad white people and brown people can go to the same school these days,” she told me the other day. She’s just started third grade and still refers to any non-white kid as simply “brown.” She smiles and adds, “I’m glad Mom didn’t have to feel embarrassed that she sent her kid to a school with brown people. I’m also glad Martin Luther King allowed us to all go to the same school.”

These are some of the father-daughter conversations that make parenthood so fun. In one quick conversation, she astounds me with how deep and philosophical she can be, amuses me with her slight misunderstanding of Martin Luther King’s role in the Civil Rights movement, and makes me ponder her own sense of self-identity.

How do you tell your daughter that some people won’t like her simply because she has skin slightly darker than their own?

Does my daughter know she’s Hispanic? Of course, we’ve told her she’s Hispanic. She knows about her birth mother. Our philosophy is to always be open about her adoption. But does she really, really know she’s Hispanic?

When she was six, she wanted an American Girl doll for Christmas. I shopped for one online and settled on the Ashlyn doll from the WellieWishers collection specifically because of the doll’s light brown skin and dark hair.

Baby Girl was absolutely thrilled. She held it and danced with it, and with a big smile on her face, she announced, “She looks just like me!” I don’t think anyone looking into the glow of her eyes at that moment could ever misunderstand the idea of “representation” and what it really means to anyone — white, black, brown, male, female, other.

So, yes, she realizes the color of her skin is darker than ours. But as to the significance that might play in her future, she’s blissfully unaware. We plan to keep it that way for a few more years. No doubt, she’ll need to know before high school.

WWhen we were contemplating adoption, I sometimes wondered: But will I love the child as much as I would love a genetic offspring? What I’ve learned is that the love for a child is infinite. You simply can’t compare it.

Adoption is also more common than I previously thought. I can’t count the number of times we’ve mentioned our daughter is adopted, only to be met with “I’m adopted” or “My son/daughter is adopted” or “My brother and his wife are going through the adoption process.”

If I had to do it all over, I would definitely choose adoption again. And not just because Baby Girl turned out to be one of the coolest goddesses on the planet. The process also made us into better people and gave us a new worldview.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s a scary worldview. But mostly, as I watch my daughter play among her ethnically diverse set of friends, I feel hopeful. Racial tensions may be bad, but in a society still struggling with racial inequity, at least a discussion is happening. And maybe, just maybe, that discussion will lead to fewer people who look down on my daughter simply because she is brown.

I am a writer, game developer, husband, father, dog owner, independent, gamer and wannabe herpetologist.

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