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Adoption Is Not an Option

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"Why not an orphanage? Yeah, a little weird seeing how the film opens up with them at the orphanage, so it's not like this never crossed their minds. If having a child meant so much to you, why didn't you just do that before?"

This trope is when an individual or couple desperately wants a child, but the issue of adoption is never thoroughly discussed, and usually not even brought up at all. It's likely that the viewer or reader is supposed to infer that the couple only wants a biological child, though that can lead to giving off the message that only biological children are acceptable. Keep in mind that there are other reasons why a person or couple may not be able to adopt, such as adoption costing a lot of money, or the person not being allowed to adopt for whatever reason, but this trope occurs when either no reason is given, or the couple/person doesn't consider adoption as a legitimate option even if they're capable of doing it if they want to.

Contrast Happily Adopted. See also Adoption Diss, when a character is insulted by another for being or being perceived as being adopted, which often ties into this trope.

Please be careful when adding Real Life examples, no need to start any flame wars.


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    Films — Animated 
  • In the opening sequence of Up, a newly-married Carl and Ellie are eager to start of family, but learn they are infertile after Ellie is implied to have a miscarriage. Strangely, they apparently never considered adoption.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Steel Magnolias: Shelby has been told not to have children due to her severe diabetes. Her fiance accepts this, declaring that they will adopt instead, but Shelby's poor medical history makes this impossible as well.
  • In The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), the titular wife has trouble getting pregnant with her husband's baby due to his genetic makeup but never considers adoption.
  • Justified in Raising Arizona: Hi & Edwina apply to adopt after finding out they can never have kids of their own due to Edwina's infertility, but are knocked back because of Hi's criminal past.

  • In the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel, Fever of the Bone, Diane refuses to consider adoption but kills her husband and his children. His kids are sired via a sperm bank, suggesting that the couples who are either infertile, gay, or unable to conceive feel the same way.
  • In the Erich Segal novel Doctors, Barney presses his girlfriend about why she won't marry him. She finally admits that she can't have children. When he tells her that they can adopt, she refuses, claiming that he is the one who would eventually resent the child for not being biologically his. Given that she was already antsy about his long-time friendship with another woman, it's likely she just wanted out of the relationship altogether and used the "kids" thing as an excuse.
  • In the Maeve Binchy novel "Evening Class", a character confronts her "older sister" after having just realized that she's actually her mother, asking her why she deceived her for years. Her aghast mother asks "Would you rather I have given you away to strangers?!" (The book took place at a time when babies were immediately taken away from birth mothers, with them knowing nothing about the adoptive parents or even the gender of the child).
  • In Eccentric Neighborhoods, married couple Agripina and Damián learn he is sterile. She is obsessed with having a child but refuses to even consider adoption. She is terrified an adopted child will have a birth defect.
  • In Wildwood, the protagonist Prue is revealed to have been conceived after her sterile parents made a deal with the Dowager Governess to have children. This example is particularly egregious since her parents were desperate to have children and adoption is never even mentioned before they resort to full-on witchcraft.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in Cold Feet. Rachel is infertile because of an abortion she had, and she and her partner seriously consider adopting. They would like to have a baby, but the chances of adopting a baby are low, so they decide to adopt an eight-year-old girl. However, during the adoption process, Rachel gets pregnant, and even though they still want the girl, the adoption gets cancelled because said girl had some issues with her biological family and new babies in the family.
  • Doctor Who has used this trope with varying levels of effectiveness in the modern series:
    • The series 6 episode "Night Terrors" featured a Creepy Child suffering from too-real nightmares. When the Doctor flipped through the family album and noted the mother was never photographed while pregnant, he skipped straight over adoption or any other mundane explanation straight to "the kid's an alien cuckoo whose origins were concealed with mind-control mojo". Since this is Doctor Who and he's the Doctor, he's right.
    • The series 7 premiere, "Asylum of the Daleks", used a more problematic example. Amy Pond admitted in a "we're gonna die" situation that she had spurned her husband Rory because previous adventures had made her sterile and she knew having children was important to him. Amy refusing to discuss adoption or even explain her reasoning at all until the moment of maximum drama went down poorly with fans.
      • Later, the minisode "P.S." revealed that Amy and Rory did wind up adopting at least one child.
  • Downton Abbey: After Mrs. Bates suffers several miscarriages, Mr. Bates brings up the possibility of adoption, but Mrs. Bates insists Mr. Bates is "tribal" and couldn't love an adopted child as much as a biological child.
  • Averted in Friends. When Monica and Chandler find out they are an infertile couple, their doctor suggests that while they might keep trying to conceive, they can consider adoption. They really like the idea, and they happily adopt baby twins.
  • In the original TV version of The Fugitive the argument that led Dr. Kimble to leave home on that fateful night involved this. Mrs. Kimble had previously had a miscarriage and couldn't have another child; Dr. Kimble wants to adopt but she refuses on the grounds that it would be "a lie."
  • In the Gilmore Girls revival "A Year in the Life," Lorelei raises the question to Luke whether he'd wanted more kids (a "fresh kid," as she puts it since they each have a daughter from a prior relationship). When he admits that he had, but thought that she'd rejected him, they visit a surrogacy center (run by none other than Paris Gellar), with Lorelei declaring it as "the only option" for having more kids at her age. When Luke finds the idea of surrogacy (or at least Paris's pushiness) uncomfortable, they drop the idea of having more kids.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Marshall and Lily are having complications with conception, yet adoption is never discussed by them. Subverted when Marshall's parents suggest adoption when they learn about the situation. However, it turns out that they actually are fertile and have just been unlucky so far. They conceive not long after.
  • Discussed and initially played straight in Judging Amy by Peter, who wants to try adoption, and Gillian, who is against the concept to the point of neurosis. It's later defied when Gillian changes her mind upon reading Vincent's unflattering, though humorous, short story about a neurotic woman obsessed with becoming pregnant.
  • Mad Men: Pete and Trudy Campbell have trouble conceiving a child, and she suggests adoption as a possibility, which he immediately sneers at as though the very idea is repulsive and humiliating. They end up powering through it and getting pregnant anyway.
  • On My Name Is Earl, in the episode "Guess Who's Coming Out of Joy?", Ray-Ray wants to have a baby with his wife Liberty, but she doesn't want to have a baby, because she's training to be a professional wrestler, and pregnancy would force her to put that on hold. Not once do they even consider adoption... at least, not in the conventional sense. Meanwhile, Joy wants to get pregnant so that the jury will be more sympathetic to her, but Darnell thinks (rightly) that that's a terrible reason to bring a child into the world and refuses to have sex with her. Earl brings up the possibility of a surrogate. After an airing of grievances with Joy, Liberty agrees to let her be a surrogate. This was to explain the bump that Joy would be sporting as a result of Jaime Pressly's real-life pregnancy.
  • The New Normal: Adoption is surprisingly absent, especially for a show about a gay couple having a baby. This is a particularly glaring example since it's not as though there is a legal hurdle for them adopting on the show as there would be in some states - it takes place in California.
    • The first episode has the couple in question decide they want a child and go right to a surrogacy agency without the word adoption being mentioned once.
    • In a later episode the couple's friends, a lesbian couple, bemoan that since both of them have fertility issues they will never have children.
  • Sex and the City featured an ongoing storyline of Charlotte desperate to have children. Upon being told she is extremely unlikely to ever become pregnant, she immediately jumps to adoption - only to have it be shut down by her husband and his mother because "I don't care for Mandarin food and I don't care for Mandarin babies." However, she ultimately does succeed in adopting a child with her second husband... only for her to conveniently have a miracle pregnancy shortly afterwards so she can have the best of both worlds.
  • Averted on Six Feet Under: Keith and David are a gay couple and they considered adoption several times.
    • They were taking care of Keith's niece Taylor and wanted to have full custody. It was aborted, explained by Keith's anger issues.
    • In season 5, David really wanted to have children. He preferred adoption while Keith favoured a surrogate mother. They went both ways, hoping that at least one of them would work out. They adopted two brothers who were about eight and twelve years old.
  • On Any Day Now, after M.E. learns that her teenage daughter is pregnant, she and the other set of soon-to-be grandparents are horrified when her husband suggests placing the child for adoption. They act as though it's the equivalent of abandoning the child, even as he points out that nowadays, a birth mother can select the adoptive parents and keep in touch with them.
  • In one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the team is chasing down a black-market baby operation masquerading as a private adoption agency. The couple that Benson and Stabler interview explain that they went through the "agency" because they couldn't be approved to adopt through normal channels due to the husband having a (dismissed but still visible) felony charge on his record.
  • Diagnosis: Murder has an episode that features a man threatening to blow up the pre-natal care unit because he believes one of the expectant mothers is carrying his child. His wife reveals they've been trying for a child for years but he refuses to adopt because he will only accept "the fruit of his loins." At the end of the episode, it's revealed that he is the infertile one and the wife is perfectly able to have kids. When he suggests adoption, his wife slaps him.
  • One Life to Live went for a trifecta of tropes when the teenage Jessica Buchanan got pregnant. After the required Good Girls Avoid Abortion plot (despite her initially clearly deciding to have one), she and her baby's father talked with numerous couples before ultimately deciding to have and raise the baby herself, before of course, having a Tragic Stillbirth.

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's "Hearthfire" DLC. You and your spouse can only adopt children; producing one naturally (assuming you're a heterosexual couple) isn't even referenced.

    Western Animation 
  • BoJack Horseman
    • Subverted where Princess Carolyn wants to have a kid and is determined to get pregnant the natural way (mostly in Season 4), but unfortunately every pregnancy she’s ever had ended in a miscarriage. She doesn't consider adoption until BoJack suggests it, which kickstarts her Story Arc for Season 5. As of “The Stopped Show”, she’s the proud adoptive mother of a porcupine baby girl named Ruthie.
    • Beatrice Horseman justifiably inverts this trope, given the time period (the '60s). Given how BoJack was an unplanned pregnancy (that she refused to abort), she nor Butterscotch thought of giving him up for adoption.
  • For a period of time in King of the Hill, there was a recurring subplot where Hank and Peggy kept trying to have a baby, and adoption is never discussed. In an unrelated episode, Hank mentions that his father Cotton hates adopted kids, which may imply some kind of values thing, but it never was brought up while they were trying to conceive.
  • The Simpsons:
    • One episode revolves around Manjula and Apu having trouble conceiving. Adoption is never brought up, likely since it was only over one episode and they probably hadn't been trying long enough to consider it. Becomes a moot point when they do end up getting pregnant — with octuplets.
    • Averted with Marge's sister Selma. She was shown throughout the series that she would like to have children one day. When she was married (for one episode) to actor Troy McClure, they had trouble conceiving...because Troy had trouble having sex. He suggests adoption, but Selma actually doesn't want to bring up a child in their loveless marriage. Much later in the series, she adopts a Chinese girl as a single mother.
  • Steven Universe: Rose decided to conceive the title character with Greg, even though it would effectively kill her, and the idea of adopting a child is never mentioned. One can interpret this as Rose being less interested in raising a child than creating a new life and in some way becoming human (whether or not that was a good idea).

    Real Life 
  • Royals in various countries did not see adoption as an option when it came to getting an heir, as only someone of their royal bloodline could take the throne in their eyes.
  • Possibly a Truth in Television trope for some people, if some of the stories about people bankrupting themselves for IVF attempts are anything to go by.
  • This can also be a cultural issue: there are cultures where, for various reasons, people simply don't adopt children.
  • There are some circumstances that legally bar people from the adoption process such as being a convicted felon (hence the plot of Raising Arizona).
  • In other cases, a person isn't technically barred from adopting, but has something going on that causes people to be skeptical (whether or not it's justified) of their parenting abilities. Would-be parents with disabilities are a common example, as many of them struggle to be recognized as competent to raise their biological children, let alone to adopt. In many parts of the world, single people and non-heterosexual couples can also have a harder time being approved.
  • The Shakers. They are a religious community, which (at the time of this writing) is down to a grand total of two, yes, two people. They aren't allowed to have sex, and due to laws restricting adoption of children by religious communities, they can't adopt children into the group, either. Thus, unless either their laws or the laws that they follow change, the community is eventually destined to go extinct.