The picture above is what most people think about when they think about adoption. That picture was taken November 28th, two weeks after Sam was born, and we had finally returned home from Florida. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome picture. (We have incredible neighbors who hung that sign for us!) But that photo isn’t an accurate representation of the adoption process.
Adoption is a marathon. The race is long, and at times it feels like it might go on forever. In my experience, there is very little information available about the “course” and a lot of misconceptions about how it works.
So I decided to compile a list of the most common questions I’ve heard during the adoption process. Here goes:
What is adoption?
Adoption is the legal transfer of parental rights from one person to another. Adoption can take place at any time in a child’s life, from the time they are born, well into their teens and twenties. Adoption requires the consent of the biological family, unless Child Protective services have intervened and terminated parental rights, due to neglect or abuse.
Isn’t adoption really messed up and unjust and basically child trafficking and why not just give all that money to the birth mother so she can raise her biological child rather than “give the child up”?
Wow I’m so glad you asked this question that most people would never ask out loud. I believe all adoptive families have had to grapple with that misconception about adoption at some point. Yes, there have been instances where adoptions have been very “messed up.” Lately, there have been a lot of news stories about corruption in adoption-related organizations, particularly abroad, where biological parents aren’t given proper representation, or the facts. That is very messed up. There are also many internationally-based adoption agencies that are reputable, helping countless orphans find families.
It’s true that domestic and internal adoptions can be expensive. And as we all know, raising any child is extremely costly — not only in terms of money, but also in terms of time, and the ability to nurture and care for that person in an emotionally healthy way. Most often, money isn’t the sole issue that leads a birth mom to make an adoption plan. Whether she doesn’t feel ready to parent, or she’s a single mom, or she already has several children to take care of—many birth mothers feel that adoption is the best option for their child. Making an adoption plan isn’t “giving something up“. It’s a selfless act of bravery, that pro-actively seeks the best for their child. In other words—it’s a loving choice that puts the needs of the child over the emotional attachment of the biological parent. It’s an act of heroism, not abandonment.
I’m dealing with infertility and starting to think about adoption, but I (or my spouse) still don’t feel ready. Is there something wrong with me?
Absolutely not! It’s important to know that adoption is not a solution to infertility. Even though Patrick and I adopted, we’re still not sure why we’re unable to get pregnant, and that still sucks. It’s important to grieve the loss of the future you thought you would have before choosing to pursue adoption. Pregnancy and adoption are different roads—even though they hope to end at the same destination.
Patrick and I asked some dear friends of ours, Brad and Jen Butcher, to take photos of us to help with our adoption profile book. Check out more of their work at http://www.bradandjen.com
How did you know that you were ready to adopt?
Patrick and I came to our “readiness” at different times, and we knew we were ready when BOTH of us felt excited and motivated to move forward. I knew I was ready to adopt when I felt confident that I had grieved and accepted my inability to have biological children. Patrick knew he was ready when he’d had a chance to meet with other adoptive fathers and have his questions answered.
At times, it felt like we were in a three-legged race. We fell down a lot when one of us tried to move ahead too fast, or when we weren’t communicating. Being tied to someone else like that can feel frustrating. But when we began to move at the same pace, we knew it was time. We needed to repair the bumps and scrapes and bruises we’d sustained when we weren’t moving in sync, and then we were ready to run ahead. You can read more about our infertility journey here.
Aren’t there a lot of children that need to be adopted through the foster system?
There are more than 100,000 children whose biological parents have already had their parental rights terminated due to abuse or neglect. You can see all of those waiting children at www.AdoptUSkids.org. To adopt those children, you first must work with the foster care system in your state. And that’s where we started, too. Patrick and I began by taking the Foster Parenting training classes (Called PATH training) through DCS here in Nashville.
We learned that the primary goal of the foster system is to reunite children with their biological families. It is an important distinction to make, because while Patrick and I still hope someday to become foster parents, we ultimately decided that wanted to adopt, not foster. However, I’m still glad we took the PATH training because in the end, our son was born in a situation that would have activated the foster system in Florida. Because we chose to take on the risks and financial burden of adoption, and because Sam’s Birth mom chose to make an adoption plan, we helped keep one more child out of the foster system.
How does domestic adoption of an infant work?
If you’re interested in adoption, the process basically follows six major phases: Exploration, Approval, Exposure, Match, Placement, and Finalization.
Exploration — Start with research. Some families choose to use an adoption agency, while others go with “consultants” or adoption lawyers. Agencies are larger entities that help connect birth mothers with families. Consultants offer services specifically to adoptive families, and help cast a wider net across many agencies. Lawyers help facilitate private adoptions. Each have their benefits and pitfalls. It’s important to do your research and decide what you feel comfortable with. We chose to go with American Adoptions. Later, we began to research Christian Adoption Consultants, and benefitted from their advice, too.
Approval — Every adoptive family has to complete an investigatory Home Study with a local provider (this costs on average about $1,500). The home study includes paperwork, essays about why you want to adopt, references from friends and family, as well as background checks, medical clearances, and more. It’s invasive, but it also makes sense — birth mothers deserve to know that their child is going to be raised in a safe and stable home. We chose to use Adoption Assistance to complete our home study.
Exposure — Once you choose a representative (agency, consultancy, or lawyer) and have an approved Home study, you’ll be guided to create a personal profile for birth mothers to view. This can feel weird. But since birth mothers get to choose the family in which they place their biological child, it’s important that she gets to see pictures of you in your everyday life to begin to imagine her child in your care. Once that profile is made, your representative can begin showing it to interested birth mothers.
Match — This happens when a birth mother chooses your profile—whether she’s 22 weeks along, or in the hospital in labor. Some matches can last many weeks, while others are mere hours, if the baby has already been born. Long matches can be really hard — but unfortunately, adoptive families don’t typically get a choice. My advice would be to try and work with an agency or lawyer that only matches in the third trimester.
Placement — When the baby is born and the birth mother decides to follow through on her adoption plan, the baby will be legally placed with the adoptive family. This step usually takes place at the hospital. Every state is different when it comes to placement. Some states allow birth mothers to sign their consent forms within 48 hours after birth, and that signature is binding. Other states require longer waiting periods, and allow the birth mother to revoke her signature. Check here for different state laws. Florida and Texas are notoriously adoptive-family friendly, while Kentucky has one of the longest revocation periods.
This is me in our car as we prepared to drive to Florida, with the hope that Sam’s birth mom would go through with her adoption plan. We completely over-packed.
Finalization — After placement, the process can begin to finalize the adoption. Every state is different in its requirements for finalization, but typically it takes between 3-9 months. At that time, a judge will legally transfer parental rights permanently to the adoptive family and issue a new birth certificate with the adoptive family’s last name.
I’ve heard there are really long wait times. Is that true? Why does it take so long?
Yes. On average, the wait time for adopting a healthy infant in the U.S. can seem extremely long (sometimes people can wait up to 5 years). But everything is circumstantial and relative. The wait can be long for three reasons. First—in most cases, birth mothers are looking through profiles and making choices. There is no rhyme or reason for who and when they choose a family. The choice is hers, and typically, she makes that choice on a feeling, or gut instinct. Second—adoption representatives (agency, lawyer, consultant) differ in the number of birth mothers they serve. Some agencies only place on average 20 babies a year, while others serve a wider area, and thus, place more babies in adoptive families. If you choose to go with a smaller agency—or one that already has a long list of hopeful adoptive families—the wait times can be longer.
The final reason a wait time can be long is an adoptive family’s financial flexibility and openness. Some adoptive situations are more expensive than others (more on that below). The more funds you have available for an adoption, the more exposure you will get to more expensive adoptive situations. Also, the more funds you have available, the more agencies/lawyers/consultants you can partner with, making the wait time shorter because your exposure is larger. Wait times can be long due to openness as well. If you are open to a baby of any race or gender; if you’re open to loving a child with special needs or one that has been exposed to drugs, the wait times can and will be significantly shorter.
Patrick and I were very open to any type of situation and had financial flexibility. We waited about 9 months from “Exposure” to “Placement.”
Isn’t Adoption really expensive? How did you afford it?
Patrick and I dealt with infertility for nearly five years. During that time, we started a budget using a program called YNAB and began saving diligently in a category we called “Future Family.” We didn’t know if we would do IVF, Adoption, or some other intervention. But we knew whatever we chose would be risky and expensive. We saved as much as we could, as fast as we could.
Adoption is expensive — and it should be. The costs are legitimate and variable. An adoptive family often helps support the birth mother’s living expenses after the match. Depending on the birth mother’s situation, her living expenses could be high (maybe she’s homeless and needs help finding a place to live), or low (maybe she lives with her parents and doesn’t need extra rent money). Medical expenses fluctuate. Legal expenses differ between states, and depending on the laws in the state. Add to all of this notary fees, overnighting mail, home study, and counseling services for the birth mother… and you can understand why adoptions can average anywhere from $20,000 – $60,000. I can attest that our adoption was toward the higher end of that range.
NEVER LET MONEY HOLD YOU BACK FROM ADOPTING. Hold fundraisers. Ask for help. Be honest with people about the cost and about your needs. People want to help. But nO matter how you finance an adoption, it’s essential that you talk with your adoptive representative and ensure that they have some kind of insurance policy on an adoption match, or a limit on what funds are “at risk” in a match. One of the things that drew us to American Adoptions was their insurance policy. After our first adoption opportunity fell through, we were grateful that we didn’t lose the $33,000 that we’d put into that opportunity.
Do you have an open or closed adoption? (And what does that mean?)
We have an open adoption with Sam’s birth mother. In the past, many adoptions were “closed” meaning that the birth family and adoptive family never met, interacted, or exchanged names or information. Over time, psychologists and families have learned that that kind of hard break is really difficult on the birth mother and the adoptive child. It leaves so many questions unanswered for everyone involved and can lead to more trauma than necessary. That’s why these days open and semi-open adoptions are more common.
When it comes to an open adoption, birth mothers and adoptive families come to an agreement about what is most comfortable for everyone. That could mean scheduling visits, or having regular phone calls. We didn’t feel comfortable to committing to regular visits, and Sam’s birth mom didn’t ask for that level of contact. However, we did form a strong relationship with Sam’s birth mother and chose to exchange phone numbers. Right now, our relationship looks like exchanging text messages every few weeks. We also agreed to share yearly pictures and update letters with the agency until Sam’s 18th birthday. We feel really comfortable with this situation and are so grateful to know a lot about Sam’s history, so we can share that with him as he gets older.
How did you make decisions about race, gender, and medical history? Did that make you feel weird to be doing that?
As an adoptive family, you’ll have very little control over the adoption process. But one of the few things that you can voice is your comfort level with important things like race, gender, and the baby’s drug exposure in utero.
While it felt weird at first to talk about these issues, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you feel comfortable with and ready to do as a parent. There is no shame in these decisions, simply honesty. Patrick and I were open to a child of any gender and were more restrictive about drug exposure.
But the biggest decision an adoptive family needs to make is your comfort level with trans-racial adoption. This is an extremely hot-button issue and for good reason. Adopting trans-racially brings with it a whole different set of challenges and joys, and needs to be looked at with eyes VERY wide open. Recently, a friend shared a quote from the book, “Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria.” — The quote went something like this: “If you’re white, planning on adopting a black baby, your black baby shouldn’t be your first black friend.” I agree with that sentiment whole heartedly.
I also don’t think that your fears of inadequacy should keep you from doing what you feel called to do. Having considered adoption first through the lease of foster parenting, Patrick and I felt comfortable with opening our home to a child of any race. But we were also aware that win the future, we’d need to make intentional choices to expose ourselves and our life to greater diversity. While we waited, we started doing a lot of reading and thinking and talking. Would that child be the only black kid in our church? At his school? It’s important to think about what changes you’re willing to make in order to make sure your child has access and touch-points to people that look like them. Watching This is Us is great — but that’s a starting point, not a full education. (See below for book suggestions and other resources on trans-racial adoption.)
What did you wish you knew about adoption before you got started?
Everyone says that “adoption is hard,” but that is not helpful whatsoever. I will offer this instead: Adoption is a rollercoaster that only goes down until it stops. There is very little about adoption that feels good, especially while you’re in the middle of the process. Adoption starts from a place of sadness and loss for the birth mom, and adoptive families must allow birth moms to lead in this process. That means your life will feel completely crazy, while you’re waiting on a total stranger to make a huge decision that will impact her life, your life, an the life of this child… forever. It is a massive, earth-shattering shift for everyone. It rocked my faith and forced me to hold onto God harder than I ever had before because I felt so helpless. And I was helpless.
I wish I knew how much it was going to cost—financially and emotionally. Save. Save. Save. Find a good therapist.
I wish I knew how wonderful it was going to feel to be Sam’s mom. Even though adoption is a roller coaster that only goes down, I am so glad that we did it. Often I look over at Sam and I think about how different his life is now than it would have been. It’s overwhelming to think about how lucky he is, how lucky we are, and how grateful I am to his birth mom for making such a mature decision that was in Sam’s best interest.
How can I support my friends who are adopting?
Donate money to their adoption fund. Don’t ask “is there any update?” because there probably isn’t one. Educate yourself on the process (look! you’re already doing that by reading this post!). Don’t try to sugar-coat things. Let them be sad if they’re feeling sad. Let them be crazy if they’re feeling crazy. Throw them a shower once the baby is home.
What if I think I want to adopt? What should I do first?
Start by having dinner or a Skype call with someone else who has adopted. Through other people, you’ll learn about different agencies, lawyers and consultancies that sound interesting. Then start calling up those lawyers and agencies until you find one that you feel comfortable with. The rest will go from there. And it will suck. But it will also end like this:
Faith to Foster – by TJ and Jenn Menn