When my husband and I started down the road of building our family through adoption, we knew that we really wanted to adopt a baby. We felt strongly about adopting an infant from the United States. We knew that there were children of all ages available for adoption across the United States and around the world, but we really wanted to get the baby from closer to home. Little did we know that both of our boys would be born in towns less than 45 minutes away from where we lived at the time.
The first time the phone rang, we were on our way home from Water Country, a water theme park near our home. Three months prior, we had been through a heartbreaking disrupted adoption, and we were finally laughing again. When the phone rang, and I saw that it was our social worker, my heart began to race. I put her on speakerphone so Eric and I could both hear. We listened with bated breath as she told us about a baby boy who was three weeks old and whose birth mother had chosen us to be his parents! We were ecstatic! After 12 years of marriage, two years of waiting, two states, and two agencies, we were finally going to be parents! We had to wait five days to meet him because the interim care family he was with were at a family reunion; those were the longest five days of our lives. When we met him, his biological parents’ rights were already terminated, and he was irrevocably ours. The moment that they placed our Joshua in my arms, he stole my heart. He.was.beautiful. I was finally in the “mom club,” something I had dreamed of my entire life.
When Joshua was 3, our second son joined our family through adoption as well. We met Caleb in the NICU when he was only 9 days old. He was a preemie born at 35 weeks. He had bradycardia, tachycardia, and could not eat on his own due to his premature birth. I drove 45 minutes every day to visit him and hold him. Once he knew he had a family that loved him, he began to thrive. Not long after we met Caleb, his birth parents’ rights were terminated, and we became his legal parents. A little over two weeks later, we finally left the hospital. The nurse carried Caleb out the front entrance and then handed him to our social worker, who then handed him to us, showing the chain of care switching hands. Even with the weird handoff, it was a joyous day! Our two domestic infant adoptions, just like our two boys, were very different. Part of the adventure of adopting a baby in the US is the fact that every situation has its own uniqueness. Even though there is variety, there is a general framework that all domestic infant adoptions must follow.
1.) Choose an adoption agency or an adoption lawyer.
Once you decide that you do want to pursue domestic infant adoption, you should choose either an adoption agency or adoption lawyer with whom you want to work. There is no right or wrong way to go, and there are pros and cons for either. Adoption.com has an article that makes an excellent comparison of an adoption agency vs an adoption lawyer. With an adoption attorney, you may qualify for adoption even if an agency turns you down because agencies may have additional requirements regarding marriage, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or age. Another factor to consider is that the cost of the adoption may be less, and you may be approved for adoption quicker. While adoption agencies may only work with a small pool of people, adoption lawyers usually do not have such restrictions. They can also bypass the training and agency fees that an agency requires. “If you already have a connection with the birth parents and you only need the adoption attorney to complete the legal steps in relinquishment, placement, and finalization, you may save money over using an agency,” according to the article. However, it is important to keep in mind that you may be required to pay birth mother medical and housing fees, and, if she decides to parent, she is not required to repay those fees.
Should you consider an adoption agency, you should be aware that they have more requirements that you must meet to be able to be approved to adopt. We used an adoption agency for both of our adoptions. I loved the fact that they were able to mediate between the birth families and us since neither family wanted to meet in person. Agencies are wonderful resources for adoption education and guidance, pre- and post-adoption counseling, and most agencies provide education and training on topics such as “talking to your child about their adoption, raising children with special needs, transracial adoptive families, how adoptees feel about adoption, open vs. closed adoptions, etc. … Adoption costs are usually outlined in advance. Most agencies have a set fee schedule for the services they provide. You may be responsible for additional expenses upon being matched with prospective birth parents depending on their specific situation, but you should know in advance what those costs entail.”
2.) Complete a Home Study and Create an Adoption Profile
Next you will need to complete a home study. This article at Homestudies.com says that “the home study is actually a long written narrative that outlines literally everything about the adoptive family, from your medical history to the specifics of your house, all the way down to your extended family. It is quite detailed which is why you will spend more time completing your application than you will with your actual [social worker] who will come to your home for a visit.” It can be pretty intimidating, but it is done in the best interests of prospective children coming into your home. It would be easy to lose hope in this step, but keep in mind the “end goal” of holding your precious baby.
If the home study is the hard work, then the adoption profile is fun work. This is a time when you get to tell expectant parents all about yourself and your family.
In an article about adoption profiles, the author says, “When we were starting the adoption process, I really enjoyed putting together our adoption profile book. … I was very excited to tell expectant parents about our family! It helped that this project was very important, but it was not technical like all of the mountains of paperwork that go along with the adoption process. Getting the opportunity to show expectant parents who we were, what we liked, as well as exposing them to a bit of how we might parent their baby, was just plain fun! I spent hours deciding on what pictures would perfectly portray our family, which background colors would make us stand out, and which graphics would be amazing!
“Adoption profiles are your chance as a hopeful adoptive parent to make a memorable first impression.”
3.) Matching, Placement, and Finalization
Up until now, your adoption process has been a lot of hurry up and wait. During this time, your adoption lawyer or adoption agency will be showing your adoption profile to expectant parents who are looking to create an adoption plan for their babies. Unfortunately, there is no definite duration of the wait period. Patience and the ability to retain your visions for a happy future are the keys to surviving the dreaded wait. Once your profile is chosen, the agency will contact you with a few details to see if you would like to proceed. If you choose to “accept” the placement, and if the expectant family wants it, your social worker may set up a meeting between you and the expectant family. I know from experience that this can be very awkward and super exciting at the same time. Prior to this event, your social worker will have had you think about what you are willing to promise in regards to visits, contact, and baby naming. Make sure that you know before the meeting what you are definitely willing to accept so you will not overpromise. Our first attempt at adoption, unfortunately, was disrupted, but when things were on track, we planned to name the baby. At the meeting, the expectant family presented a family name that would be the PERFECT middle name…so we went with her choice and created the lovely name, Savannah Grace. A beautiful name for a beautiful little girl; and, to my knowledge, they kept her name even after they decided to parent her and revoked the adoption plan.
Placements happen in a variety of ways. My friends’ daughter was placed in their arms by their child’s birth mother just two hours after she was born. They then had the opportunity to stay with their daughter in a private room in the hospital. Our first son went to stay with an interim care family for three and a half weeks while details were taken care and prior to us knowing about him. We met our second son in the NICU when he was 9 days old, and we brought him home when he was 3 and a half weeks old. Your adoption placement story will be unique to your family, so go in with hearts and minds wide open. No matter the situation, it will be the best day of your life when that baby is finally in your arms.
Once you bring your baby home, things still are not final. The finalization process takes up to nine months after placement to be completed. While you are cuddling your precious baby, your social worker will be writing a narrative about you! All the stuff from the home study will be included. (We actually got to read ours, and it was a humbling experience to read about our life, marriage, house, finances, religious beliefs, and parenting ideas all in one little two to three-page document.) Your social worker will send that document, along with some of the myriads of legal papers you filled out, to a judge in the county in which you live. The judge will sign it, send it back, and then your social worker will complete the final steps she needs to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” When she is done, she sends it back to the judge who will sign it and declare your child is legally and irrevocably your child. It is a wonderful experience to receive word that it is over. You will still need to apply for a new birth certificate and Social Security number for your child, but that has no effect on the finality of the adoption.
In conclusion, adopting a baby in the US is a wonderfully emotional experience that will bring your heart to overflowing with a love that you never thought would be possible. I loved my boys before I even knew them. With my second son, I knew there was a baby being born, and my heart was inexplicably drawn to that tiny life, unlike any other baby. I could not wait to hold him and actually be HIS mommy. My experiences are unique to me. However, Russell Elkins, author of the Open Adoption, Open Heart series, aptly sums up the general experience in his article about adopting a baby in the US, “There are no other relationships in life quite like an adoption relationship. Whether we’re talking about a fully open adoption, a semi-open adoption, or even an adoption with no contact between the adoptive family and the biological parents, every situation is unique. My wife and I could tell our story to every person in the world, and we would still come up short because our story is just that — ours. There are a great many things we went through that are common, but there are also many things other people have experienced that we haven’t. Plus, our feelings and interpretations of our experiences are also unique to us. Just because we went through something similar to someone else doesn’t mean we would have the same emotional reaction. It’s so very important that people read others’ adoption stories — whether they ever plan to adopt or not. It’s the best way to see what modern adoption is like. It’s the best way for people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and to be able to ask themselves how they would feel if they were going through what others have. It’s the best way to educate the world on how difficult, yet awesome, adoption is. I am a father. More specifically, I’m an adoptive father. And there is nothing in the world that I’d rather be. I wear that title with love and pride. Just like every other adoptive couple out there, our path to parenthood wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always fun, but it was worth it a thousand times over.”