HOW TO START ADOPTION: WHERE DO I BEGIN?
If you are reading this, chances are you are in a situation where adoption is on your list of possible life adventures, likely because of a positive pregnancy test you were not prepared for. Chances are even higher that you feel like you are drowning in the sea of questions and decisions that followed that news. Whether you just learned about it or you are a few months into the pregnancy, the questions linger. What are my choices in adoption? Do I have any control over this process? How do I start adoption? Where in the world do I even begin? How can I find help?
The good news is, you are not alone. You have plenty of options and people who can help you look at those options and make the best choices for yourself. In fact, one of the first things you can do is find a supportive community of people in similar situations. Alongside taking care of yourself (both medically and mentally), finding support groups and forums is an easy way to alleviate some anxiety.
Confide in trustworthy family members, good friends who you know will be there for you, and people who know what it is like to be in your shoes. You can also go to mental health care professionals such as therapists, counselors, and/or psychiatrists if you want more guidance. This may not change the amount of work, but it will help you to feel less alone and more hopeful about the future. If you want a place to start, adoption.com has a page of forums and community resources designed to bring people together.
So… what comes after that? Maybe you are reading this with a supportive circle of friends all ready to go and thinking, “But how do I actually start this whole adoption procedure?” Well, now is time to start reaching out to professionals. Get ready to do some research on the adoption agencies or adoption attorneys near your area. Read up on their policies and on the laws of your state or country pertaining to adoption. Services, laws, and restrictions can vary widely depending on where you live and what adoption resource you are using. This step might bring up even more questions than you originally had which I know sounds ironic, but this is the perfect time to write those questions down and have them answered.
As you are choosing between agencies and/or attorneys to begin your journey with, it is important to ask them about both their own services and about the adoption process in general. You can think of it as an informational interview, only instead of looking for careers, you are looking for providers. Have your questions at the ready, get to know each provider, and how they can best suit your needs and wants. Then you can work towards making a decision.
Some questions you may use to narrow down your decision:
- Where/how far do your services reach? (Are they international or domestic? In-state?)
- What kind of services do you do for expectant or birth parents?
- How will expenses be handled?
- How do you communicate between social workers and families?
You may also find some helpful tips in this guide on adoption.com.
HOW TO START ADOPTION: THE CHOICES YOU HAVE
Other than which agency you may choose, there is another choice to make—what kind of adoption do you want? There are many different kinds, each with its own distinct purpose. The biggest indicator for each type is how much (or how little) contact the birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee have with each other. The level of contact is something you definitely need to consider throughout this process. Do you want to have regular visits? Would you rather just periodical updates? Or maybe no contact at all? Your answers to these are critical in this process, so take some time to think about it.
Open Adoption: open adoptions are the most flexible in terms of what you can and cannot do. They allow for time to visit the child and adoptive family, as well as updates in the form of emails, calls, and social media notifications. This kind of contact often lasts throughout the child’s life.
Closed Adoption: closed adoptions are for when a birth parent wants no contact with the child or adoptive family. There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of adoption—everybody’s situation is different and requires different paths. However, you should know beforehand that backing out of this decision halfway through often puts a lot of strain on everyone involved. So even if you feel certain right now, you should still pause before making it final.
Semi-Open Adoption: semi-open adoptions walk the middle ground between the previous two. With this option, most agencies will collect information such as updates, letters, and pictures about your child and hold on to them. Then, if someday you decide you want to know how your child has been doing, you can contact the agency and ask to look at everything. This is especially good for birth parents who may want to keep a distance but still need something to help them through the grieving and healing processes.
A Note: In both open and semi-open adoptions (but not closed adoptions) birth parents have the opportunity to connect with the adoptive family and vice versa. You may have contact during and after the finalization, depending on the contract you arrange together. All parties must come to an agreement on the boundaries of their relationships for these kinds of adoptions to work.
Domestic Adoption: domestic adoptions are when all parties live in the same country (though not necessarily the same state). State laws and policies oversee all the steps in the adoption process. That can make things tricky when dealing with two different states, so you may run into hurdles if you go interstate. Some agencies may not even provide interstate services. However, domestic adoptions most often lead to open or semi-open adoptions, so do not let that stop you if you find a truly promising family.
International Adoption: international adoptions are referring to families that adopt from other countries. They can have longer procedures because each country has its set of sovereign laws. These international adoptions are more likely to be closed adoptions. Again, nothing is wrong with choosing this option, just be aware of the limitations it may have.
HOW TO START ADOPTION: KNOWING YOUR RIGHTS
I already mentioned doing research on the agencies and adoption itself, so you should also know what rights you have as a birth mother. Until parental rights are officially relinquished, there are quite a lot! As the biological parent, the adoption agencies and attorneys will be looking to you for decisions involving the care of your child. This is assuming there is nothing concerning about the child’s health and safety.
Generally, the termination of parental rights can be summed up as either voluntary or involuntary. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; if you choose adoption, you voluntarily give the rights to your child to another family. It does not mean the end of seeing them forever, as I already mentioned open and semi-open adoptions. In the court of law, the adoptive family will be responsible for their safety and upbringing. It requires one or both birth parent’s consent, depending on the region. On the other hand, parental rights can be involuntarily terminated if situations such as child abuse, neglect, abandonment, drug abuse, crime, or mental illness caused by alcohol/drug use of the parent are present.
Consent to adoption (usually required to be written out and signed) is normally irrevocable. It is healthier for everyone especially the child if the process goes as smoothly as possible. Some places may not allow consent to be taken back at all or they may be strict about it.
Some exceptions to this rule include:
- The birth parent’s consent was forced or fraudulent
- Consent was withdrawn within the time frame set by state law
- The state/government concludes that revocation is the best decision for the child
- Both birth and adoptive parents unanimously agree to reverse consent
This was a brief overview of the basics. Please consult an adoption attorney for a full view of your rights and how to negotiate with other parties. You can find more in-depth articles and resources here.
HOW TO START ADOPTION: MAKING AN ADOPTION PLAN
Similar to how I suggested writing down all your questions at the beginning, an adoption plan is a written version of all your goals for the adoption process. It is you, as an expectant parent or birth parent, sitting down and detailing how you would like the adoption and post-adoption to play out. This is by no means a guarantee or a set-in-stone plan. Life may throw things at you again, events might not unfold the way everyone wants them to, but it is good to have a certain idea of your needs and wants in these situations. Also be aware, though, that your thoughts and feelings can change throughout this process and that is okay. You can always change your plan.
Writing out an adoption plan also includes defining what kind of family and future you want for your child. That can be overwhelming but it also means that you still have some say in how your child grows up. Birth mothers are welcome to get to know multiple possible families to find a good match. Adoption agencies work with them to get as close to a perfect match as they can.
Think about your own values, your opinions on parenting styles, and your life experiences. Do you want your child to have these same ideas? Do you mind if the family is different from your own? Any opinions on siblings, single/divorced parents, or same-sex couples? Your adoption plan can account for all of these. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect family; however, people will work with you to find the best possible match.
Since they already work with hopeful adoptive families, most adoption agencies and adoption attorneys will have some form of family profiles on hand. These files can be anything from online files and extended paperwork to scrapbooks and pictures. Based on what you told them through the adoption plan, they will pick out a couple of profiles they think best match your preferences for you to look at. You can go through and narrow down your list to who you most want to see. Then you may begin meeting with and getting to know the individual families.
This is also where most people entering the adoption process plan out how much communication and connection they want to have with their child. The level of communication is strictly up to you at this stage.
The last part of the adoption plan is specifying what you want during the birth. Here, you can decide who will be in the delivery room with you, how long to wait until allowing the birth family in, whether or not you want to be medicated, et cetera. You may also ask for pictures with the baby and adoptive family before relinquishing your parental rights. The amount of time between the child’s birth and the release of parental rights can be anywhere from immediately after birth to a few months later, depending on your state’s laws.
I hope this helped you at least find a way to get started on your adoption journey. Choosing adoption probably feels like an enormous, looming cloud right now. Honestly, those emotions do not become any less complicated once the adoption is finalized. Just remember that support system we talked about and do not forget it. Lean on the people you trust to get you through. this. Trust that things will not always feel so overwhelming. You did well by simply taking the first step.