When you hear the word “adoption,” what comes to mind? Is it the story of red-headed Little Orphan Annie rescued from an orphanage and adopted by loving parents? Is it an image of a brokenhearted couple who, for whatever reason, cannot conceive children biologically? Is it a pregnant teenager? An international orphanage? A kindhearted family member stepping in to assist in a loved one’s broken home?
Adoption is a beautiful, complex, and largely misunderstood universe. Portrayals of adoption in media and pop culture are largely inaccurate, and misinformation is all too widespread through social media and errant Internet searches. While all the images described above are certainly present in the adoption world, alone they are not an accurate representation of the process. Adoptions sometimes involve orphanages, but frequently don’t. The inability to have biological children can certainly be a factor in adoption, but not always. Some adoptions do involve teenage birth moms. But not all. Some are international. But not all. Some are within the family. But not all.
One of the most widespread misconceptions about adoption is regarding the how and why of adopting babies, otherwise known as infant adoption. When my husband and I adopted our eldest daughter, I remember several different conversations with different people that went something like this:
“It’s just so wonderful that you guys chose to adopt this little girl; she’s so lucky.”
“I’m so glad you guys were able to be there for this little baby, but it just makes me so sad to think of other babies in her situation.”
“I want to adopt too someday. I mean, I want to have kids too, but when there are just so many children out there in need of a good home, I feel like I should help them, you know?”
While the intention behind these comments may be good, they all reveal a glaringly inaccurate belief about infant adoption: the belief that there are thousands, if not millions, of unwanted, abandoned babies in desperate need of couples selfless enough to give adoption a try. This opinion sees infant adoption as a disproportionate funnel, with an excessive number of unwanted babies to a limited number of willing adoptive families.
Not only is this inaccurate, but it also gives way to a whole new slew of mistruths and misunderstandings about infant adoption. The belief that babies are placed for adoption because they are unwanted or unloved and the expectation that adopting a baby will be relatively easy and quick, considering the need. Neither of these things is true.
The truth is, a birth mother’s choice to place her child for adoption is a heart-wrenching expression of love. While I cannot speak for every situation, I know that our daughter’s birth mother cares deeply for the little girl she brought into this world. So deeply, in fact, that she recognized the challenges in her own life that would’ve made parenting difficult, and thus made the impossibly difficult decision to place her baby in a home other than her own. Placing a baby for adoption is a very conscious decision, requiring great courage and love, and it looks nothing like abandonment. It is not an everyday occurrence.
So no, there is not an overwhelming number of unwanted babies desperate for adoptive parents to take them in. But the same cannot be said for couples and families looking to adopt, of which there are an estimated 1 million. In fact, according to some sources, if we are using the funnel imagery, it’s not the babies who are in the wide end—it’s hopeful adoptive couples. As such, infant adoption can actually end up being quite the long and exhaustive process as an adoptive couple waits to be selected by birth parents seeking an adoptive home for their baby.
I don’t share any of these numbers with you to frighten or discourage you. Quite the opposite, in fact. Infant adoption is beautiful, necessary, and totally possible. But if you hope to navigate the world of infant adoption, you first have to get past all the mistruths and misconceptions to understand the reality of infant adoption.
Quick disclaimer: This article, and everything included above and below, is about infant adoption. That means adopting a newborn baby. Infant adoption involves birth parents making the decision to place their unborn baby for adoption, selecting adoptive parents, and then relinquishing parental rights to those adoptive parents. In this kind of adoption situation, you typically have the circumstances described above, most significantly the high ratio of waiting couples to babies placed. However, there are other options for adoption, most notably foster care in which there definitely *is* a great need for couples and families to help an overwhelming number of children in need. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care at any time and over 100,000 of which are waiting for adoptive families, meaning their birth parents’ rights have been terminated. Foster care adoption and infant adoption are not the same processes, and each has different factors to consider. For example, the average age of foster care children available for adoption and waiting for adoptive families is 7.7 years old, and they are only available once reunification attempts with their birth family have proved impossible, for whatever reason, and parental rights have been terminated. Whether or not a child is available for adoption, all children in foster care are in great need of loving homes, for however long they will be there. If seeking to help a child in need is your primary motivation in looking into adoption, regardless of whether or not you will eventually have parental rights over this child, and regardless of that child not being a baby, check out this guide on foster care adoption to get you started.
There are other adoption situations as well, such as stepparent adoptions and family adoptions. If that’s your situation, check out this guide.
But if you’re hoping to adopt an infant placed for adoption by a birth parent intending to relinquish parental rights, read on.
First of all, even though the parents-to-babies ratio is the opposite when it comes to infant adoptions as compared to foster care adoptions, do not feel discouraged and do not feel guilty for pursuing infant adoption. This is very important. Your situation is your situation, not anyone else’s. If foster care isn’t the right choice for you right now, and if infant adoption is what you’re interested in pursuing, that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s amazing!
When my husband and I were first considering our adoption options, we talked long and hard about which route to go. I remember realizing the facts about infant adoption, hearing the stories of couples waiting, and seeing the numbers related to foster care, and just feeling overwhelmed by how complicated the process seemed to be, guilty for wanting an infant adoption, and just completely unsure of what was the best thing to do. So we talked about it. “Why are we adopting?” “What are our priorities?” “What are we willing to do?” “Why this way?” “Why not this way?” In the end, we decided that, for our firstborn, we would pursue a domestic infant adoption. We were prepared to wait; we were prepared to make sacrifices—financial and otherwise—but that was our decision for this first child. I’m certain it will change in the years to come. For every individual, couple, and family, their situation is different, so their decision is theirs to make. I know families who have adopted infants domestically; families who have adopted internationally; families who have been foster parents to children for a limited amount of time; and families who have been foster parents who eventually adopted their foster children. Every family’s story is different, and that’s okay.
When it comes to adopting an infant, you have two main routes you can take: agency or private. In an agency adoption, the agency acts as a kind of intermediary between the expectant family and adoptive family. Expectant parents come to agencies seeking to place a baby, and adoptive families come to agencies hoping to be selected as parents. The adoptive parents pay the agency a hefty sum that typically covers everything—the agency’s efforts to advertise the hopeful adoptive parents and match them with an expecting mother, the legal fees, medical fees, fees to help the expectant mother, etc. As many expectant parents approach agencies, and as agencies take care of everything, they are usually the easier—but pricier—path to take.
Private adoptions involve the adoptive parents and expectant parents finding each other on their own, without the help of an agency. For hopeful adoptive parents, these adoptions can happen if you know someone already who is wanting to place a baby with you, or if you make an effort to advertise yourself so expectant mothers can find out about you—whether from a blog, a social media page, their lawyer, their friend, etc.—and place their baby with you. This route is generally much less expensive than an agency adoption since you only have to pay fees as they come (legal, social, etc.) and don’t have any heavy agency fees. However, unless you already have a specific expectant mother and baby, this route can take longer as you have to make yourself visible and hope to be found by an expectant parent looking for a family with whom to place her baby.
Again, this decision is yours to make and will depend on your own individual circumstances.
Keep in mind, however, that infant adoption varies from one situation to the next. Just because you go with an agency doesn’t mean you’re going to be matched with a birth mother in the next couple of months. Just because you’re going the private route doesn’t mean you won’t have to cough up thousands of dollars to finance your adoption. But it works the other way too. Just because you go with an agency doesn’t mean you’re going to be bankrupt. Just because you’re adopting privately doesn’t mean you’ll be waiting for years. For better or for worse, there isn’t a perfect formula for infant adoptions.
My husband and I opted to pursue a private infant adoption our first time around, largely for financial reasons. After completing our home study (which is essentially your adoption certification process), we began a rather intense social media campaign to try and get our story out there. I regularly updated a blog about our lives; I printed out “Hoping to Adopt” business cards that we sent to friends and family so they could share them with people they knew; I sent my information out to adoption agencies in case they had expectant moms looking for couples outside of the families they were working with; and I joined Facebook groups to make connections with the adoption world.
Just months after completing our home study, one of my new adoption-world friends messaged me about an adoption situation she said I should look into. It was a Facebook post from an adoption lawyer looking for potential adoptive parents who fit rather strict criteria for an adoption he was representing. This friend of mine was also a hopeful adoptive parent but didn’t live in the right state and also didn’t meet the criteria that at least one member of the couple be Native American. That was essential in this particular situation. Lucky for me, I had just posted on our adoption blog about visiting my husband’s tribal reservation to obtain his Native American identification. This friend saw my blog post, saw this adoption situation, put two and two together, and next thing I knew, we were driving across the state to meet with a young woman looking for an adoptive couple to raise her baby. One month later, I sat in a hospital room, meeting my baby girl for the first time.
That is my adoption story. And just like mine, your adoption story will be yours, meaning it won’t necessarily look like anyone else’s. You may wait longer. You may wait less. You may have multiple matches. You may have none for a long time. You may change direction one year in and become a foster parent, or switch agencies, or personally meet someone who has been looking for someone just like you.
Infant adoption is not always quick, affordable, or easy. But when you’re talking about being entrusted with the life and happiness of a little baby, of course, some effort will be required. Of course, sacrifices will be expected. Of course, heartbreak will happen. That little baby, whatever her or his story, deserves nothing but the best you could possibly give. So be ready to give your all because, after all, your own hope is that someday, somewhere, a grieving mother in a difficult situation will do just that for you.