The question everyone who looks into adoption asks is "What is the process of adoption?" This article outlines the basic steps.

What is the Process of Adoption?

Anyone who has experienced an unplanned, unexpected pregnancy agrees that it can be a very scary, confusing, and emotional time. For some, an unexpected pregnancy can be good news. But for others, news of an unplanned pregnancy may feel like your world has turned upside down. Maybe you are not at a place in your life where raising a child is the right decision. Maybe you are with the wrong partner or maybe you have educational or career goals you want to achieve before you begin a family. Whatever your reason, know you are not alone. Each year, thousands of people find themselves unexpectedly expecting and just like you, they are exploring their options. So take a deep breath and let’s examine what is the process of adoption.

Decide If Adoption Is Right for You

The first step in the process of adoption is to determine if adoption is right for you. When you find yourself unexpectedly expecting, you have three options. You may choose to terminate the pregnancy, parent the child, or place the child for adoption. Adoption is the legal termination of the birth parents’ parental rights and the granting of those rights either to the state or to adoptive parents. Birth parents who choose to place their child do not do so because they do not love their child. Rather they do so because they made the incredibly loving choice for themselves, their child, and the adoptive parents to place that child. Adoption is a lifelong journey and no one part of the adoption triad – birth parents, adoptee, adoptive parents – is stronger or less than the other.

Decide Which Type of Adoption is Right for You

In the United States, there are essentially two types of adoption available to expectant parents – kinship and private domestic adoption. Kinship adoption refers to a child’s blood relative on either the biological mother’s or father’s side adopting a child. In kinship adoption, a blood relative is identified or comes forward to parent the child. Adoption agencies are seldom involved, though an adoption attorney is necessary when the adoption is finalized in court. While kinship adoption accounts for approximately 30% of U.S. domestic adoptions, most of those adoptions involve children in foster care. Kinship adoption of an infant is rare, though warrants consideration; it can benefit a child to remain with a member of their biological family.

Private domestic adoption is the prevailing form of infant adoption. Each year, roughly 20,000 infants are placed with adoptive parents to whom they are not biologically related. In private domestic adoption, the expectant parents choose the prospective adoptive parents through an adoption agency or facilitator or an intermediary like a pastor or close friend. 

Inform the Birth Father

Though it can be difficult, another step in the adoption process is informing the birth father if he’s unaware. Each state varies in its interpretation of the birth father’s rights, making it important to consult a good adoption agency or an adoption attorney to fully understand your states’ statutes. If you are uncomfortable sharing the news of your pregnancy, for any reason, your adoption agency may suggest having a social worker there with you or may even inform the expectant father on your behalf.

On the other hand, if the expectant father is not in the picture, your adoption agency or adoption attorney may attempt to find him to notify him of your pregnancy. If the expectant father cannot be found or declines to declare his paternity, then in many states, he has no legal rights to the child. In this case, the expectant mother can make whatever decision she feels is best for herself and her child.

Choose an Adoption Agency or an Adoption Facilitator

The next part of the adoption process is to decide if you want to work with an adoption agency or an adoption facilitator. Adoption facilitators have gained popularity in recent years as more prospective adoptive parents have chosen to pursue an independent adoption. Both adoptive parents and birth parents cite that independent adoption can lead to a stronger forming of relationships between birth parents and the adoptive parents. But adoption agencies can help you understand what is the process of adoption and walk with you along the path. One of the benefits of an adoption agency, and especially a large national agency like Gladney Center for Adoption, is that they have the scope and resources to support you through your pregnancy, placement, and the years after placement.

When meeting with an adoption agency or an adoption facilitator, be sure to ask any and all your questions. Sample questions may include, how many domestic placements they handled last year, what kind of support they offer during your pregnancy, how do they find and vet prospective adoptive parents, and what kind of support will they offer after the baby is born.

Decide on an Open or Closed Adoption

After selecting an adoption agency or facilitator, the next step is deciding if you want an open or closed adoption. It is important for you to consider this prior to connecting with prospective adoptive parents. In their own adoption journey, the prospective adoptive parents have been asked to consider the same question.

An open versus a closed adoption refers to the level of contact you as the birth parent will have with the adoptive parents and child. In open adoption, the birth parents and the adoptive parents maintain some level of contact on a regular or semi-regular basis. Contact may be anything from in-person get-togethers, to video calls, emails, letters, or phone calls. Contact may be monthly, bi-monthly, or annually depending on the level of openness of the adoption. It is important to remember that no two adoptions are the same and what may work for you may not work for the prospective adoptive parents. Having an open conversation about what your boundaries are and what level of involvement and contact you would like with the adoptive parents and the child will lay the foundation for the lifelong relationship that is adoption.

Conversely, in a closed adoption, the birth parents and the adoptive parents have no contact with one another. In a closed adoption, the child will understand that they are adopted but the child will not know who their birth parents are. Once the child is 18, however, they may choose to search for their birth parents or vice-versa and they may do so via the state’s adoption registry. With a closed adoption, the expectant parent may still choose the prospective adoptive parents but then the expectant parent will have no contact with them. Alternatively, the expectant parent may choose not to select the prospective adoptive parent. The adoption agency places the child with the family they believe is the best fit.

Explore Prospective Adoptive Parents

In the search of “what is the process of adoption,” a question many expectant parents have is how can they find and select prospective adoptive parents for their child? A big part of making an adoption plan for your child is considering what type of environment you envision your child growing up in. Is it a city with tall buildings, or a small neighborhood suburb, or a rural area with plenty of room? What interests do you have that you hope to pass down to your child? Do you enjoy sports or the arts? Is religion important? What about race or ethnicity?

Make a list of all the things that are important to you and all the questions you have. Then, when you are ready, connect with your adoption agency or facilitator and share what you are looking for in a prospective adoptive parent. There are tons of parent profiles available to you. Find a few that speak to you and connect with your adoption agency or adoption facilitator about making contact.

Meet the Prospective Adoptive Parents

The next step of the adoption process will be to meet the prospective adoptive parents. This may be done in-person, via video chat, by email, or over the phone – however you are most comfortable. You may find that it is easier to email back and forth a few times before agreeing to meet. Or you may decide that a few phone calls is best for you. Or you may choose to have your adoption agency or adoption facilitator handle the introductions and have them serve as an emissary between the two of you. The most important part of this journey is that you feel comfortable and that you make the best decision for yourself and your baby. 

Make a Hospital Plan

Once you have decided on the prospective adoptive parents for your child, the next step will be to make a hospital plan for your delivery day. In the lead up to the birth, take some time to plan out how you want the day to go. Who do you want in the room with you when you give birth? Who will hold the baby first? When it is time to leave the hospital, will you and the adoptive parents leave together or separately? Where and when will you consent to the adoption?

The questions may feel a bit overwhelming but having a clear idea of what you want your delivery day to look like – and communicating those desires with your adoption agency or adoption facilitator, social worker, the prospective adoptive parents, and the hospital staff – will ensure that you are taken care of so that you can concentrate on bringing your child into the world.

Consent to the Adoption

Following the birth of your child, you will need to consent to the adoption. Depending on in which state you reside, both birth parents will need to consent to the adoption. If you are under the age of 18, many states will allow a minor to consent to an adoption of his or her own behalf. But other states require the minor’s legal guardian to consent to the adoption.

States vary on their timeline to consent to the adoption. In some states, consent may be given immediately, in other states the birth parents must wait a minimum of 72 hours, and in others, the birth parents must wait a period of a few days before they give consent. Though it may feel overwhelming to try to figure out your state’s adoption laws, remember it is the job of your adoption attorney or adoption agency to inform you of everything so you are aware of each step of the adoption process and understand the timeline for that process.

Once consent to the adoption is given, the birth parents may still revoke their decision. Typically, consent may be revoked anywhere from a few days to two weeks, but states vary on their timelines. Once the period of revocation passes, then the adoption is legally binding and the birth parents’ parental rights are terminated.

Take Care of Yourself

The days and weeks following placement will be hard. You will physically be recovering from giving birth and likely experiencing a roller coaster of emotions surrounding your placement. You may feel relief, sadness, grief, anger, and a whole host of other emotions. Know you are not alone. Know there are others out there who have walked this path and stand at the ready to listen. Take advantage of the post-adoption support offered to you by your adoption agency. Take advantage of the post-adoption counseling. Be kind to yourself. And know that you have given a profoundly beautiful gift to your child, the adoptive parents, and yourself.

Jennifer Jones

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and "is this really us?!" whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at