Are you looking to add to your family through adoption? Are you overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available? Are you hoping to adopt an infant in the U.S.? Then you’re going to need to read this article. For answers to the above questions and more, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know about how to adopt a baby.
1. What Is Domestic Infant Adoption?
If you’ve arrived at the decision to pursue a domestic infant adoption, it’s likely that you’ve crossed off international and foster adoption. You’re ready to meet your baby from day one and share an abundant amount of memories together. When you adopt a baby from the US there are going to be somethings that are easier than other types of adoption and somethings that are harder. If you choose to adopt an infant in the US rather than another country, you’re avoiding the seemingly endless task of communicating with a foreign adoption agency. If you’re choosing domestic infant adoption over foster care, you’re likely to spend considerably more money. But the way you choose to grow your family is your choice and only your choice. If you’re a little unsure if domestic infant adoption is right for you consider asking yourself the following:
- Does domestic infant adoption seem the best way to grow my family?
- Am I willing to take on the financial, mental, and emotional tolls that come with adoption?
- Am I willing to educate myself on being an adoptive parent?
- What kind of relationship do I want with the birth parents?
- Am I ready to love a child unconditionally?
If you’ve answered those questions and still feel confident that adopting a baby in the US is right for you, congratulations! You’re ready to start the adoption process!
Also if you’re wishing that there was some kind of group you could join (for free!) where you can connect with others on their adoption journeys, you might want to check here.
2. What Grief And Infertility Have To Do With Adoption
People choose adoption for many reasons. But you should not let grief and infertility be the reasons why you are choosing adoption. Although those kinds of pains may never leave you, your adoption journey has to be separated from your infertility and grief journeys. When you haven’t finished grieving you won’t be able to put your whole mind into adoption. Adoption is not a quick and easy fix to make a family. You will be dealing with real lives, both the baby and the birth parents. It’s okay to feel that pain, but it shouldn’t be the drive to adopt. Adoption is not the bandaid for infertility.
You can visit here to reach out to others facing infertility and find comfort that you are not alone.
3. The Paperwork You Need To Know About
The paperwork and the home study are often some of the most dreaded and nerve-wracking parts of the adoption process. Essentially you are being asked to share everything about your personal life for all the world (really it’s just your social worker/agency) to see. It can feel invasive. However, these processes are necessary because adoption professionals have to make sure a child is going to a suitable home and family. This can also help a professional match you with the right potential birth parents.
This part can take awhile depending on how quickly you can have the paperwork done and get your appointments scheduled and completed. If you’re early in the process, it’s always a good idea to start gather what you need right now. You’ll need certified copies of the following:
- If you have any divorce decrees between you and your spouse
- Your marriage certificate
- Death certificates for any former spouses
- If you already have adopted children in the home, you’ll need their adoption decrees
- Birth certificates from you, your spouse, and any other children in your home
Then you will also want to start gather your financial information.
- Life insurance
- Health insurance
- Employment verification
- Income verification
- Debt information
- Mortgage/ rent information
- Verification of your monetary assets
Your paperwork will also consist of a physical exam, criminal background, fire safety inspection, photographs of everyone in your immediate family, previous home studies if any, and references. Some of these things will take longer than others, which is why it’s important to get started on the ones you can do as soon as you decide to adopt.
Don’t be intimidated by the sheer quantity of things you have to fill out. Take it one step at a time. You may consider forming a list that you can check off each item as you complete the tasks. And don’t be afraid to ask you adoption professional any questions you have. It’s there job to know the answers to your questions. You may also wish to join communities like the ones below that may be able to help and support you on this home study and paperwork journey:
4. Choosing An Adoption Professional
Choosing an adoption professional is like choosing your guide for the entire adoption journey. This is the person that should be helping you along your entire journey. So how should you choose the right adoption professional? Well besides joining this group to help you, there are few things you should look for in an adoption professional.
- Can he or she answer all the questions you have?
- Do you want to use a lawyer or agency?
- Does your adoption professional help expectant mothers with resources and counseling?
- Do they offer support to all members of the triad down the road?
- How long is their average wait?
- How many families are they currently working with?
- How many placements do they have per year?
- How do their fees work? When are they due?
- How do they handle birth parent expenses?
- Do they support open adoption?
- Do they communicate well?
These are just some of the questions you should be asking before deciding on an adoption professional. You will also have to decide between working with an agency or adoption attorney. So what’s the difference between the two?
Adoption agencies are often private organizations that can be an all-in-one option for hopeful adoptive parents. They often have social workers, facilitators, counselors, and more available to help you on your adoption journey. However, their fees can be higher because they are a private organization. Since adoption agencies are private, they can also decide what kind of parents they will help (sexual orientation, religion, marital status, etc).
Agencies also have the resources to walk you through every step. They often provide counseling for you and the potential birth parents. You will likely have to go through some kind of education and training to become adoptive parents. However, most agencies will have you responsible for paying the attorney fees to finalize the adoption.
While there is no special education required to become an “adoption” attorney, there are education options available for attorney to help them be more proficient at adoption law. Adoption attorneys are essentially people that take on those types of cases. Sometimes working with an adoption attorney will help you adopt more quickly because there is less paperwork, but that same thing can also hinder your adoption process.
You will likely have to hire other adoption professionals to help you. Attorneys are not social workers so they cannot complete a home study. You may also wish to hire someone to help you market your hope to adopt. If you’re choosing private adoption, you will be the one to find your potential birth parent, whereas an agency will likely be working already with expect mothers making adoption plans. Private adoption costs can also vary greatly in price, so it’s important to discuss with your attorney and the other professionals you might work with to make sure it fits in your budget.
Choosing between an adoption attorney and adoption agency is personal preference. There are many pros and cons between the two. Decide what qualities are important to you to help you determine which type of professional you would like to proceed with.
5. Home Study
Once you have a start on your home study paperwork, you’ll need to get working on setting up appointments with your social worker or agency. They’ll be the ones conducting and compiling your home study information. They’ll start you with the necessary forms and then begin meeting in person with you to determine your eligibility for being adoptive parents. Be sure to fill out your paperwork and answer questions honestly. There’s nothing that will hurt a home study like lying. Chances are whatever you’re trying to hide will come out at some point during this extensive process.
When many think of the home study, they think of the home visit. But that’s just one part of the home study process. Typically your adoption professional will meet with you several times to help with paperwork, interview you, and answer questions. You should bring something to take notes with each time your adoption professional visits.
The home visit is really not as intimidating as it sounds. Typically, your adoption professional will want to make sure your home is adequate for a child, not if you’ve remodeled your kitchen recently. He or she will check there’s enough space, that you’re meeting any safety rules your state has, and that hazardous things (guns, medicines, cleaning supplies) are stored securely. It’s advised that you look into what your state requires as far as regulations for home studies.
Some people may have a rougher history than others and have concerns that this may cause them to fail the home study. If you have a history that includes alcoholism, drug abuse, or an arrest, it’s best to be upfront and honest about them. If you can demonstrate honesty and explain that things are different and how they are different, your adoption professional may not see it as cause to fail a home study. For the most part, it’s safe to assume that your adoption professional is not looking to fail you from the home study. He or she is interested in helping you grow your family through adoption.
You may find the following discussions and article helpful as you go through the home study process:
6. Types of Adoption (Open v. Closed)
Open adoption is a fairly recent development in the adoption world. Put simply it means the adoptee and adoptive parents stay in contact with the birth parents. The level of openness will vary between families based on accessibility and level of comfort.
So is an open adoption right for you and your child? Consider the following points.
- Open adoption allows for open communication. You can all stay in contact through email, letters, visits, photos, and more.
- According to this study, having an open relationship enhances the parent-child relationship.
- Only about 5% of US domestic infant adoption are closed these days. So that means 95% have some level of openness in their relationship.
- Open adoptions can also be facilitated through a third party, like your agency, if you choose.
- Open adoption means more love. There will be more family to love on your child.
Open adoption is not an easy option. You may think it’s easier to have a closed adoption. And maybe in some ways you would be right. But if you are committed to having a thriving open adoption, you can. The best ways to avoid the common problems in open adoptions is to communicate about everything and set appropriate boundaries.
It would do well to keep in mind that although in most states communication agreements after adoption are not legally enforceable, going back on your word can cause serious damage to the relationship. That’s not to say that you can’t adjust the level of openness based on every member’s needs, but lying about wanting to have an open adoption is deceitful. When you meet with potential birth parents it’s a good idea to address concerns with them ahead of time. Let potential birth parents know what kind of relationship you would want for your child and what rules you think are fair to have in an open adoption. Communication is essential.
Remember that open adoption is not co-parenting. As the legal adoptive parents, you are in charge of your child’s wellbeing, health, and life. Once a birth parent’s rights have been legally terminated, he or she does not get a say in how a child is being raised. However, a birth parent’s involvement can be especially healing during parts of the grieving process. They are still able to have a healthy relationship with their child. Adoptees also benefit from the open communication. They can have answers to questions as they come up. There’s less mystery surrounding their adoptions. Many think that it would be confusing for the child, but it doesn’t have to be! Read this birth mother’s perspective on her open adoption with her daughter.
Closed adoptions, though less common these days, still occur. Sometimes a parent’s rights have been involuntarily terminated or your child may be a safe haven baby. An open adoption may not be an option for some families. A closed adoption is where no communication exists between the three parties of the triad.
Having a conversation with your spouse is important to deciding what kind of adoption you want for your child. Read others’ experience in open adoption, educate yourself on what open adoption entails, and decide what kind of boundaries you feel comfortable with.
7. Adoption Requires Soul Searching
You might not realize the serious decisions that have to be made when you’re growing your family through adoption. Already you have made the serious choice of pursuing domestic infant adoption over international and foster adoption. Now, as you fill out your paperwork, you will come across some more decisions that need to be made.
You will be asked to fill out a form of your preferences. You will be asked about open adoption, racial preferences (if any), special needs, drug and alcohol exposure, and more. It’s important to discuss with your spouse what you are willing to handle. You will both need to be on board with what challenges you are willing to face.
It may help to examine your lifestyle to determine where adopting a child of a different race or nationality is right for your family. Transracial adoption comes with it’s own challenges. Will you provide opportunities for your child to celebrate his/her culture? Will your child be without those similar to him or her in your community? You can read this to find out more if transracial adoption is right for you.
The number of special needs a child could have is a list that never ends. You could have a child with down syndrome, RAD, or any number of special needs. When you fill out your adoption papers, you will be asked if you would adopt a child with a number of special needs. There will be some you have never heard of. It will be up to you and your spouse to decide if you have the means to care for a child with special needs. Children with special needs can be an incredible blessing, but they are an undertaking of itself.
Do your research ahead of time. Understand the complexities of raising a child with different needs. Understand what you can do to help your child. It would also be good to demonstrate your understanding of these different needs to potential birth parents.
Of course, be aware that there is only so much paperwork can do. When you adopt a child or when you give birth to a child you can never truly know what challenges lie ahead.
It’s a good idea to talk with other parents of either special needs or transracial adoption. They will be able to give you an idea of what family life will be like after adoption. Visit these groups to ask questions and get answers:
8. Managing The Stress That Comes On Adoption Journey
The road of adoption is hard. There’s a whole book (it’s free for you) about the stories of families going through domestic infant adoption and not one of them is without some challenge. You have to be prepared to manage the stress or you could burn out before you even get to the best parts of adoption.
The stress of paperwork, home study, and financial strain are all stressors you’ll have to face. Here are a few ways to cope with adoption-related stress.
- Step away from the adoption process for a little bit. Whether that’s taking a few hours or few weeks off, it’s okay to step away and de-stress.
- Distract yourself from the in between waiting by pursuing a hobby or a little self-care.
- Talk with other hopeful adoptive parents. A good venting session can sometimes be just what you need to remove stress.
- Choose to accept what lies ahead. There’s no point fighting an uphill battle. If you’re facing a challenge, just do it head on.
- Communicate with your spouse, adoption professional, or other party that may be causing you stress. Don’t hold on to feelings that can be fixed by a simple discussion.
9. Affording Adoption
One of the most intimidating parts of adopting a baby in the US are the costs that go with it. The average cost for adopting a baby in the US is $37,000. This includes home study fees, agency fees, placement fees, birth parent expenses, counseling and more. You’re never paying for a baby, but rather the work and processes that go into adopting.
There are many options on how to fund your adoption. There are grants and loans available to those that qualify. You can also check with your employer to see if they offer any adoption benefits. Another way families choose to fund their adoption is through fundraising. You can check out some of these articles about fundraising and financing your adoption here.
Don’t be shy about asking others how they afforded adoption. There are several groups out there that can help you brainstorm ideas about affording your adoption. You can also visit adoption.com to find adoption boards and adoption discussions regarding the adoption process.
10. Having An Online Profile
In the old days of adoption, you would create a profile of your family and have it a book to show potential birth mothers. Now that we have the internet, many hopeful adoptive parents rely on online profiles to share who they are and why they want to adopt. There are some services, like Adoption.com Parent Profiles, that offer premium packages to help you market yourself to potential birth mothers. Online profiles can even get you matched in a shorter amount of time like Parent Profiles did for this couple. This is especially true if you pick a high-traffic adoption site (especially one that averages 500,000+ monthly views, like Adoption.com).
With Parent Profiles you can customize your profile with photos, favorites, videos, recommendations, and more. The important thing to remember when you’re creating your online profile is to be as YOU as you possibly can. That’s what is going to set you apart from the hundreds of other hopeful adoptive parents and get you matched with the right birth parents. It can be hard to “be you” if you overthink it. Just be genuine and share what makes your family the way it is. Share a mixture of professional and candid photos. Tell potential birth parents what you love to do, what you value, and what kind of relationship you hope to have with them. If you have a Parent Profile you can even get a profile review from birth mothers to make sure you’re doing everything you can to stand out in your profile.
You should think of your profile as the first impression for potential birth parents. What would you want them to know?
With Adoption.com Parent Profiles you have another very important section that should be utilized heavily: the letter. Not sure what letter I’m talking about? It’s commonly referred to as the “Dear Expectant Parent” letter. This where you get to start your first conversation (so to speak) with potential birth parents. You can use this to share all about your family. You should include sections that are about each member of your family. You may also wish to talk about how you started your adoption journey and why you want to adopt. This is also a good time to address any concerns the potential birth parents may have, like how you feel about open adoption. This will be the first chance at communication, so take advantage of it and write a great letter!
Here are a few tips for writing your “Dear Expectant Parent Letter”:
- Don’t address your letter with “Dear Birth Mother” because those that are reading your letter are not birth mothers yet. They may not even choose adoption. Women do not become birth mothers until they have placed their child.
- Be honest and open in your letter. Trying to hide things or being deceitful will only result in a negative relationship. Not to mention honesty and openness will likely help a potential birth mother connect with you.
- Avoid saying that you “understand” what they are going through. Unless you have placed a child, you do not understand what they are going though.
- Talk about your family. It’s good to do a little teaser on each member of your family. If you feel uncomfortable writing about yourself, you can have your spouse write about you while you write about him or her.
- If you have an infertility story, don’t let that be the entire story you share. It’s good to address why you’re choosing adoption, but you don’t want to pressure the potential birth mother into feeling like she’s responsible for fixing the problem.
- Show instead of tell. You should be specific and avoid generalities. Don’t say you’re great with kids, but show how you’re great with kids.
If you need a little more help writing your letter check out these other resources:
If you’re wondering how you can create an awesome profile check out these resources:
And don’t forget to join one of the awesome hopeful adoptive parent groups to get answers to any questions you have about having an online profile. And, yes, it is free to join.
11. Networking, Marketing, Advertising, Oh My
Yep, you read that heading right. There is a bit of networking and marketing when it comes to adoption. You see, there are many couples that are hoping to adopt, which means you need to make yourself heard to make a connection.
It can feel a little strange marketing yourself to potential birth parents, but you don’t have to make it a sales pitch. You’re just trying to be yourself so that you can find the right match.
You may choose to hire someone to help you with marketing, or if you sign up for Parent Profiles, marketing can actually come with your profile package.
There are several ways you can market yourself to potential birth parents and pretty much all of them involve using the internet–because that’s where the people are, right?
You may chose some lower-cost options like Facebook ads or starting a Facebook page. Having an online presence to accompany both your ads and your profile is super important. You want to let potential birth families see as much of you as possible. Since most people are on social media these days, having social media presence that shares your hope to adopt and stuff about you can be a major gamechanger. You might also consider starting a blog.
You can set your own budget for marketing and even ask your agency or adoption professional if they offer any marketing services.
Be sure to check your state’s laws when it comes to marketing your hope to adopt. In many states it is actually illegal. In which case you will likely have to rely solely on your agency or if you’re adopting privately, word of mouth. Don’t be discouraged if word of mouth is your only chance at finding an adoption connection, many families have been started simply by knowing a friend of a friend who wants to adopt. So though you can’t purchase advertising, be sure to share with your friends and family that you’re adopting!
12. Connecting with Potential Birth Parents
Once you’ve made the right adoption connection(s) and you’re meeting with potential birth mothers, you should keep a few things in mind.
First, don’t try to force anything. Remember on first dates when you would leave and you would know if that “spark” was there? It goes the same for meeting/talking with potential birth parents. If something feels wrong, trust your gut. Saying no doesn’t mean you’ll never get another match ever again. It means that you care about the expectant mother, the child, and your family because you’re choosing to act on the problem rather than ignore it.
Okay, back to the date analogy. You know how when you meet a date for the first time and things are awkward. You’re not really sure what to talk about. It’s a bit uncomfortable all around. Well the first time you meet with your potential birth mother. But don’t let that deter you from having a great time! Here are some questions you should ask on your first meeting:
- How do you feel about open adoption?
- How does your family feel about adoption?
- What hopes and dreams do you have for your child?
- What are your expectations for the adoptive parents?
Don’t forget to ask the potential birth parents about themselves. Getting to know them is the first step to creating a happy and successful relationship. This meeting shouldn’t be just about the adoption. It should include getting to know each other. This is time to find out if you are a right match for each other.
Spend time getting to know each other via text, Skype, in-person; whatever works for you.
13. Legal Rights Of Potential Birth Parents
Although the rights of potential birth parents can slightly vary from state to state, there are a few things that all states share.
First and foremost, a potential birth parent has complete control over her baby until she terminates her parental rights. That means the hopeful adoptive parent has no say in medical decisions, placement decisions, or even the lifestyle choices of the pregnant mother. This can be hard to swallow for some, but until the placement process is complete, adoptive parents do not have any say. It would be best if you defer all decisions to your potential birth mother.
Birth father rights, on the other hand, are quite different from state to state. Some require written consent or a court appearance to surrender her rights. Other states state that if a man and woman have sexual relations, that’s enough notice about placing a child. You may wish to read up on your own state’s laws concerning birth father rights.
Another variant when a potential birth mother can relinquish her rights. Most states do not allow relinquishment before birth, although there are one or two states where a birth mother can sign before birth. Furthermore, although many states do not allow a woman to relinquish her rights, there is no deadline where she must sign the paperwork by. The timeline for relinquishing her rights belongs exclusively to the birth mother.
After signing relinquishment, many states have a time period where a birth parent can revoke her decision. This can be as little as a few days to a few months.
When you’re learning about these rights, it’s important to remember that you should be there, supporting the potential birth mother, no matter the decision.
14. The Big Day & Planning
The day will come when your baby arrives. So as not to be taken entirely off guard, it’s important to discuss with the potential birth mother that you have been matched with about how things will go the day of birth and in the hospital. It may be an awkward conversation to have, but it will help set boundaries and remove feelings of uncertainty from either party.
There are a few things that you should keep in mind:
- Your potential birth mother does not have to invite you into the room. She may wish to be in the hospital alone or with her family. Remember that a birth is a sacred and intimate experience. She may want to have this time to herself.
- Don’t go to the hospital if she does not invite you there. Until the potential birth mother has relinquished her rights as a parent, she is still the mother. It’s not your place to be in the building unless she invites you.
- If you are invited into the hospital, or even the birth, remember that until your potential birth mother has relinquished her rights, all medical decisions regarding her and the baby are up to her. It would be best to always defer to her judgement if any medical staff ask for your opinion.
- Please don’t invite other family members or friends to the hospital, unless your birth mother is okay with it. This is an intimate time between those directly in your adoption triad. You may wish to have some alone time.
- Don’t overstay. This may be some of the last moments alone with her child. Pay attention to the social cues and give space as needed. This is a time for her and her child to bond.
- Do not guilt or coerce your potential birth mother into adoption. Often hormones and feelings are running high for both parties. Remember to be careful of your language and always be aware that until she relinquishes her rights, she can choose to parent her child.
You may also wish to bring your potential birth mother a small gift for the big day. Getting to know your potential birth mother will help you decide what kind of gift may be appropriate. You may with to ask to have photographer present at the birth, of course you should ask if she would like that, but that can be a special gift to give her–to remember this time together. For more birth mother gift ideas, click here.
The hospital visit and birth are special time for everyone involved. You can have a beautiful experience. It will only help to talk things out with your potential birth mother to know how she would like placement day to go.
If you’re adopting out of your state, you may be in town for a few more days. You can read about the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children or ICPC for more information on what you need to do when you’re adopting out of state.
15. Failed Adoption Placements
It’s every hopeful adoptive parents’ worst fear: a failed adoption. Failed adoptions can happen for several reasons. The potential birth parents may decide to parent their child. A different family may be chosen to parent the child over you. Whatever the reason, it can be devastating for hopeful adoptive parents. However, it shouldn’t be the end of your adoption journey.
Maybe you’re wondering what you can do to prevent a failed match, but that might not be something entirely possible. Since legally a potential birth parent will be the mother of her child until she terminates her rights, there is always a risk of a failed adoption. It is just part of the adoption process.
There are a few things you can do during adoption in the event that you have a failed adoption.
- Continue to support your matched potential birth parent. Whether she decides to parent or place with another family, the right thing to do is to support her. Of course, you don’t have to keep in contact–that may be too painful. You can choose to be happy for her and share that happiness. Either choice she makes, a new family is being created and that alone is cause for celebration.
- Let yourself experience grief. Although you may be feel a little silly for grieving a child that was never yours, I can assure you it is not a silly feeling. It is a real loss for you. Your hopes have taken a hit, and it is okay to let yourself experience grief. If you do not allow yourself to grieve, it will be nearly impossible to move on.
- Reach out to those that understand. There are groups and forums out there that know exactly what you are going through. Hearing from other survivors can be more comforting during this time than speaking with someone who has not been on your journey.
- Get back on the horse. When you have let yourself grieve and a sufficient amount of time has passed, move forward with your adoption plan. You can still be a family to the right child. You may have experienced hurt, loss, and heartbreak, but you can still have the joy that comes from having a family. Don’t let the what ifs stop you from adopting.
A failed adoption may not be too common, but it does happen. You should not let it keep you from creating your family. The hard times will only help you appreciate the good, joyful times that are yet to come.
The finalization process is going to vary for you depending on the state you reside in. Some states require a court appearance, though it’s mostly a formality; other states do not. This is just an official moment to make the adoption final and legal. Finalization can happen anywhere from a few days to six months after birth. Your adoption professional will be able to assist you with any questions or concerns you may have.
There are a few things you should do around the time of your finalization. This may include getting your child’s original birth certificate, if your state allows. You’ll need to apply for a new social security card once you have the new birth certificate. And don’t forget to update your insurance with your child’s information. Now is also the time to create a will, if you don’t already have one, or update it if you do.
Some families also choose to invite family and friends to celebrate finalization. But you should check with the courthouse to see what is allowed. You may also wish to discuss with your child’s birth family if they would like to be present for finalization. This may be too difficult for them, but they may wish to celebrate it with you. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Other families decide to have a party to celebrate the adoption finalization. You can gather some ideas here. You may wish to invite family and friends to meet the new addition to your family.
If you’re still feeling unsure about the finalization process, you can test your knowledge here.
17. Parenting and Beyond
Don’t forget that you are not alone in this journey. There are tons of people going through the same things. Rely on those that have gone through it as well. You can connect to other hopeful adoptive parents through adoption forums, adoption message boards, here, and adoptive parents here.
Depending on your adoption, maybe it’s was a transracial adoption or special needs adoption, your parenting will need to adjust. When you’re an adoptive parent, parenting is a little different. Though your child is part of your family, he or she is coming from a different background than any biological children you may have. You may find the following resources helpful as you move forward in your parenting or open adoption. There will be new challenges and your journey will be filled with heartache and joy. You’re going to love it.
Additional Parenting Resources
Be sure to check out these other articles as you move forward in your adoption: