Adoption can be a confusing topic to discuss and you may not know where to start or what to expect. Well, you have come to the right place. I am going to attempt to answer your question, “What is some adoption criteria I should know about?” When racking my brain for this article and thinking about what I wanted to share from our experience with adoption, I knew I wanted to keep it as simple as possible but also as informative as possible. So, here it goes. Well, one more thing before I dive too deep into the subject, please note that I wrote this article and all my other articles from own experience and research. This is not legal advice and I suggest that you contact a local adoption agency for more concrete information that pertains to your specific geographical area. But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy while I take you on a roller coaster ride known as adoption.
I will attempt to advise you on what I think are the top 10 things you should know about adoption in order to answer your question, “What is some adoption criteria I should know about?” I would not say they are in any particular order, as I believe they are all extremely important.
Start educating yourself on adoption. Read as many articles as possible. Check out as many books as possible. Take an online course. Watch videos online. Listen to podcasts. Familiarize yourself with everything about adoption. Talk to friends or family who are adopted or who have adopted children. Doing this prior to adopting or even starting the adoption process is essential. You may not realize the things you are learning before you actually become a parent will come in handy down the road. Most agencies will require you to take parenting education classes as well. I thought this was ridiculous when we first started the adoption process. Why do I have to take a class when others who naturally have children don’t have to take a class? My attitude toward this requirement was way off. The information learned in these classes is extremely helpful, and I rely on a lot of the information we learned on a daily basis. My advice, don’t go into the adoption process with a hardened heart about having to learn about adoption. Adoption does not stop when it is finalized. Adoption is a lifelong process. Being as prepared as possible will go a long way in the end.
Along the same lines as educating yourself about adoption and parenting, start researching. Start researching what type of adoption you would like to pursue if you haven’t decided already. Start researching what agency you may want to work with. Of if you are foregoing an agency altogether, will you be utilizing an adoption attorney? If so, start researching adoption attorneys in your area. I always tell people that finding an agency or adoption attorney that you feel most comfortable with is one of the most essential things about the adoption process. Adoption is a very personal experience and most likely you will have to tell your life story, your hopes, your dreams, and your desire to be a parent with a stranger, your social worker. Having a good connection with him/her is essential. Start researching what your state regulations are. Start researching what federal regulations there are regarding adoption. Start researching what support services are available in your area.
8. Find Support.
Find a great support system before you begin the adoption process. That is the thing about adoption, there is not a timeline for how long you will wait. It could take a few months, or it could take years and years. The waiting period can seem very lonely and you find yourself questioning how much more you can take or how much longer you can wait. It may be wise to find local support groups, if there are any. There are also Facebook groups or other social media groups you can become a part of. I found it helpful to talk with other people who had been through the adoption process. It is easier to talk to someone who is able to understand what you are going through if they too have been through the same process. Not only will you find it helpful before you begin the adoption process, but it will also be helpful to have a support system for after the adoption is completed. You may also need to research and locate professionals you may need after you bring your child home. You may want to find a pediatrician first and foremost. Depending on the age of your child, you may also need to find an adoption-centered therapist. Also, if you are adopting internationally, your child may need more medical attention when you arrive home. Having these people in place beforehand will help make the transition easier.
7. Plan for Expenses.
Make sure you know what expenses will be expected of you. If you are going through an agency or adoption attorney then they should have an outline of expenses and fees that you will be responsible for. You will be required to have medical exams for each parent. Those will be paid out of pocket. However, make sure to plan for additional expenses. Your child may need additional medical expenses paid. Or you may need to travel more than what you expected at the beginning of the process. It is best to overestimate rather than underestimate when it comes to budgeting for your adoption. There are several tools out there to help you save for an adoption or plan for what expenses might occur during the adoption process. As mentioned above, adoption is a lifelong process, which means the fees may continue. They might not be in the form of adoption expenses or fees but rather in the form of medical expenses, school expenses, or therapy expenses, depending on your child’s needs.
Open adoptions have become more and more common. Years ago, closed adoptions were more common and people did not talk about being adopted or creating an adoption plan for a child. However, now, openness has become more normal. Open adoptions can be created with the amount of openness each party is willing to give. I know in our son’s adoption, we have a very open adoption with his birth family. We have spent holidays and birthdays with them, went camping together, and done several other things throughout our son’s life. Our open adoption is unique and specific to our situation so that does not mean your adoption plan will look just like ours. I believe it is critical to discuss your openness with your child’s birth family beforehand. I also think it is important to get to know your child’s birth family. We spent a lot of time getting to know our son’s birth mom, and it helped develop our relationship to the point we are at today. On the same note, I will mention how important it is to have an open dialogue with your adopted child. There is not a magic parenting book out there on adoption and when to start talking to your child about being adopted, however, I encourage you to talk about it from the beginning. We did. We didn’t want it to be something our child found out when he was at a certain age. We didn’t want to “hide” it from him or keep it a secret. It is a huge part of who he is and how we became a family. So, we talk about it. He has no clue what it really means, he is only 4. But, he knows the language and terminology to be aware of it. There are several books out there that can help you talk about the topic as well. There are also movies related to adoption that may be helpful for a child to watch.
5. Take Care of Yourself.
This may be one of the most important topics covered here. You may not have given birth to a child but you will still need to “recover.” When we first brought our son home I ran a 5k two days later. It was crazy for me to attempt to do it. However, I thought, I didn’t give birth, so I will be fine. Wrong. I was tired. I was sleep-deprived. My emotions were all over the place. Just remember, just because you didn’t give birth doesn’t mean your life didn’t completely change overnight! Along the same lines, you will also have to be honest with yourself before you even begin the adoption process. I know lots of couples where one of them was willing to adopt and the other was not. This is a serious conversation you must have with your significant other and make sure both of you are on the same page. Adoption is forever. It is not something that you should just decide overnight that you might want to do someday. You will also have to have those “what if” conversations. What if our child….? Fill in the blank. Are you willing to sacrifice for your child? Are you prepared to care for a child for life? Are you willing to adopt an older child? Are you willing to adopt from another country, another culture? Are you willing to adopt a sibling group? What are your limitations? Have those conversations ahead of time, they are crucial.
4. You Are a Parent.
You may have heard things like: Who is his real mom? Are you her real mom? What about his real parents? I don’t want to shock you, but you are a parent, a real, live human parent. Period, the end of it. You may have thought the adoption process was hard, or the home study was extensive, or the parenting classes were hard, but the actual parenting is going to be the hardest part. The daily struggles are real. The questions are hard. Determining the method of discipline for each child is hard. Creating a respectful, kind, and determined human being is hard. Harder than the almost six-year wait, for me. Again, this is why I say be prepared for anything, you never know what parenting is going to throw at you.
Know that no matter what, every adoption begins with loss. The loss of everything a child once knew, even if you adopted at birth. The sights, the sounds, the smells they were used to are now gone and are replaced by all new things. This was hard for me to realize since we adopted our son at birth. But the more I read and the more I researched, the more I realized how impactful those first few days of life were for him. Our son’s birth mother was so thoughtful that when she was pregnant, she had us record our voices so she could play them for him while he was still in the womb. So, maybe he knew our voices. But he didn’t know our house. He didn’t know our smells. He didn’t know we had a dog or a cat. For older children, the loss could even be harder to understand and process. This is where therapeutic help might come in handy. It may also be harder on children adopted internationally, as languages may be different and the cultures are definitely going to be different. Take time to remember that it is probably harder on the children to adjust to the new “normal,” so it will take time. Be patient. Be thoughtful. And be aware of their feelings. Watch for a change in attitude or an increased sadness. If you see these, contact a professional to discuss getting your child extra help.
Along the lines of number three above, bonding and attachment are crucial to your relationship with your child. When we brought our son home from the hospital we made time for skin-to-skin contact and made as much eye contact with him as possible. We wanted to bond and connect with him as much as possible. I know this can be more difficult with older children and children adopted internationally, but find a way to connect with them. Whether it be through something they enjoy like a game or song, or if they want to snuggle then snuggle. Learn what gives your child a sense of security and latch on to that. I know families who have adopted older children and children from another country and they practiced “cocooning.” Meaning they stayed home and let their children adjust to them and their surroundings before introducing them to new people and communities. This gives the families time to bond and connect. Do what works for your family and what you feel works best for your child. I just suggest you make sure you do as much as you can to connect, bond, and attach to your child.
Remember the most important piece of any adoption is the child. Everything you do should be for the benefit of this child. Having a child, no matter how, changes everything about your life. Embrace it. Cherish it. Spend time with your child. Make them feel special. Make them feel connected to your family. Make them a part of your family, not an outsider looking in. Give them security. Put your focus and attention on them. This could be difficult to manage if you have other children in your home, but encourage your other children to help with the adjustment period. And remember, it’s about love.
There are several different ways I could have answered, “What is some adoption criteria I should know about?” However, I feel the above are 10 things I wish I would have known more about before adopting.
Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.