You may have found yourself unexpectedly expecting. You are looking for answers and maybe stumbled across this article as you were researching, “How does the adoption process work?” The process of adoption as either an expectant parent or hopeful adoptive parents can seem overwhelming, but it does not have to be stressful or daunting. Getting answers to your questions can make this time in your life less overwhelming, especially as you take this first step. It can make the idea of placing your child for adoption a lot less nervewracking. You will continue to feel many emotions along this journey, but knowledge is power and it is especially important in this season of your and your baby’s life. 

“How does the adoption process work” is a very broad question with varying answers depending on the type of adoption you wish to pursue when making an adoption plan for your baby. As a former professional in the adoption field, I would often be asked this question by both prospective adoptive parents and birth parents. I started my career at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and then became the Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services. I intimately understand how both expectant parents and birth parents want early on in the process to understand the intricacies of how the adoption process works. My best advice to parents-to-be on how the adoption process works is to start at the very beginning. The process is different for every person and every adoption, but doing your research and understanding the steps will make it much easier to consider as an option for you and your baby.

Deciding to place your baby for adoption is a big decision. Understanding the important role you play as the birth mother or birth father is the highest priority in the process. Any adoption agency or adoption attorney you choose must also understand this. It is also important to understand the various steps you will take as an expectant parent and the regulations and requirements the respective prospective adoptive parents you choose for your baby will need to complete. Understanding what options you have as a birth parent will help you take the first step.

How Does the Adoption Process Work?

The decision to place your baby for adoption is one of the most important decisions you will make. It will not necessarily be an easy one, but you will have support along the way to help you decide if it is the best decision. The first step in your journey is just that. A first step. All you need to do is take that step, learn as much as you can, and take the next right step for you and your baby. Each of those steps and what is best for you and your baby may be very different than what is best for another birth parent and his or her baby. No two people are alike and no two adoptions are alike. Understanding that is helpful. Understanding that you are in control of the decisions made during this process and that you can stop at any time before the adoption is finalized is also important. A great agency will also make this very clear to you. So, understand that after this first decision is made to discuss and ask questions about how the adoption process works, the next steps can vary from adoption to adoption or birth parent to birth parent. 

Your next likely decision after deciding to speak with an adoption agency is what type of relationship you would like to have with your baby and their adoptive family as your child grows up. Then you’ll have to learn the difference between the types of adoption and decide the relationship you want to have with your child, depending on whatever is right for you.

Every adoption triad (that is the adoptive parents, birth parents, and child who is adopted) and the relationships shared between those individuals are unique. If you choose to place your child for adoption, the relationship you decide to have with the adoptive parents and your child is entirely up to you. The birth mother or birth father steer the decision on how much or little of a relationship they have with the adoptive parents and their birth child. There is also a lot of room within that decision to create a dynamic and paradigm that works for you. While all adoptions are different and entirely unique to the triad of birth parents, adoptive parents, and children for many reasons, there are some specific characteristics that set them apart from one another. You may decide to have a closed adoption, an open adoption, or a semi-open adoption.

How Does the Adoption Process Work with Each Type of Adoption? 

May birth mothers or birth fathers wonder what is an open adoption? Open adoption is the most common type of private domestic adoption. According to, over 55% of private infant adoptions in the United States are open! Open adoption is when the birth mother and/or birth father and even birth extended family have a relationship with the child placed for adoption and their adoptive family. There is a spectrum as to how open it is and how much contact you choose to have with the adoptive parents and birth child, but all open adoptions include the birth mother and/or father, the adoptive parents, and child all having a relationship with each other. The extent of this relationship is usually decided at the start of the adoption process by the birth mother and/or father. The amount of communication can vary greatly among the birth mother who chooses an open adoption and the adoptive parents who also make that choice to have an open adoption. Open adoption can range from a photo album or letter sent each year on the child’s birthday or a special occasion, to regular visits in-person, phone calls, or video calls between the child and the birth parents. 

While 95% of adoptions in the United States are open, close to 40% are semi-open adoptions. A semi-open adoption can mean different things to different people. Usually, it means that communication between the birth mom and adoptive family and adopted child are facilitated through the adoption agency that finalized the adoption. The adoption agency acts as an intermediary and gives the birth parents information shared from the adoptive family about the child. This also works in the reverse with the birth parents sharing information about them with the child through the adoption agency at various points. Neither party meets, but they receive regular information agreed upon.

Only 5% of all infant adoptions in the United States are what is called a closed adoption, where there is no relationship between the adoptive family and birth mother. Most adoptions in the 1930s through the 1970s were fully closed in the United States. Closed adoptions were initially the norm to protect birth mothers who may want to keep their pregnancy a secret from their family, school, or employer. Traditionally, closed adoption meant that babies were placed for adoption immediately after birth and their adoption records were sealed.

Birth certificates were also known many decades ago to include incorrect identifying information or missing information to protect both the birth mother and adoptive parents. Due to social stigma during that part of the 20th century, many birth mothers kept their pregnancy a secret, and even some adoptive parents claimed the child they adopted was their birth child. This certainly does not happen anymore, thanks to excellent parental training for adoptive parents and education for all parties in the adoption triad, including the child as they matured.

It was not until the 1990s that a majority of adoption service providers offered open adoption as an option. Societal views towards adoption have continued to evolve until now in the 21st century. More education on the emotional and psychological effects on both the child and birth mother in closed adoptions, an adopted person’s “right to know,” and the loss of stigma toward adoption brought a change in tide toward more open adoptions today.

Many birth mothers at that time often felt they did not have any choice but to place a child for adoption, and some women were forced to against their will. Closed adoptions continue today but are much rarer. Studies and research show that an open adoption, even just semi-open, is a preferred adoption for everyone in the adoption triadbirth mother and/or father, adoptive parents, and child. 

In a closed adoption, you may realize at some point that you would like to be reunited with either your birth parents, birth child, or birth siblings.’s reunion registries are a way for you, as the birth parent or birth child, to connect at some point in your life. Understand that you may not be able to keep your identity from your child and learn why people who are adopted search for their birth parents.

How Does the Adoption Process Work When Determining Who to Use to Help Me Place My Child for Adoption?

After deciding what type of relationship you would want to have with the child you place for adoption, your next steps are to decide if you would like to use an adoption service provider to complete. All adoptions will need the support of an adoption service providerthat is a licensed social worker, adoption agency, or adoption attorneyto complete the process. This organization or individual serves as your main point of contact during the entire process, making it as stress-free as possible. Regardless of whether you feel very sure you plan to place your baby for adoption or are only researching your myriad of options, adoption agencies are a wonderful first step in understanding how the adoption process works. You can research agencies and find ones in your state at the adoption agency directory. You will then want to interview a list of agencies in your state. Deciding which agencies are best to interview can seem like an overwhelming step in your individual adoption process. Choosing a great adoption agency can seem impossible, but as a former adoption professional working with agencies, I can promise you that it is very possible. You will likely get a good feeling about an agency after interviewing them. Narrowing the list based on geography and services they provide birth mothers and hopeful adoptive parents is a good first set of criteria. You cannot call or meet with every adoption agency in your search for a great one. You may not even feel you need to interview agencies as they are all the same. This is a wrong idea and I hope as you work through the interview process you will see how you will click with some and not with others. As you ask your questions, you will see that some are a great match and others aren’t at all, based on services. 

Next Steps in the Adoption Process After Choosing an Agency

Once you decide on an adoption agency with whom you would like to work, they will ask you a lot of questions regarding what you are looking for in finding an adoptive family for your baby. Many adoption agencies will also work with hopeful adoptive parents. They will be able to help you narrow down a list of adoptive families to interview or meet early in the process. They will likely have photo albums, scrapbooks, or in-depth profiles on prospective adoptive families for you to view. Once you narrow down the list of families, individuals, or couples you would like to meet, the agency can work with you and the prospective adoptive couple to set up in-person meetings so you can meet with and eventually choose the adoptive parents with whom to place your baby. Included with the profiles you view will be a home study that was completed in the prospective adoptive parents’ respective state where they live. This home study ensures they are safe to raise your child and have a home that is suitable. The home study will also include certificates for passing a number of hours of parental training, background checks, financial records, letters of recommendation, interviews, and photos of the home, as well as medical records and exams. It is intensive. The home study ensures that your baby will be safe and thrive in the adoptive family and adoptive home. 

Once your child is born, you will have time to bond, if you wish, in the hospital. You will work with the adoption agency to complete a birthing plan which will include how you would like the birth to take place, what will happen in the hours after your child is born and who you would like to have in the hospital room with you during labor and after the baby has been born. This will also include how much time you will have with your baby after birth. You need to understand, as with all births, anything can happen and you may want less or more bonding time after your baby is born.

After the birth of your baby, based on your respective state in which you live there are certain rules and regulations around the finalization of the adoption. There will be time before you sign any adoption paperwork making the adoptive parents your baby’s legal parents. Regardless of the state in which you live, you can have as much time alone with your child as you want and need after birth. There is no right or wrong decision in the amount of time you needthis is entirely your choice. All of the process is!

Your baby is legally your child until you sign the relinquishment paperwork. The decision of when or even if you sign the relinquishment paperwork is up to you. You can change your mind. You can ask all of the questions you need and speak to your support people or social worker as much as you want. You have the right to make sure this is the decision you still want to maketo place your child for adoption. 

Every state is different so it is important to research it in your state, but after you sign the adoption legal paperwork there is a period of time between then and when the adoption will actually be legally finalized, and it varies greatly by state. During this time the adoptive parents will have visits from their home study social worker to ensure the child is safe and thriving in their care. You will also want to take advantage of therapy, lean on your support system, and begin the process of communicating with the adoptive family and your baby if that was what was agreed upon in your adoption agreement. 

As you start your journey in learning how the adoption process works, get as much information as you can from reputable sources like and have peace that all of your questions will be answered so you can make the best decision for you and your baby! 

If you would like to speak confidentially with an adoption professional about your pregnancy options, click here.

Jennifer Mellon is the co-founder and president of Trustify, providing private investigators on demand to consumers and businesses. She has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving as the executive director and chief development officer at Joint Council on International Children’s Services. She also worked for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and served on the board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro region. She currently serves on the development board for the National Council for Adoption and currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and five children.