Adoption can be scary and overwhelming both as an adoptive parent and as an expectant mother considering her options. When we adopted our son, I remember feeling like I had no idea what I was doing or where to start. This is a guide to hopefully help you navigate the sometimes stressful yet amazing world of adoption.
We found out about our unborn son in December 2017 through an aunt that lives in Vancouver, Washington. There was a woman that she knew from church that was unexpectedly pregnant, and her due date was May 2018. Most women have around nine months to prepare for a baby, and I found myself feeling very overwhelmed and completely unsure of how to proceed with a baby due in five months or less.
There were so many things to think about and consider. A few of the thoughts that I had initially were: do we want an open or closed adoption, what does adoption cost, what is a home study and how do we get one, do we follow our state laws in California or the birth mother’s state laws, what about the birth father, and the list goes on and on.
The first thing I did was contact a California adoption lawyer. I spoke with our lawyer over the phone and the first step that we needed to complete was to get a home study started. Since we were matched with a birth mother privately, our adoption was considered private, versus an agency or public adoption. An agency or public adoption is when a child is adopted through an adoption agency or through the foster care system. We needed to contact an agency to conduct a home study. The agency that we worked with provides international and domestic adoption services in California. The intention of the home study process is to gather information to assess on whether adoptive parents can provide a safe and loving environment for a child.
There are quite a few components that go into a home study, including paperwork and documentation that needs to be filled out by the prospective adoptive parents, as well as interviews that are conducted by a Licensed Social Worker (LCSW). Personal interviewing is done to get a better understanding of the adoptive parents’ goals and circumstances. Topics that are discussed include: reasons for adopting (motivation and timing), social history background information, martial history and compatibility, experiences with and expectations of children, philosophy on child rearing, discipline ideas, religious practices, description of home and neighborhood, and health and financial issues. We were sent a big packet of paperwork that needed to be completed as part of the home study process. The packet requested information regarding medical reports, martial or divorce decree, federal tax information, health insurance, life insurance, employment verification, character reference letters, and educational requirements for adoption. We also needed to get fingerprints completed for background checks. I won’t lie, it felt overwhelming at times and almost like a second job. Once our application was complete and our initial fee of $350 was paid, we had our first meeting with our social worker.
When we met with our social worker, Michelle, I felt much more at ease. She met with both my husband and I and asked us questions about how we planned on raising our son, what our thoughts were on discipline, if I planned to go back to work after our son was born (I did), and what childcare would look like. She also asked questions about our previous attempts to start a family, and how we had handled the situation. She looked around our home to make sure that it was safe and welcoming for a child. We were given a checklist of items that would be looked at, so that way there were no surprises. Items that were looked at included: working smoke alarms, covers for electrical outlets, medications and hazardous products out of reach of a child, a room suitable for a child, etc. I also scoured the internet for resources to make sure that I wasn’t missing any items. The home study organization that we worked with kept a running checklist of items, as we submitted documents that was another item checked off the list.
After the first visit with our social worker, we continued to get paperwork in order and talk with our son’s birth mother about expectations and what she wanted to see happen with the adoption. We had a second interview with our social worker, and this time my husband and I were interviewed separately. This was a second visit to get additional information on how we felt about adoption, what our relationship was like, with us as a couple and our family of origin. After the visits and documentation were received, it took about three weeks for the home study portion to be complete. A draft was sent to us for review, and after that the home study was made final. If we were doing an international adoption the home study would have been sent to the international agency for approval as well. The cost for the completed home study was approximately $2,800. We also had to pay for our background checks, which was around $75 per person. There were also a few documents for the home study that needed to be notarized, which cost around $20. There can be additional costs incurred if the home study process needed to be expedited, or if a birth parent’s rights needed to be relinquished.
We met with our California adoption lawyer very soon after our home study was complete to go over what information and documents we needed to get from our birth mother and father. Since our son was going to be born in Washington, we could either follow Washington or California’s state adoption laws. We spoke with our son’s birth mother and all decided that it would be easier to follow California’s laws. Our lawyer informed us that even though we were now considered “home study” approved, after our son was placed in our home, we would still need to have a home study through the State of California. We would be assigned a Licensed Social Worker through the state and they would go through a similar process before our adoption could be finalized. We discussed what we would need from the birth mother and birth father in regard to documentation, and what obligations we had financially.
In California, birth mothers have the option to request for baby-related expenses to be covered by the adoptive parents. This includes costs that they incur due to the pregnancy, that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Extensive lists are available from a lawyer or online, but a few examples are fuel to get to and from doctor’s appointments, maternity clothes, food, medical expenses, etc. We also asked about what would happen if our birth mother changed her mind. The costs that an adoptive family would pay for the birth mother are non-refundable, but before any expenses are paid for, the adoptive family agrees to those costs.
Birth mothers also have paperwork that they are required to fill out. Some of the documents that our son’s birth mother was requested to fill out included: documents regarding expenses she was incurring, information on her medical and family history, documentation on whether she wanted an open or closed adoption, and hospital documentation information.
These lists may differ depending on the type of adoption and the lawyer. Because we lived in California and our son’s birth mother lived in Washington, we would have what’s called an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (or ICPC for short). In this adoption, the state required background information on the birth mother and birth father, and a disclosure of medical information. Additional information may be requested, such as any marriage or divorce documentation.
We also needed to get documentation from the birth father. Documentation that will be required is a relinquishment of parental rights. This can be completed as soon or as late as the birth father would like. To make the process an easy transition, the sooner this documentation is completed the better. In some circumstances the adoptive family may have to go to court to have those parental rights terminated, and that would come at an additional cost. There also may be a situation in which the birth father is unknown. In that situation, the lawyer would work with the adoptive family and the birth mother to get as much information as possible, and if the information is not found, they are able to go to court and have parental rights terminated. When a parent relinquishes their rights, those documents must be notarized. In our situation, we met with our son’s birth father and a notary, and were able to get the paperwork sent to our lawyer before our son was born. The paperwork that the birth father had to fill out also had to be notarized. We were fortunate to meet with a notary when we went to Washington, and that was all completed at the same time.
California requires that all women placing a child for adoption be given an Advisement of her rights by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or therapist. The LCSW is acting as the birth mother’s advocate and is required to meet with the birth mother a minimum of two times. During the first appointment, they talk to the birth mother about their rights and options regarding the pregnancy and the adoption placement. The social worker meets with the birth mother a second time a minimum of ten days following the first visit and following the birth of their child to have them sign California consent documents. They also have the option of meeting with the LCSW as many times as is agreed upon by the birth mother and the adoptive family, at the cost of the adoptive family. The LCSW’s cost are covered by the adoptive family and is a tremendous resource for the birth mother.
Birth mothers also decide how much contact they or anyone else will have with them and their child at the hospital. This is a document that is created by the lawyer and is sent to the Licensed Social Worker (LCSW) at the hospital where the child will be born. In the document it discusses if the adoption will be open or closed, and verifies that all of the laws of the state that you’re adopting from or in have been met. They verify that the birth mother has been informed of her rights by a LCSW. A social worker at the hospital also has to be present, and the birth mother is asked to sign paperwork at the hospital if the adoptive parents will be leaving with the child. The birth mother decides at the hospital if they want to see the baby, know the sex of the baby, hold the baby, and whether they would like a private or shared room. They decide who they will allow to see the baby at the hospital, who they would like present, if anyone, at the delivery, if they would like newborn pictures, if they would like the baby circumcised if the baby is a male, or if they would like the adoptive parents to decide. They also decide who they would like to cut the umbilical cord. They decide on the baby’s birth certificate if they want to write the baby’s name, and if they want “baby boy” or “baby girl” if they want the birth mother’s last name or the “adoptive parents” choice of name. At the time of discharge, the birth mother decides if they would like to leave with the baby and adoptive family, leave before the baby and adoptive parents, leave after the baby and adoptive parents, or leave the same time as the adoptive parents leave the hospital.
Our son’s birth mother called us on Friday, April 27, 2018 at around 5 a.m. to let us know that she was in labor. We didn’t make it in time for the birth, but got to see our son a few hours later. We met in the hospital room and all walked in to see our son together. Our son was in the NICU, and the following day we all left the hospital together.
Another document that our lawyer created was a contact after adoption agreement. This included the type of contact that we wanted after the adoption was finalized. We all decided that we wanted an open adoption. The options regarding an open adoption vary. Communication options include telephone, letter, visits, share information, email, and other. While we don’t have a document like this for our adoption, we have decided to do visits as often as possible, and our son’s birth mother and I are friends on social media. We often send text messages back and forth, and I attempt to share pictures and stories as often as possible.
A few days after we left the hospital, we all met again with the LCSW in Washington. Our son’s birth mother signed her final documentation, and at that time signed over her parental rights. In California, for independent adoptions a birth mother has 30 days after signing the consent to change her mind. In our situation, our son’s birth mother signed a Waiver of the Right to Revoke Consent and therefore her consent became immediately irrevocable. It took a few days for the paperwork from Washington to get approved in California, and about a week later we were on our way home with our son, Max.
After getting home, the home study for the State of California began. In California this process can take as long as six months. Much of the process was the same, with paperwork, home visits, and the LCSW verifying that our son was growing and developing as he should.
On November 19, 2018 we met our lawyer at the Superior Court of California in Sacramento and our son became legally ours. Adoption cases are seen in private, due to the fact that some adoption cases are still sealed. The total cost for our adoption was around $15,000. This number can vary greatly due to birth mother expenses, lawyer fees, and travel expenses.
Adoption isn’t easy; even in the best of situations there can be challenges and surprises along the way. But as with most things in life, the best things in life are worth stretching for.
Brittany Lemon is an adoptive mom, full-time fire inspector and wife to a firefighter. When she’s not working or chasing around her 2-year-old son, Brittany can be found gardening, reading a book, or sitting in her backyard enjoying the sunset.