If you’ve found yourself unexpectedly pregnant, you might be more stressed than you’ve ever been before. It’s hard to think under such extreme stress, no matter what options you’re considering—abortion, adoption, or parenting. There’s a lot to think about, and if you’ve decided adoption is the best option you have, you’ll need to do your research and start your adoption plan.

Your adoption plan is something you are 100 percent in control of. You get to choose whether you’ll work with an agency or a lawyer. You get to choose whether you find the family on your own or seek an agency’s assistance. And you get to choose what an agency’s involvement will be in your birthing and placement plan. Even if you go through the process of choosing a family, you are always completely free to choose parenting up until the minute when you sign the termination of parental rights. These are your choices to make.

If adoption is your choice, here are five steps to start your adoption plan:

1. Do Your Research

You have some different options when it comes to how you go about placing your child for adoption. Everything begins with research. You’ll quickly learn that there are people who genuinely want to help birth moms and adoptees, but there are also people who actually want to make money off your crisis. Find a professional to work with who is not making a profit off your heartache. Many agencies are non-profit.
Spend some time searching for adoption lawyers and agencies in your area. Take notes as you read reviews. Keep a short list of lawyers, agencies, and families you’re interested in.

2. Decide What You Want in a Family

Do you want a childless couple, a family who already has children, or a family who has previously adopted? Do you want a local family so you get to see your child more often, or are you just concerned with finding a family you really love, regardless of where they live? Do you want them to have a certain religion or have a stay-at-home mom?

Whatever you want, make a list of what you’re looking for in order of your priorities. Realize you will bend in some things, but put a star next to the items you consider true must-haves.

3. Start Searching

There are a few ways to approach this situation. Some people prefer the extra level of support that comes from working with an agency. Others prefer the independence of doing things their own way.

If you’re the type of person who prefers to have guidelines and someone working with you, take that short list you created in the step above and start making phone calls to see what agencies you click with. Don’t be shy telling them about your situation (remember, this is what they do), and ask them what the process of placing a child through them would be from start to finish. If you have questions arise as they’re speaking, stop them and ask them to clarify. Take notes as you speak to them about the things you like and don’t like.

If you choose to find the family yourself, you can probably find them on your computer. Start doing Google searches for “hoping to adopt,” “looking to adopt,” “hopeful adoptive family,” “adoption profile,” and “want to adopt.” Numerous hopeful adoptive families have websites and blogs you can easily find. Be sure to look over on the right-hand side where the advertisements are, because many families will pay to have their information listed there to make it easier for you to find.

Social media is also a great option. Get on Facebook or Instagram and search for the same terms listed above.

There are also numerous adoption profile hosting sites, like Parent Profiles, that house hundreds of hopeful adoptive family profiles, and you can read all about them and see their photos.

Most families you find are already working with a lawyer or agency and will already be home study approved. A home study includes passing background checks and myriad other hurdles before the family is ready to adopt. You can reach out to these families whenever you feel ready.

4. Prepare Yourself

Before you get on the phone or meet with any potential families, get your list of questions ready. No one is going to be absolutely perfect in every way, but as you speak with families, your gut may tell you when you’ve found the family your child will thrive in.

Remember that your child will inherit many of your qualities, so it’s important to find a family you, yourself, feel comfortable in. This is a family you will forever be linked to, so take your time choosing the very best family you can find for your child. This family is a gift you will give to your child. Take time picking this gift.

5. Learn and Grow Together

If you have time before the placement of your baby to really get to know your child’s prospective future family, invest yourself in this part of the process. Get to know the adoptive parents as much as you can, and start laying a foundation you can all build on for years to come. Talk about what you hope contact will look like after the baby is born, how you can handle conflicts together, and what you’d like your time in the hospital to look like.

Most people going through the adoption process (birth parents and adoptive parents) aren’t adoption experts. Everyone is trying to feel around in the dark. Hold on to one another so you can get through this process together, unified as parents, just as you will be for your child’s entire life.