If you are thinking about starting or growing your family, you may have considered adoption. If you have, you are not alone! There are many families in the U.S. who have adopted a child. Adoption is more common in our country than many people realize, and it can be a beautiful way to grow your family, but the process can be confusing. If you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure where to start, you may find yourself with lots of questions. Many hopeful adoptive parents begin the adoption process with questions such as the following:
What is the difference between domestic, international, and foster care adoption?
Is adoption the right fit for me and my family?
What does the process actually look like?
Can I afford to adopt?
Or maybe you are pregnant and unsure about the best option for you. Expectant mothers considering placement might be asking similar questions:
Is adoption the best choice for me and my baby?
Will I be able to choose the family who adopts my child?
What does the process actually look like?
Are there any expenses for me?
All of these questions are normal and common! The goal of this guide is to answer these questions and help you make a more informed decision about whether or not domestic adoption is the right fit for your family. So let’s start at the very beginning. What are the different types of adoption?
“Domestic adoption is the term used when the adoptive parents, birth parents, and the child live within the United States. The entire adoption process, including initial placement, background checks, consent, and finalization, is regulated by State law and policy.” –Childwelfare.gov
You may also hear this referred to as private domestic adoption. In a domestic adoption, birth mothers (or birth parents) are encouraged to choose a family for their child. They can also decide how much of a relationship or to what extent they would like their adoption plan to be an open adoption. An open adoption is one in which the birth mother (or birth parents) and the adoptive parent(s) reach an agreement about what type of relationship they would like to have after the baby is born. This can look like yearly visits, monthly text updates, or even photos that are saved for a later time. It’s a very personal decision for both sides and looks different for everyone!
International adoption refers to U.S. families adopting from other countries. Often, this option can be more complicated because finalization is dependant on laws from both the U.S. and the child’s country of origin. International adoptions are less likely to be open as well. For many reasons, open relationships with birth mothers from other countries are not always possible.
Foster Care Adoption
Adopting from foster care is a third way to grow your family. The primary goal of foster care is to reunite children with their parents or other relatives. However, there are over 400,000 children that are in foster care in the U.S., and many of their parents’ rights have been terminated. When children lack safe and permanent caregivers, research shows that they are far more likely to suffer from physical, mental, and developmental issues. Every child deserves a loving home, and if you are prepared for adopting an older child or sibling group, this may be the right fit for you!
Is domestic adoption the right fit?
How do you decide if adoption is the right fit? If you’re reading this, you may have already decided to grow your family in this way or to place your child with adoptive parents after birth. But if you haven’t decided yet, this is a very important step. One that deserves a lot of consideration.
There are many reasons why adoption is important. You may be considering growing your family in this way simply because you feel a calling, but chances are you may be planning to be a single parent, are in a same-sex relationship, or have been diagnosed with infertility. Whatever your situation, it’s important to give yourself time to process such a big decision. If you are hoping to adopt after infertility, you may consider researching counseling options before deciding you are ready. Adopting may seem like a logical next step, but there are a lot of complicated emotions at play with infertility and family planning. It’s okay to give yourself time to consider all options and to grieve the loss of the family you may have originally planned.
Choosing adoption for a child when you are pregnant is also a very difficult decision. An unplanned pregnancy can be very confusing to navigate, but there are many resources available to help you in this challenging time. You may want to consider seeing a counselor to help you process your emotions and desires for the next steps. Many women facing an unplanned pregnancy find that they aren’t able to provide the life they want for their child, for whatever reason, so they decide to choose an adoptive family. Whatever your reasons for choosing adoption, support is so important! There are many resources that offer support groups, information, and other help for navigating this time in your life.
What does the domestic adoption process look like?
1. The first step is to decide what type of adoption is best for you. We already talked about the differences in domestic, international, and foster care adoptions, but there are other decisions to make as well:
– Are you hoping to adopt an infant or an older child?
Private domestic adoptions tend to be infant placements. It is possible for parents to choose an adoptive family for their toddler or older child if they are in a circumstance that prevents them from continuing to parent. Private adoption attorneys can help navigate this type of placement. However, if you are hoping to adopt an older child, you will most likely go through the foster care system.
– Are you open to transracial adoption?
Parenting a child of a different race or ethnicity is a unique challenge. Many families don’t match, and it can absolutely be done well, but you want to be prepared for a decision like this. Your required adoption training classes should include information and resources on transracial adoption, but you might find it helpful to dig a little deeper. There are many books, blogs, and communities available on this topic.
– Would you prefer an open adoption or closed?
Open adoption doesn’t have one specific definition. It is more of an overarching term referring to the relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents. Both families come to adoption with their wishes and come to an agreement based on what all sides feel would be best for the child. Open adoptions can simply be an exchange of identifiable information (name, phone number, email address, mailing address). They may or may not include phone calls or even visits with the child. Terms of an open adoption are generally agreed on before the child is born and can change as needed over time.
Semi-open adoptions include much less communication but still keep contact available. If a birth mother isn’t sure she’s ready for contact in the beginning, she may request a semi-open agreement. This would allow her to have contact information and reach out to the adoptive parents, through a mediator, when she’s ready. Or, she may request a new photo of the child every year but no other communication.
Closed domestic adoption is much less common than it was in the past. Recent research shows that adoptees are likely to feel more satisfied with their adoption and adoptive families when given the option to know, or at least know about, their birth family (Adoptions From The Heart).
What do domestic adoption expenses look like?
For the adoptive family, adoption fees can add up to anywhere from $30,000-$50,000. Finding a trusted adoption professional is the first big step toward finalizing, and depending on who you choose, the fees can look very different. Before committing to work with any adoption professional, ask specific questions about their fee structure. You will want to find someone who is honest and transparent about the fees and expenses. Here are a few great questions you can ask when interviewing adoption professionals that you might work with:
– What is a fee breakdown? (Ask to see a list or chart that documents the approximate costs.)
Do you provide post-placement care resources for birth mothers? Ask about the care they provide. Many women suffer from postpartum depression or need counseling or assistance in getting back to life after choosing adoption for their baby. One of the best ways you can advocate for your child’s birth mom is by making sure part of your fees are being used for her care.
– Are any of the fees nonrefundable? Some agencies will charge a large amount upfront that can’t be refunded in case of an incomplete placement. This can end up being large amounts of additional costs, even though the events are out of your hands.
Birth families, you have the right to ask questions about expenses too. There shouldn’t be many costs to place a child, and oftentimes, medical and living expenses are provided during the pregnancy. This doesn’t obligate you to place your child. You still have the option to parent your child at any step during the process!
Adoptive families may be overwhelmed by the amount of fees and expenses required for a private domestic adoption. There are many options and resources to help you afford adoption. There are loans, fundraisers, crowdfunding sites, and even a tax credit. Many families are able to find the resources to grow their families.
Often, expectant mothers will choose an adoptive family before she gives birth. This time before she is due is a vital time for communication between the two families. It is during this time when families agree on a tentative plan if they are committed to an open or semi-open adoption. It’s a good time to get to know more about each other, and the expectant mom can make a decision to invite birth parents in for the birth or not. It’s important to remember that there’s not a “right” way to navigate this period, and it’s okay to take things slow. This is an emotional time for everyone involved, and keeping lines of communication is important, but everyone will process at his or her own speed.
This is the part where things come together, and you get to put your open adoption plan into action. For adoptive parents, this is likely to be a time of great joy and celebration. Your family has a tiny new member that you’ve waited for and loved for a long time already! However, post-placement depression and new parent anxiety can also show up. Mental health is important for all new parents. Never be afraid to ask for help or find a counselor to talk to.
For birth parents, this can be an especially tough time. Birth moms might feel sad, depressed, lonely, or relieved and guilty. Any of these emotions are valid, but post-placement is a time for finding support and community. You are not alone! Your child is cared for and loved, and it’s time for you to care for yourself.
Domestic adoption is a complicated and beautiful process that allows families to connect and grow. When done well, it supports and holds space for all sides of the triad: birth mother, adoptive parents, and the child. It can be a wonderful way to grow a family.
“However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.” -Valerie Harper
Ashley is a self-taught baker and creative entrepreneur who recently sold 10,000 cookies in 18 months to help cover her family’s adoption expenses. She’s still baking but is also passionate about teaching other hopeful adoptive families how to think outside the box when it comes to funding their adoptions too. Check out her free guide: Creative Strategies for Funding Adoption.