Pregnancy can be an overwhelming, emotional time. And if that pregnancy is unplanned, it can be even more so. If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, it is important to understand all your options. Becoming well-informed is the first step towards making a decision that is right for you. There are many options in an unplanned pregnancy, and this article will guide you through the question of what is the process of adoption? Whether you are new to the idea of adoption, are considering adoption, or have decided to place your child, this guide will help walk you through the steps. 

Is Adoption Right for Me?

The first step is to consider if adoption is right for you and your baby. Adoption is the legal process through which parents’ rights are terminated (typically the birth parents), and other parents (typically the adoptive parents) assume those rights. Adoption is legally binding, and once completed, the adoptive child will be “entitled to all the rights and privileges as if born to them [the adoptive parents].”

Adoption is not a decision that needs to be made overnight, and adoption is a decision that you may take as long as necessary to decide. Throughout this journey, you may hear from parents, family, friends, even coworkers, about what they think you should do. Here is the number one thing to remember: This is your decision. Though with an unplanned pregnancy it may feel like your world has been turned upside down, know you are in control. There is no “right” answer to “Is adoption right for me?” That is a decision that only you can make. Even once you make the decision to place your child for adoption, know you can change your mind. If you decide on a set of adoptive parents that don’t feel right, know you can reverse your decision and pick someone else. If you get closer to your delivery date and decide you want to parent the baby, that’s okay too. And if you find the right prospective adoptive parents and decide to place your child with them, know you are making the most difficult, loving, sacrifice that a mother can make. 

Agency or Independent Adoption?

In the United States, there are essentially two kinds of domestic infant adoption: agency adoption and independent adoption. If you decide to place your child for adoption, the next step will be to consider which of these two choices—agency or independent—is right for you. With independent adoption, often a mutual friend, a physician, or even a church may connect you with a prospective adoptive parent. You may also find prospective adoptive parents through social networks and prospective adoptive parent websites. Independent adoption may give expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents more of a personal connection, but if identifying a match feels overwhelming, agency adoption may be a good option.

With agency adoption, an adoption agency will guide you through every step of the process. Many agencies begin their work with expectant parents with an options counselor session. Agencies are very good at answering the question of “What is the process of adoption?” At your first meeting, they will walk you through every step of their process. If then you decide to move forward with the agency, they will provide counseling services, legal aid, and will help you identify the best prospective adoptive parents for you and your child. 

Open or Closed?

While you are considering if independent or agency adoption is right for you, another thing to think about is what type of adoption you want. There are three options: open, semi-open, and closed. In an open adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents communicate openly and frequently. Such communications may entail phone calls, emails, video chats, or in-person meetings between yourself, the child, and the adoptive parents. With semi-open adoption, birth parents, the child, and adoptive parents communicate through letters and emails a few times a year. Photos and videos are often sent back and forth as well. With closed adoption, the birth parents, child, and adoptive parents have no contact with one another. When the child becomes legally an adult, at age 18, the child would then decide if he wishes to contact you or not. Open adoptions are increasingly the norm in the United States, but remember, this is also your choice. You can define the terms of the level of contact as you see fit. In some states, it is possible to enter into a legally-binding open adoption contract with the prospective adoptive parents. An adoption attorney will know if your state allows this. If not, the contract will be one of “good faith.”

Choosing an Adoptive Family

One of the biggest questions of what is the process of adoption is how do I choose a prospective adoptive family? It is a big decision, and like everything else in this journey, there are no right answers. The first step is to think about what is important to you. Where do you want your child to be raised? In an urban, suburban, or rural environment? Are two parents important or are you open to single-parent adoption? What about race and ethnicity? Is it important to you that your child be raised in a religious environment or by adoptive parents with a certain level of education or income? What level of communication do you want after the child is born—open, semi-open, or closed? Sit down and make a list of everything that is important to you.

Once you have identified your preferences, you can begin to look at prospective adoptive parents’ profiles. You do not need to live in the same state as the prospective adoptive parents, so you should not limit yourself geographically. If you are working with an agency, they will send you a link to their own database of potential matches. If you are placing your child independently, the process is much the same though you will need to identify prospective adoptive parents’ websites. Each prospective adoptive family will have a profile that describes what they are like, where they live, their values, and other key information. Know, too, that every prospective adoptive parent will have completed a home study, background clearances, and child abuse and neglect clearances prior to meeting you. 

The next step will be to communicate with the prospective adoptive parents. The initial contact can feel a bit like a first date but know they are just as nervous as you are. Take some time and ask all your questions. If the prospective adoptive parents feel like a good match, get to know them more. Share your dreams for your child. Email, call, video chat, or meet in person. Remember, there is no “right way” to communicate with one another during this time. You are laying the foundation for a potential lifetime of communication with one another, so do what feels right to you and the prospective adoptive parents. 

Understanding Finances 

Another “What is the process of adoption” question is how much does it cost to place your baby for adoption. The answer is nothing. State laws vary in what they allow for birth mother expenses, and your adoption attorney will help you with the particulars, but generally, you can expect to be aided with the following: prenatal and postnatal care, legal expenses, living expenses, counseling expenses, and transportation expenses related to the pregnancy and the adoption. Any fees not covered by the prospective adoptive parents will be covered by Medicaid. It is important to note, too, that by state law the prospective adoptive parents may not pay you directly, so payment for your expenses will come from the adoption agency or the adoption attorney. 

The Birth Father’s Role

If the baby’s father is present in your life, you may have already had the hard conversation of telling him you are pregnant. If the baby’s father wants to parent, but you do not, that can be a difficult situation to navigate. Birth fathers do have rights, and it is important to acknowledge them. If the baby’s father is known but is not present in your life or has not been supportive financially and shows no interest in parenting a child, then you may be able to pursue adoption without his consent. State laws vary with this respect, but a good adoption attorney will know the specifications of your state. If the baby’s father is unknown, the attorney may search the putative father registry. If the baby’s father fails to register and has not legally established that he is the father of your child, then—typically—you may pursue an adoption without his consent.

The Lawyer’s Role

Every adoption must be completed with an attorney. Adoption is a legally binding act, and an adoption attorney will have your best interest at heart. Even if the attorney is supplied by the adoption agency or the prospective adoptive parents, the attorney is legally bound to represent your interests. An adoption attorney is another advocate for you that can answer the legal aspects of the question “What is the process of adoption?” An adoption attorney will walk you through communication contracts, negotiate living expenses, help make a hospital plan, and write and execute the consent to adoption.

Your Hospital Plan

Though it may be a few weeks—or even months—away, another thing to consider is your hospital plan for the delivery day. Your adoption agency or adoption attorney will walk you through things to consider and even draw up a contract of sorts for the prospective adoptive parents. The most important thing to remember is you are in control. When you go into labor, who do you want with you? Is there a family member or close friend you want with you? Who do you want in the room with you when you deliver? Who gets to hold the baby first? How much time do you want to spend with the baby once he or she is born? Do you want to leave the hospital together with the adoptive parents or depart separately? Though undoubtedly these questions are overwhelming, it is good to develop your answers ahead of time as the day itself may be emotionally and physically draining.  Remember, there are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. This is your decision and yours alone. And if you change your hospital plan in the lead up to labor, or even the day of, that’s okay too.

The Consent to Adoption

Once the child is born, you will have to consent to the adoption before the child may be legally placed with the adoptive parents. Typically, this time frame is between 48-72 hours though state guidelines vary. Your adoption attorney will have discussed all of this, including the timeline, with you ahead of time so you know what to expect when the baby is born. When the time comes to consent to the adoption, you will sign a relinquishment document in front of a witness, and your parental rights to the child will be terminated.

Life Post-Adoption

The first days and weeks after placing a baby for adoption can be very difficult. You may experience periods of profound grief and loss, and it is important to give yourself space and time to grieve and to take advantage of post-placement counseling. One common misconception of life post-placement is that you are alone. Know others have walked this path. Know there are others who are waiting to support you. And most importantly, know you are not alone. There are several birth mom support groups out there that host everything from online forums to in-person meetings and events. 

Oftentimes, people speak about the adoption triad: adoptive parents, adopted child, and birth parents. It is important to remember you are a member of that triad and are as important as any other piece of that triangle. Though you have placed your baby for adoption, know that should you wish to remain in your child’s life, you may do so. The process of adoption is just that: a process. It is not a single act, but a lifelong journey.

Considering adoption? Choose a family to adopt your child. Visit Parent Profiles on or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. 

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at