While hopeful adoptive parents and prospective birth parents often face very different challenges, emotions and decisions, one thing many have in common as they begin to explore the possibility of adoption is wondering how the adoption process works.
Prospective adoptive parents and expectant mothers considering adoption often have questions about the steps of the domestic infant adoption process, what their roles will be and what choices they have through each step of the journey.
While the domestic adoption process can seem overwhelming, taking each step one at a time can help simplify adoption procedures and answer those important questions. Here is an overview of the basic steps of the adoption process for pregnant women and hopeful parents wondering how to adopt a child:
1. Decide if Adoption is the Right Choice
Whatever road has led a person or couple to consider adoption — whether they are facing an unplanned pregnancy or struggling with infertility — choosing adoption is not automatic. It takes careful thought, consideration, research and planning to determine whether adoption is the best choice for each individual. The first step in any adoption journey — both for prospective birth parents and those hoping to adopt — is to choose to pursue adoption. For adoptive parents, this means discontinuing fertility treatments and both spouses fully embracing adoption. For pregnant mothers considering adoption, it means carefully weighing all the options and deciding whether adoption is the best option for her situation and her baby.
As a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, you have three options: adoption, parenting and abortion. Ultimately, you are the only person who can decide what is best for you and your child based on your unique situation, and it may be the most difficult decision you ever make. It is a decision that requires time, education about adoption and the support of friends and family. There are many reasons why you may be considering placing your baby for adoption, but at the heart of it all, what you really want is to give your child the best life possible. Ask yourself, are you ready to provide this life for your child? If the answer is yes, parenting is the right choice for you. However, if you’re not sure that you are ready to raise a child, there are plenty of resources and professionals available to help you make this important decision.
As you make your decision, learn more about the pros and cons of adoption and reach out to an adoption professional for more information.
This step is often one of the most difficult for adoptive families. Couples may struggle for years trying to conceive a child, and it requires a lot of strength to realize that a biological child might not be a possibility. For couples who have struggled with infertility, it is important to let go of the dream of having a biological child and embrace the dream of growing your family through adoption. It may be helpful to talk with an adoption professional to answer your adoption questions and help you determine if adoption is the right choice for you. If you are struggling to move on from infertility, or if you and your spouse do not agree on adoption, consider speaking to a marriage or infertility counselor. Only after you have fully committed to having a child through adoption should you move on to the next step.
2. Plan for the Adoption Process
Once a couple or individual has chosen to pursue adoption, it’s time to begin planning for the adoption process. During this stage, birth parents and adoptive families both need to make decisions about what they are hoping for in the adoption. For adoptive families, that means making important decisions about the type of adoption they’d like to pursue, the types of adoption situations they are comfortable with and the type of adoption professional they’d like to work with. For prospective birth parents, it means developing an adoption plan to guide them through the rest of the adoption process, achieve their goals for the adoption, and most importantly, to provide a child with the most amazing life possible. It is during this stage that adoptive families and expectant parents should choose an adoption professional to work with. This adoption professional can help facilitate the adoption process, answer questions and help create an adoption plan.
From the moment you choose to pursue adoption, understand that you are in control of nearly every aspect of the adoption process. All of your preferences throughout the adoption are known as your “adoption plan,” which will be followed by your adoption professional and the adoptive family you choose. As you develop your adoption plan, you will have complete control over elements including:
- Choosing an adoption professional — You will choose an adoption professional to work with based on your needs and your desires for your child. You may work with your adoption professional to help develop your adoption plan, find adoptive families, facilitate contact with adoptive parents and navigate the financial, medical and legal aspects of the adoption.
- Including a support system —Ultimately, you are the only person who can make decisions about what is best for you and your baby, but involving trusted friends and family in your adoption planning can be helpful as you make important adoption decisions and process your emotions. Choose who you want to be involved in each step of the process.
- Choosing the adoptive family — you will choose the ideal adoptive family for your child based on the life you want your child to have. You will be able to choose from a variety of families that best fit your needs and the future you envision for your child.
- Contact with the family — determine the amount of contact you want to have with the adoptive family before and after placement.
- Your hospital stay — you will also have complete control over your delivery and hospital stay. In addition to your adoption plan, you will have a hospital plan in place that determines who you want at the hospital, how much time you want to spend with your baby and the adoptive family, and more. Having a hospital plan in place will allow you to focus on the health of you and your baby.
Deciding exactly how you want your adoption to look can be difficult. There are so many options and decisions to be made throughout your adoption journey. Just remember that your adoption plan is never set in stone and can always be changed based on your needs and desires.
Once you have committed to growing your family through adoption and are ready to begin the process, you will need to consider the type of adoption you want to pursue and the adoption professional you’d like to work with. To make these decisions, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to adopt an infant or an older child?
- Do you want to adopt domestically or internationally?
- Do you want to adopt through a private agency or through the foster care system?
These questions will help you identify the type of adoption you’d like to pursue —international adoption, private domestic infant adoption or foster care adoption.
Once you have determined the type of adoption you’d like to pursue, you will need to consider the type of adoption professional you’d like to work with. Your adoption professional will help you complete the steps necessary to become an active waiting family. If you are pursuing a private adoption, you may choose to work with one of the following adoption professionals:
- National adoption agency
- Local or regional adoption
- Adoption attorney or law firm
- Adoption law center or facilitator
Regardless of the type of adoption that you choose and the adoption professional you choose to work with, during this stage, every adoptive family needs an adoption home study, which determines whether you are fit to be adoptive parents and if your home is safe for a child.
The home study consists of an in-depth look into your lives, conducted by a licensed home study provider or adoption agency. The home study social worker will interview everyone living in your home and will perform federal criminal background checks and compile financial and medical information. Home study requirements vary from state to state, and it is important to work with a licensed, reputable home study provider to ensure your home study meets all of the legal requirements.
Once your home study is completed, you are truly on your way to becoming parents.
3. Find an Adoption Opportunity
Finding an adoption opportunity with either adoptive parents or a birth mother is one of the most important parts of the adoption process — and also one of the most emotional. Prospective birth parents are faced with the sometimes overwhelming task of choosing the ideal family for their child, and adoptive parents will often feel a rush of cautious optimism and nerves when a mother chooses them.
Adoptive parents and expectant mothers may be matched through an agency’s matching services or through independent advertising and networking. Adoption agencies provide matching services and will usually match birth parents and adoptive families based on their adoption plans.
Once a match is made, the adoptive family and prospective birth parents will get to know each other to make sure the adoption situation is a good fit. This pre-placement contact can take place over the phone, through email or even through in-person visits and may be mediated by an adoption counselor.
Because you choose the adoptive family, you can ensure that your child will be raised by parents who will give him or her the best life possible.
If you are using an agency’s matching services, the agency will match you to prospective adoptive families based on your preferences and information families provide to the agency. You will then have the opportunity to review text and photos submitted by matching families to help you choose the perfect family for your child. You may choose an adoptive family based on factors such as:
- Location (urban, suburban or rural)
- Other children
- Extended family
- Amount of contact they want to share before and after placement
After selecting a family, it is often advised that you get to know them to help calm any nerves you have about the adoption. This may come in the form of emails, a conference call or a personal visit with the family. Getting to know each other will help you feel more comfortable with the adoption situation and will help you ensure that you’ve made the right choice.
If you are using an agency’s matching services to find prospective birth parents, you will likely complete the agency’s questionnaire to determine which prospective birth mothers are suitable matches for your preferences regarding:
- Race or race combinations of baby
- Medical background
- Substance usage
- Your adoption budget
- Type of adoption relationship you are open to
- And much more
Remember, the more flexible you are with your preferences, the more adoption situations with birth mothers you will be eligible for, thus shortening your wait to become matched.
In addition to deciding on your adoption preferences, you may need to submit text, photos or even video footage which will be compiled into an Adoptive Family Profile and will help prospective birth parents get to know you and your family.
Your adoption specialist will then work to find birth mothers whose preferences and goals meet yours. Once a birth mother chooses your family, you will be in what’s referred to as a “match,” and you will both then follow the same adoption plan.
If you are working on an independent adoption, you may either already know a woman considering adoption, or you may have to network through your friends and family or even put out ads online or in your local newspaper (if legal in your state). In these independent adoption situations, you will need an adoption attorney to take care of the legal aspects of the adoption agreement.
Once you do find a prospective birth mother, you will then likely engage in pre-placement contact with one another. Your adoption professional may coordinate phone calls, email exchanges or in-person visits between you and the expectant parents so you can get to know each other.
This period can be vital in helping both you and the prospective birth parents become comfortable with the match. This is an opportunity for both of you to ensure you are a good fit, talk about your hopes for the adoption and post-placement contact, and reassure everyone involved that adoption is the right choice.
4. Completing the Adoption
Placement is an emotional time for everyone involved in the adoption, and this step looks different in each adoption based on the mother’s “hospital plan.” This hospital plan will determine when the adoptive family arrives, who will be present during delivery and how much time the birth mom will get to spend alone with the baby, among other factors. When the birth parents are ready, the adoptive parents will meet their child, and the birth parents will legally consent to the adoption by signing the adoption paperwork.
The hospital stay is the culmination of your adoption planning to this point. Just as you planned the rest of your adoption, you will plan your hospital stay. You are in charge of nearly every aspect of your hospital stay, unless hospital staff advises otherwise. You will make decisions about several important factors, including:
- Who is with you during the delivery
- Who will be aware of your adoption plan (nurses, doctors, etc.)
- What kind of pain management you want to use
- When the adoptive family arrives
- Who you would like to cut the cord
- Who will be the first to hold your baby
- If you would like time alone with the baby
- Where the baby will stay (with you, with the adoptive family or in the nursery)
- How much time you want to spend with the baby and/or the adoptive family
- If you want pictures with the baby and/or adoptive family
- If you want to leave the hospital before or after the baby
- If you want to leave the hospital with or without the adoptive family
Though it’s important to have a well thought-out hospital plan ahead of time, it is common for pregnant mothers to adjust their hospital plans as their desires change. Just like your adoption plan is never set in stone, your hospital plan is flexible and can be changed as needed. For example, if you develop a strong relationship with the adoptive family, you may decide at the hospital that you would like them to be more involved during the hospital stay than you originally intended.
This is an emotional time for you and the adoptive family, and it is important that you are happy with the situation and that you are given time to process your emotions. A positive hospital experience can help you begin the healing process.
You will likely know about the birth mother’s hospital plan prior to arriving to the hospital, and you will know exactly what your role will be, including when and whether you will:
- See the birth mother
- Be present in the delivery room
- Hold the baby in front of the birth mother
- Take pictures with the birth mother
- Leave the hospital with the birth mother
- And more
The hospital stay is one of the most emotionally complicated stages of the adoption process, both for you and for the birth parents. While you are understandably excited to become parents, you may also feel sad for the birth mother, and may even feel guilty for being excited during this time at the hospital.
Remember that while this is a difficult day for your child’s birth parents, they are making the decision to place their child with you because they know it is what is best for them and their baby. It is OK to be happy, but it is also encouraged that you are understanding, reassuring and respectful of the birth mother and her wishes at the hospital. Let her know that you will be there for her in any way you can, and always follow her hospital plan.
In many states, there is a specified time period that must pass after the birth before the birth parents can sign the adoption papers. At this point, the baby is relinquished into your custody and you get to take the baby home. However, if you are adopting across state lines, you will need to remain in the state of birth until the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is finalized. This often takes 7 to 10 business days until you are able to return home with you baby.
5. Finalizing the Adoption and Beginning Post-Placement Contact
Adoption does not end with the placement of the child — it is a lifelong process that is just beginning. After placement, birth parents will take time to heal while adoptive families undergo the adoption finalization process and start the unique journey of parenting an adopted child.
Both the adoptive family and the birth parents will continue their relationship as they agreed to prior to the adoption. This relationship can take many forms and will likely evolve over time, like any other relationship.
Most adoptions are considered semi-open, meaning an adoption agency or another adoption professional mediates contact between the adoptive family and birth parents, including the sending of pictures and letters. This allows both parties to limit the identifying information they share. In more open adoption arrangements, adoptive parents and birth parents may choose to communicate directly via phone calls, text messages and face-to-face visits.
After the baby is born, you will sign the adoption paperwork and the baby will be placed with the adoptive family. Based on the arrangement you agreed to with the adoptive family, you will begin some form of post-placement contact.
When you make your adoption plan, you will choose the amount and type of contact you’d like to share with the adoptive family following the adoption. This post-placement contact can vary greatly depending on your relationship with the adoptive family, and may include:
- Phone calls
- Video calls
- Visits with the adoptive family
Because this contact and benefits of the adoption can continue forever, the adoption process never truly ends.
After the child is placed with you, there will be a series of home visits known as post-placement visits from your home study social worker to see how you and the baby are adapting to one another. Once the post-placement assessments are finished (usually six months after the placement), you will attend the finalization hearing.
At this hearing, a judge will review the adoption and ensure that the necessary post-placement visits were completed, ICPC was conducted (if applicable), ICWA was cleared, and both birth parents’ rights were legally terminated. Once the hearing is completed, you are granted legal custody of the child and awarded the adoption decree. Your child is now a legal and permanent member of your family!
However, the adoption process does not truly end at finalization. As parents, you are just beginning the journey of raising an adopted child, which will be a lifelong process that includes its own challenges and rewards.
One aspect of raising your child will be maintaining a relationship with his or her birth mother. Prior to the adoption, you likely agreed to maintain contact with the birth mother through pictures and letters or other forms of open communication. Whatever type of post-placement contact you agreed to, it’s important that you honor your commitment and stay in touch with the birth parents who helped make your dream of parenthood a reality.