Domestic infant adoption is the voluntary and permanent placement of a baby for adoption by his or her birth mother, who selects the adoptive family with whom the child will be placed.
There are two primary ways to adopt an infant in the United States: through an agency or independently.
By working with an adoption agency, your adoption will be entirely coordinated by one adoption professional. An adoption agency can provide all of the services you will need throughout the adoption process, including matching with a birth mother, working with an adoption attorney to legally complete the adoption, providing case management services, and more. An agency will also provide support and guidance to you and mediate contact between you and a birth mother, which can reduce the risk of a disrupted adoption.
Independent or Private Adoption
Families who already know a birth mother may choose to pursue an independent or private adoption, without the assistance of an agency. In these cases, families will need to seek out a home study provider and an adoption attorney through other resources, as both are required to complete an adoption. Furthermore, any additional support or counseling for either the pregnant mother or the adoptive family will need to be found from a third party.
People Who Consider Domestic Infant Adoption
Domestic infant adoption is perfect for:
- People who want to bond with a child from birth – The majority of children who are available for adoption in foster care and international adoption are often at least 2 years old. Therefore, prospective parents who are seeking an infant will have the most success with domestic infant adoption.
- People who want an open relationship with the birth parents – Unlike in international or foster care adoption, in domestic infant adoption birth mothers often remain involved in the adoption process and want to continue some type of relationship with their child and the adoptive parents, usually through periodic picture and letter exchange.
- Those who have struggled with infertility – For many couples, adoption is one of the only solutions of getting back on the path toward parenthood.
In a domestic infant adoption, the children available for adoption are:
- Born in the United States
- Varied in race
- Of either gender
Eligibility for adoption varies from state to state, but generally, anybody can adopt a baby in the United States. There are, however, some basic criteria that an adoptive family must fulfill, including age and state residency requirements. These vary from state to state, so be sure to carefully study your state’s adoption requirements before beginning the process.
How to Adopt a Baby
While no adoption process is ever quite the same, there are several steps that must be followed in order to safely and legally adopt an infant in the United States:
1. Find a professional
It’s important to select an adoption professional that provides all of the services you need to complete your adoption, whether it is a full-service adoption agency or an adoption attorney to legally complete your adoption.
- National Agencies – Domestic infant adoption agencies provide matching, advertising, guidance, and other services to families and birth mothers all across the country.
- Regional Agencies – Unlike national agencies, regional agencies specialize in a particular area, which is good for families who want to adopt closer to home.
- Adoption Law Firms – Legally, you only need an adoption attorney to complete the process of adopting a newborn. However, they do not have the same matching and support services that agencies have.
- Adoption Law Centers and Facilitators – Providing little more than matching services, law centers and facilitators often pass adoptive families on to other adoption professionals once they find a match with a birth mother.
Each type of adoption professional has advantages and disadvantages, so take the time to carefully consider which option is best for your situation.
2. Complete a Home Study
A home study is required for all forms of adoption. This will include an evaluation of documents as well as a home inspection and interview.
- Documentation – You will need to have access to birth certificates, marriage licenses, health records, and other important documents. You will also need to complete various background checks.
- Home Inspection – The social worker who visits your home will check to make sure that your home is suitable for a child and will provide various ways in which you can childproof your home.
- Interview – Along with the inspection, your social worker will also speak with everyone living in the home to get a better idea of the baby’s potential living environment.
Once your home study is finished, you are deemed an active adoptive family, and you are now officially on your way to adopting your baby!
3. Find a Birth Mother
Once you are able to adopt, you can begin the search for a birth mother. If you are adopting with an agency, your agency will begin sending your information to prospective birth mothers until one selects you for a match.
The time between activation and matching with a birth mother is known as your wait time, and it can vary based on a number of factors. You can increase the chances of a short wait time by being flexible in regards to:
- Race and gender – If you are only interested in adopting a child of a certain race or gender, your wait time may be longer because your profile will only be shown to prospective birth mothers who match your preferences.
- Medical history – It’s rare for anyone, including prospective birth mothers, to have a completely clean bill of health. If there are any medical conditions that worry you, such as bipolar disorder for example, speak with a doctor about your concerns. He or she may be able to alleviate your worries about potential health risks, as you may learn that certain health conditions cannot be passed down to the child.
- Contact with the birth mother – If you intend to pursue a closed adoption, which involves no contact with the birth mother, this could significantly increase your wait time. Most women in today’s adoptions are interested in sharing at least some contact with the adoptive family and child, so if you are only interested in a closed adoption, you will not be a match for those situations. It’s preferable that you are accepting of at least a semi-open adoption, which is what 90 percent of birth mothers are seeking.
During this time, your goal should be to remain open to as many situations as possible without extending past your comfort level. The more flexible you are in your adoption preferences, the more potential birth mothers will see your profile, which will improve your chances of a short wait. Once a birth mother selects you and decides to pursue an adoption plan with you, you will officially be matched.
4. Pre-placement contact
Before the baby is born, you will likely communicate with the birth mother through phone calls, emails, and even in-person visits. The contact you have will be different depending on whether you have an open, semi-open, or closed relationship with the birth mother.
- Open Adoption – Identifying information is exchanged between the birth mother and the family, and they keep in contact both before and after the adoption.
- Semi-Open Adoption – This covers any situation that is not completely closed or completely open. It usually involves trading non-identifying information and having limited contact, which is mediated by an adoption specialist.
- Closed Adoption – There is no contact or exchange of information between the family and the birth mother.
Today, most adoption relationships are open or semi-open, and everyone involved in the adoption can reap the benefits of this kind of arrangement:
- Adoptive Family – By keeping in contact with the birth parents, the family will have quick access to any new medical information that may arise. They will also benefit from knowing why a birth mother selected them to raise her child.
- Birth Mother – Many birth mothers find it easier to gain closure when they can see that their child is being raised in a happy and loving home. This makes it easier for them to feel confident in their choice and move forward in life.
- Adopted Child – All adopted children grow up with questions about where they came from and who their birth families were. In an open relationship, they can have those questions answered.
Speak more to your adoption specialist about these types of adoption relationships, the effect they may have on your wait time for finding a prospective birth mother, and most importantly, the effect they may have on your family and child.
5. Hospital and Placement
When the birth mother goes into labor, you will travel to her location as quickly as possible. Usually, no more than 72 hours after the baby is born, the birth mother will legally consent to the adoption and terminate her parental rights, and you will be granted physical custody, but not permanent custody, of your baby.
Birth Parent Consent: The birth mother must consent to the adoption after the birth of the baby before the adoption can move forward. Women placing infants for adoption have the right to change their minds at any time leading up to this, but once their rights are terminated, it is legally binding. There is still a fear among some prospective adoptive families that a birth mother can show up and reclaim her baby at any time, but this is simply not true. Finally, the rights of the birth father should have been terminated by now, whether he voluntarily terminated them or a court involuntarily terminated them, which may occur based on a number of factors regarding the rights of the birth father.
6. Post-placement and Finalization
Usually, families must wait an additional 3-6 months after placement to officially finalize the adoption. This is to ensure that the birth parents’ rights have been terminated properly, ensure that the family is adjusting well, and complete the legal side of the process. These final steps include:
- Post-Placement Visits – As an extension of the home study process, your provider will return to your home to see how you and the child are doing. Different states require different numbers of post-placement visits, usually ranging from two to six.
- Legal Clearances – If you adopt out of your home state, then you will need to meet the requirements for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). This will be verified at your finalization hearing. If you are adopting an American Indian baby, you will also need to gain clearance for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
- Finalization Hearing – The last step in the adoption process, this is when you will appear before a judge in person or via telephone, who will verify that the birth parents’ rights are terminated, post-placement visits have been conducted, and you have all the necessary legal clearances.
After this follow-up is complete, your adoption will be finalized, and your baby will be an official member of your family and you will soon be provided with a new birth certificate!
Domestic Infant Adoption Costs
Domestic infant adoption generally ranges from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the birth mother’s situation, whether you work with an adoption agency, and much more. Some expenses you may expect to pay to adopt a baby in the United States include:
- Application fees
- Agency fees
- Home study fees
- Medical Fees
- Birth mother expenses or living expenses
- Travel expenses
- Legal fees
- And more
- Other Considerations
If you are considering domestic infant adoption, keep in mind some of the factors that you may not find in other types of adoption:
- You may be matched with a potential birth mother who plans to pursue adoption, but in some cases it is possible that she changes her mind and decides to parent. Adoption agencies have safeguards to help protect these situations, but they do happen in roughly 10 to 20 percent of matches. If this happens to you, try your best not to be discouraged, as some adoption agencies will refund your lost moneys and will get you back to searching for your next adoption opportunity. If the possibility of a failed adoption concerns you, make sure you fully research a variety of adoption professionals and ask them how they handle adoption disruptions and about their refund policy.
- Depending on your adoption plan, wait times can be longer than in other types of adoption. For example, if you are only interested in adopting a child of a specific gender, you effectively are removing half of the women who may consider you for adoption but are having the opposite gender. The more flexible and open you are to many different situations, theoretically the sooner you will be chosen for adoption.
- Several adoption costs are considered “variable,” in that they may change depending on the situation. For example, a woman’s living expenses may vary based on her needs, or your travel expenses may vary depending on how far away the birth mother lives and how many times you visit her.
- Just like in everyday relationships, people in adoption relationships naturally grow closer and further apart. As an adoption progresses, you and a birth mother may find yourself growing closer to one another and sharing more contact that what was planned. It is also possible that you have agreed to an open adoption, and yet over time the birth mother decides to be less and less a part of you and your child’s lives.
Domestic infant adoption is a great option for families who want to help an expecting mother and provide a loving home to a newborn child. Many adoptive families choose this path because it provides opportunities for getting to know the birth parents, having access to medical histories, and being involved in the baby’s life from day one.