Embarking upon the adoption process can seem big, and it is big. But with some research and soul searching it isn't insurmountable.
Will your path lead you to the foster care system, or will you choose domestic or international adoption? How long will it take before you bring home your child? You're not the first to wonder, and we've talked to families who've navigated the waters and come through with tips for those just beginning.
Once you begin to consider adoption, the education process begins. There are a myriad of questions to think about, everything from race, age and family dynamics to finances and what kind of adoption you'll pursue (such as open vs. private, domestic vs. international).
One of the first major decisions you'll make as you get started will be the type of adoption professional to work with.
While some families trust working with an adoption attorney, others feel strongly about going through an agency. Whichever you choose, the key is to research each option thoroughly so that you are 100 percent comfortable working with your choice. (This is a long process, after all.)
Ultimately go with the one who specializes in the country from which you want to adopt since they'll be well-versed in the latest rules, regulations, paperwork and authentications, as well as legal and health issues.
While celebrities have been making international adoption a hot news topic, domestic adoption, mostly of newborn babies, continues to thrive. And rather an adoption agency, attorney or a foreign government matching a baby with adoptive parents, the opposite is true: The birthparents choose the family for their child.
Waiting families complete criteria for the child they seek, including everything from race to the prenatal environment (how comfortable they are with a birthmother's level of prenatal care or her history of drug or alcohol use, for example), and this helps match waiting and birth families. Because of this setup, adoptive parents have no way of knowing how long they'll wait for "the call". According to a 2007 survey done by Adoptive Families Magazine, most waiting families match with a birthmother in less than 12 months.
In about half of domestic adoptions, the adoptive parents and birthparents have the opportunity to develop a relationship before the baby is born - one that typically builds throughout the child's life. This type of adoption is called 'open adoption' and is increasingly popular in domestic adoptions, although the level of relationship and contact between families varies from little to no contact to daily interaction.
International adoptions bring their own special issues to the table with capricious foreign governments and the potential for developmental delays associated with orphanage care or poor prenatal care. The process can be long and unlike with domestic adoptions, you're dealing with a government rather than a birthmother. Governments assign waiting families with children and set court dates whereas birthmothers in domestic adoption select adoptive families themselves.
Nick Adde, who, with his wife Barbara, has adopted two children from Russia, urges patience to those considering international adoption.
"Mine your soul for every ounce of patience and flexibility you can muster," Adde says. "Expect to exhaust both. But nothing you have done or will ever do in your life will match the experience."
Families who have navigated the process - domestic or international - all agree: Start the paperwork early and be thorough.
Alan Lessig, who, with wife Robbyn, adopted twin girls from China, says "Start the paperwork as soon as you've made the internal commitment to do it. Processing can take years." Up to five years, according to Melody Zhang of adoption agency Children's Hope International.
This paperwork - called a dossier in international adoptions - presents you to the country from where you decide to adopt. Completing all the paperwork and clearances can take months, so get on it.
In addition to completing paperwork and clearances, singles and couples seeking adoption undergo a home study. Adoption agencies conduct home studies for three basic reasons:
- Gathering family information to help make a match
- Educating the family about the adoption process
- Evaluating the family's fitness and home environment
Birth parents never see this paperwork or home study. During domestic adoptions, birth parents may see an album put together by prospective adoptive families for selection and placement purposes only.
The idea of a child desiring to seek out his or her birth parents can be intimidating to many prospective adoptive parents. But it doesn't have to be so - rather, it's all in the way you approach it. And the more honesty and patience you bring to the table, the better.
Adoption hasn't always been open, today's popular type of domestic adoption where the birth parents and adoptive parents agree to healthy, long-term relationships, and a sense of history and belonging may seem elusive to some adoptees.
"The reason I looked for my birthmother was because I was curious about my history. It was about finding out if there were more people like me," recalls Kate Newby, who was adopted as an infant and at age 18 found her birthmother. "I wanted her to know I'm okay, and thank you."