I am excited to share some thoughts on a topic that I am passionate about: Adoption! Shaun and Lanette gave me the topic of Adoption 101 and gave me some specific questions to answer, which I am going to do below.
Before that, I’d like to just give you a little bit of background on me as my personal experiences play into my perspective on adoption overall and the questions I answer.
I have worked as an adoption professional for five years, but in addition to that, I am also an adoptive mother. My husband and I adopted a seven year old little girl from the country of Ecuador in 2012. Our process was quite different from domestic infant adoption, but both processes are incredibly difficult and yet life changing in the most wonderful way. My experience adopting gave me a new insight and empathy into the emotions and difficulties that my clients face as they pursue building their families. I am so grateful for adoption because I get to be a part of and experience personally the joy that comes when families are formed, which is an amazing gift.
With that little introduction, let’s get to the questions!
Q: What is the number one thing you wish people understood about birth parents?
A: I really love this question because I think that often people think of birth parents and birth families in just a little bit of a negative light, whether it is thinking that they are drug addicts, crazy, or something of the sort; or thinking that they are going to be threatening to the adoptive couple’s relationship with the child in this day and age of openness. The reality is that birth families are typically very normal people-Birth moms could be your next door neighbor, your friend at work, your little sister…anyone. In my experience, birth parents are just normal people who face a difficult situation with their pregnancy. Each has different circumstances, but the one common thread is that they always want their child, yet they are able to put their own wants and needs aside for what they feel is a better choice for their child. I have never met a birth parent who didn’t have a deep and burning love for their child nor have I met one who didn’t want their baby. So, the one thing I wish people understood is that birth parents are people like me and you and that they are among the most selfless individuals out there (okay, that was two things—you’ll forgive me right?)
Q: What is the adoption process (for birth parents and adoptive couples?)
A: Adoptive couples follow a more typical pattern, so let’s talk about them first. Adoptive couples typically attend an orientation meeting; have a set of 4-5 interviews (some together as a couple and some as individuals); complete massive (massive! Ask Shaun and Lanette, they can tell you) amounts of paperwork, both online and in a paper file; have a home visit; and complete 10 hours of training (this may vary by state, but 10 hours is required by the state of Utah) before being approved for adoption. Once approved, couples are encouraged to network and find opportunities for adoption so that their odds of having a placement are increased. At the same time, their profile can be shown by the agency or potential birth parents can search for profiles online. Once a birth mom contacts them, they typically email for a time to get to know one another and then set up a time to meet, either with their caseworker present or not. The time frame on this completely varies. Some birth moms choose a couple early in their pregnancy, and other times the couple may not know they have a baby coming until the baby has been born and the birth mom contacts them from the hospital. After the placement happens, the baby is in the couple’s physical custody for 6 months before they can go to court to finalize their adoption (this also varies by state, but in Utah, couples can finalize at 6 months).
The process birth parents go through is a bit different depending on the individual. Like I mentioned, some birth mothers know that they are going to place their child for adoption early on and meet with a caseworker and attend group meetings with other birth parents for most of their pregnancy. Sometimes we meet with girls who are uncertain which decision will be best for them, whether it is to parent, to place, or to marry the birth father. In these cases, it is the caseworker’s job to remain neutral and help them look at each option in depth, discuss decision making, and then to support them in what they decide. Other times, expectant parents go throughout their pregnancy planning on parenting and then something changes and their first contact with the agency is shortly before or sometimes right after their baby has been born. Once an expectant parent chooses adoption, the process is that they look at couples, correspond with a number of them usually, and then meet one or two couples in what is called a “face to face” meeting. After the couple has been chosen, the two parties usually keep up a positive relationship through emails, texts, visits, etc. without the help of the agency. The birth parent’s work with their caseworker then focuses on planning for the hospital plus talking about grief and preparing (as much as possible) for the loss they will experience after the placement. After the placement, birth parents are encouraged to continue to seek counseling and help from their caseworker as they go through the grief and loss process.
Q: How long does it take to adopt?
A: I told Shaun and Lanette that they may not want me to do this because I can be so long-winded! These next few answers should be more concise, though. It can take anywhere from 1 day to 10+ years to adopt. It is completely dependent on when the couple is chosen and since birth parents choose couples themselves, there is no specific time frame.
Q: How much does it cost to adopt?
A: This also completely depends on what type of adoption and which agency you use. Domestic infant adoption can range from $4000-$60,000 , again depending on which agency the couple uses. Typically the agencies that charge more have more babies being placed, so there is a pro there, while the cheaper agencies typically have longer waiting times. So it is up to each couple to decide what works best for them. International adoption can also have a wide range, anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 I’d say, depending in the type of child being adopted (special needs, older, siblings groups, etc. would likely be cheaper) and which country.
Q: Can the birth parents change their minds?
A: Each state varies in what their laws say regarding this matter, so I will talk specifically about Utah again here. In Utah, a birth parent can change his or her mind at any time until they sign the relinquishment documents (the soonest a birth mother can sign in Utah is 24 hours and 1 minute after birth. A birth father can sign at any time during the pregnancy or after the birth). At that point, the documents make clear that he/she cannot change their mind once they have signed. Some states do allow a period of time after the documents are signed where a birth parent can change their mind, but Utah does not. I know that we often hear much more negative than we do positive in the news or by word of mouth, but the reality of my experience in the past 5 years is that I have only had one birth mother change her mind once she had committed to adoption. Just one. That’s not a lot compared the number of placements that have gone through. I always tell the birth parents with whom I work that they will need to re-make their decision when they are holding their baby in the hospital, but my experience has been that they still follow through with their choice that they have thought about, prayed about, and agonized over for months. Because they are usually so strong and love their babies so much, almost all follow through with their plan to place.
Q: In open adoptions, is there a legal obligation to stay in contact with the birth parents?
A: In Utah, there is no legal contract that obligates adoptive parents to follow through with commitments made to birth parents. However, my experience has been that adoptive couples develop such a love and friendship with their child’s birth parents that they want to keep in touch. It isn’t something they feel is a burden or difficult to do, but something that is an honor. Adoptive couples really are usually so fantastic to do what they say they are going to do and more.
Q: How common is open adoption nowadays? From your experience, is open adoption a good idea?
A: Almost ALL adoptions nowadays have a degree of openness. Openness is a wide range of things, from sending a picture once a year, to having frequent visits with the birth parents. To the second part of the question, my answer is yes, yes, yes! I have seen nothing but beauty in open adoptions. Is it sometimes awkward in the beginning? Yep! How many adoptive couple/birth parent relationships do we have examples of to show us how it is supposed to be done? Not a lot, right? It’s not like we can look around and say, “That’s what a mother/daughter relationship is” or “That’s what a friendship looks like”. It is just a different type of relationship that can take some time before it feels comfortable. As the relationship evolves, though, it often becomes something beautiful. I think there are benefits for all three parties. For the adoptive couple, they get to know the biological history, habits, hobbies, medical history, background etc. of their child’s birth parents, which can be important for the child later on. They also get to keep in touch with someone who they come to love and care for deeply. Adoptive couples often want to make sure that the birth parents are okay and openness is a perfect way to do this. For the birth mother, openness can bring such healing and peace. It can affirm a difficult decision and help her know that she did the right thing and that her child is doing well. For the adopted child, openness can eliminate the “whys?” of the situation and can give them their biological history (which is so important!). Instead of wondering why they were “given up” or thinking they were not wanted, adopted kids can grow up with the confidence of knowing that their birth parents love them and sacrificed everything for them. For all parties, there is nothing wrong with having additional people to love and care for one another.
In my personal adoption experience, we do not have an open adoption with our daughter’s birth parents because she was abandoned in the hospital at the time of her birth and we have limited information about them. Honestly though, I have such a reverence and respect for the people who gave my daughter life and who chose to give her something more. Leaving her in the hospital may not seem like giving her more, but knowing a little of the conditions in which they lived, I think they knew that their daughter would have had little chance of survival if they took her with them. Our daughter was born with special needs and I often think how difficult the decision must have been for them to consider. I would love nothing more than to send pictures and updates to our daughter’s birth family to show them what a beautiful girl she is and how she is thriving. I think of them often and really do ache for them. I would like to know how they are doing and to assure them that their daughter is alive and well. I am sure they think of her often and agonize over the choice they made. I honor them and love them, despite not knowing them. If not in this life, I really hope to have the opportunity in the next to tell them of my gratitude and love.
Q: What is the number one thing you wish everyone understood about adoption?
A: I promised not to be long winded and then there I went again... Okay, so short and sweet on this one: I wish for people to understand that adoption is not a second rate way to build a family. It is just a different way, but no better and no worse than any other way. There are often some difficult situations that bring couples to adoption, but in the end, the addition of a child is beautiful and sacred process, no matter how they come. I have two biological children along with the daughter we adopted, but there is no distinction in our house. They are all our children and there is no doubt that they are each meant for our family, though they came in different ways. I hope that everyone, at some point in their lives, gets a glimpse of how incredibly sacred adoption is, because it is.
Wasn't that such a great post? A big thank you Kim for sharing your invaluable thoughts with us!
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To those who have experiences with adoption, what do you wish everyone understood about adoption? And to those who may not be as familiar with adoption, did you learn anything that surprised you from this "crash course" on adoption nowadays? Any questions you still have?