I pretty much plunged into our domestic infant adoption process – once I put my mind to something, I have to pursue it hard, it’s just my nature. I was fortunate to have an acquaintance who was about a year ahead of us in the process, and it helped tremendously to be able to ask her, “what now?” “what next?” But not everyone has that, and in hindsight, it would have been helpful to just have a basic picture of the adoption process. So here you go, future adoptive parents! This is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it provides a little insight to get you started on your journey.
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Step 1 – Adoption Research
An obvious first step is deciding which type of adoption you want to pursue. Looking back, it probably would have been a good idea to read The Complete Adoption Book at this stage, but I didn’t come across it until later in the process. It outlines all of the different options for adoption – international vs. domestic, agency vs. private search, etc. If you don’t know where to begin, I recommend starting there!
I struggled with the decision a bit; I felt a strong pull toward foster-to-adopt, having grandparents who fostered some 30 children over the course of their lifetimes and adopted two of my uncles. To be honest, we thought we would be OK skipping the infant process, but yet we were not quite ready to jump into having a school-aged child, so, ultimately, we decided to pursue infant adoption.
We started our adoption journey by reaching out to the only people we knew who had adopted (we have so many friends and family who ARE adopted, but very few who HAVE adopted). I encourage anyone considering adoption to reach out to friends and ask if they know of anyone who has gone through the experience. It is so helpful to have a person to connect with during this process.
When we got a glowing review of an adoption agency we were already considering, we checked a few others to compare, but decided on the recommended agency. We started by attending an informational session. This is a great first step if your agency offers it. If it doesn’t, ask them for a phone or in-person consultation.
Step 2 – Adoption Application
A few months later (our own timeline, not the agency’s), we were ready to begin. We got a large packet of paperwork (the application) from the agency, to complete. In hindsight, I wish I had asked for electronic/PDF copies, as my handwriting is embarrassing (fear not, dear readers: we got approved, serial killer handwriting and all!). Something else I wish I had done: made a copy of the application! For goodness sake, be sure to do this so you can reference it for future adoptions or just your general sanity. I think it would be a good document to review in preparation for the adoption home study, which I go into below.
Here are some of the things you can expect in the adoption application:
- Reason for pursuing adoption
- Medical history for you and family
- Mental health history
- Philosophy on reprimanding children
- Intended childcare arrangements
- Names and contact information for personal references, who, in our case, had to fill out a form about our character and parenting potential
- Financial situation – income and debt
Of course, an extensive background check is also part of the process, including fingerprinting.
While the agency reviewed our application, we continued on with the other “to-do” items on the list:
- Adoption training (a day-long course required by the agency)
- CPR certification
- Preparing for home study
Step 3 – Adoption Home Study
This is where I began reading The Complete Adoption Book. It was extremely helpful in managing my expectations for the home study. The term “home study” is a little misleading. Initially, I thought my home had to be in tip-top shape for baby, that it was all about the house. First of all, your home doesn’t need to be baby-proofed – the home study worker is there to provide recommendations on that. Secondly, the home study is just as much about your personal/mental state as it is your physical dwelling.
Our home study consisted of two hours-long meetings.
Adoption Home Study Meeting 1
The first meeting included a review of and recommendations for the house, as well as separate interviews for me and my husband covering topics such as:
- Your childhood – expect to be asked about your favorite memories, anything traumatic, etc.
- Your mental and physical health – to include any medication you take
- Your philosophy on child discipline – how were you disciplined, and how you plan to discipline your child
- Your family – specifically, your parents and siblings
- Your work history
The interviews took longer than the home evaluation portion, so I recommend focusing on preparing yourself mentally vs. preparing the house. Be prepared for questions you may not have anticipated as you think about an infant in your household: how will you discipline the child when they are old enough, how will you explain adoption, how will you teach them about sexuality, how will you handle developmental or emotional challenges that may arise, etc.?
Following the initial home study meeting, we got to work prepping the house with the required safety and baby-proofing measures and gathering the additional documentation we needed, including pictures of every room of the house, a house map showing square footage of each room and a fire escape plan.
Adoption Home Study Meeting 2
In the second home study meeting, we reviewed/checked the recommendations from the first meeting, and were interviewed together as a couple with questions such as:
- How did you meet?
- What traits did you like/see in your future spouse/partner?
- How do you manage arguments?
- How are household duties split?
- What is your financial situation and how are finances managed?
- How do you plan to discipline your child?
- What can you provide for the child physically and emotionally?
Our “case” was then presented before a committee at the agency for approval, while we got to work on our adoption profile book.
Step 4 – Adoption Profile Book
The adoption profile book is your story for the consideration of birth parents as they select an adoptive family for their baby. We created a Shutterfly photo book. In all honesty, I didn’t love the quality of the printing, but I haven’t used any other services to date, so I can’t make any other recommendations. Ours was an 11-inch by 8.5-inch, hard-cover book that ended up being 20 pages. That sounds like a lot, but remember, it is full of photos. Our book included:
- A letter to the birth parents (hardest thing I’ve ever written!)
- Pages about each of us individually as well as our families
- “Our story”: how we met, how we like to spend our time, how we arrived at the decision to adopt
- A page about our beloved furbaby, a yellow lab
- Pages about our home, neighborhood, schools, etc.
While we worked away on our profile book, our home study case was approved by the agency, and we were all set and ready to connect with a birth mom.
Step 5 – The Wait
I know, I know. This is supposed to be FOUR steps. But after writing this, I decided another step needed to be added — I forgot about THE WAIT. Fortunately, 0ur wait wasn’t that long, but it wasn’t without anxiety. Margaritas, people. They ARE the answer. Just kidding. You need wine, too.
But seriously. My heart goes out to anyone in the waiting process. It is brutal, no matter how lengthy. For us, we passed the time by planning what we assumed (hoped!) would be our last beach vacation for a while, to reward ourselves for all the work put into the process and gear up for what was ahead. We spent time at the pool. We tried to live our lives and have a good time.
What we didn’t do was start buying baby stuff and planning a nursery. I personally just could not deal with the heartache of walking past an empty nursery while I wait. Babies actually do not need that much early on. We made an emergency shopping list for the essentials, and a spreadsheet of potential names — that’s it. When baby got here, we slipped away while she napped in the nursery at the hospital, and armed with our emergency list, we picked up some things at Target. Friends planned a baby shower for us weeks later. We are proof that you don’t really have to be “prepared!”
Every adoption experience varies, but I hope my insight into the four basic steps is useful in your journey.