Below are some very important topics that will help you in the decision making process.
No one grows up thinking “One day I would love to have a baby and place the child for adoption.” If you are considering adoption for your baby, it is no doubt because of difficult circumstances in your life. You may be experiencing a wide range of feelings, from elation to panic.
One of the most important things you can do at this time is get as much information as you can. Information not only on adoption, but what parenting would mean for you and your child as well. While this web page focuses solely on adoption issues, there are a number of books and links at the end of this page about parenting that I encourage you to explore.
The bottom line is that pregnancy is a form of parenting. Look in any book on pregnancy and you will see information on how good nutrition, prenatal care, exercise and sleep contribute to the health of your baby. Many books also include sections on nurturing your baby in utero by talking to the baby, playing music and touching the baby (your belly).
Many adoption providers still encourage expectant parents considering adoption “not to get to attached” to their unborn baby. Many of these providers will encourage the expectant parents not to even think of the child as their own, but as that of the prospective adoptive parents! Research, however, shows that bonding with your baby both before and after the birth is important for both you and your baby. The fact is that you cannot get more attached than an umbilical cord. You are attached. To deny this connection will serve no one in the long run.
I encourage expectant moms to fully experience their pregnancies, birth experience and time with their babies. No matter what you ultimately decide, it is time that you will cherish sharing for the rest of your life.
I also encourage expectant fathers to be as involved as much as possible. Remember, it takes two to create a child and this baby is your child as well.
First, the matters of the heart. I encourage expectant parents to think of counseling as an “education of the self”. Good counseling helps you to get to know yourself better, your strengths and weakness, your values and beliefs. Too often, especially in crisis situations, we may question our judgment and our abilities. We may be vulnerable to other people’s opinions and attitudes. Counseling, with an unbiased counselor, can help us know our hearts better.
Secondly, It is just as important to know the facts. That includes getting as much information as possible on parenting as well as adoption. So “getting the facts” is just as much about finding out the resources available that would enable you to parent, as it is researching adoption laws in your state, types of adoption and adoption providers and how the life-long process effects everyone in adoption. (While this web page contains some of this information, see Web Links as well as our recommended reading list for some great resources and information on parenting as well as adoption.)
It is especially important to remember that a fully informed decision is not made until after you have held and parented your baby after birth. Again, while many expectant parents are afraid of “bonding” with the baby, or not being able to “let go” if they spend time with their baby, doing these things will help you make a stronger decision, no matter what you decide.
I also encourage new parents to even consider taking the baby home with them for a short time. Layettes are often available through crisis pregnancy centers. No matter what your ultimate decision is, it is precious time with your baby that you will cherish forever.
Beware of agencies or professionals that are gung-ho to “match” you with one of their adoptive families without fully exploring all your options. Ethical professionals will want to help educate you on all your options, not just that of adoption.
Many adoption professionals often use the term open adoption when what they really mean is openness in adoption. Their definition may include allowing an expectant parent to choose the prospective adoptive parents from a profile of non-identifying information, allowing expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents to meet prior to placement or even ongoing contact through the exchange of pictures and letters after the child is placed in the adoptive home as participating in an open adoption. This definition is, in fact, a variation of a semi-open adoption or openness in adoption. The primary difference between a truly open adoption and a semi-open adoption is that the birthfamily and adoptive family accept and acknowledge that they are extended family to one another and act accordingly. (For more on this definition of open adoption, please visit the What is Open Adoption? page.)
There are essentially two different ways to place a child for adoption. In private adoption prospective birthparents and adoptive parents work with an attorney. The involvement of attorneys in the adoption process varies greatly. Some attorneys help in matching prospective birthparents and prospective adoptive parents. They also might have a counselor on staff. Other attorneys may only do the paperwork involved in the adoption process. It is important to ask the attorney exactly what services he or she provides. It is also important that the attorney is clear on whom he or she is representing. Each party in an adoption should have their own attorney to represent them. Private adoption is not legal in all states.
There are also adoption professionals called adoption facilitators. The primary purpose of an adoption facilitator is to help prospective adoptive parents and prospective birthparents find each other. The pre- adoptive couple most often employs an adoption facilitator. Like adoption attorneys, the range of services provided varies widely. Some adoption facilitators provide education and support. Many only “match” the prospective adoptive parents with prospective birthparents. Some adoption facilitators represent themselves as though they were licensed agencies. Since adoption facilitators are not licensed like adoption agencies and attorneys, an agency or attorney will still have to be used to complete the adoption.
Agency adoptions can be done by either a public or private agency. Most agencies are “full service” agencies in that they provide counseling, education and legal representation for both prospective birthparents and prospective adoptive parents. Services to prospective birthparents are usually free of charge. Just because an agency provides these services, however, does not mean you are obligated to use them. You still have a legal right to obtain your own attorney or use your own counselor. Some agencies exist only to facilitate adoptions, while others have adoption and pregnancy support programs that are part of a broader child welfare program.
Many people believe that agency adoptions are less “open” than private adoptions. They also believe that they have more control in a private adoption. The truth is that there are adoption providers of all stripes who want to control the outcome of the process and who bring their biases into their work. There are also providers of all stripes who work hard to fully educate and empower their clients to make sure that their decisions are fully informed and self directed.
It is therefore more important who you work with, not just one type of adoption versus another.
This “one size fits all” approach, however, rarely fits anyone well. The bottom line is that your process begins and ends with you and your baby. Rushing to choose adoptive parents, signing consents a mere 48 hours after birth, and even having the adopting parents in the delivery room may serve the professionals and adopting parents, but it is not necessarily the best thing for you and your baby. The truth is that you can wait to choose adoptive parents until after the baby is born, if that is what you decide is right for you. Many are finding that in waiting to choose adoptive parents, they are free from the feelings of obligation to place that can sometimes come from having a relationship beforehand.
There are, however, a number of decisions that you need to make along the way. I outline them briefly here.
Counseling and education should be the first step in considering adoption. Remember, you are making a life-long decision that will effect both you and your baby. The “end”, with any parent, is raising a baby into a healthy, emotionally secure adult. Of course, there are many opinions on how to get this done. There are library shelves full of books telling you how to do it. Only you, however, are in control of how to get to this “end”. Your first job, then, is to evaluate what you believe children need to become healthy adults. There are many ways to do this. Knowing yourself is the first step. What is important to you? Understanding what you value will help you determine how to help your child grow up with those values.
Understanding how various options may effect both you and your child is also important. Therefore it is important to get information on all your options whether it be parenting or adoption. Remember that all parents, when making decisions effecting their child, are not only considering the child’s best interests, but they are taking their own limitations, abilities, and resources into account as well. For example, when parents are making the decision as to whether or not someone will be a “stay-at-home” parent, many factors are taken into consideration including whether it is financially feasible, whether they are able to take a leave from work, and even whether they feel emotionally able to stay at home with an child full time. Many adoption professionals talk about choosing adoption for your child as a totally selfless act. However, the reality is that the decision to parent or place involves the needs, feelings and lives of two people, you and your baby.
There are many books and websites that can give you information on single parenting, parenting with a non-custodial parent, information on the resources you can receive if you are a low-income parent as well as the lifelong ramifications of adoption. In our Links section you will find some great websites. Our Recommended Reading List also has some books that are worth reading.
All adoption professionals you work with will need certain information from you including verification of the pregnancy, medical history and social information. Please be very careful of what you sign. Some professionals will ask you to sign a waiver of confidentiality that allows them to share your confidential information. This not only allows some professionals to share your confidential information with prospective adoptive parents, but also to share your information on the internet or with other providers. If you want your confidential information to be shared in a limited way do not sign blanket waivers. Some professionals will also ask that you get tested for HIV and drug screening.
You may also be asked to sign waivers, foster care agreements, temporary guardianship, and even relinquishment papers before the baby is born. This includes “Consent to Adoption” papers in some states. In Washington state, for example, prospective birthparents are allowed to sign a “Consent to Adoption” before the birth of their child. This consent can be revoked up to 48 hours after the birth, should the prospective birthparents decide they want to raise the child. Many agencies and providers in Washington state include the “Consent To Adoption” in the open adoption agreement. Please be careful. While this practice is legal, it is most likely not in your best interest to sign such a document before the baby is born.
Get copies of all documents before you sign them and give yourself time to read and understand them. The agency or lawyer you are working with should be able to provide you with copies in advance.
If you do not understand something in the documents, ask questions of the adoption professional who you are working with until you do. Never sign anything that is unclear to you. If there are sections of the documents that concern you, ask how, or if, they can be changed. For example, some temporary foster care agreements may be written to allow the foster parents to test your baby for drugs and HIV. If you do not want your baby tested by the foster parents, that can be omitted from the agreement. If the prospective adoptive parents are taking the baby home as licensed foster parents, then issues like drug and HIV testing should have been discussed in the planning process, and should not be an issue. Remember to get copies of all signed documents as well.
Do not sign consents or relinquishment papers while under the influence of pain medication, if you are extremely tired or in pain. You need not sign anything until you are ready to. Adoption professionals should respect your timing in making this decision.
When working with prospective adoptive parents, ask yourself, “Years from now how will my child feel about how we are planning for his/her future?”
Before Consents are signed
If you have not signed the consent to adoption you can either take the baby home with you, or place the baby in foster care. Some states have a direct placement statute that would allow prospective adoptive parents to take the baby into their custody as long as they do not leave the state. This would enable them to care for the baby while waiting for the approval to be processed.
When Parenting Other Children
If you are considering adoption for a subsequent child, you will need to learn about how adoption will impact the child you are parenting. While it is difficult to explain to a child the complex reasons for considering placement, it is essential, no matter what the age of the child(ren) you are parenting, to do so. Children can sense when something is wrong. They need to not only be kept current with what decisions you are making, but also be reassured that their place in the family is secure. The book Beginnings: How Families come to be by Virginia Kroll can be a great springboard for beginning the discussion. The book, which includes vignettes of how different families are formed, includes stories of both birth and open adoption. It is also a good idea to talk with any prospective adoptive parents about the relationships the siblings may develop over the years. For adoption to be truly child-centered all children in the open adoption need to be considered.
There are situations where the “choice” of placing a child for adoption is being forced by protective services. In these cases your options to wait to choose adopting parents, to possibly take the child home for a week or two, may be limited.