Adoption (and the Illusion of Control)

Adoption (and the Illusion of Control)

One of the things that’s rarely discussed in adoption circles is adoption and the illusion of control. (And yet, it certainly should be.)


Adoption professionals are sometimes hesitant to tell clients what they don’t want to hear, and in a process that focuses on helping clients feel empowered, discussions of control issues are not typically welcome.

After all, “control” is one of those human urges that’s gotten a bad name, although it is a perfectly normal human need to feel we are in control of our own destiny.

(It may be a futile quest, perhaps, but it’s still a perfectly normal human need.)

We need to feel that we are in control of our own decisions.

We yearn to believe we are in control of our bodies.

We long to be in control of our finances.

We want to think we have our families under control.

We all crave assurance that we possess the power to control our fate.

(Whether or not we really do.)

Yet as in most human endeavors like adoption: that which is within your control is invariably going to be limited by other variables— regardless of whether you’re placing or adopting or have been adopted, whether your adoption is open or closed, whether it’s domestic or international, and whether you’re using an agency or attorney.

We get it, if you find this frustrating. It’s a hard truth to swallow, sometimes, but knowing what you can and cannot control can ultimately help you pick your battles, so let’s consider both…

What You Can Control

If you’re planning on placing, you absolutely control the choice of whether you want to use an adoption agency or an attorney, where you want your baby or child to go, and you have every right to choose your child’s prospective parents. You can decide if you want your baby to be born at a hospital or at home. You can choose your own obstetrician or midwife (provided they accept your insurance or Medicaid.) You can choose whether or not you want the adoptive family to be at the hospital with you, and you alone get to decide what name you give your child on the original birth certificate. You can choose whether or not you wish to breastfeed, and it is entirely up to you how much time you want to spend with your baby after birth. You can decide if and when you sign the legal papers allowing your child to be adopted, and as long as CPS is not involved with you and your baby, you can also decide to take your baby home and try out parenting for awhile if you’re unsure if adoption is the right plan or not.

If you’re planning on adopting, you likewise control the choice of whether you want to use an adoption agency or an attorney. You have the right to control what information you do (or do not) wish to share about yourselves with prospective birthparents. You can self-determine what sort of child/ren you will or will not accept. You have the right of refusal over any match or case that is presented to you. You have the right to specify what case risks you do or do not feel able to accept. You can decide which homestudy worker or agency you wish to use. You can choose whether or not to involve the prospective birthparents in your selection of baby names. You can decide whether or not to prepare a nursery or child’s room in advance of placement. You can control whether or not you feel comfortable having a baby shower or whether you prefer to wait until after placement. You can decide if you want to share your journey with your friends and relatives, or keep it private until the outcome is known. You may also be able to decide whether or not to accept a prospective birthmother’s invitation to be present in the delivery room or at the hospital prior to placement.

What You Cannot Control

There are, however, just as many things you cannot control, and it’s important that adoption professionals be forthright in preparing prospective birth and adoptive parents for these limitations.

If you are placing, you cannot control what your child’s other parent will do, so you’ll save yourself some stress if you forfeit that illusion. You cannot control when the baby will be born, either, much as you may wish you could. The standards on what maternity support can or cannot be provided are set by the State, so you cannot control what financial assistance an adoption agency can give you. State laws will also determine how long you may have to wait to sign adoption paperwork (in Texas, for example, you cannot relinquish until at least 48 hours after birth,) and whether or not there is a reclaim period afterwards during which you can change your mind (note: in Texas, there is none.) Whether or not the State permits legally-enforceable open adoption agreements is controlled by the legislature (in Texas, unfortunately, open adoption arrangements are a matter of trust.) You cannot control whether or not the adoptive parents change the baby’s name after placement, whether or not they remain at the same address they reside in at time of placement, what religion they raise their child to be, whether they keep in touch with your both birthparents or other birthfamily members as well, or even whether their marriage will withstand the tests of time, or how your child will grow and develop in their care in the years to come.

If you are adopting, you cannot control how long it will take for the “right” placement opportunity to find you, however much you hope to minimize your wait. You are not going to be able to control the lifestyle choices the prospective birthmother makes during pregnancy, because the pregnancy choices are hers to make– regardless of whether she ultimately places or not. You know your budget better than anyone, of course, but the costs related to the birth and the adoption will likely be out of your control, as well, so be prepared for the unexpected. You cannot control the opinions of those around the birthparent/s who may disapprove of the adoption plan, much as you might long to do so. You may want to control who has access to the birthmother or the baby in the hospital, but prior to placement, those decisions rightfully belong to the baby’s mother. You cannot control the condition of the baby at the time of birth, you cannot “make” a placement happen, nor should you attempt to exercise any control of any kind over the mother’s relinquishment proceedings. As many savvy adoption veterans could warn you: the more you try to control things in the hospital, the less positive the ultimate outcome is likely to be. You cannot control the length of time the state officials take to process Interstate Compact paperwork so don’t even try. Patience is definitely a greater virtue than control when it comes to adopting, so please try to keep this in mind. And prepare yourself for the reality that there’s no foolproof way to control your child’s medical prognosis in the future, however careful you screen for issues now.

The most important takeaway from all of this is to learn to make good choices where you can, and learn to surrender that which is out of your control. (Easier said than done, we know.) Good choices may not always result in your desired outcome, and surrendering does not mean forfeiting your right to continue making your own best decisions. But it does mean to be realistic about what is in your control, and to be pragmatic about what is not, for the sake of your own sanity.

Because when it’s all said and done, most folks come to realize that this is a lesson that eventually serves them well as they face the many uncertainties of parenthood, as well. And because despite our very normal human desire to be able to control our children’s perceptions of the choices we’ve made on their behalf, neither birthparents nor adoptive parents have any real control over how adoptees will feel about their stories. Learning to cede control in order to honor adoptees’ rights to draw their own conclusions and to form to their own sense of identity is essential.

So if you’re presently grappling with adoption and the illusion of control, take heart– because all that you’re learning today will surely continue to be of benefit, for years to come.

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