Starting an Adoption
Abrazo has a new group of prospective adoptive parents in San Antonio this weekend, learning the ins and outs of starting an adoption.
Some have adopted before, some have not. Either way, though, everyone who has ever been through this process surely can recall the highs and lows of adoption.
First, there’s the decision-making process. Whether your adoption journey began with a costly foray through the world of unsuccessful infertility treatments or not, every adoption begins with no small amount of discussion between spouses or between single parents-to-be and their supporters.
What do we want? What are we open to? (And yes, those are two very different questions.) What is the budget? What risks can we tolerate, and what are our dealbreakers?
(You may notice a theme, here… at this point, it’s all about “we” and “us.” Give it time, because the circle will expand. But for most adults who are starting an adoption, whether they’re considering placing or adopting, their motivation is typically pretty adult-centric, which eventually has to change course, if the results are to truly be child-centered.)
Who’s qualified to adopt?
The average adopting parent is usually in their thirties or forties when they begin the process. They’ve been married more than a year, and their average income is usually solidly middle class. Most have been to college or graduated from a college or grad school, and a disproportionate number of prospective adopters tend to be Anglo-Saxon in origin. (That’s not racist, it’s just fact. Don’t shoot the messenger, folks; the same statistics are true of the average fertility patient, as well. It is what it is.)
One of the “lows” of any adoption journey is typically all the paperwork involved. Preapplications, applications, physicals, reference letters, background checks, floor plans, tax returns, federal fingerprinting, infertility records… the adopting parents who come through Abrazo have to essentially disclose their entire life history to the agency just in order to get their foot in the door.
Why is all of this required, if people who are having biological children aren’t required to jump through similar hoops? It’s because of child welfare standards, which is a good thing. (Trust us on this.)
There are many seemingly good people who would like to be able to adopt, but shouldn’t necessarily be entrusted with the care of someone else’s child. We’ve seen it all over the years, and no matter how fervently someone may “want a child,” that doesn’t always qualify them to parent effectively, and state licensing standards hold agencies like Abrazo to a much higher level of discernment than even the average birthparent in any private adoption.
Most American adoption agencies approve prospective adopters sight unseen. (Read that again: it’s shocking, isn’t it?) At Abrazo, we’ve been implementing an extra layer of protection, even since we opened in 1994. We require our adopting families to come meet our staff in advance of placement; we call this our Parents of Tomorrow orientation weekend, and it’s our way of being sure that we would feel comfortable placing our own child with anyone our agency will be entrusting a child with in the weeks and months to come. It also offers our adopting parents the assurance that they know who Abrazo is, and they’re not just turning over their hearts (and their life savings) to strangers far away, in an era in which adoption scandals abound on social media and in the headlines.
What should adopters know in advance?
When you’re starting an adoption, expect to be bombarded with adoption information, for good and for bad. It’s hard to know what to expect, whom to trust, how to feel? You’ve heard the “adoption rollercoaster” analogy a thousand times, enough to make you queasy day and night, and yet, you want to think positive. You hope for a “smooth adoption,” even as you know that anything as important as an adoption decision is bound to be filled with ups and downs. So what’s a savvy would-be adoptive parent to do?
For starters, ready your lives in every way you can. Start living like people who are expectant parents. Take responsibility for making the preparations are expectant parent does: get your nursery ready. Take an infant CPR and baby care class. Read everything you can written by adoptees. Join an adoptive parent support group. Find a pediatrician and a family-friendly church with whom you’ll feel comfortable. Start doing a weekly “date night” with your spouse long before a babysitter is needed. Get some counseling to clear out the cobwebs of infertility loss and grief. Get your homestudy done.
None of this can guarantee a swift or trouble-free adoption experience, of course. But all of this will benefit you, your future child and his or her birthparents in the future.
There are many unknowns in life, and the adoption process is no different, of course. Adoption is an enormous undertaking legally, emotionally and financially, and anyone who tells you it will be easy or cheap or quick is either seriously misguided or downright dangerous, even if that’s what you want to hear.
If you’re starting an adoption, know that this will be the biggest decision you ever make, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Infant adoptions in America have become more complex than ever, with costs rising and placement numbers falling with the birth rate every year.
There are now viral anti-adoption campaigns that target women considering placing and urge them not to do so. There are disgruntled adoptees who advocate for abortion, and there are grief-stricken former birthmoms who offer prospective birthmothers money to parent. The days of adopting parents being lauded publicly as selfless martyrs have given way to adoptoraptor accusations, and the popularity of the internet as a conduit for “do-it-yourself” adoptions has made quality adoptions more rare (and unappreciated) than ever before.
This may paint a discouraging landscape for the eager prospective adoptive parent who wants to focus only on the “happy” aspects of adopting, we know. But take heart: this process is going to teach you more than you ever knew about who you really are and what matters most to you. There comes a point when you realize this is no longer all about you and what you want and need; rather, it’s about being there for whatever child truly needs you most. That’s what fuels your commitment to devoting yourself to being there for him or her, and for the birthparents who make the brave choice to share their child with you, for a lifetime.
And from the point of starting an adoption to the end of your parenting journey, what will make it all worthwhile may be the certainty that you pursued this with a pure heart, out of a selfless regard for the adoptee’s best interests, and that you did it the right way, for all the right reasons.