Adoption can be very confusing, especially from the outside looking in. I've had numerous people ask me about different parts of the process, so I thought I'd try and give a broad overview of adoption as I understand it. I'm not an expert, and I'm sure many of you reading are more proficient in the in's and out's than I am, but I think I have enough information to give the basics. I've come in contact with several people who are considering adoption right now, so I hope that this might serve as a springboard of information for those who are trying to decide where to start.
After considering the different types of adoption, Nathan and I decided that we felt led to pursue private domestic adoption. We looked into two different places before deciding to go through our local crisis pregnancy center, and it wasn't until we were nearly done with our paperwork that I realized that it was accepted and quite common to go through multiple agencies in order to increase your chances of being chosen sooner. By the time we found this out, we had already set our hearts on this one place, so we never began the process with another agency. However, from what I understand, it is not double the work if you do decide to go through multiple agencies since much of the paper work can be used twice.
Private adoptions do not involve any waiting lists. Instead of being chosen when your name gets to the top of the list, you are chosen when a birth mom selects your profile, which consequently means the time period for this type of adoption is impossible to pin down. Someone could wait a week, a month, a year, or in some cases never be chosen. I was told a very broad estimate at one place we visited that most people waited about six months after all the paper work was complete, but they were very careful to tell us that this was simply an average that they had seen over the past several years, and it had no bearing on individual cases. So basically there is just no telling.
Another characteristic of private adoption is that the expense varies since the rate is based on a graduated scale. The percentages vary for different agencies, but our particular agency charged 15% of last year's income. This is called a placement fee and is not paid until the child is placed in your home. There are also several fees incurred in addition to the placement fee, and these vary based on the necessary legal fees involved. One nice thing we discovered along the way is that the government gives a $10,000.00 tax credit for adoption, so that helps to cut the cost and make it more affordable.
In order to be approved for private domestic adoption, there is a rather lengthy check list to go through. We had to get a criminal background check, fingerprints, physicals, life insurance, and references. There was also an extensive application process involving pages of questionaires, financial information, biographical info, and a list of specifics regarding the child you adopt. On top of this, we created a picture profile and wrote a letter to the birth mom. We finished the application in two weeks, but I know we were definitely on the speedy side of the spectrum.
Once this was complete, we had a series of interviews, including an official homestudy. Once this paperwork was finalized, we received our official acceptance letter and we were put on the waiting list. Being on the waiting list simply means that our profile was eligible to be viewed by a birth mom. It depends on the agency at what stage in the pregnancy the birth mom looks at the profiles and makes her choice. In our case, we knew the agency didn't show profiles until sometime in the last trimester, but as it turned out, Adrienne's birth mom didn't contact our agency until she was in labor, so she ended up choosing when Adrienne was already 6 days old.
Private adoptions also involve a wide range of "openness." We were told that completely closed adoptions are beginning to be a thing of the past, since there is so much evidence that openness can be very positive to everyone involved. Our agency encourages contact between us and the birth parent only if both parties are on board with it, but even then, they don't recommend the child be involved. They also require that the adoptive parents provide pictures and letters every two months for a year. Contact can be continued after that if it is mutually agreed on. I don't want to say a whole lot on this since there are so many possibilities. But, I do want to get across that from what I learned, openness in adoption is not anything to be frightened by! It doesn't threaten or undermine the adoptive parents in any way, but instead it can prove to be very valuable for the child.
Once you have been chosen by a birth mom, she still has the right to change her mind. She does not surrender her rights until after the baby is born. In Tennessee this can be done on the fourth day after the child is born, and then after she signs she still has ten days to change her mind. The time period differs state to state. This is of course one of the hardest parts, knowing that even after you are chosen there is still a possibility of things falling through. Adoption demands at some point you put the heart on the line, and I can tell you from experience, that's never easy. There aren't any guarantees that it won't be broken, and being vulnerable is one of the most difficult things at all. Ultimately, it's a decision you have to be willing to make. Love is always a risk, but it is worth it every time.
The father's rights are an entirely different ball game. He has the option of surrendering his rights before the child is born, or he can choose to do it after. If the father is unknown or unreachable, the rights have to be surrendered through the court system.
Finally, when all the rights have been surrendered and the time period for changing minds is up, then the child is legally yours. Even then, it is several more months before the paper work is signed and the adoption process is officially complete.
I know that this is long and full of details, but I just wanted to put them out there as a reference for anyone who is curious. Please remember that all of this stems from my experience, and I know that experiences differ greatly where adoption is concerned. If you have a question about something I didn't mention, feel free to ask. I hope this will prove to be helpful to somebody!