Can I Do This?
Making the Decision to Adopt
Do I really want to adopt?
When you bear or raise children, you step into the unknown. If you adopt, you take a step further. You can’t predict what baby would come from your own genetic mix, but you might recognize traits as the child grows up: “He’s got Grandpa’s ears.” With an adopted child, there’s an element of mystery: “Where did that nose come from?”
The parents who read Adoptive Families magazine say that they love watching their children’s traits and talents unfold: A family of clumsies embraces an award-winning gymnast; bookworms welcome the math genius. Before you adopt, understand that it means loving your child for who he or she really is, not as your own small replica.
Can I adopt?
The practical answer is: Yes, almost any American adult can adopt a child. The real question is: When you think about adopting, what kind of child do you imagine? A baby? A toddler? A teenager? A child who looks just like you, or a child of another background?
The decisions may seem overwhelming at first, but we will guide you through them one by one. We’ve taken this journey ourselves—and so have the hundreds of other adoptive families who tell their stories in this book. We will also help you answer what may be the most important question of all: Are you ready to adopt?
Will I love a child who “isn’t mine”?
Most adoptive parents secretly worry that they won’t be able to bond with a child who’s not related by blood. In our thirty years of experience at Adoptive Families, we have found that this worry disappears once the child is home. In fact, we have heard from hundreds of parents with both biological and adopted children who say they often forget which they adopted and which they birthed.
Are adopted children more likely to be “problem” kids?
While the “troubled adoptee” is a soap-opera staple, academic study offers a different picture. The Sibling Interaction and Behavior Study, launched in 1999 by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Twin and Family Research, is the most comprehensive, authoritative study ever conducted that includes adoptees. Each round of data has shown that the vast majority of adopted children do just as well psychologically and socially as children raised in their biological families.
Tech support: To read more about the long-term study of adoptees (Sibling Interaction and Behavior Study—SIBS—at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Twin and Family Research), go to adoptivefamilies.com/sibs.
How long will it take?
Believe it or not, most adoptive parents bring their children home within two years of submitting their paperwork. However, this doesn’t mean your adoption will take two years; time lines vary. (One editor of this book, through a combination of special circumstances and sheer luck, completed an adoption in three months, from the first, tentative phone call to an agency to actually bringing the baby home.)
As a general rule, adopting from foster care is the fastest process; international adoption varies greatly by country; private, infant adoption in the United States is the most unpredictable.
Tech support: To see time lines for the ten most popular countries for international adoption, go to adoptivefamilies.com/internationaladoption.
How much will it cost?
You can spend tens of thousands of dollars on your adoption, or you can spend next to nothing. An annual survey of fifteen hundred Adoptive Families readers shows that the average cost of an adoption is about the same as that of a midsized car ($23,000 in 2008). For many, reimbursements from employers and the federal government brought the net outlay down to a few thousand dollars. Lack of money won’t stop you from adopting, though it will affect the kind of adoption, and possibly the kind of child. (Yes, we agree, that’s not fair, but it is reality.)
Tech support: To see actual budgets from families who have completed their adoptions, go to adoptivefamilies.com/cost.
How do I get a healthy child?
Whether they are born to you or adopted, children do not come with guarantees. However, as with pregnancy, there are steps you can take to improve the odds that your child will be healthy. If you adopt in the United States, you can identify a mother before birth and help ensure that she receives good prenatal care; if the child has already been born, you can review medical records before proceeding with the adoption. In international adoption, you can choose a country known for a high standard of infant care and work with an adoption pediatrician to decode the medical report before agreeing to accept the child. Chapter 6, “Can I Adopt a Healthy Child?,” gives more detail.
Can I adopt a newborn?
Whatever kind of adoption you do, at some stage you will be “chosen” by either a social worker or a birth mother. Social workers and birth mothers generally want to place newborn babies with middle-class couples (gay or straight) in their late twenties to late thirties. If you don’t fit this profile, you may find it harder to adopt an infant. But it’s still possible; see chapter 3, “Can I Choose a Child?”
Straight talk: If you have been thinking of adoption as something you’ll do if you grow too old to have a biological child, think again. The odds of adopting an infant drop dramatically with each year you are over thirty-five. If you are between thirty-five and fifty, and still trying for a biological child, you should simultaneously research adoption, so you don’t lose any additional time. If you are over fifty, your best chance of adopting an infant may be through a fost-adopt program.
Can I adopt a child who looks like me?
No matter what your ethnicity, you can find a “matching” child. If you are a really exotic mix, it may take longer, and some groups (Native Americans, for example) have specific processes. But there are adoptable children of every background.
The best way to understand the adoption process is to focus first on the children available:
n?American newborns: Babies born in the United States to mothers who have arranged to place them directly for adoption. Most can go home with their new parents within days of their birth.
n?Foster children: Children who are in the care of a state agency because their birth parents cannot care for them. More than half of U.S. adoptions in any given year come from this group, and this is generally the most affordable route to adoption.
n?International orphans: Children who are eligible for “orphan visas” through adoption by U.S. parents because their parents have died or cannot provide care.
After you think about the child who’s right for your family, you can choose the right partner:
Different agencies and attorneys specialize in different kinds of adoption, so you need to think about what kind of child—what age, what race—is right for you before you make any commitment to an agency or attorney. You may also end up using a combination of partners, or you may choose to work independently.
TRIED and TRUE: While you think about the family you want to create, keep notes of your thoughts. If an attorney or agency suggests going in a different direction, our adoptive families say you should look back at your notes and remind yourself why you made the original decision.
Will they want to find their birth parents?
These days, more and more adoptive families meet and communicate with their child’s birth family (this is called “open” adoption), so the search question doesn’t arise. Our experience is that about half the children from old-fashioned “closed” adoptions eventually choose to search, often when they are old enough to begin thinking about having children of their own. The vast majority of those who succeed in finding their birth parents report that it made no difference to their relationship with their adoptive parents.
Tech support: Laws on confidentiality in adoption are in constant flux. To learn about the situation in each of the fifty states, go to: adoptivefamilies.com/statelaws.
Can I love a child of another race?
Would-be parents are sometimes embarrassed to ask this question. Don’t be. Society assumes that parents and children will look alike. If you are going to build a family that’s different from the norm, you will draw extra attention, and you will need extra support, so you need to think about how it will affect your life.
Excerpted from You Can Adopt by Susan Caughman and Isolde Motley, with the editors and readers of Adoptive Families magazine. Copyright © 2009 by Susan Caughman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.