Please tell me what I need to know about adopting a child in the US
February 6, 2018 2:01 AM   Subscribe

For several reasons, it's very unlikely that I will have biological children. While it's very difficult, I have always wanted to adopt an older child so emotionally I am doing OK. However, my DH prefers to have biological children, but he is coming to understand it's unlikely to happen for us.

DH is finally getting comfortable with the idea of adoption, but I fear he has unrealistic expectations with the process. We are both Caucasian and he prefers to adopt a healthy, white baby; he is not comfortable adopting an older child or child of another race. It's strange to me that he feels this way, since race and age do not matter to me, but I want to be respectful of his feelings. We do have several family members who have adopted children but I do not feel comfortable with discussing this with them right now.

Very preliminary research shows that there are generally 3 adoption options: 1) international 2) domestically via a state agency 3) private domestic through an adoption agency. For various reasons, I am more interested domestic adoptions, either through a state agency or adoption agency.

I am asking this question to learn from your experiences as much as possible about adopting domestically in the US. We are still at the very early phases and I understand this is a very long process. Clearly there are issues with DH and I being on the same page; which I will continue to work through. Right now, I just want to learn as much as possible about domestic adoption, such as 1) how long did the process take for you 2) What were some unexpected bumps in the road 3) what were the costs, all-in 4) considerations for adoption babies vs older children (bonding, attachment issues, etc) 5) considerations for adopting child of a different race 6) anything else
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any experience personally so perhaps I shouldn't answer, but I found Instant Mom by Nina Vardalos (yep, the actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) really informative. It's a memoir of her experience with infertility and domestic adoption (it does discuss her own thoughts about age, race, etc. as well). It includes an extensive list of resources for people interested in both domestic & international adoption at the end.
posted by mosst at 6:12 AM on February 6, 2018

Hi! I'm an adoptive parent of MeFi. I have answered questions about domestic US adoption a few times on AskMe, so I thought I'd start with those answers...

So, why don't you just adopt? (in this answer, I give a bit of an overview of how our adoption came to happen)
Ethical adoption agencies
Surprise adoption edition (in this answer, I discuss my understanding of the role and value of a good adoption agency)

Those threads also have answers from other MeFites, so you get a range of perspectives.

1) How long did the process take? I think it was around 1.5 to 2 years. As I mention in some of the threads above, there were three failed matches prior to us being selected by the birth mother who carried our child (who is now seven). Three prior birth mothers changed their minds or simply disappeared. Our agency swore no other family had been put through such extenuating circumstances, but I know that other families experienced at least one instance of birth mothers changing minds (which is the legal and human right of the birth family).

2) What were some unexpected bumps in the road? For us, mostly my answer to question 1. It was pretty grueling to come back from being matched and then at the last minute (in the first case) having the baby taken away, or just having things dissolve for no reason because the birth mother ghosts (in the second two cases). Again, I describe this a tiny bit more in one of my answers above.

3) What were the costs? Most adoptions, domestic or international, cost in the low 10s of thousands. I would expect to pay between 15-25 thousand. A large amount of this is legal fees, but also money should go toward social workers who guide the birth mother through the process in an ethical way. We were fortunate to be able to have some of that money returned through tax incentives over a few years, but I heard that those laws were changed by this horrible Congress. You might want to check into adoption tax credits.

I do believe that foster-to-adopt is considerably less expensive. It brings a different set of risks, chief among them being that you will form a much longer term bond with a child who may eventually be reunited with a birth family by a judge. We have two sets of friends who completed the process and have "forever families" now, but they suffered quite a bit before the final ruling.

4) Considerations for adopting babies versus older children. We were selected by our birth mother while she was pregnant, so we were fortunate to be there at the birth of our daughter, in the sense that it was a wonderful moment to share. Our friends who did foster-to-adopt were matched with their children at ages ranging from some-months-old to about seven years. All of our situations presented different phenomena, challenges and opportunities, that I don't know that I could really summarize easily.

I think most private adoption agencies are going to essentially produce matches with newborns or nearly-newborns. Older adoptions are generally facilitated through the foster care system. Laypeople might say (or guess) that adopting children through the foster care system means you are more likely to be matched with a child with 'problems,' but I don't think that is a straightforward thing to evaluate at all. People can give birth to biological children and then have attachment issues, for instance.

Part of what the adoption process confronts parents with that I think is fantastically valuable is that many people enter into parenthood with vague fantasies about what they are about to do. Adoption can really dispel those fantasies in a way that, for me anyway, better prepares you for the job of parenting.

One fantasy that gets dispelled is that there is some way to have the 'right' child or that some child is the 'right' child. People who are able to have children biologically give birth to children with medical, psychological and emotional challenges, too. There is no 'guarantee' or simple 'right way' to have children. You make the most responsible choices you can and then... you take your chances.

In a good adoption process, social workers also spend time with you, the adoptive parents, to help you go through all of your complicated, unspoken wishes about having children and, with luck, help you to see some of those items for what they are - wishes and fantasies that aren't really important parts of the joy (and work and sorrow) of raising a human being.

Our daughter was born very healthy. The birth mother felt ashamed that she had occasionally succumbed to an urge to have a caffeinated soft drink during pregnancy! Still, our daughter has had some major health challenges during her childhood (fortunately, after a year, we seem to have the symptoms in abatement right now). There are no guarantees.

5) We are a white, heterosexual couple. I (the answerer) am the husband, by the way. Our first match was with an African American birth mother and biracial birth father. The baby was defined by the world at-large as African American. We were as happy as we could be! It did not matter to us what race the world defined the child as. Do we have extended family who would have criticized us for adopting the child? Sure. But if we can't stand up for our (responsible, heartfelt) choices, how would the next 18 years and beyond of raising this human being go? The birth mother selected us, we knew we would love the child - those were the core pieces. Now, that being said, we did want to provide plenty of opportunities for the child to feel a connection to a culture that the world-at-large would associate with him. We knew that part of raising this child would be to further educate and connect ourselves with the African American community and culture. We were prepared (intellectually anyway) to let the child lead the process of how he wanted to identify as being part of the community and culture, while we provided the opportunities as often as we could.

Would there be people saying stupid things during the time that we would have raised that child? Of course! Would it have been really heartbreaking to explain police brutality and racism to that child? Of course! But, it's not been easy to explain the President* and sexism to our daughter, either. You don't really get children to raise on "easy mode" or "autopilot."

The birth mother's family ultimately pressured her to back out of the match after the child was born. We were devastated at that time. Our successful match has of course gone a long way toward healing that disappointment.

Let me close by making a bit of a bold, presumptuous statement. Your husband would benefit from talking to a counselor or social worker about his wishes, desires, concerns and questions regarding having children. You both would, of course, but you have presented to us that he has more resistance to this. I can say from my own experience as the husband in the adoption process, and from meeting other husbands, that men are generally not as prepared to adapt in this situation. Perhaps it is because society does not instill nurturing in boys as much as it does in girls, but in my experience men are more prone to wanting to just check off the box, get a healthy baby and get everything over with. As I mentioned above, I think one of the greatest benefits of adoption is that it forces the parents to stop and think about the responsibilities they are about to take on and, further, what they can and cannot control no matter how they bring the child into the world. Men are socialized to control (in my experience as a cisgender male), and adoption removes almost all of your sense of control. That vulnerability, I think, contributed to better parenting skills for me, so I value that experience!

Also, my wife and I really benefited from meeting other adoptive parents before and during our adoption process, so I would strongly recommend that for you, as well.

I wish you the best of luck! It's been an incredible experience for us and I wouldn't change a single, teensy thing about our awesome daughter!
posted by Slothrop at 6:44 AM on February 6, 2018 [43 favorites]

5) considerations for adopting child of a different race

Hi. I am a biracial child who was raised by the white side of my family (and my white step-parent). So while I don't quite have the authority to speak as an adoptee, I do believe I have insight here.

Please DO NOT adopt a child of a different race if your significant other is not 1000% onboard, AND eager to proactively do the work on learning how to deal with being part of an interracial family.

His resentment and disinterest will absolutely have a negative effect on the child and probably come out as the same type of microagressions and insensitivity that said child has to face in daily life outside the home.

I am not calling your husband racist! What I am saying that dealing with this kind of attitude has a similar psychological effect as dealing with racism, and a minority child will already have enough struggles with racism from interacting with the outside world.

Kids aren't stupid. They pick up on nuance even if they can't (or are socialized not to) articulate it.

A minority child absolutely needs their home to be a safe place for them where they are protected from racism. They do not need to feel as though one of their parents does not want them around because of their race.
posted by windykites at 8:21 AM on February 6, 2018 [31 favorites]

We adopted a baby boy in a private domestic adoption. We got him when he was 4 days old. He's now 3.5, delightful, and the absolute light of our lives.

It's true what everyone says, that the joys and all-consuming experience of having a kid goes a long way to healing the trauma that may have come before it. But you're right to be bracing yourself for an intense process, in my experience.

We wanted a newborn. I remember telling friends I just wanted to be a "regular" parent, and when they asked why I didn't want older kids, I asked them how much of their own kids' lives they'd be willing to opt out of. I see it differently now, that the parental relationship is built in a million little and big moments over time, and it's the relationship I'm really after. But back then I was set on having a newborn, and not missing out on anything.

At the beginning of the adoption process they ask you a number of questions to determine your preferences. These include preferences for race, gender, physical and mental health family histories, detectable birth defects, desired openness/ongoing contact with the birthmom, and even specific drugs you might not want the birthmom to have ever used. This is the first hint that the pool of options might not be as dreamy as you're hoping for, and that the choosier you are, the longer you'll likely have to wait.

We stated no racial or gender preferences, restricting the search only by birth defects that could be detected in-utero, and active drug use. We also wanted our kid to decide the level of contact to have with the birthmom, when s/he's ready. My hubby is adopted, and these preferences are strongly influenced by his own experience.

For us, the process took over 2 years -- almost 3 if you count waiting for finalization after the baby had been placed with us. In the first year, the phone only rang 4 times, and nothing panned out. We were discouraged. The second year, we found more potential sources for finding a match, and had more action from our original lawyer as well.

I spoke with drug addicts, escorts, homeless women, a thirteen year old birthmom and her dad, a 21-year-old whose own mother ultimately decided to raise her twins, a woman who’d transferred her maternal instincts to a litter of puppies, and a couple who wanted us to agree to be on a reality TV show, among others. I turned down introductions to incarcerated women. The "first phone call” is always something to brace yourself for. It's like having a blind date with someone who'd rather do anything but date.

During that second year, one birthmom ghosted shortly after saying she'd place with us, and two matches fell through in much more dramatic fashion. One woman extorted us by withholding the prenatal medical records we had a legal right to see, to support the active meth habit she denied having. She skipped enough drug tests to raise suspicions, but by then we'd invested in her and the baby. The other woman reconciled with the birth father, and they decided to keep the baby, but she withheld that information in order to continue getting our support checks. We found out when she went into labor, and crossed county lines trying to hide (we were on the cusp of a new month, which would've meant one last check for her). Both of those losses were heartbreaking and expensive. I don't tell you these stories to scare you off, but to paint a realistic picture of the process as we experienced it.

I came to believe that most people who find themselves placing babies for adoption do it for one of 2 reasons: religion, or poverty. If they're doing it for religion, they're most likely to look for adoptive parents who will raise the baby in that religion. (Not us.) If it's not about religion, women can either abort an unwanted pregnancy or live with it, sometimes with family support. But if they can't afford to raise a child, and have no family to help them, they're in a real bind. That's not incredibly heartwarming, but I think it's generally true.

After that last loss, my hubby and I were at the end of our rope, and decided to take a mental health pause. We took some of the time we'd held for parental leave, and used it to go to Spain, to walk the Camino de Santiago, and ask ourselves if we could take any more. I asked our lawyer to only contact me if there was a "baby born" situation that month, and I'm sure he sensed that he was losing us. A week into our planned month off, we had to cut our trip short and fly back to the states to get our son. Talk about life whiplash!

In getting our son, I learned that the system is more rigged than I thought. I'd imagined my lawyer having a list of clients, and after filtering for client preferences introductions to birthmoms would be first come, first served. In reality, I now know there are legal ways of giving preferential treatment, and I suspect that threatening to drop out of the game was what motivated our lawyer to give us the advantage and introduce us to our birthmom, because he stood to personally lose money if we weren't matched soon. This also accounts for the up-tick in activity from him when we found other potential sources for our match: he charged a separate matching fee that he stood to lose even if we still used him to make the adoption legal.

There's so much variability in the system, from costs to process to esoteric laws from state to state. I know other adoptive parents who had very different experiences with the same lawyer. I know that the list of requirements our adoption agency used to approve our home and family as ready for adoption placement was different from another agency's list, at the exact same time in the same city and state. I remember feeling like our agency's list included everything anyone ever said, "you know, parents should really ____" about. They even checked the expiration date on our home fire extinguishers! It was a bit demoralizing to have to go that far to prove we were worthy when some people get pregnant by accident.

In my best times I could see that someone somewhere was trying to protect helpless babies, which is great, and severely necessary. In my worst times, I saw an industry that functions largely for profit, at the expense of the desperate people on both sides. In hindsight, I think both are true. The people who stand out in my memory are all the ones who were in it for the right reasons: to help families form, and help women with unwanted pregnancies get the support they need to choose their life's direction.

Now I feel so lucky, not just with our son, but also with his birthmom. For various reasons that will remain private for her, she wasn't in a position to end the pregnancy or to give him anything beyond love (her words). Placing him for adoption and getting some financial support changed her life in great ways, and she is as thankful for the result as we are. She feels like a rare gem in that system to me, in that she's always prioritized the well-being of the baby above all else.

After all the shenanigans with the meth head birthmom, I had to ask myself whether in that scenario I would be ok with the kid wanting contact with her later on. It's tricky territory, because on one hand the kid might have (an extremely valid) interest in knowing where they came from, and on the other hand, she might still be predatory. Who's to say she wouldn't extort an 18 year old whose level of sophistication would be no match? I'd been so focused on getting our family together, I hadn't been thinking about what might happen decades later.

The last thing I'll say is that the adoption process is an extreme trial of a relationship. My hubby and I were on the same page about what we wanted, had already spent 18 years being a couple, and we still found it to be a foundation-rocking challenge. My advice to anyone would be that if you're not yet aligned, you're not ready to start the process yet.

Good luck, and I hope this helps. Feel free to DM me if you want to follow up.
posted by nadise at 12:39 PM on February 6, 2018 [9 favorites]

In response to 6) "anything else," I'd like to comment that I am bio-mom to a 5yo son, who was placed with a family local to me, in an Open Adoption. I had a Mirena IUD, and got pregnant against the odds (my son is in the 1%, so to speak).

I am already a single mom. After my partner and I learned that we had conceived, he was like a deer in the headlights, no idea what to do, and then he ghosted me while I was still in the first trimester. I budgeted for the pregnancy, maternity leave/short term disability, and even accounted for possible longer disability (if I might need an emergency c-section, or other complications) and realized that even with my $30/hr full time job, I still couldn't afford to raise another baby on my own. I earned too much money to be considered for financial aid, as well. I would have had to take on a second, part-time job, to afford the expense of raising another kid on my own and keep us fed, clothed, and sheltered. That would mean my child would essentially be raised by other people (daycares, sitters) while I worked 60+hrs/week to make it happen.
That was no choice I could envision myself ever being proud of making.
I hardly hesitated to consider that there are many, many people who would love this child and were more financially and logistically suited to raise a child.

My son is thriving with 2 parents who waited for 10 years to welcome him into their family. The timing is something you should be aware of when choosing to adopt. In an open adoption, the birth family chooses the adoptive family. Some families wait a very long time.

Because it was an open adoption, I get to see him, visit with him and his family for birthdays and holidays, I get regular updates about him and his life, including videos and photos, and I couldn't be happier that my son is being raised the way that I wish I could have done. He is aware that I am biologically his mom, and it's not weird because his family never made it weird - they made it normal. It was the very opposite of feeling like I "gave him up" for adoption. Now that choice is something I am very proud of making.
The process of open adoption empowered me to choose the family I felt was best for my son, and I am grateful that it enabled me to extend my own family with two amazing people who I respect and admire deeply, and we share a beautiful and loving relationship. I even asked them if they wanted to be present when their son was delivered, and they accepted - so they had the unique opportunity to bond with their baby, from his very first breath. Now that was a powerful experience.
Another nice aspect of open adoption, for me, was that I could share my family medical history with the adoptive family, so that as he grows up, I know there are less medical mysteries for the family to navigate.

All in all, I took that situation and turned it into a win-win!
posted by erasorhed at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

I know several people who ended up adopting older children because they were foster parents and the child under their care came up for adoption. Being a foster parent is a whole nother animal than caring for a child that you know is yours from the get-go, but if you don't want to be childless fo a long waiting period, it would be something for you to look into and it does a world of good for the foster kids to get placed in a good home, even if for a short while.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:41 AM on February 7, 2018

Hi! Adoptive mom here. I did private adoption through an agency, my daughter is now 5 months old.

1) how long did the process take for you: Our situation was different. I was contacted by a birth mom who heard through mutual friends I was looking to adopt. It was a different situation so I can't speak for how long it would take otherwise. However, I did get close with several people in the adoption world who state this takes between a year and 3 years, typically.

2) What were some unexpected bumps in the road: For us, it was money talk. I needed to have a BUNCH of laymans terms conversations with the agency. I misunderstood one thing when it was another on more than one thing and I'm not by any means a dumb person.

3) what were the costs, all-in: Because we had a birth mother, it was less expensive. The cost was just under 9k but we recieved almost $5,000 in grants! was an amazing resource for us, as well as the agency who provided us with different companies to apply with.

4) considerations for adoption babies vs older children: My husband and I considered a small child through foster care initially, and had decided that would be our route until we were contacted by the birth mother and had this situation kind of "fall in our laps". I was worried about attachment issues but was willing to go that way from the start.

5) considerations for adopting child of a different race: My husband and I are both white, our adopted daughter is half mexican and half black. We actually had to take classes online that explained what it means to adopt a child of another race and how important it is to be educated and include things from their racial background in their upbringing. You can actually find several of them online as podcasts and youtube videos, etc. As someone who has a biological child already, race didn't matter to my husband or I a bit. I will tell you that with men the perception from other people can be different and I think thats why they seem to be more learly. I don't think most peoples first thought when they see a mixed race child with two white parents is adoption vs. "wow, be must be forgiving!"

If you have any other questions please message me!
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 10:53 AM on February 12, 2018

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