expectant mother’s guide to adoption
Your Baby. Your Choice. Your Rights.
The decision to place your baby for adoption is huge. It’s scary and courageous. No doubt, it’s one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do, but the adoption process doesn’t have to be confusing. This Expectant Mother’s Guide to Adoption was designed to put you in the driver’s seat of your adoption journey. Read it carefully and if you have questions, please feel free to contact us via phone or email.
If you’ve done any online reading about adoption, you’ve already discovered that there’s a whole world of adoption terminology to know. You don’t need to become fluent in Adoption-Speak, but there are some key terms and concepts you’ll at least want to become familiar with.
Private adoption just means that you, the expectant parent, are placing your baby for adoption with a family of your choice. There’s no foster agency or county social worker involved. A private adoption is either an agency adoption (handled by an agency) or an independent adoption (handled by an attorney).
There are different degrees of “open” adoption. In the biggest sense, it just means that you and the adoptive family know each other’s basic information. It may also mean that you agree to share contact information over the years. Be careful here. Just because an agency or family says that they want an “open adoption,” doesn’t guarantee your ongoing relationship with your child over the years. For that, you will need a “Post-Adoption Contact Agreement” (sometimes referred to as a PACA) which clearly spells out your plan for contact. See below for a more detailed explanation.
This is the usual term for how much contact, if any, you will have with the adoptive family after the adoption is final. In a handful of states, it is customary for each adoption to include a PACA which clearly states the type and frequency of contact. In the majority of states, these agreements are not enforceable, so they’re more like a promise you and the adoptive parents make to one another. Whether and how you can enforce the agreement varies from state to state. A typical post-adoption contact agreement includes periodic pictures and letters and perhaps visits.
In all states, adoptive parents must complete an extensive process involving background checks, interviews, home visits, references, and medical examinations to ensure that they are a safe, emotionally healthy family, and are ready to adopt a child. This process is called a homestudy. Before selecting a family, an important question to ask them is whether they have completed or are in the process of completing a homestudy.
Relinquishment and Consent
These are the documents you’ll sign with your social worker and/or attorney after baby is born. They give your authorization for the adoption. These are the most important documents in the process because they make the adoption placement official and permanent.
This is the period of time you have to change your mind about the adoption and to reclaim custody of your child. The revocation period varies greatly between states from no revocation period at all, to a 30-day revocation period.
7 steps to adoption
Step #1: Yours, Mine and Ours: The Importance of Separate Representation
The question of legal representation in an adoption can get a bit tricky. Regardless of how you find your adoptive family, it’s the adoptive parents who will pay for all of the adoption professionals involved. The adoptive parents usually have their own attorney and they may also have hired an adoption agency. In the vast majority of adoptions, the birthmother is not represented by her own attorney. A few states require that the birthmother be separately represented or at least be offered separate representation and require the adoptive parents to pay for her attorney. Regardless, as the expectant parent, you can and should ask for separate legal representation.
Even if you don’t have your own attorney, in most states you’re required to be formally advised of your rights by a social worker. Sometimes, though, that advisement doesn’t happen until very near the birth of your child. Make sure you know your legal rights and don’t be afraid to ask questions frequently throughout the process.
Step #2: Forms, Forms and More Forms: Get Ready to Write
One of the first things you’ll be asked to do is to complete intake forms designed to gather information regarding your medical and family history as well as that of the birthfather, if known. These forms are usually quite lengthy and may take you a while to complete. Even so, it’s best to take your time and provide thorough, accurate answers. Be honest about your background – even when it comes to things like drug/alcohol use or a family history of mental illness. Your goal is to find adoptive parents who are well-equipped to raise your baby, so there’s no point in withholding important information. Everyone has issues, and there is a family out there who will embrace yours.
The other important pieces of information you’ll provide are related to the financial support you may need during and after your pregnancy, your relationship with the birthfather and his position regarding adoption, and your feelings about future contact with the adoptive family.
Step #3: Let the Search Begin: Finding an Adoptive Family
There are literally thousands and thousands of families ready to adopt and longing to do so. You should never feel like your choice of families is limited or that you have to go with the best of some not-so-exciting options. This is one of the biggest decisions of your life. Don’t rush, don’t settle.
You have five main options for finding a family:
Someone you know from your community or contacts.
Perhaps you already have a friend or relative in mind for your child. If so, you or they will need an adoption professional to handle the legal process. They will be responsible for hiring an attorney or agency to handle the adoption.
Adoption agencies are organizations licensed by the state to provide adoption services, including birth parent counseling. They are paid by hopeful adoptive parents and typically will only present the families who have signed up with them. If you like one, that can be a great way to go. Again, though, make sure that you don’t feel like you’re settling. Ask to see more families if you don’t feel certain.
Similar to agencies, most attorneys specializing in adoption are paid by prospective adoptive parents to find a child for them and to handle the adoption process. They often do not have as many families as agencies. However, they often are part of a network of adoption professionals and can connect you with other families if you don’t prefer to match with one of theirs.
Our practice is unique because we specialize exclusively in birthmother representation. We have access to a huge network of families looking to adopt, but who are not our clients. Only expectant parents are our clients.
Adoption facilitators are people that are paid a fee by adoptive parents to find expectant parents. The range for the fee is $5,000 to $19,000 with an average fee of $9,500. They are not licensed by the state and are not social workers, attorneys or agencies. A facilitator will typically present you with her own clients, but may also have access to a larger network of adoptive families. Once you are matched, you will need either an agency or attorney to actually complete the adoption.
Online Matching Sites
There are several online matching sites and even an app to help connect you with potential families. While these can be very helpful, we caution you to make your initial match through an adoption professional, who has already screened the prospective adoptive parents. Direct contact with possible matches at the beginning stages of your relationship can be very awkward.
Regardless of where you find the adoptive family, we highly recommend that before you make a decision to “match” with an adoptive couple (officially choose them to adopt your baby), you meet them in person. Talking on the phone, texting or exchanging emails is a good first step in getting to know each other, but shouldn’t replace spending time together, if at all possible. Time together prior to your baby’s birth makes the whole experience easier. Try to avoid meeting for the first time in your hospital room where you will likely be physically uncomfortable (aka in pain!), self-conscious about the way you look, and exhausted. Not the ideal circumstances to be getting acquainted and making important observations.
Step #4 You’re Not Alone: Securing the Support You Need
Whether you are working with an agency or an attorney, you are entitled to counseling throughout the process, both before and after the birth of the child. While counseling is no magic fix, it can make a huge difference in your emotional stability during and after pregnancy. Don’t just choose any counselor; ask for help finding one that is familiar with adoption, grief and loss. There are several well-qualified compassionate therapists who will provide counseling to you via phone or Skype if their location is not convenient for you. The agency or attorney you choose to work with should be able to help you locate someone right for your circumstances.
Depending on your state’s laws, you are probably entitled to receive financial support from the adoptive parents for a few months surrounding the birth of your child. The purpose of the support is to ensure that your physical needs for food, shelter, clothing, medical care and transportation during and after your pregnancy are adequately met. It’s crucial that you work closely with your attorney to make sure you are complying with the laws of your state regarding financial support. It should go without saying that you must never accept financial support from anyone unless it is your sincere intention to place your baby for adoption with them. Unfortunately, a quick Google search for “adoption scams” will yield countless stories of unscrupulous people who did just that. However, the majority of birthparents request living expense assistance for the exact purpose it was intended – to help you get through the pregnancy and recovery period without the additional stress that comes from not being able to work in the latter stages of pregnancy.
Step #5 The Big Event: Your Hospital Experience
The keys to minimizing stress at the hospital are communication and planning. It’s crucial that you work with the adoptive parents (and usually a therapist, social worker, or doula) to talk through your respective concerns and wishes surrounding the baby’s birth. Questions regarding who will be with you during labor and delivery, who will cut baby’s umbilical cord and what name baby will be given should be talked about well before you slide into that pretty little hospital gown. Don’t be reluctant to ask to spend time alone with baby at the hospital, if that’s what you want. If you explain to the adoptive parents beforehand that you plan to do so, they will be less likely to misinterpret your request as a sign that you may be changing your mind about the adoption. These conversations and planning will result in a document aptly named The Hospital Plan and should be transmitted to the hospital and placed in your file well before you arrive there.
The Hospital Plan not only serves as a roadmap for the labor, delivery and post-partum experience, but it also gives the hospital staff, including social workers, nurses and doctors, a heads up as to who all the players are. That way, from the time you arrive at the hospital to the time you leave, everyone will know that there is an adoption plan in place and will conduct themselves accordingly. Don’t worry, you’re not tied to the plan and can change your mind about any of it in the moment. The focus of your time at the hospital should be exclusively on you and your baby’s comfort and well-being, not on the adoptive parents, your family or even the birthfather. After all, you’re the one doing the heavy-lifting. Everyone else will adjust and understand.
Step #6: Making it Official: Signing the Adoption Consent or Relinquishment
State laws vary as to when you’ll be allowed to sign documents which make the adoption official. Some states allow you to sign any time after baby’s birth and others require a waiting period before you can do so. California allows you to sign the consent once you’ve been “medically discharged” from the hospital (which usually ranges from 24 to 72 hours).
As the consent signing draws closer, everyone’s stress levels usually start to rise. The adoptive parents are on an emotional rollercoaster – they are falling in love with baby, but are afraid to let themselves. They’re usually full of sympathy for the birthmother and want to comfort and support her as she grieves, while simultaneously hoping, and often praying, that she will go through with her adoption plan.
Meanwhile, you will be physically exhausted, hormonal and leaking out of every orifice (sorry for the visual), but also relieved and happy that your beautiful baby has arrived safely after all these months. At the same time, you’ll likely experience a creeping, but distinct sadness that stems from knowing that you’re going to soon be asked to say goodbye to this little person whom you’ve nurtured for nine months and just brought into this world. Even if you know you’re making the best decision for baby, feelings of ambivalence, uncertainty, and deep sadness are very normal. Most birthmothers will tell you that they had second-thoughts about their decision after baby was born.
There’s very little you or the adoptive parents can do or say to minimize the intensity of each other’s hospital experience. It’s just the sacred nature of what is taking place in those moments.
However, you can take steps to ensure that before you sign the consent, you:
- Are confident that you’re making the best decision possible in the midst of difficult circumstances. If you need further help in making the decision, connect with a competent and trusted therapist.
- Fully understand the consent process, including your state’s laws about when the consent becomes irrevocable and the terms of the post-adoption contact agreement.
- Are given a sufficient amount of time to accomplish the above before signing anything.
Even if you ordinarily don’t like to rock the boat or are a natural born people-pleaser, now is the time to voice concerns or ask questions about things you don’t understand. Most adoptive parents truly want their birthmother to look back on her adoption experience knowing that she made a fully informed decision and was treated with abundant respect and compassion.
Despite all of the very difficult emotions, most birthmothers who get to this point do end up placing baby with the adoptive parents. If, however, you change your mind about the adoption, you have an ethical and legal duty to immediately communicate that fact to your attorney, social worker and adoptive parents. Stop accepting support as soon as you know you no longer intend to go forward with the placement. You don’t want to be accused of fraud.
It is your right to change your mind about the adoption prior to placing the child. As discussed above, state laws vary considerably on how long following the birth you are given to withdraw your consent. Of course, it’s better for all parties involved, including your baby, if you make that decision prior to the child’s birth.
Step #7: Staying Connected: Self-Care After Placement
Your adoption story doesn’t end at the hospital or when the period to revoke your consent is up. It’s a continuing story: one with new beginnings for baby, for you, and for the adoptive parents but with continuing ties binding all of you together for your lifetimes. You’re part of a new extended family.
Immediately following the birth, you will want to make sure that you are surrounded by support – family and friends will be very important during this time. Luckily, other than sore breasts (make sure you get advice on dealing with that before you leave the hospital) and something like the longest period you’ve ever had, your body will rebound pretty quickly and you should be able to resume your normal activities within a week or two. Emotionally, the first few weeks following the birth may be very difficult. Your loss will be real and your emotions raw, but hopefully you will have the quiet peace of knowing that you are making a good decision and that you will get through this. Make sure you stay connected with your adoption counselor or therapist. Your adoption plan should include some counseling visits paid for by the adoptive parents following placement. Your adoption plan should also include what contact you will have with the adoptive parents in the first few weeks following placement. They will be drained too, so it’s important to set expectations in advance.
We’re happy to report that there’s a growing community of post-placement support resources available for birthmothers throughout the U.S. Some of these resources offer online peer support while others hold annual, no-charge retreats especially for birthmothers. Many of these organizations also offer counseling, mentoring and educational scholarships.
As normal life resumes and time passes, your PACA will come into play. Your continuing relationship will be governed by that agreement, though like all relationships, it may evolve over time. In California, should the adoptive family ever stop following through with the agreed-upon communication, you have the right to have the agreement enforced by the court. The adoptive parents’ failure to uphold the agreement won’t undo the adoption, but in California and approximately 18 other states, the court will order them to keep their promises to you, unless it finds that due to a change in circumstances since the PACA was made, doing so would not be in your child’s best interest.
Hopefully, as is the case in the vast majority of adoptions, your relationship with the adoptive parents will be a positive one and you’ll enjoy hearing about and perhaps witnessing your child’s growth and development over the next 18 years.