If you live in North Carolina (NC) and have found out that you are unexpectedly pregnant, you are likely experiencing a range of emotions. For some, an unexpected pregnancy may be a wonderful surprise. But for others, it can feel like the bottom has just dropped out from under you. If your unplanned pregnancy has come at a point in your life when you are not ready to parent a child, that is okay. Thousands of women find themselves unexpectedly pregnant each year, and you are not alone. Take a deep breath and know that by reading this article and gathering information, you are taking a great first step of what I consider to be the 10 steps of adoption in NC.

1. Possible Options

When you find yourself unexpectedly pregnant, you may feel like you have no options, but the truth is, you have three. You may choose to terminate the pregnancy, you may choose to parent the child, or you may choose to place the child for adoption. Only you can make your decision. If you are considering adoption in NC, know that adoption is a loving choice. Children who are placed for adoption are incredibly loved, and placing a child is a tremendous gift–both to the child, to yourself, and to the adoptive parents. But knowing where to begin can be daunting. Thankfully, this article will guide you through the steps.

2.  Different Types of Adoption

In North Carolina, as throughout the United States, there are many different types of adoption. There is private domestic adoption, adoption from foster care, international adoption, stepparent adoption, kinship adoption, and embryo adoption. The United States has a rich history of adoption, and each year, adoption touches the lives of thousands in our country. Adoption Statistics lists 135,000 adoptions in America annually, roughly 15%, or 20,250, of which are private domestic adoptions. As an expectant parent, you can consider either private domestic adoption or kinship adoption. Private domestic adoption involves the use of an adoption agency, or adoption facilitators and adoption attorneys. In private domestic adoption, expectant parents will work with either an adoption agency to identify prospective adoptive parents, or will have identified prospective adoptive parents independently. An agency adoption is slightly more common, but independent adoption has been on the rise in recent years. The other form of adoption expectant parents may consider is kinship adoption. In kinship adoption, a biological member of the expectant parents’ family is identified, and the child is placed with that family. Kinship adoption is legally binding, and as such, must involve both adoption attorneys and family court.

3.  Birth Fathers’ Rights

As an expectant mother, the birth father may or may not be in the picture. For adoption in NC, if the birth father is in the picture, having the conversation that you are pregnant can be a difficult talk to have. If, for any reason, you feel unsafe having the conversation with him, identify someone within your support network who can be there with you. If even that feels too much, that’s okay. Your safety and wellbeing are the top priority, and most adoption agencies will help you notify the expectant father of your decision to place. If the expectant father is not in the picture, your adoption agency or adoption attorney can help find him through the North Carolina putative father registry.

In North Carolina, once the expectant mother is in her fourth month, either she, her agency, or even the hopeful adoptive parents can file a special proceeding with the court to determine if the consent of the expectant father is required in order for the adoption to proceed. Once the petition is filed, the expectant has 30 days to notify the court that he would like to give his consent, or not. If the expectant father fails to respond, then the court will determine that the birth father’s consent is not necessary in order for the adoption to proceed.

4.  Agency Versus Independent

For expectant parents, the first step to adoption in NC is to consider whether you would like to pursue an agency or independent adoption, assuming you are not pursuing a kinship adoption. There are pros and cons to each and as an expectant parent, it is important to know the difference. In an independent adoption, the expectant parents work with an adoption facilitator to identify and evaluate prospective adoptive parents. Adoption attorneys are still involved in the process, as adoption is a legally binding act, but independent adoption may allow for more direct interaction between expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents, without the need of an intermediary, like an adoption agency. In an agency adoption, the adoption agency works as a sort of one-stop for both expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents. Adoption agencies may be local or national, and the best adoption agencies offer both counseling, financial support, medical care, and even educational and vocational training after placement.

Whether you choose to pursue an independent or agency adoption, to begin, you will meet with the facilitator or agency counselor to discuss your options. During this time, you should feel comfortable asking any and all questions you may have. How available will the facilitator or counselor be to you during your pregnancy? What kind of support and resources does the agency offer? How does the agency identify prospective adoptive parents? Do facilitators only work with local prospective adoptive parents or is there reach around the United States? The agency and facilitator are there to serve you and help you understand your rights throughout the process. And, if you change your mind and decide to parent, that will be okay too. A good facilitator and agency will be able to share resources and community services to help you to parent when the time comes.

5.  Prospective Adoptive Parents

As an expectant parent, you have the right to choose the adoptive parents for your child. You also have the right not to choose the couple. If you would prefer a closed adoption, adoption agencies will work with you to make sure your wishes are met. For expectant parents who would like to choose the adoptive parents for the child, both adoption facilitators and, often to a greater extent, adoption agencies, will be able to provide you with profiles of dozens, if not hundreds, of prospective adoptive parents. It can be a bit overwhelming to think about choosing an adoptive family for your child, so take a moment and make a list of things that are important to you. Where do you see your child growing up? Would you like your child in a city environment, the suburbs, or a rural area? Do you want the prospective adoptive parents to live locally or anywhere in the United States? Is there a particular race or ethnicity that is important to you? What about religion? What hobbies and activities do you hope your child will be able to do? Do you like painting, soccer, singing, football, a particular musical instrument, or martial arts?

Both adoption agencies and facilitators will work with you to narrow down your choices and to evaluate what is most important to you. Know that every prospective adoptive parent who is ready to match with an expectant parent has completed a home study. A home study provides a brief glimpse into what life with the adoptive parents would look like. It also is a time for prospective adoptive parents to explore the motivations for adoption and what the couple hopes life will be like for the adoptive child. Many prospective adoptive parents use the home study to create profiles for the family. Some profiles may be photos, videos, or even letters written to you, the expectant parent. Know too, that for all adoption in NC, both a valid study and a completed child abuse and neglect clearance is necessary. Both are mandated by state law, and both ensure that the prospective adoptive parents will provide the best home possible for your child.

6.  Types of Adoption Contact

When you are considering what type of adoptive parents to choose for your child, you will also want to think about what kind of contact you wish to have with the adoptive parents and your child. Essentially, there are three different types of adoption contact–closed, semi-open, and open–and no two adoption contacts look the same. In a closed adoption, contact between the adoptive family and you are very limited. The child will understand he or she is adopted, but the child will not know who you are. Semi-open and open adoption is the most common forms of adoption in the United States. In a semi-open and open adoption, adoptive parents and birth parents have some form of regular contact with one another and the adoptee. Contact may be in the form of letters, emails, phone calls, or even in-person events. The frequency of contact totally depends on each adoptive and birth family.

When drafting your adoption plan, it is a good idea to draw up a contract of what post-placement contact will look like between you, your child, and the adoptive parents. In North Carolina, post-adoption contracts are not legally enforceable, but you should still consider writing one. Composing a post-adoption contract gives both the expectant parents and the prospective adoptive parents a chance to carve out what each party would like post-placement contact to look like. Though contracts may change over time, it can be exceedingly beneficial in the long run to all be on the page.

7. Making Contact   

The next step in the process of adoption in NC is to make contact with the prospective adoptive parents. If you are pursuing a closed adoption, then you will not need to make contact with the adoptive family. If you want a semi-open or open adoption, this stage in your adoption process is a good time to get to know the prospective adoptive parents better. It can be a bit awkward at first–and know that the prospective adoptive parents feel the same–so start with whatever form of contact makes you the most comfortable. Is it a phone call, or an email? Some may prefer an in-person meeting or a video call. If you are not sure where to begin, your adoption agency or adoption facilitator can help you navigate this step. By using this time to get to know one another better, both you and the prospective adoptive parents can build the foundation for a relationship that will last. Remember, adoption is not a single act, but rather a lifelong journey. When you become a birth parent, you become a member of the adoption triad, which includes you, the adoptee, and the adoptive parent(s). You are all equal members and at the apex of that triangle is your child.

8.  Delivery Day

When the time comes to deliver, you will likely experience an avalanche of emotions. Delivering a baby is a physically and emotionally exhaustive experience, and you will want to ensure you have a good support system in place for your delivery day. Talk with your counselor about who you would like in the delivery room with you. Whether you want family, or your partner, or a close friend, or even the prospective adoptive parent, the choice is yours. Your adoption agency or adoption facilitator will help you make a hospital delivery plan in advance. Your hospital delivery plan may change at any time, but it is a good tool to have in place so everyone will know what your wishes are when the baby comes.

9.  Consent to Adoption

After the baby is born, you may give consent to the adoption at any time. Part of designing your hospital plan will be to determine when you would like to give consent. Consent may not be given before the child is born. If you choose not to give consent and to parent your child, that is okay. Your agency will support your decision and put you in touch with local resources. If you do give your consent, you will sign a consent form at the hospital, and the adoptive parents will take the child into their care. After your consent is given, you have seven days to revoke your decision. After these seven days, your decision will be irrevocable and the adoption will be finalized.

10.  Life Post Adoption

Once you have placed your child for adoption, you will become a birth parent. You will likely experience a sense of loss and emotional upheaval, particularly in the first few weeks after your placement, so it is important to find and utilize the tools and support networks available to you. Find a birth parent support group and share your story. Becoming a birth parent is both an incredible journey and an incredible act of love.