A few years ago, I was having coffee with a dear friend of mine from graduate school. She knew of our journey to adopt our son from China and that we were planning on another international adoption, this time from India. My friend shared that for many years she had been considering adoption but, “I never pursued anything because adopting as a single woman doesn’t seem possible.” My heart leapt at the notion that she was interested in adoption, then sank at the idea that she thought adoption was not possible for her. I ordered another round of coffee for us and shared everything I knew.
In the United States, one-third of all domestic adoptions are to single-parent households. Foster-to-adopt programs welcome single-parent households and many countries are open to single-woman adoption. Families come in all shapes and sizes and as a single woman considering adoption, there are many avenues you may choose. Here is everything you need to know about adopting as a single woman.
Where to Begin
For all adoptions, the first step is to think about what kind of adoption you would like to pursue. Generally, the three types of adoption most prevalent in the United States are private domestic adoption, foster-to-adopt, and international adoption. The process of private domestic adoption involves the birth parent(s) choosing an adoptive parent(s) and voluntarily placing an infant with that adoptive parent(s) for adoption. In private domestic adoption, any single adult who is eligible to adopt is able to do so. Eligibility guidelines vary by state but mostly include age, a minimum of 21 years old, and income requirements. In many private domestic adoptions, the birth parents will choose the adoptive parent(s). Some birth parents may prefer a single-mother household while others may prefer two-parent households.
Single women interested in fostering to adopt should know that 25 percent of all children adopted from foster care are adopted by single people. Children available for adoption from foster care have had their parental rights terminated. The age of the child may range from infancy to teenager, though most children in foster-to-adopt programs are around school age. Like private domestic adoption, eligibility guidelines must be met first. Foster-to-adopt guidelines are very similar to private domestic guidelines and vary from state to state.
International adoption has a few more guidelines on who is able to adopt as each sending country is permitted to state their own eligibility standards. Many countries have age requirements, typically between 30-50 years of age, income requirements, educational requirements, physical health requirements, and mental health requirements. Children available for international adoption are typically between the ages of 6 months to 14 years at referral. The age of the children available generally varies from country to country with some countries, like India and China, referring younger age children and other countries, like Romania and Colombia, referring more school-aged children. Many children available for international adoption have special needs, though sometimes the special need is simply their age. If you are interested in international adoption, be sure to determine if the country of your choice allows single-parent adoption. Many of the most popular countries to adopt from in 2019, such as China, India, Colombia, and Haiti, welcome single women in international adoption.
Questions to Consider
For anyone adopting as a single woman, even if you have the most incredible network of support, at the end of the day, you are still the primary breadwinner and primary childcare provider. Think about your job. Is your employer family-friendly? What kind of parental leave do they allow? Is your schedule flexible at all? Are you able to work from home on the days your child is sick?
Life as an adoptive family can be complex and life as a single parent can be even more complicated. Think about your relationships with family and friends. Who are the most supportive of your decision to parent alone? Who are the most supportive of your decision to adopt? Who might be willing to travel with you when the time comes? (Something particularly important in international adoption.) Is there anyone in your circle who might help if your child gets sick? Or if you have work travel? Or if you need a night away? Who will your child identify as a trusted “aunt or uncle”? Who will help promote your child’s culture or traditions?
And though those people may exist in your immediate circle (lucky you!), are there other single parents with whom you might relate? Are there any other adoptive parents in your circle of friends? If not, Facebook, Meetup, and even agency driven gatherings offer opportunities to connect with other adoptive parents who are walking your same path.
Choose an Agency
Once you have decided which type of adoption is right for you, the next step is to choose an agency. For private domestic adoption, you may choose not to work with an agency and to complete an independent adoption. Adoption from foster care may occur either through a private or public agency, and almost all international adoptions need to be completed by a Hague accredited adoption agency.
When selecting an adoption agency, be sure to ask the right questions to see if the agency is a good fit for you. How many single parent adoptions has the agency conducted? Do they offer any additional support to single parents? What kind of timeline do they see from home study completion to placement? Take the time, do your research, and if something doesn’t feel right, move on to the next agency.
Complete a Home Study
The next step to adopting as a single woman is to complete a home study. A home study is essentially a snapshot of your life, and it provides insight as to what the life of the adoptive child would be like with you. In a home study, you can expect to complete paperwork certifying your health, income, employment, and background. Reference letters from family members, friends, and employers must be included. You will need to provide information about your employer’s parental leave policy and list plans for childcare. Fingerprinting and a criminal background check, child abuse and neglect clearances, and a copy of your driving record must be submitted. Additionally, you will be asked to complete a self-reflection study as to your own upbringing, your values, your views on child-rearing and discipline, and your plans to raise an adoptive child. The process of the home study can be intimidating, but it can also afford a good time to reflect on your motivations for adoption and how you will incorporate this new child into your life.
Both during and after the home study process, you will be asked to complete a series of pre-adoption education training. The purpose of the training is to educate you on some of the challenges many adopted children face. You will learn how to parent through attachment disorders, sleeping and eating issues, lean cocooning techniques, and develop strategies to talk about race and being a conspicuous family. Adoption parenting is different, and it is important to learn how and why your journey may differ from others in your circle of family and friends. Pre-adoption educational training may also prove a wonderful time to connect with other adoptive parents. Most agencies offer pre-adoption education classes, or PAC, to their home study families, so take some time and exchange information with those in your classroom. You may be strangers now, but the person sitting next to you may prove a great confidant and pillar of support in the months and years to come.
Receiving a Match
Then comes the day when you get “the call.” A birth mother has selected you, an agency has found a foster child who they believe is a good match, or a country sent a referral that fits your requested parameters. The referral will contain photos, background information, health and social information, and may include other notes on the child or prospective birth mother. Though it can be tempting to jump for joy and immediately shout, “YES!” take some time to evaluate the referral. If you can, and you should, have a medical professional who is well versed in adoption review your prospective child’s file. Many adoption clinics offer referral reviews of both international and foster child cases. Adopting as a single woman via private domestic? Make sure there are no red flags in the prospective birth mother’s background that would give you hesitation. Turning down a referral is not easy but it is better than matching with the wrong prospective birth mother or prospective child.
Surviving the Wait
This can be the most difficult part of the journey. The time when you are at once on the brink of parenthood yet not assured of a typical nine-month due date when parenthood will commence. Use this time to prepare your home and your heart for the new addition to your family. Ready their room, research cultural traditions, find other adoptive families, and ready your support system. Have a shower. Even if you are adopting an older child, welcoming a new child into your family is cause for celebration. When we were waiting to bring home our son, we used the time to educate our family and friends on how best to support us when the time came. Think about meal trains. Is there a group of friends who might supply one for you? What about a chore train? Between my mother and a few amazing neighbors, we had laundry and light housekeeping done for the first few weeks we were home so we could concentrate on our new child. Remember, adoption is different, so while your typical homecoming may involve the grandparents and friends caring for your new addition, in adoption, to promote attachment, you should be the primary caregiver so find ways for grandparents, family, and friends to support you.
Meeting Your Child
Just when you thought there couldn’t be anything better than the call that announces your referral, there comes the day when you get the call to come meet your child. For some, this may come in a matter of weeks or months, for others, years. In the lead up to meeting your child as a single adoptive parent, it is important to think about what kind of support you might need when you meet your child. Will you be traveling to the next state over, across the country, or across the world? For international adoption, part of the beauty and the challenge is that it is international. There is a lot of paperwork involved, translations and money exchanges to be completed, and having someone to travel with you can be a game-changer. Even those adopting domestically may choose to travel with a companion. Remember, the purpose of the companion is to support you, not the child. And you will need support. It is a lot easier to have two people when a midnight diaper run is needed or you need to pick up some takeout.
There is nothing more surreal, amazing, and terrifying than meeting your child for the first time. Whether you are in the delivery room, a government office, or an orphanage halfway around the world, it is a time like none other. Be sure to take lots of pictures, save souvenirs, and even write down your first thoughts and memories together as a family. These will all be wonderful additions to your child’s lifebook and will help memorialize this time when everything changed.
Back in that coffee shop, my friend and I started contacting adoption agencies to see which would be the most open to single-parent adoption. All were responsive and all said yes. Eight months later, she called me with the news. She had been matched with a prospective birth mother who was due in just two months. In just a few short weeks, my friend would become a mom.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. If you feel adoption is right for you, then reach out to an agency and begin your journey. You never know where, or to whom, it might lead.
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.