A picture says a thousand words and can change the course of a life when it comes to adoption. Thousands of children are waiting to be adopted across the country and the world, and what stands between them and a forever family is sometimes as small as a picture and a short description. This is what is generally called an adoption photolisting—a brief snapshot of the child and her personality, looking for a family to love her. Just as birth mothers scroll through profile pages of couples hoping to be the perfect fit for an unborn child, anyone can scroll through profile pages of children smiling big who are waiting and hoping to impact the viewer for the possibility of being adopted. Each adoption photolisting tugs on your heartstrings and opens your eyes to the needs of our youth.

In Jamie Giesbrecht’s recent article, she explained it best:

“Something about photolistings always haunts me a bit—you are literally looking in the eyes of a child whose entire future is hinging and changing on if they are placed, who they are placed with, and where they are placed. I tend to find a sense of sadness in me when I look into these faces.”

Even though there may be sadness in these photos, they are imperative because they could be the link to bringing a family together, helping a child, and loving one of God’s children. When it comes to children in the foster care system, their picture is sometimes the first thing someone sees online. A local group in my state, Louisiana Heart Gallery, in recent years, has worked really hard with local photographers to take wonderful pictures of Louisiana foster kids in hopes they will find their forever family.

Among the many sites available online, Adoption.com has listings for every state as well as international listings and provides information on waiting children. Not only are you able to view a sweet picture of the child, but also there’s a brief description of what the child enjoys in his or her free time, the child’s goals in life (personally and academically), and what type of family he or she believes would be a good fit.

What others may not realize is the ability to inquire about a child right from his or her adoption photolisting. You can connect with the child’s caseworker after a series of questions. There may be important additional information about the child listed that would be helpful in finding the perfectly fitted family. Sometimes, there are placement stipulations regarding American Indians staying within their tribe or a child needing to be the only child in the family rather than having siblings. There’s a wide range of circumstances that could impact a child’s life and whether or not the family is truly the right match.

It is easy to get caught up in the emotions and excitement, but the reality of caring for a child and what is best for this child should be taken seriously. As I glanced through forums to find out more from those that walked through adoptions from photolistings, I was surprised to find brutal honesty as noted here by one adoptive parent:

“The thing to keep in mind with the photolistings is that kids are on them because they have been hard to place in their home area. There’s always a reason they were hard to place. Sometimes that reason is something you’re prepared to deal with, sometimes it’s not. In the case of my daughter, it was basically a combination of her age and her race, neither of which was an issue for us. Other common reasons are physical or mental handicaps, medical needs, being part of a sibling group, or emotional/behavioral problems. If you’re looking at a listing of a child where you can’t see any reason they would be hard to place – know that there is one, and that you need to find out what it is.”

In her case, the age and race issue was minimal, but in other cases, there may be more difficult needs which require more resources. Researching the situation fully is very important to finding the right fit. It can be stressful for the child and the parents when things aren’t what they had hoped for, and in order to prevent that, proper background research is necessary.

Early in my own adoption journey, I will never forget hearing my dear friend’s own experience with the adoption photolisting that changed her family forever. Just like me, she was on the path of adoption and wasn’t sure how the Lord would ultimately bless her family with a child. Browsing national photolistings wasn’t unusual for either of us because our hearts desired to love and care for a child, regardless of age, gender, and race. We knew our children were out there; we just needed to find him or her.

At this point in time, she and her husband had agreed on domestic adoption but weren’t necessarily interested in a newborn. One ordinary afternoon, she began browsing through the long list of children waiting for adoption like she was known to do and stumbled across this precious little Texas boy with the softest, kindest eyes. “His soul spoke to me that day,” she told me with a glimmer in her eye. “This is my son. I feel it and can’t really explain how strong this feeling is. I just know he is my son.” His picture and explanation of his special needs immediately stopped her scroll. Her background working with autistic kids was exactly what this sweet, spirited kid needed in his future. It still gives me chills when I think about it because I witnessed firsthand the ending of this family’s beautiful story.

She and her husband were home study ready and working with an adoption organization which allowed them to start the process of adoption easily. Of course, each adoption journey has its own bumps in the road for various reasons, but the happy ending of a child finding a forever home is always the main goal. Since this young boy was out of state, his journey home to Louisiana didn’t come without a lot of hoops, multiple out-of-state visits, and mounds of paperwork for the prospective parents. Even through all of that, my friend kept holding on to the picture of him and stayed strong because she knew they would be together eventually. She never gave up the fight for her son. For this young boy, he is now enjoying the sunshine of country life with parents that love and adore every second with him. This incredible blessing all began with something as simple as a picture—one that spoke a thousand words to the right person.

Being an adoptive parent myself, I also know firsthand how significant photos are in portraying a particular message or feeling. My husband and I spent countless hours placing our entire lives on our Parent Profile, from family relationships to the rooms in our house, in a series of pictures, hoping to reach the heart of one birth mother. The photos tell a story, one that holds so much meaning for both the creator and the viewer. You want to include all of yourself, but not too much. In the end, you feel as if you’re selling yourself, and in a way, you are.

On some level, I identify with the desire of each and every child in these adoption photolistings. I understand the hope to belong to someone, but in our case as adoptive parents, I understand the hope that someone will belong to us. We spent a lot of time putting our best face forward in the hope that we would reach the right one. It is an incredibly vulnerable and humbling place to be in as a child or as an adult. We all want to be connected on a familial level, and love is at the center, always. Each child, each birth mother, each adoptive parent, every single person involved with adoption only wants love from their child, love from a parent, or wants to love with their whole heart.

Whether you are browsing child/infant photolistings as an adoptive parent or hopeful adoptive parent photolistings as a birth mother, the underlying hopefulness you carry in your heart is strong, but it is also hard to walk through all of it alone. Support from the right places is vital for a healthy and positive journey. Those that have lived it can relate to what you’re walking through. If you’re struggling with what path to choose as a birth mother, are weighing the decision of adoption, or just need to read one birth mother’s story, start here or here.

“It is completely normal and expected that placing your child for adoption is not an easy decision. Take the time to think through your options before choosing a placement. You may be sure that adoption is what you want to choose and that is great if that is true for you. If you are unsure, that is completely normal as well. Take whatever time you need and do not feel pressured either way. Spend time with those you trust, speak at length with anyone involved in the adoption, and take the time to gather information before making your decision. Make sure that you are involved with an adoption agency or professional who is ethical and recommended by those in your area. You will want somebody to advocate for you…” (Things to Consider When Thinking of Placing Your Child).

If you are still on the fence about placing your child for adoption, that is completely okay and normal. Placing a child is not something that you will necessarily ever feel 100 percent sure about. It is a huge decision that will change your life forever. I don’t say that to scare you, but rather simply as a fact. It is definitely a decision worth taking time to consider. One thing you can do when you are considering placing your child for adoption is to gather information. It is important to be well-informed in order to make your decision. Call various adoption professionals or adoption agencies to gather information. Many will be willing to even sit down with you and chat. None of this is you committing to placing your child, but rather, you are gathering information.

Although placing a child for adoption is possibly the hardest thing a birth mother may ever do in her life, it is also one of the most loving and selfless acts. She places her wants aside and her child’s needs in front. It is a decision filled with nothing but love. This one decision will shape her life and her child’s life forever. Different from many years ago, open adoption is more commonplace in the world of adoption now, and birth mothers make the decision of how much contact she would like throughout her child’s life. If I were making that hard decision, open adoption would give me the comfort I needed knowing the relationship with the child isn’t completely lost. There is a window and a line of communication in place which is important for the child later in life.

If you’re struggling in your wait as a hopeful adoptive parent or just need a fresh perspective, check out the wonderful forums here. My adoption support group is my tribe and the only safety net, other than my husband, that felt what I felt and truly understood the roller coaster ride of adoption. There’s so much good, but there are also incredibly tough, emotional situations you are faced with, and having a group or a community to share your thoughts and feelings with is the key to staying sane some days. There are so many avenues of adoption now (domestic adoption, international adoption, foster care adoption, embryo adoption, interfamily adoption), and no matter which road you are on, it is all heavy on the heart at times.

With anything in life, it is much better to walk through it with support on either side rather than all by yourself.

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Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit PregnancyHotline.org or call 1-800-GLADNEY. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.