Prospective adoptive couples embark on an adoption adventure full of enthusiasm and hope. Unfortunately, the journey to holding a bundle of joy in their arms may take some unexpected, and sometimes scary, twists and turns before the desired destination is reached. Much of the frustration and anxiety experienced stems from an unrealistic view of the adoption process. One way to avoid some of this emotional upheaval is to look before you leap, i.e., obtain information about the process and what it is truly like before getting underway.
What prospective adoptive parents need is for someone who has experience in the adoption trenches to tell it to them like it is so they can be prepared for what lies ahead. My experience as an adoption attorney for over 25 years has taught me that prospective adoptive couples benefit from knowing up front what to expect and what not to expect during the adoption process. Those seeking to adopt are overwhelmingly loving and caring people, but they are also quite naïve about the world of adoption. With a bit more understanding of what they are getting themselves into, prospective adoptive parents are likely to be less disillusioned and frustrated about their adoption journey.
The best advice about surviving the domestic adoption process is to for those undertaking it to know five basic NO’s. The first NO to know is that there is NO scientific formula to determine how long it will take for you to be matched. The question most frequently asked by a prospective adoptive couple is what the time frame is for getting a baby. The most honest and realistic response that an adoption attorney can give to this question is this: “I have no idea.” This answer is neither flip nor evasive. It is the honest truth. There are too many variables involved to be able to answer the question with any precision.
Adoption attorneys do not control the supply of babies. They are dependent on birth mothers contacting them to seek assistance with a placement. There is no way to know when birth mothers will call, what type of child they will be carrying (health, gender, race), and what requirements the birth mothers will have for a prospective adoptive couple. Actually, there is a formula for determining when a prospective adoptive couple will get a baby, but it is not scientific, and it is nonquantifiable. The formula is being in the right place at the right time.
The second NO to know is that there’s NO perfection in adoption. While adopting a baby might be the perfect answer to your dreams, babies are conceived, born, and placed in the real world. The fact that a placement is being made in the first place should be a clue that there is some issue or problem. The birth mother might be too young to parent. She might have substance abuse issues. She might have been raped. The birth father might be in jail and out of the picture. The birth mother may be a smoker. She may be in a dysfunctional family situation. Her pregnancy was likely unplanned, and her prenatal care is probably irregular at best, nonexistent at worst. The list goes on.
If an adoptive couple is expecting all sweetness and light in their adoption journey, they are setting themselves up for a mighty big fall. Perfect does not exist in the adoption world. Sometimes the situations cannot even be characterized as good. Hold out for the perfect situation and you will never adopt.
The third NO to know is that in NO situation will you ever have as much information as you want about an intended placement. We live in a world where the Internet is out our fingertips; we can search for information and find it at the drop of a hat. There are huge holes in available information in adoption situations. Sometimes the birth father is unknown. If he was the cute guy from the bar with whom the birth mother had a one night stand, his medical history and information on his family background will be unknown. The birth mother may have been raised in foster care and no longer be in contact with her biological family; she cannot tell you all about their health history. While an adoption attorney can ask a birth mother about alcohol consumption, smoking, and illegal drug use during her pregnancy, the information given is self-reported. The adoption attorney has no way to verify all that the birth mother reports. The bottom line is that a prospective adoptive couple is going to be asked to make a judgment call about how to proceed based on the available, and possibly unverified, information.
The fourth NO to know is that there is NO set itinerary for any particular adoptive situation. While adopting may be a journey, it is not a tour with scheduled stops and timetables. Flexibility is the biggest key to getting through an adoption.
Once an adoptive couple is matched, the adoption attorney will be able to give a general idea of what will happen and when, but that agenda is subject to change at any time with no prior notice. Birth mothers can and do reschedule OB appointments, delaying receipt of information such as ultrasound results. Identified and located birth fathers will respond to calls/texts/emails when they feel like it; the fact that you are waiting on pins and needles for them to advise of their position on the intended adoption is of no consequence to them. Babies will be born when they decide to arrive. Their due date is as irrelevant to them as is what is convenient for your schedule. Doctors show up to do rounds and discharge birth mothers when they show up. The ICPC office gets to your interstate packet when it gets to your interstate packet. Attorneys are aware of the process and the steps, but they cannot control the key players involved in it. An adoption attorney will handle the situation on your behalf, but understand that it is impossible for her to give you a precise timetable of what will happen when.
The fifth NO to know is that there is NO smooth sailing—expect an emotional roller coaster during the adoption process. Permanently adding to your family through adoption is not a sterile business transaction; it is an emotionally charged life event. Expect frustration, tears, sadness, fear, anger, etc. Your bundle of joy will never be in your arms as soon as you would like. You will experience fear that the placement will fall through. You will feel sadness for the birth mother because your gain is a loss of some sort for her. You will be frustrated that the legal process does not move as quickly as you would like or that it involves enough paperwork to kill a rainforest. You will be angry if the birth mother knowingly used illegal drugs while pregnant or if the birth father is being uncooperative.
Put all of these emotions into perspective. If you were biologically having a child, you would inevitably experience physical pain and discomfort. An adoptive placement merely transfers the pain and discomfort to the emotional realm. Think of the emotional roller coaster you experience on your adoption journey as your emotional labor and delivery of the child.
Knowing these five NO’s, a prospective adoptive couple will be more realistic about undergoing the adoption process. While the process may be bumpy due to emotional potholes, lack of complete information, the presence of negative factors in the match situation, the unavailability of a set timetable of events, and an unknown timeline for a match, being aware of these inevitable challenges is a huge step towards successfully completing the process with your sanity intact.
It is said that nothing good ever came easy. This observation is especially true about adoption, where no bundle of joy ever comes into the adoptive parents’ arms without some challenges along the way. But when an adoptive couple finally holds that new family member in their arms, they will know without a shadow of a doubt that facing the NO’s along the way was worth it.
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