Adoptive parents will tell you that choosing to adopt a child is a beautiful way to create or add to a family. With more than 125,000 children adopted in the United States each year, it's obviously become a popular option [source: Child Welfare Information Agency]. However, adoption is very different from having a biological child, and in more ways than just the obvious one. There are a lot of decisions to make before you even consider contacting an agency.
Adoptive parents deal with a lot of highs and lows on their way to making their dream a reality. They may wait for months or years before being matched with birth parents or with a child (depending on the type of adoption). They undergo intense scrutiny, fill out piles of paperwork, wade through bureaucratic red tape and spend thousands of dollars. It's a difficult process, and it doesn't end when you bring your child home. Every family faces challenges and obstacles, but those encountered by adoptive families are unique.
Of course, the joy and satisfaction you feel when a child becomes yours is immeasurable. But before you even start the process, it's important to figure out what you want and how you're going to handle the obstacles that come your way. These 10 questions to ask yourself will help you decide whether adoption is right for you and your family.
Why do I want to adopt?
At first glance, the answer to this question seems easy: You adopt because you want a child. But it goes a lot deeper than that. Some people choose to adopt because they can't conceive a biological child and still feel a strong desire to experience parenthood. In many cases, they've tried for years to conceive and explored various fertility treatments but were ultimately unsuccessful. Others want to adopt regardless of whether they can conceive a child. Many adoptive families include both biological and adopted children.
Your motivations behind adoption also go beyond whether you can have a biological child -- adoption isn't for everyone, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you're thinking of adopting because you can't conceive, you'll need to go through the process of grieving that loss first. If you consider adoption to be "second best" to having a biological child, think about how that attitude would make an adoptive child feel. And if you think that adopting will heal a troubled relationship, think about the pressure that you're putting on a child who deserves to have parents who are in a healthy relationship.
These are just a few reasons why you may want to reconsider adoption. However, if you want to adopt because you truly enjoy children and want to be a parent, adoption might be for you.
Can I handle the commitments that go along with adoption and parenthood?
Parenting a child is an expensive endeavor. One estimate is that the cost of raising a child to the age of 17 ranges between about $140,000 and $290,000 [source: The Motley Fool]. This includes everything from education to health insurance. While there are ways to cut costs, before you even think about adoption, you'll want to take a hard look at your budget.
Parenting also requires a huge time commitment. Your entire lifestyle will change as a result, and your time will no longer be your own. There are no sick days or vacations from being a parent. If you aren't sure if you can handle this kind of change, it's better to come to that realization now. Most parents say that there was no way for them to be truly prepared for how their lives would change, but realizing that things will never be the same is a start. Consider taking parenting classes to help.
Adoptive parents have to be able to handle these commitments, plus more. The average cost of adopting is between $25,000 and $35,000 [source: Adoption Guide]. This includes the preparation phase of the process as well as travel and the adoption itself. If you choose to adopt through the foster care system, it can be much less. If you choose to adopt internationally, it can be much more. There is an adoption tax credit and some employers offer assistance, but many people finance adoptions with credit cards or loans. The time commitment for an adoption is even greater -- not only can the process take years, you may also go through extensive interviews, home visits from a social worker and spend time traveling.
Can I handle not being biologically related to my child?
To some people, the idea of adopting a "stranger" and raising it as their own child just isn't something that they're interested in. They can't imagine that they would feel a family bond with someone who isn't related by blood. Others are less extreme on the subject, but find that the pull to go through the experience of carrying and birthing their own child, or just to have a child that carries their genes, is undeniable.
It's important before you start the process of adoption to think about whether you'll feel sad that your child won't be a biological part of you and your family. You won't go through the journey of pregnancy, labor and delivery. Depending on the type of adoption you choose, you might be present in the delivery room with the birth mother, but it's not the same as doing it yourself. And if the child you choose to adopt is older, you may have also missed out on important milestones in his or her life.
Not being biologically related to you doesn't make an adopted child any less your own; it's just different. Look at it this way -- if you're married or have a partner, you're not biologically related to him or her, but you still formed a bond.
If you decide that you can't deal with the idea of having a child who doesn't share your genes, however, that doesn't say anything bad about you. It's far more responsible to explore these feelings now than wait until you're in the adoption process.
What kind of adoption do I want?
There are many different ways to go about adopting a child. One major decision is whether to pursue a domestic adoption or an international one. If you choose to adopt domestically, you can go through social services, a licensed private agency, or adopt independent of agencies using attorneys, facilitators and other intermediaries. Typically, international adoptions are done through private agencies, but there are also independent international adoptions.
You'll need to learn about the laws governing adoption, too. If you want to adopt a child from another state, you have to comply with its laws as well as those of your own. International adoptions are governed by the laws in your state, the laws of that country and those of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Another major choice is whether to have an open adoption, a semi-open adoption or a closed adoption. At one time most adoptions were closed, meaning that the adoptive parents and the birth parents never meet and have very little information about each other, if any. Today, more adoptions are open or semi-open -- and exactly what these entail can vary widely depending on the agency and what you decide to do. The birth parents may choose the adoptive parents and even meet before the adoption. Often, the adoptive parents send the birth parents letters and pictures to let them know how the child is doing. The birth parents may even be a huge part of the child's life.
There is no right or wrong, and there are pros and cons for each type of adoption. Research them in more detail to help you decide.
What age child do I want?
Although international adoptions get more media attention, there are actually more domestic adoptions of newborns in the United States. Most babies adopted through private agencies are newborns, as well. For some, adopting a newborn is the only option that they'll consider; they simply prefer to have their child as a baby and experience his or her infancy. In most cases of newborn adoption, the birth parents choose the adoptive parents, and they often meet ahead of time. Domestic newborn adoptions can go very quickly -- in some cases, it can take just a few months. The baby is typically discharged directly from the hospital to the adoptive parents. One thing to keep in mind is that the baby isn't legally the adoptive parents' child until he or she is born, regardless of the agreements made during the adoptive mother's pregnancy.
Adopting older children works better for some families. They know that it's more difficult to find adoptive parents for older children, and they may prefer to adopt a child who is already in need of parents. Sometimes, adoptive parents who are older prefer children who are older, or they don't feel that they can handle the high demands of caring for a newborn or infant. The type of adoption you choose may also play into the child's age; since international adoptions take longer to finalize, the child will likely be older. It's important to consider that, unlike newborns, older children have already had caregivers. They may be old enough to have memories of their birth parents and families, and they may have been in foster care or an orphanage.
5: Do I want a child of a certain race or culture? Do I want a special needs child?
Age is a key factor in deciding on what kind of child you would like to adopt, but there are many other factors to consider. Sometimes, prospective adoptive parents are uncomfortable talking about their preferences, but you shouldn't be -- it's all about what will work best for your family.
If you only feel comfortable adopting a child of your own race, be prepared to state that without reservation when you begin working with an agency. Transracial or transcultural adoption can be controversial. Typically, this means the placement of children from another country or a child of color with Caucasian parents. Some feel that they will be unable to prepare their adopted children to deal with racial discrimination, or that these children shouldn't be deprived of their cultural or racial heritage. Others believe that as long as you can provide a loving home to a child, race and cultural differences don't matter. Recent studies have shown that most children in transracial and transcultural adoptions adjust well [source: PBS].
As you might imagine, it can be more difficult to place children with special needs. Not only can be it emotionally and physically demanding, it may also be an additional financial burden to pay for doctor visits, medications, therapy and other necessities. Sometimes, requirements are relaxed if you're interested in adopting a special needs child -- older parents or single parents who would otherwise have a difficult time being matched with a child, for example, can be successful.
How will I talk about adoption with my friends and family?
If nobody in your family or circle of friends has adopted a child, it can be difficult to broach the subject. There are a lot of misconceptions about the adoption process and adopted children in general, and talking about it will invite people to voice what they know. You'll probably be subjected to a lot of prying questions, too. Your family and friends are likely just showing their concern, but keep in mind that ultimately, this is your decision. You'll be the one raising the child, not them.
If you decide to adopt internationally, adopt outside of your race, or adopt a child with special needs, you'll probably get some additional -- and likely, unwanted -- feedback. Be clear and firm. Take this opportunity to educate your family and friends, and invite them to learn more. If they want to continue to be a part of your life, they'll have to come to terms with your decision.
You'll also get questions and comments from strangers after the adoption, so questions now will help you get used to handling them. It's just a part of having an adopted child. People may ask how much your child "cost" or say that he or she is lucky to have you. They may also tell you that you got off easy by not going through labor or ask about the birth parents. These types of questions and comments typically come from a place of ignorance and not malice, but use them as an opportunity to educate. Always keep your child's feelings and right to privacy in mind, and don't feel compelled to share details.
How will I talk to my child about his or her adoption?
Figuring out how to talk to your child is even more important than discussing adoption with your friends and family. It's important to start early and make the conversation age-appropriate; don't overburden your child with information he or she can't understand, but don't keep secrets, either. If you adopt a newborn or infant, begin using the word "adoption" from day one. As your child observes pregnant women and learns about babies, he or she may ask you about his or her own birth. Then, you can say that he or she grew in another woman's "tummy" (or "uterus," or however you'd like to word it) and explain that she couldn't take care of her baby, but wanted him or her to have a loving family.
When your child begins school, you may want to tell his teacher that your child is adopted so that discussions of different types of families will be inclusive, but you don't need to go in depth. How much your child wants to share with classmates is up to him or her. Many adoptive parents use books to help their child learn about adoption.
The older your child gets, the more he or she will understand adoption, and more questions will arise. Emphasize that you are his or her forever family, but avoid disparaging the birth parents; they'll always be a part of your child, and he or she may internalize your negative comments. Arguments during the tumultuous teen years may include comments that you're not your child's "real parents." This may be hurtful to you, but realize that he or she is also working through emotions about being adopted.
How would I feel if my child wanted to learn about his or her background?
At some point -- often in the teen years -- your child may want to know more about his or her birth parents. This isn't always the case; some adult adoptees have never felt compelled to learn their histories. And it doesn't necessarily mean that your child wants to meet them, either; he or she may just want to know what they look like or get more information. But it's best to be prepared. If you had an open adoption and have continued contact with the birth parents, it may not be very difficult for you to help your child learn more about his or her background. If you had a closed adoption, there may be very limited information about the birth parents. In either case, you may need to contact the adoption agency, attorneys or other intermediaries that you used for the adoption.
Many parents who adopt internationally or transracially choose to incorporate aspects of their children's native culture into their lives from an early age to help them understand their background. For some children, this may be enough. If your child does voice a desire to find his or her birth parents, you may want to encourage waiting until adulthood. While the media often depicts happy meetings, it doesn't always go that way. Sometimes, birth parents don't want to be found, and your child could be in for disappointment. All you can do is be supportive and respect your child's feelings, and realize that wanting to learn more about his or her origins doesn't mean that your child doesn't consider you the "real" parent.
What support network do I have in place for problems that may arise?
"Baby blues" don't just happen to mothers who have just given birth (and their husbands). Parents who adopt can also experience depression after their child comes home. They may have had unrealistic expectations of parenthood or are struggling with a lack of support from their family or friends. The adoption process can be so long and exhausting that perhaps they neglected to focus on what life would be like once a child was finally theirs.
While some adoptive parents describe a "love at first sight" experience with their child, that's not always the case. It may make you feel guilty, but it's normal to build that relationship slowly. It's also important to keep in mind that older children aren't likely to accept you immediately as their parent. If they were in foster care, an orphanage or otherwise had multiple caregivers, they will be especially slow to trust. Children who have been abused often have emotional and behavioral problems, and working through these will be challenging. Sometimes, it takes years to create a deep bond. You may find yourself with mixed emotions over your decision to adopt your child and feel anger toward the birth parents.
This is why it's important to build a support network before adopting. If you anticipate a lack of support from family or friends, seek out groups for adoptive parents. Some of them are very specific -- for parents who adopt from specific countries, for example. You may also need the services of therapists who are experienced in working with adopted families. If you decide that adoption is right for you, now's the time to make those decisions and begin your journey. Parenthood, no matter how you get there, is a truly amazing experience.
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