When we made the decision to grow our family through adoption, we were absolutely clueless on where to begin. I literally Googled “adoption” and just began scouring the internet, which was a bit overwhelming.
Now, I see so many others going through the same exact emotion. Whether it’s in an adoption Facebook group I’m a member of, or a message we receive from a friend or stranger. “Where do I start?” It’s the number one question I see or receive.
So I hope this guide to getting starting with your adoption journey helps you feel prepared and informed enough to proceed with confidence.
10-Part Guide to Starting the Adoption Process
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1. Educate and familiarize yourself
I think one of the biggest mistakes you could make is to fully depend on an agency, attorney, or other adoption professional to be your only source of education. It’s super important to do your own research.
It’s important to go into the adoption process, prior to selecting an agency or attorney, with your own knowledge and general understanding. Such a foundation will get you off to a much smoother and quicker start. You’ll understand the “lingo” or appropriate adoption terms that are used, and have confidence to go into your first step and conversation. You’ll know what questions to ask, red flags to look for, and be prepared to hit the ground running.
But, depending on how much exposure you have to adoption, you may even be clueless as to where to even begin educating yourself. However, you’re here reading this article, so you’re already on the right track.
I’m a bit of a research-aholic. When I get my heart set on something, I become obsessed with learning anything and everything about that topic. My obsession is now your benefit!
Here’s where I began to familiarize myself with the all things adoption:
- Asking people you know who have adopted. Most of us have at least one person we know we has either been adopted, placed a child for adoption
- Joining Facebook groups. This is a great place to sit back and just observe conversations, questions, and even some issues and controversy surrounding adoption. I learned A LOT from just keeping an eye on posts, reading through comments, and even using the search bar to look up things I was wondering about. But this tip also comes with a warning: Facebook isn’t exactly the best spot for truth, positivity, and unbiased experiences. So take it for what it’s worth and don’t let any of the posts and comments from strangers (and even trolls) sway you too much.
- Reading books. This is probably the most obvious suggestion, but I seriously went to the library, searched “adoption” in the online catalog and checked out anything I could find. I did the same with Amazon.
- Seek out adoption stories. Look for blogs and Instagram accounts of adoptive couples/families/singles (whatever fits you), as well as adoptees, and birth moms. It’s helpful to read stories from ALL sides of the triad! It will familiarize yourself with the emotions, the process, and the impacts. These stories are often more powerful than any book you could read or agency handout – they are real, often raw, and paint a really good picture of what adoption looks like. But again, remember not to use these stories to set an expectation for how YOUR adoption journey will go. Everyone’s is very, very different. Also, don’t let these stories deter you or influence you and your decisions too much – again, people tend to share more negativity and you’re only hearing ONE SIDE of the story.
One of the important things about doing this step first is to also familiarize yourself with the lingo. There are a lot of phrases or words that people use that make those in the adoption world cringe. So before you start reaching out to agencies, talking about adoption on social media, etc. be sure that you know the appropriate and sensitive language to use to avoid being offensive (hint: “giving a baby up/away” and “real mom” are a few major no-no’s!).
2. Decide what type of adoption is right for you
You may or may not already know what type of adoption you’re hoping to pursue. Hopefully any research you did in step one has helped you make this decision. But deciding which type of adoption is best for you and your family will help guide you in the right direction to get started. So if you still aren’t sure, it may help to talk to a professional about the differences. I am certainly not a professional, but can share our experience with this decision.
While, I can’t speak to all the different options, since I only have experience (at this point) in domestic infant adoption, there are pros and cons to them all and it’s really whatever fits your personal situation best.
Here are the different types of adoption you’ll need to choose from:
- Foster to Adopt
- Domestic Infant
- Private/Independent Adoption (facilitated apart from agency)
- Embryo Adoption
Again, you’ll need to research the differences and benefits or drawbacks to each. The costs, wait times, and processes vary greatly for each. But what may be a pro or a con for us and our family could be very different for you.
I can, however, share the reasons why we chose domestic infant for our first adoption. But I’ll start by saying that we haven’t ruled out any of the other options for our second or third child. Being our first adoption, we prioritized timing above all else. We wanted the route that would make us parents the quickest. We’d been through the emotions of infertility and had waited six years already.
International adoption was actually our first choice. However, we were surprised to find how much more complicated an international adoption was in comparison to domestic. Human trafficking laws are continually changing the process and countries are continually opening and closing their doors to adoption. Therefore, the timeline can vary and it tends to take much longer in addition to the cost being considerably higher. There are also additional requirements that many countries have, such as staying anywhere from several weeks to six months in the country you adopt from, making the logistics much more complicated.
The main reason we chose domestic adoption over foster care was that we wanted a child to be ours from the moment they were born. We wanted the whole infant experience for our first, and again, that may not be the case for our second.
Also, as a former teacher, I’ve had some exposure to the foster care system. The main goal of the system is to reunite children with their birth families. A case worker we met with explained to us that the foster care system focuses primarily on protecting the birth parents rights, whereas domestic adoption is designed to protect the rights of the adoptive parents (once the birth parents revoke their rights). Fostering a child can add an additional layer of emotions and you have to feel equipped to help a child manage the trauma and loss they are dealing with. Don’t get me wrong, there is trauma and loss for newborns, as well, but typically not as much.
Lastly, to be honest, we didn’t really consider embryo adoption. We had such a bad experience with the fertility clinic we used while going through our infertility treatments using donor sperm, that the thought of getting back into that nauseated me. Also, we didn’t feel confident enough to spend the same amount of money on IVF with no guarantee that it would work.
For our situation, domestic adoption fit our desired timeline of less than a year to adopt and felt like the clearest option for us. As I mentioned, we were carrying a lot of emotions going into it and didn’t want to take on more than we needed. In the future, though, I’d love to explore the other options, knowing that we have our family and our dream of being parents came true. We’d feel more willing and able to open our hearts a bit more, be a little more patient and selfless and see what other child/ren God has for us.
3. Get talking
First and foremost, if you’re married, start talking with your spouse about anything and everything. You don’t have anything to come up when it’s too late and therefore cause any friction between the two of you during one of the biggest decisions and processes of your lives. Discuss you fears, concerns, preferences, emotions, budget, etc.
If the two of you experienced infertility, it’s especially important to determine whether or not you have dealt with that loss and pain in a healthy way. It’s not uncommon for couples to need counseling for both infertility and adoption. We did and at the start of our adoption journey had many differences that we needed to work through first. It’s not something to rush or to force your partner into.
These conversations should happen continually as you go about the adoption process. Don’t just have one talk and then call it good. Your opinions, thoughts, and emotions will change as you move forward and face different obstacles. You both need to be open and honest throughout the entire journey. So consider having check-ins with each other.
If you’re single, find a non-biased person to talk about these things with. A counselor is a great option, rather than a friend or family member who may not be educated in adoption and despite wanting the best for you, may not be able to offer the best advice.
Once you’ve first had these conversations with your spouse and/or counselor, then you should start having them with your friends and family. Start sharing your decisions and plans with those you love and educate them right along with you. It’s important that these people understand what you’re going through so they know how to support you. Better yet, it will be important for them to understand how to also support your future child. Because both you and your child will need support every step of the way!
This tip comes with a warning as well. Be careful not to overshare and be careful not to let your loved ones hurt your feelings by their opinions or lack of interest/understanding. Many people have little to no exposure to adoption and aren’t sure about what is best practice, what is appropriate to say, and how to have such conversations. Others have heard adoption horror stories that simply aren’t true or are from non-reputable sources. Try to give them grace and help them understand the facts , but it’s also okay to stop sharing with certain people who may be influencing you in negative ways.
Lastly, have conversations with adoption professionals. Many agencies have informational meetings, support groups, and/or case workers who are willing to chat with you. Our very first step in the process was meeting a case worker from a local agency for coffee. She was really sweet to answer questions, clear up any misconceptions we had, share experiences, and just let us lead the conversation with whatever thoughts we were having.
4. Start your search for an agency
Surprisingly this was the hardest step for us. Before getting started, we literally just thought we needed to Google adoption agencies in our hometown and call up the nearest one. But you have WAY more options and WAY more to consider than that.
First of all, you don’t necessarily need to choose an agency right away. We decided to hire a consultant first to help guide us through the process instead of just jumping into a agency blindly. We did plenty of other things, including our home study, fundraising, and profile books, before even deciding on an agency.
It’s also possible to not work with an agency at all if you choose to do domestic infant adoption and prefer to try to self-match. Some states don’t allow this so you’ll need to verify yours does. Self-matching can be a lot of work on you, and can sometimes take longer depending on your efforts, but can save you a lot of money.
The bottom line is that every agency is different and you’ll need to choose which one best fits your needs and the type of adoption you’re pursuing. They each also have their own flavor so you have to pick what feels best for you. You can choose the smaller, local agency across town from you, or a large, nationwide agency that completes hundreds of adoptions every year all across the country
One thing we didn’t realize was that we could work with any agency in the nation and weren’t limited to those in our home state. Also, you can work with multiple agencies at once! This really broadens your options and can make it difficult to choose which agency is right for you.
A great way to start getting a feel for the different agencies you could work with is by reading online reviews, attending their informational meetings or asking for an informational packet in the mail or via email, and simply calling them. Interacting with an agency will give you a good idea of whether or not you’d like to work with them, just simply by how they treat you. Remember, birth mothers will likely be contacting agencies in the same way so if they treat you well, chances are they’ll treat birth mothers well too and that’s hugely important.
5. Get started on your home study
One of the first steps you’ll need to take in the process is getting home study approved so it’s good to get a head start on that. The home study is required by law for all forms of adoption and is a review of your home, lifestyle and overall readiness and ability to adopt.
Almost everything else is held up until you complete your home study. Many agencies won’t even let you sign up with them until this is complete. Even if you are connected to an expectant woman privately by a relative or friend, you still must be home study approved before you can legally adopt. It’s good to know how to prepare so when you are ready, you can hit the ground running.
First of all, you’ll need to use an agency in your city or nearby for the home study since they do in-person meetings. Therefore, if you’ve selected an out-of-state agency, you’ll still have to find a different agency to do your home study. Again, check reviews, call the agencies, and do your research to find a reputable one. 1800HomeStudy.com is a great resource and if you choose to do an international adoption, ensure that the agency is Hague Accredited.
As soon as possible, even before you choose your home study provider, start gathering and organizing personal documents. The paperwork can feel really overwhelming so getting organized will help. You’ll want to scan, file, and make hard copies of these documents, which will be required before your home study visits begin:
- Drivers licenses
- Birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Marriage certificate
- Proof of income (pay stubs, tax returns)
- Proof of employment
- Medical records (a physical is typically required)
- Pet vaccination records
Luckily, from traveling full-time we had all of these documents scanned and filed on Dropbox, which made the process way easier. We highly recommend getting your “life documents filing cabinet” together as soon as you decide you’re going to adopt. Many agencies require these documents as well (and maybe even other documents we didn’t list).
Another thing to think about for your home study is your living space. While they aren’t actually studying your home, for your own peace of mind, you’ll first want to have your home ready and presentable. We actually were living and traveling full-time in an RV when we decided to adopt and while we were looking for a house to buy, we had to rent an apartment in the meantime to settle in for the home study.
You don’t have to have a mansion or an immaculately clean and organized home to be approved, but you do want your home to showcase an environment that is safe and comfortable for a baby. It’s a reflection of who you are!
Lastly, remember step three? Those talks you should have had with your spouse will come in handy for the home study. A social worker will be asking A LOT of personal questions about your decision to adopt, your preferences, budget, parenting styles, etc. We can’t stress enough how important it is to be on the same page and you don’t want the social worker to have any concerns.
You should have also had those talks with family members and friends. This is an important step for the home study because you’ll need to have 2-3 personal references. Make sure you choose loved ones who are supportive of your decision, which will require discussing your adoption journey with them first.
6. Find community
Whether it’s through social media or in real-life, you need people in your court. The adoption process is an emotional journey and you’re going to want people you can turn to who have gone through it before or are going through it with you. People who really “get it”, because no matter how much your friends and family love you, they may not be able to offer you the support you really need.
Here are some ways we found community during our adoption journey:
- Social media. I mentioned the Facebook groups earlier in this post, but at some point it’s important to move from an observer to an engaged participant. Strike up conversations in comments, private message someone who has something in common with you, put yourself out there by posting an introduction, photo, or question, etc. Take advantage of the power of social media and the access you have to people all across the country (and beyond) who are in the same boat as you are. Facebook is also great for finding local meet ups. I found an amazing adoptive moms group that gets together every couple months and it’s been amazing to connect with these women. On Instagram, you can search hashtags and follow accounts of people who have adoptive and direct message them to say hi. I’ve made online buddies with a handful of women – some local who I’ve grabbed coffee with and some across the country who I hope to someday meet up with introduce our kiddos!
- Church groups. Many churches offer adoptive parent groups. If your church doesn’t have one, inquire about starting one or find one you can attend at a different church.
- Our consultant and home study agency. One of the great things about using both a consultant and multiple agencies is that you automatically have a connection to other adoptive couples and families. We were required to attend an adoption training class with our home study and got to spend an entire weekend with the other couples in our class, which was great. Seek out a class even if you aren’t required. Also, our consultant has a private Facebook group and weekly video calls for their clients to connect with one another. Utilize these services!
- Ask friends and family if they know anyone who has adopted that they could connect you to. You may not know anyone who has adopted but I’m sure you know someone who knows someone :). Go grab coffee with them!
7. Create a financial plan
It’s probably no surprise to you at this point that adoption is expensive! Don’t let these costs creep up on you and leave you unprepared and unable to adopt if a situation arises quicker than you’d thought it would. Create a plan A and a plan B for how you plan to come up with that money.
There are lots of ways to fund your adoption, from fundraisers, grants, loans, and I’ve even heard of people selling their home and moving to make the money! The important thing is that money should stand in your way, but you need to have a game plan.
The best place to start is with the money you already have, are making, and knowing where it’s going. I think too often people think they can’t afford to adopt, but the truth is that they don’t even know what their financial situation is.
Understanding where your money is going, where you can cut back, setting savings goals and debt pay off goals, etc. are all important when it comes to understanding your finances. These factors will help you determine what you’ll need to do in order to afford your adoption. That may be taking on extra work or simply cutting back to increase your savings amount each month. Or, you might find that you need to hold off on the adoption process until you can raise the funds in a creative way and/or by applying for grants and loans.
If you’re looking for some guidance with budgeting, we created a course called Finance Your Detour. We share the strategies we used to pay off our student loan debt, save an emergency fund, and even afford full-time travel. We also share the exact tool we use during our budget meetings every month! Grab the program today and get going on your financial plan.
8. Start journaling everything
Whether you’ve journaled before or not, start documenting your adoption story right away! I recommend grabbing an actual paper journal and a pen and doing it the old-school way. Amazon even has some cute adoption specific journals that will make the perfect keepsake someday. If you’re not much of a writer, of course, you can also type your thoughts in a document, or even video tape yourself talking. The important thing is that you have something you can save and show your child someday.
It’s crazy how easy it is to forget the little details as time goes on. Especially when you’re emotions are high, the timeline will slip away and become blurry much quicker than you think. Document this beautiful journey to finding your baby, you won’t regret it. Include everything – the highs, lows, and in betweens. It will be so special to share exactly what you went through to get to your child and is an incredible important part of their life story.
9. Say cheese!
Creating your profile book is one of the most important parts of your adoption journey. This is your chance to showcase who you are and what you’d provide for a child. You have only a few words, photos, and pages to capture a birth mom’s attention. No pressure, right?
Well, it’s never too early to start capturing photos. In fact, the sooner the better because you can capture moments naturally instead of having to force photo shoots and risking the chance of not being authentic in what you share.
Start taking photos of your daily life and special events. And I don’t mean selfies! Set up a tripod (you can grab one on Amazon for under $20 and you can still use your iPhone camera) and start snapping photos of you and your family as you go about your lives. Get photos of you around the house – cooking, relaxing, playing games, and any gatherings you have – holiday traditions, family vacations. Don’t forget your pets, too!
Trust me on this one. We thought we had a TON of photos of us considering we traveled full-time for 2+ years. But looking back, many of them were low-quality selfies or didn’t show our faces (which makes it hard for an expectant woman to connect to), or we were wearing sunglasses in many. We ended up hiring a photographer for a quick, affordable “mini-session” so we could get a few good headshots to use, as well as some fun adoption announcement shots. While you don’t want your entire profile book to be professional photos, it helps to have a few really good ones to put in the mix.
10. Let go of ALL your expectations
I know this one is hard. Really hard.
Sometimes we don’t even realize we have expectations. I sure didn’t. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I had painted a clear picture of exactly how I wanted our adoption journey to go. From the timeline, to the birth mother, to the baby. Things rarely work out the way you imagine – even if you have a biological child.
So write down your expectations and rip them up, “let go and let God”…whatever you gotta do! But when those obstacles arise, I hope you’ll feel a little more open to embracing them and going with the flow.
With adoption, we begin with so much control. We go through the paperwork at our own pace, have so much choice in the agency and our profile books, get a checklist of preferences we’d like for our child, etc. And then, everything stops and turns silent as we wait and we realize we have ZERO control left. It can be really, really hard. Lowering or limiting your expectations can help.
I hope this 10-part guide helped you get a plan together for how you’re going to start your adoption journey.
What questions do you have about starting the adoption process?
Leave them in the comments and we’ll be sure to respond!