Chapter OneAdoption Basics
In This Chapter
* Understanding adoption: What it is and what it isn't
* Knowing what happens when you adopt
* Getting to know the people involved in the process
* Preparing to spend time and money
* Anticipating issues you'll face as an adoptive family
* Becoming a fearless parent
Some cultures believe that children visit their parents in dreams before
they are born - that the child's soul somehow recognizes its parent's
soul and is drawn to it, despite the boundaries of time and space and even
physical existence. Whether you accept this belief or not, it is a compelling
idea, don't you think? That something other than conventional ties - genetic
ties, historical ties, racial or ethnicity ties - joins people together and that
this connection exists beyond time. Maybe adoption is simply what this mystery
looks like after bureaucrats get hold of it.
Part of adoption is the practical stuff: the filling out of papers, the home
studies and interviews, the things you cross off your list and store away in
your closet as you wait. But the other part is the indefinable thing that makes
adoption - having a child who is so completely yours that your heart seems
to beat in time with his or hers - as mysterious and miraculous as conception
The mechanics are slightly different, true. After all, sex is optional in adoption
(but then, nowadays, it is in some conceptions, too), the wait may be a
few weeks or a few years, and your child may come to you in the gangly body
of a preteen or the teetering one of a toddler. But in the end, your child is your
child. This chapter gives you a quick tour of what adoption is, what you do
when you adopt, what you need to know, and where to go to get more
Most dictionaries define adoption, in more or fewer words, as the creation of
a parent-child bond where one wouldn't exist naturally. In other words, when
you adopt, you legally become the parent of a child born to someone else. That
means, in the eyes of the state, you assume legal and custodial responsibility
for the child, and the child has the same legal rights (inheritance and so on)
as any child born to you.
Of course, the legal aspect of adoption is important because it confers rights
and responsibilities where none would have existed otherwise. And this definition
is technically accurate, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go far enough.
When you adopt, you become more than the legal parent of a child. You
become that child's mom or dad - in your heart, in your mind, in your
body, and in your soul.
Conceiving and bearing children is one way to build a family. Adoption is
merely another way to accomplish the same goal. In that way, adopting a
child is different only in the process, not in the result.
Exploring common myths
Many people have misconceptions about adoption. And who can blame
them? If you form your opinion about adoption from how it's often portrayed
on sitcoms or in film or - heaven forbid - on daytime talk shows, you'd
think that the whole enterprise is filled with a bunch of crazy adults, confused
kids, and annoying social services personnel. The following sections
cover some of the more potent presumptions about adoption. Of course,
these explanations are no match for Jerry Springer, but then, what is?
Myth 1: It's a lesser relationship
Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.
Blood is thicker than water.
Blood will tell.
All of these phrases speak to one thing: the presumed primacy of the connection
between people who share the same bloodline. The concept that a genetic
link is one of the main, if not the main, foundation of human relations leads to
one of the biggest misconceptions people have about adoption: that it is, in
some way, a lesser relationship because the parents didn't conceive and bear
their child. Without the physical link, the thinking goes, the same deep bond
can't exist between adoptive parents and their children.
Yes, adopting a child is different from bearing a child, but not in the ways you
may think. True, adoptive parents don't share a genetic link with their child,
but don't mistakenly assume that this is the only physical bond between parents
and their kids. Tell an adoptive mother that she didn't labor for her child,
for example, and she can probably rattle off reams of things she had to do,
publicly and privately, to bring her child home. Or tell an adoptive father who
falls asleep with his baby on his chest that he doesn't have a physical connection
to that child. Or dare to suggest to the woman standing at the bus
stop on the first day of kindergarten or the father who watches his daughter
walk across the stage at her graduation that the tears they're holding back
are less real or less genuine or in some way less heartfelt because the only
thing they haven't shared with their children is DNA.
It's not genetics that creates the parent-child bond. It's love and shared experience
Myth 2: It's a secret
Once upon a time you didn't talk about adoption. It ranked right up there
with unwed mothers and extramarital affairs as a taboo topic. Not only did
you not talk about it, but sometimes you didn't even share the information
with the most important person involved: the child. And if you did share it,
you waited until he or she was old enough to "take" the news. The reason for
the secrecy? Fear of the stigma of being "illegitimate" and the whole notion of
the sins of the fathers tainting the sons.
Adoption arrangements themselves often were closed - that is, the birthmother
and the adoptive families were kept absolutely separate and their
identities secret. Birth moms had no say in adoptive placements, and adoptive
parents who wanted personal information, beyond what the agencies
provided, had little or no recourse. Court records on adoptions were sealed,
making it difficult even for the child to discover the identity of his birthparents.
Thankfully, things today are a lot different: The stigma of adoption is, if not dead, hopefully taking its last painful
breath. First, the idea of illegitimacy - of a child somehow not being
"right" because the people who conceived him weren't married - is
going by the wayside. Also becoming outdated is the notion that children
somehow are receptacles for their parents' sins. These changes are
good because every child should be able to embrace his life story, however
it began. Most adoptions in the United States are open or semi-open, meaning
that birthmothers and adoptive parents can arrange to have the contact
that they feel comfortable with. (To find out more about open and semi-open
adoptions, head to Chapter 2; Chapter 15 covers the types of contact
that can be arranged.) In addition, all adoption professionals and
nearly anyone else who knows anything about it agree that children
have the right to know about their adoption, and the adoption story - the
story you share with your child about how she came into your
family - is a great way to share that information. Many states have taken steps to help adopted children find out information
about their birthparents. Some have opened all adoption records; others provide registries for people wanting to be reconnected. For
details on how to conduct a search for birthparents and the type of
information you can get, head to Chapter 19.
Myth 3: It's a competition
Adoption is both happy and sad. One family's loss is another family's gain.
One woman will have empty arms, and another's will be full. Because of this
paradox, many people mistakenly assume that the birthparents and the
adoptive parents are, in some way, competing or at cross-purposes. Who is,
after all, the "true" parent - the one who bears the child or the one who
Before you answer, think about this: All parents - birth and adoptive - want
the same thing: for their children to grow up happy, healthy, safe, and loved
and for their children to fulfill the potential within themselves. The only possible
answer, then, is that true parents are the ones who give that opportunity
to their children. If you recognize that birthparents and adoptive parents
achieve this goal together, then you understand the nature of adoption.
Getting the language right, PAL
The phrases that people commonly used in the past (and that less informed
people still use today) to describe or define adoption have negative connotations.
How would you feel, for example, if someone asked, "Why didn't your
real mom want you?" The language in this question implies that 1) the
mother you have isn't the one you really belong to and 2) that you weren't
placed for adoption because your birthmother wasn't prepared to be a
parent; you were placed for adoption because she didn't want you.
So in comes PAL, which stands for Positive Adoption Language. This is the
language you'll hear when you talk with adoption professionals, and it's the
language you should use when you speak about adoption. Table 1-1 lists some
phrases and terms that you should use and that you should avoid.
Distinguishing between adoption
and foster parenthood
Many people mistakenly assume that adoption is like foster care, in that the
role of the adoptive parent is to care for the child until he or she is grown or
until the "real" parent can resume that responsibility. Although there are
some similarities between adopting a child and fostering a child (both result
in people caring for children born to others and both are arrangements based
on love), the goals are different.
In adoption, the child's legal relationship with the birthparents has been
ended, either voluntarily or by court order (see Chapter 11 for details on how
children become available for adoption). The adoptive parents become the
child's parent in every way and permanently. The goal is the creation of the
In a foster relationship, the foster parents care for a child in need while the
state agency works with birthparents toward reunifying the family or, barring
that, toward terminating the parents' rights. Foster parents care for the child's
physical and emotional needs with the understanding that the state's goal, if
all goes well, is to return the child to his or her birthparents.
Many states require or recommend that people adopting through state agencies
first become foster parents for the following reasons: The arrangement helps state agencies, many of which are in dire need of
loving homes for children in the child welfare system. If you're interested in adopting an older child, as the foster parent, you
may be able to adopt the child in your home if he or she does become
available for an adoption. Remaining in the home they've already adjusted to, rather than being
taken to another placement, is much better for the older children who
become available for adoption. You may be more comfortable committing to an adoption of an older
child if you've already parented that child as a foster parent.
If you're interested in adopting from state agencies or fostering children in
their care, call your local welfare office for information. Keep in mind, though,
that fostering isn't a substitute for adoption. It takes a special mind-set to
foster a child. You have to be able to put aside your needs as a parent so that,
if the time comes, you can let that child go.
Looking at the Adoption Process:
What Happens When?
One big question people have when they begin the adoption process is "How
do things work?" - meaning, what happens when? Basically two important
things happen separately: You decide you want to adopt and take the steps necessary to qualify
and prepare yourself for a child. A child becomes available either because the state has terminated the
birthparents' parental rights or because the birthparents have voluntarily
relinquished those rights.
In all U.S. adoptions (both domestic and international), those processes
remain separate and don't converge until the end, when a child is actually
placed in your home.
Although in open and semi-open adoptions and in many attorney-facilitated
adoptions (explained in Chapter 2), you may have an agreement or an understanding
with a particular woman that she will place her child with you when
that child is born, nothing can compel or force her to follow through. So,
although you may be very involved with her and feel connected to the child
she carries, her decision is her own, and you have no legal or moral say in
what she decides. And she could very well decide to parent her baby herself.
The following sections briefly outline the process you follow when you adopt,
and explain what makes a child available for adoption.
You: Working toward adoption
Obviously the first thing you need to do when you adopt is to make the decision
that adoption is a good choice for you. It isn't for everybody (head to
Chapter 6 for things you should think about before you decide to pursue
adoption). Some people, in their heart of hearts, don't want to or don't
believe that they can truly be the parents of children born to someone else.
That's okay. All people have a right to their own dreams of a family. But if this
describes you, don't adopt.
Once you decide that adoption is a good choice for your family, you need
to hook up with people who can help you bring that dream to fruition. That
means that you need to find an agency or an attorney to work with. Choosing
an agency or attorney to help you is one of the most important decisions you
make because these people have such a huge impact not only in how the
process goes but in how you feel about what happens. For these reasons, you
need to shop around, do research on the options available, and make an
informed decision. Chapter 7 explains what you need to look for in the agencies
and attorneys you're considering.
After you find an agency or attorney to work with, you're going to find yourself
very busy with the process (see Chapter 9). If you're working with an agency,
you have the home study to look forward to, the assignments (like putting
together a profile of your family, filling out all sorts of necessary forms, and
amassing all the documentation you'll need). If you're adopting internationally,
you'll also be preparing for your trip to your child's birth country. You also
have the wait - the time you spend waiting for the call that your child has
been born or is available and ready to come home.