This is Part Two in a three-part series on our discernment of adoption and the process we’re currently in. Yesterday, we covered our initial discernment. Today, I’m talking about the path we finally chose.
By November of last year, I was feeling desperate. I so badly wanted to begin the process of adopting a baby, but, A) Neither our house nor our finances were in any way ready, and B) It seemed like every avenue we’d investigated was closed to us. Let’s review:
- Local Traditional Agencies: Too old;
- International Adoption: Too old, too long a wait, only older children available;
- Foster Care: Only older children available, too emotionally draining after 20 months of dealing with infertility, house couldn’t pass a foster care home study in any way, shape, or form.
Fortunately, I have a lot of awesome Facebook friends.
In late November, I posted a random question about adoption on my Timeline. A number of people responded, directing me towards less traditional agencies and attorneys who would be happy to work with us regardless of Chris’ age. In early December, we spoke with four of them: two adoption consultant groups and two adoption attorneys.
Consulting groups are something I never even knew existed before November 28, but they are a fantastic alternative for anyone who, 1) Isn’t picky about what baby they adopt; 2) Doesn’t want to wait two to three years for a child; or 3 ) Is older. That is to say…us. Both consultants work with agencies and attorneys all over the country, so far more expectant mothers are considering you as a parent for their child than with a traditional agency. These groups also have an average match time of well under a year (which is a big deal when you are on the other side of 40).
Both groups require an up front fee of about $4,000, but also offer a number of helps and services for that fee (profile assistance, home study guidance, advising on different cases, etc.), in addition to the quick match time. They’re also great for prospective adoptive parents because they work exclusively for you, not the expectant mom (she is represented by another attorney or agency). This means they are your exclusive advocate.
A downside for some people with these consulting groups is that you must be willing to take a child of any race, not just your own, OR, if you insist upon a white baby, you must be willing to accept some drug use from the birth mom. We could have cared less about what color our baby was (although we did do plenty of research on the special challenges of transracial adoption). We did, however, have questions about the effects of drug use. After talking to a pediatrician and several other people, though, we felt confident we could handle a child born addicted to opioids. Given the proper care and attention, most hit their developmental milestones and live healthy normal lives. This doesn’t mean they don’t need extra attention, especially during the early years. They do. But we were prepared to give that attention if needs be.
With consulting groups like these, as well as with traditional agencies and adoption lawyers, the expectant mother selects the adoptive parents. The prospective adoptive parents put an adoption profile together (essentially, a brochure about you and your spouse, filled with pictures and details about your life). The group, agency, or lawyer then present to the expectant mother the profiles that match her preferences for adoptive parents (white/black, Christian/no religion, no kids/other kids., etc.). And then the expectant mother makes her choice.
Yes, this does feel like marketing yourself. Yes, those who excel at marketing themselves often get babies first. And yes, it made us uncomfortable. But, it’s how things work, so we decided to trust God and roll with it.
Although we heard great things about both consultants, we ultimately decided to work with the one who didn’t ask us to hide the fact that we were Catholic. We understand that for some expectant moms Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are turnoffs, but we wanted any woman whose child we adopted to know who was adopting her child. It felt dishonest to hide our faith, especially since it is the most important thing in our lives. So, we were all set to send a check to one consultant and begin working on our profile and home study…when Colette called.
Colette is a private adoption attorney. She is one of the two attorneys we spoke with in early December. Friends had worked with her on their adoption, and they sang her praises. After talking with Colette, we understood why. Helping women in crisis pregnancies is a ministry to her, not just a job. She is passionate about getting them the material and spiritual aid they need. These women are persons to her, not just sources of income, and we loved that.
Another great thing about working with Colette (although not all adoption attorneys) was that we didn’t need to pay her an upfront fee, as we did with the consulting groups or agencies. You only pay her once you’re matched with a birth mom. Because of this and because we liked her so much, we planned to work with both her and the consultant. We filled out the paperwork she asked for…and then kind of forgot about it. The truth is, we hadn’t really expected anything to come of working with her because she is just one attorney, not a huge group.
Exactly one month after our initial phone call with her, though, she called us about the baby that will become our son, and instead of sending money to the consultant, we sent our check to Colette.
Regardless, we’ve since discovered that adoption attorneys are an excellent option for those who are 1) Older (age is not an issue in any way with private adoptions); 2) Want more personal attention than they get from an agency; and 3) Are comfortable with more personal involvement with the birth mother. With Colette in particular, we have the added bonus of our Catholic faith not being a problem. Colette is a convert to Catholicism and a former sidewalk counselor, so our faith was actually an asset is her eyes, not a liability. Which is awesome.
The process with an adoption attorney is, in some ways, like an agency or consulting group. You put together a profile. Your attorney shows it to the expectant mothers they work with. And the mother chooses the family that she wants to raise her child.
Unlike with a consulting group, however, Colette works with both Toby’s birth mother and us—she is an advocate for both of us. The advantage of this is that we are always up to date on and involved in what’s going on with both baby and birth mom. It also means we’re able to support Toby’s birth parents in a way that helps them achieve greater stability for the long-term, not just for the duration of the pregnancy (more about this tomorrow).
Bringing Baby Home
Our adoption, like most adoptions these days, will be semi-open. This means we know our birth parents and they know us. It also means there will be some level of contact between us as Toby grows. Right now, we’ve agreed upon sending pictures and updates annually. Pictures are all they want, and that’s what we’re comfortable with. Some people do more and see the birthparents occasionally or even regularly. This is one of those decisions that is deeply personal and depends upon the circumstances of a particular child and couple.
Not everyone is comfortable, of course, with even a semi-open adoption, and this is one of the reasons some couples choose international adoption. If you want a completely closed adoption, going international is your best bet these days.
Depending on finances, we may or may not travel to California this spring to meet our birth mother in person. We’ll definitely travel out in July, however, to be there for the birth of the baby (our birth mom needs to deliver via c-section). We’ll be there when the baby is born, we’ll stay in the hospital with him to provide care for several days, and then, when the birth parents sign the relinquishment of care forms, we will leave the hospital with Toby. In California, these can be signed, with a waiver, when the mom leaves the hospital, but it varies from state to state.** After that, the birth parents’ consent is irrevocable. So, they can’t change their mind a couple of days or weeks later.
As long as Toby is healthy and doesn’t need additional care, we’ll stay in California for a week or two while all the interstate paperwork is processed. Then, we’ll fly home. Over the next six months or so, the agency doing our home study will do several follow-up visits, to make sure we’re coping well, and then the adoption can be finalized. This will happen in California, but we don’t have to travel out there for it. Colette will handle it, and we’ll be present via phone. After that, Toby is legally our son. He will even be issued a new birth certificate, with our names on it.
Depending on the birth mom and how early in the pregnancy the match takes place, working with a lawyer can be more or less expensive than an agency or consulting group. For us, it’s about average. This still means, though, that it’s going to be over $40,000, including travel and home study expenses. Yes, even now, my stomach turns when I hear that number. And when I first heard it, I had some serious questions about where the money goes and if it is justified.
Tomorrow, I’ll wrap this series up by giving you the answers I found to those questions.
*Consultants should not be confused with adoption facilitators or adoption consultants, which are not legal in every state.
**In California, relinquishment forms cannot be signed before 30 days, unless the birth mom has signed a waiver after receiving a consultation from another attorney. This is what our birth mom plans to do. Again, though, check with the laws in each state, as they vary.