Discerning Adoption, Part III: It Costs What??!!

Today we’re tackling the third and final (for now) installment in my series about our adoption process: $$$$$$$$. If you need to catch up, here is Part 1 (Discerning Adoption)  and Part 2 (Picking a Path).

How Much Does It Cost?

As I mentioned yesterday, the current average cost of private domestic infant adoption is about $40,000. Let that number sink in for a minute. $40,000.

Adopting through foster care is practically free. Adopting children with special needs is likewise considerably less. And around the country, a few small local agencies manage to keep costs low(ish). But, beyond that, adopting most everywhere else, in 2018, costs more than I earned annually for the first 14 years of my adult life.

Understandably, lots of people get sticker shock when they hear the cost. Chris and I certainly did. Going in, we expected adoption to cost us $25,000…which is still a lot of money, but it’s not $40,000…or $50,0000…or $60,0000—all numbers we’ve heard from friends currently going through the process.

The bottom line is that private adoption is insanely expensive and getting more expensive by the year. It’s so expensive that it’s prohibitive for the average couple of child-bearing age to do once, let alone multiple times. This is a problem. It is a huge problem. I would have exactly zero nieces and nephews if my siblings had to fork out $40,000 of their own cash for each of their children. Most of us just don’t have that much in liquid funds lying around, and adoption shouldn’t only be for the rich.

So, how does anyone afford the cost? Is it all necessary? Is it worth it?

On the one hand, we’re talking about a child here, not a car, a house, or a fancy piece of jewelry, so….yes! Of course it’s worth it! A child is a gift beyond price, and when I’m old and gray (so, like, in three years), I’d rather have a child in my home than $40,000 in my bank account.

That, however, is not really the question. The real question is whether or not that price is justified.

Where Does All The Money Go?

Since I’m not familiar with the 990s of most adoption agencies, I can only speak to our particular case. Here’s how it breaks down.

About a quarter of the money goes to our adoption attorney, who is working like a dog to help our birth mom and keep the process running smoothly. She is earning her paycheck and then some. Another sizable chunk goes to the matching service that found our birth mom and with whom our attorney works. The woman who runs that also has bills to pay and kids to feed, and it costs money to do what she does. Her fees seem a little high to me, but since I’m not looking at her ledgers, I can’t say for sure.

Then, there are the agencies and social workers doing our home study and processing all the interstate paperwork. They work hard to ensure our home is a healthy place for a baby, and that the situation is good for all involved. The people doing that deserve their paycheck. Additionally, there are court fees, filing fees, criminal record check fees, profile book costs, etc.: I categorize these as “necessary evils.”

Another chunk of the total cost is birthparent support. Many people who place their babies for adoption do so because they’re not in a stable situation. Accordingly, during the pregnancy, most need some form of help to increase their stability: housing, transportation, groceries, medical care, maternity clothes, etc. Many also need counseling. How much help you can give and what sort of help the woman needs depends upon her particular situation and the benefits her state provides.

There’s one more cost to mention: travel. If you do an out-of-state adoption, your adoption usually involves at least a week of hotel, transportation, and food, plus (in many cases) plane fare. If the paperwork takes longer to process or if medical complications arise, this obviously takes longer. Most agencies don’t include the cost of travel in their estimates, so if you’re thinking about adopting a baby that is not in your local area, make sure to add two to three thousand onto the total they give you.

So, that’s where the money goes. Is it a lot? Yes. It is justified? In our particular situation, we think mostly yes. Is my stomach twisted into a thousand knots from the stress of having to write such big checks all the time? Heck, yes! But, we believe God is in charge of this situation, so I’m working on trust. Working, working, working…

How Does Anyone Afford It?

As is my wont, I researched the heck out of this question last year, and discovered that normal people (a.k.a. those of us without trust funds) get pretty creative when it comes to paying for adoptions. Some take out personal loans or home equity loans. Others work and save for a long time before even beginning the process. Many have help from family. Many also do some kind of fundraiser—ranging from crowd funding to benefit dinners, running marathons, silent auctions, and yard sales. There also are adoption grants and loans that can help with some (but not all) of the costs. Lastly, everyone who adopts and makes less than $203,000 annually is eligible for a $13,800 tax credit. This is a huge help after the fact…but not before.

In the end, most people do a combination of things. For us, we’re paying for the adoption partly through our own earnings, partly through the help of family, partly through the YouCaring fundraiser started by our friend, Kellie, and possibly, (if we can get our home study completed in time) through adoption grants or loans.

If you are matched with a baby who was born yesterday or is being born tomorrow (which happens quite often), you better hope you have all the money on hand, because most (but not all) of your expenses will be due at once. For us, the costs are spread out over seven months, and all but the last $5,000-$7,000 will be paid by the time we travel to California.

This helps in some ways—especially since we were matched months before we planned on going active with an agency and were financially ready. But it also means we’re regularly scrambling to come up with the money when large payments are due. The YouCaring Fundraiser has been a God send in this regard, so Thank You, Thank You, Thank You to everyone who has helped with that. There is absolutely no way—not even remotely—that we could be adopting Toby without this help. You really are making this adoption possible for us, and I can’t adequately express our gratitude for that.

But Is There A Better Way?

God, through our friends, family, and work, is providing for this adoption, and we are profoundly thankful for that. At the same time, I don’t know if we should be asking God to do quite so much providing. The cost of adoption has risen sharply in recent years, and it’s fast rising past the point of affordability. Crowd funding can only help so much. This is a problem. But, I don’t know what the answer is.

Some think we should be more like Australia and other countries, where adoptions are primarily handled by the state. Maybe. But, given what I’ve seen of the foster care system, I’m not sure I like that idea.

Others are calling for the Church and non-profits to step in and help more. Siena Adoption Services in Arlington, VA, and Holy Family Adoptions in Indiana and Minnesota are two examples of this. Both were founded explicitly for the purpose of making adoption more affordable for normal families. Catholic Charities, of course, once did this, but in many places they’ve been driven out of the adoption business because they won’t place babies with same-sex couples.

In the meantime, adoptions are what they cost, and if you want a baby, you pretty much have to suck it up and find a way to pay. Some people, of course, say you shouldn’t suck it up—that fundraising, tax-credits, and grants only enable prices to continue to rise. Maybe. But, for now, the system is what it is, and I’d rather have a baby in my arms than the emotional satisfaction of taking a principled stand against high adoption costs. I am selfish that way.

From here on out though, Chris and I are both committed to making adoption support, both for adoptive families and for agencies like Siena Adoption, part of our monthly tithe. People are doing this for us right now, and we want to pay that generosity forward. We can’t change the system. But, we can help change the situation of individual families. That’s something.

The End

And……I think that answers all the many and varied questions about adoption I’ve fielded thus far. If there’s more, let me know!

Of course, this is just the beginning of our journey. There will be other challenges we face down the road…but I’m not writing about those until I’m on the other side of them. Also, hopefully, we get to the other side. Adoptions can fall through, and we still have four months to go.

Regardless, it never ceases to amaze me how much peace I’ve felt since we were matched with our little guy. All the grief, all the rage, all the frustration I experienced about our infertility has just faded into the background. It still stings. But it no longer stabs. That is a gift—just one of many we have been given these last months. and for that I am beyond grateful.

Please, continue to keep Toby, his birthparents, and us in your prayers.

9 thoughts on “Discerning Adoption, Part III: It Costs What??!!

  1. Stephanie says:

    Dear Emily, as your day has just begun and mine is drawing to a close, ( I live in Melbourne, Australia!) I’m spending my last moments catching up on your truely awesome blog. I’ve almost finished reading The Catholic Table and recently lent another copy to dear clients of mine who have a grand daughter locked in an intense battle with anorexia. Your book has helped the scales caused by hurt, pain and fear fall from my eyes. I’m truely grateful to God for leading me to the shelf that housed your books on day I walked into my local catholic bookshop. Thank you with all my heart and know that love and prayers for you, your dear husband and Tobias will be coming your way. With sincere thanks, Stephanie.


    • Emily says:

      Stephanie, thanks so much for commenting. I’m not sure I deserve such thanks, but I am so, so glad God is using my book in your life and that he’s doing so much for you! We really appreciate the prayers, and will remember you in ours as well.


  2. Stephanie says:

    Whoops! Sorry, I didn’t realise I’d accidentally added my surname to the name bar until after I posted my comment! Are you able to remove that? Thank you.


  3. scotch meg says:

    Emily, thank you for writing here. I placed a child for adoption a little over 39 years ago. I read about adoption issues, and wonder what it would be like today, especially for a birth mom who (like me) wants to place her child with a Catholic couple. You are giving me an inside view.
    “Our” daughter looked us up (I married her father – eventually) four years ago, and we’ve met her wonderful parents. You are giving Toby’s birth mom and birth dad an immeasurable gift, knowing that their son – who will become your son – will have a great family. While some of the pain and grief will never go away, they will have peace of mind, which my husband has only had for the past four years.
    God bless you and your about-to-grow family.


    • Emily says:

      On Facebook, another reader and I were discussing the value of handing this all over to the state, to make things cheaper. The biggest problem with that, which I can see, is that I don’t think the moms would have the same freedom to pick a family to raise a child, particularly based on something like faith. Like you said, that’s so, so important for peace of mind. Thanks so much for sharing your story.


  4. Meredith says:

    Emily: I was sent a link to this series from my mother-in-law and I’m so glad she shared it with me! My husband and I have been married for nine years and have never been able to conceive, regardless of my attempts to control the whole process (Lol). Much of what you said resonated with me, and I wanted to thank you for sharing your journey. We are hoping to pursue adoption for a second time (the first one failed after waiting for two years to then have our agency close), and plan to work with FAC. I was also not aware of this wonderful group and wish there were more people, like you, sharing their experience. Sending you all prayers from Cincinnati!


  5. bethanyjanemeola says:

    This is a great explanation! We adopted our daughter last year (also from CA – SoCal :)) and it was expensive but we did see where the money went and that it was being used in more or less understandable and needed ways. We were so grateful to have savings and financial support from family and friends, and absolutely our daughter is worth it! It is a huge leap of faith though! I will be praying for you during this intense time of waiting.


  6. Andrea says:

    I’ve been following your story since I read your post on trying to conceive. It really hit home for me. I saw your FB post about housing needs for Toby’s birth mom. I don’t have any leads on that, unfortunately, but my husband and I live about 12 miles east of Auburn and I’d be happy to provide groceries or help any way I can since I’m relatively local.


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