An adoption facilitator is a person or organization whose sole purpose is to connect Birthparents wanting to make an adoption plan with prospective adoptive parents. They are not necessarily licensed child placing agencies. Some attorneys act as adoption facilitators, but they are often independent organizations.
They often charge a fee to prospective adoptive families who wish to use their services to find a birthmother. The fee generally ranges between $3500 to $10,000, although I have heard of some facilitators charging a much higher rate. Before signing a contract with a facilitator you should talk to them about what that money is used for and whether or not any of that money is refundable. For instance, if you pay a facilitator $8000 in January and you find a Birthmother on your own February, can you be refunded any money? Money paid to facilitators is done in a number of ways. Some request all of the money up front whereas others charge a portion of your fee upfront and the rest when you are connected with a Birthmother.
Before paying any money to a facilitator, we suggest that you check their credentials. Licensed child placing agencies are regulated by their state to ensure that they are following state adoption law and not doing anything illegal. Many states do not regulate facilitators, although this has begun to change to ensure that nothing illegally is being done and to ensure that facilitators are not just taking money from couples and not actually searching for Birthmothers who might want to make an adoption plan.
Facilitators search for Birthparents in a number of ways. Advertising is the main way that they do this. They advertise in phone books, billboards, newspapers and on the internet, with the internet being the current trend for advertising. Advertising in itself is a tricky thing as some states do not allow advertising as they see it as a way to solicit Birthparents rather than offer a service. This varies from state to state.
Laws regarding facilitators vary from state to state as well. Facilitators are actually prohibited in some states. Other states regulate what facilitators can do and what they can receive funds for. In many states facilitators are required to provide detailed information on the connections that they have made between Birthparents and adoptive parents. I live in Tennessee where facilitators are not permitted to receive any funds from adoptive families to search for or connect them with Birthparents. We recently had a case where the judge ordered the facilitator to refund the money to the adoptive family or he would not allow the adoption to happen.
When you work with a facilitator, they typically live in another state and the Birthmother might live in a third state. It is important that you abide by your state laws and the laws of the state where the Birthmother lives regarding the use of facilitators. Just because facilitators are permitted in one state does not mean that there can’t be complications and conflicts between the other state’s laws. Before you sign any contracts with a facilitator, we urge you to talk to a AAAA attorney in your state (AAAA stands for American Academy of Adoption Attorneys) about your state’s laws regarding facilitators.
Facilitators can be a good thing for prospective adoptive families and Birthparents provided that they keep in mind everyone’s best interests. A good, quality facilitator will ensure that everyone’s needs are being met, that counseling is available for all parties and that everyone understands their rights both ethically and legally during the process. If at any time you feel as though this is not happening you should report this information to your State’s adoption department.
Many people who are planning to build there families through adoption are open to children of races and cultural backgrounds than that are different from their own. In order to do this, you must first do some soul searching as well as taking a good look at your family, friends and community to make sure that there is cultural diversity in your life in order to meet the needs of your child. I plan to discuss the subject of transracial or transcultural adoptions in a future article, but I wanted to start this article this way to lead into the possibility of a situation that many families will face: being connected with Birthparents who speak a different language.
In the area where I live there is a huge Hispanic population. I am fortunate enough to be able to speak Spanish fluently. When I started working at the pregnancy counseling and adoption agency where I am employed nine years ago, I immediately began offering our services to the Hispanic community. Throughout the years I have learned things and refined things as I have gone along, but there are a few important things that I wanted to pass on to you if you ever find yourself in the position of being chosen by Birthparents who speak another language. These concepts include both legal and emotional aspects. I will start with the legal side of things.
When a Birthparent does not speak the native language of the country, in my case English, it is important that all the legal documents and counseling documents be translated into their language for their review and understanding. Even though I can speak Spanish fluently and have a small translating business on the side, I found a Hispanic volunteer to translate all of our documents and to be involved in the adoption process if I am working with a Hispanic client who has decided to make an adoption plan. It is important to have a third party involved for many reasons.
First of all, I can be sure that the clients I work with are getting the appropriate information and that they understand every legal aspect. When I go to court with a Birthparent to sign a consent to adoption I always take an interpreter with me. This way the judge knows a non-biased third party is translating information correctly and the Birthparent is being told about their rights and the adoption process. I have never had it happen, but I wouldn’t want a client to come back years from now and state that I did no inform them of all their legal rights regarding adoption and that they signed the consent with having false information. Typically the consent that they actually sign in front of the judge is in English because that is what is filed with the courts, so I need to be sure that there is no way that a Birthparent has misunderstood or not understood a particular aspect of the consent before signing it.
Second of all, I have help in giving emotional support to a Birthparent by someone who knows their native tongue. In many cultures, such as the Hispanic community, adoption is still considered taboo. I have many Hispanic clients who don’t have any support other than me. Through the use of a trained volunteer that speaks their language I am able to offer them emotional support from someone else.
In addition to making sure that all legal aspects are covered when working with a client that speaks a language other than your own, there are some important emotional aspects and issues surrounding future contact and exchange of information that need to be covered. Let’s start from the beginning: putting together your adoption profile. Obviously if you are open to children of different cultural backgrounds, you could not have your profile translated into every language. However, if you live in a community with a high population of a particular ethnic group such as Hispanic or Laotian, you could have your profile translated into that particular language. You can have this done for a reasonable price through a local community college or high school where students or even teachers are always looking for projects. If you have a friend or acquaintance that speaks that particular language you could ask them for help in translating your profile. When I am working with a client that speaks Spanish they are typically more likely to choose a family whose profile was translated than to choose a family whose profile I have to read and translate for them.
If you are selected by Birthparents that speak another language, I also encourage you to try to learn that language either through classes or tapes. Even if you can’t say more than “Hola” and they can’t say more than “Hi” you are both at least attempting to communicate. It will be important for your child to learn that language as well and about the customs and traditions of their Birthparents’ native country. Make sure that you take the opportunity to learn about these things so you can pass that information on to your child. If you are planning to maintain contact with the Birthparents, always have a translator present at least for the first few meetings and make the extra effort to have letters or photo captions translated so that Birthparents will know what you are trying to say. It is also important for you to remember that some gestures are universal. A hug, smile, handshake and kiss on the cheek all mean pretty much the same thing from country to country.
The thing that you need to keep in mind when working with Birthparents who speak another language is that you want to ensure that their legal and emotional needs are being met and you want to be sure that you understand each other and how each other feels. Although it does take some extra effort, having documents translated and an interpreter present is beneficial to everyone involved. The more informed and involved everyone is in the process the smoother it tends to go, which is what everyone wants in the end.
For the past 9 years I have worked with an agency that strictly does newborn placements. We work with expectant mothers who are considering adoption and we counsel them through their pregnancy and support them no matter what decision they make. Many of the women we work with want to do a direct placement where the baby leaves the hospital with the adoptive family and this is something we support as well. The reason I chose to write about this subject more extensively than I did before is that as I am writing this article I am working with a young mother whose child is in interim care with our agency while she makes a decision. Without interim care, she would not have been able to revisit the idea of adoption after the baby was born because of the rush of emotions she felt when her daughter was finally here.
As an agency, we try to prepare a Birthmother for what the hospital stay will be like, the emotions she will feel the questions she might have. You can only prepare someone so much and the rest they have to experience themselves when the baby is born. Literally, for most birthmothers, when a baby is born she will have to make her decision all over again. Before, even though they loved the baby, the baby was just a concept. When the baby is born he/she becomes reality.
When indecision comes into play, interim care is a safeguard for the adoptive family, Birthmother and the baby. The adoptive family does not have to live with the fear of the baby being taken from their home, the Birthmother doesn’t have the pressure of making a decision during her short hospital stay and the baby doesn’t have to be moved from place to place.
In this case, the baby was born before the Birthmother had a chance to meet the adoptive family. She wanted, understandably, to meet them before doing placement and she didn’t want to meet them in the hospital as she was dealing with her own feelings at the time. Even though she feels like adoption is the best thing for her daughter, she would have opted to parent in place of adoption if she did not have the option of interim care.
Since the baby was born she has met the adoptive family and they plan to meet again to get to know each other before the placement ceremony. In the meantime, she has allowed the adoptive family to visit the baby in interim care. She recognizes the value of interim care and, although they would have done an at-risk placement, the adoptive family recognizes the need for it as well. It has given the Birthmother some time to heal and feel ready to move forward instead of having the pressure to make a rash decision.
This is just one of many instances where interim care can be a good thing. If we are contacted by a hospital social worker regarding a woman who just delivered and states she wants to make an adoption plan, we always do interim care. This gives us an opportunity to do counseling with her, to get to know her and to get to know what kind of adoption she wants. We would never show up at the hospital with a stack of profiles not knowing anything about the situation. This would be a disservice to her as well as the prospective adoptive families.
A third scenario for the interim care option is when the Birthfather is contesting the adoption. If he plans to go to court and we don’t know what the outcome might be, we talk to the adoptive family about doing interim care. Court cases take time and if he has a leg to stand on, he could win the right to prevent the adoption. This could mean removing a child that has been with a family for many months or even years.
There are other times and reasons that we have suggested interim care. Anytime we feel like a Birthmother is having a hard time or really on the edge in making her decision we offer it so that she can have more time to make sure that she is making the right decision free of pressure.
Interim care can be a difficult time for adoptive families. In your heart this is your child and you just want him/her to be home with you. Instead you have to rely on the foster family to keep the type of schedule you would like or to feed them a certain formula. If you have the opportunity to visit the baby in foster care, you have to do it on their schedule and you may feel like you don’t want to stay too long because you don’t want to be an imposition while at the same time you would love to pack your bags and move in.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding a specific situation, talk to your agency or attorney about their foster care option. Ask them about their interim care guidelines and what protocols they follow regarding suggesting it to their clients. You want to be sure that they are taking everyone’s feelings and rights into account. As much as you would love to have a newborn in your home, you also want to be sure that they aren’t pressuring a Birthmother. Pressure could cause her to do something she isn’t ready for or cause her to do the exact opposite because she is feeling too much pressure.
All this being said, I am still a big proponent of direct placements if that is what everyone wants and if the Birthmother feels ready to move forward when the hospital time comes. I also feel that interim care is an excellent safeguard to have in place just in case. Every situation and every person is so different so it is always good to explore both options and to know that, even if you have always leaned towards doing a direct placement, sometimes using interim care can be the best for everyone involved.
We have a lot of ceremonies and events to mark special occasions such as baby showers or weddings. Even though the day a family receives a child is often the most important day in their lives, there isn’t a lot of ceremony surrounding adoption. For this reason, many adoptive families choose to do Entrustment Ceremonies or Placement Ceremonies to mark the placement of their child, the day they join their forever family. There are many different ways to do Entrustment Ceremonies. I’m going to start by telling you how we typically do an Entrustment Ceremony at our agency and then give you guidelines on how to do your own.
When we do Entrustment Ceremonies they are performed at a variety of places. Sometimes they are done in the chapel at the hospital or in the hospital room. If a baby has been in interim care or foster care we typically do the ceremony at the chapel at our agency. There have been times when we did the Placement Ceremony after placement because a Birthparent wanted to be part of the ceremony but needed some time to heal and grieve before she felt ready to be a part of it.
We try to have the adoptive parents and Birthparents both involved in planning the ceremony, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes Birthparents don’t feel that they are ready to take part in a ceremony or they choose to not be a part of the adoption process once they sign papers and we aren’t able to get them involved. However, a majority of the time the Birthparents we work with choose to help plan the ceremony.
There are a number of things that we include in our Entrustment Ceremonies. We have a basic ceremony that we do and we allow adoptive parents and Birthparents to add to it. During our ceremonies we acknowledge everyone involved. We acknowledge the Birthmother or Birthparents for giving their child life and for the love they have for their child, we acknowledge the adoptive parents as becoming parents and we acknowledge other family members or foster parents when appropriate.
The beginning of the ceremony is when we acknowledge Birthparents and foster parents. Then we have what we call the “passing of the baby” when the baby is placed in the arms of the adoptive parents. There are times when only the adoptive parents and their family members are present so we don’t always do the passing of the baby. We then acknowledge the new family that was made that day. Various people perform the ceremony from the adoption counselor to an elder in the church to family members.
We allow the adoptive parents and Birthparents to add to the ceremony however they wish. We have had families write poems, read from the bible or simply talk about their feelings surrounding the day and the baby. Candle lighting or songs are also very much a part of the Entrustment Ceremony. It needs to be personalized by all parties involved if at all possible.
Personalization is a key component of a Placement Ceremony. This is your chance as adoptive parents to be recognized as parents and to recognize the family that you have been dreaming about for a long time. I encourage you to include whatever is special to you in the ceremony from poems to music to sayings.
Even though you are excited about the Placement Ceremony, it is important that you don’t invite too many people, especially if the Birthfamily is involved. Birthparents might feel that this is a very private time for them and having too many people around might be overwhelming. Talk with the Birthparents before you begin to invite people to the ceremony. You might want to limit it to grandparents, siblings and a close friend or two. Just as it is a private time for Birthparents, it is a private time for you and you might find yourself glad that you didn’t invite too many people so that you can concentrate on the moment and your own feelings.
If you are going through an agency, talk to them about their Placement Ceremonies. If they don’t do them or if you are doing an independent adoption, consider doing your own ceremony. You can find examples of Entrustment Ceremonies online or can contact me for further information on how to conduct one. You will find that doing a ceremony and marking the importance of the occasion will be very special for you and others involved and it will help make this special occasion even more memorable for everyone.
When going through an adoption, there is a period after placement and before finalization when an adoption agency will provide post placement supervision. During that time the adoption agency will schedule supervisory visits with you that will occur either in your home or at the office. The purpose of the visits is not to check up on you as parents but to be able to show the court that the child is doing well in their home with their new family.
The number of visits that will happen during that time period varies from state to state and agency to agency. For instance one state might have an adoption law that says that their needs to be quarterly supervisory visits until the adoption is finalized while another might require just one visit. Even though your state requires a certain number of visits, an adoption agency is permitted to require more visits such as once per month. It also varies from agency to agency as to who has to be present during the visit. Obviously your child has to be present, but sometimes only one parent needs to be with the child.
What can you expect from a supervisory visit? There are a variety of things that will be discussed during a visit. I have broken them into six main categories for the purpose of this article. Please know that these are general guidelines and you might be asked more questions or discuss other things in addition to the following information.
Your child’s health, physical description, and social and physical development will all be addressed during the adoption supervisory visit. Health includes any medications that are being taken, any health problems and trips to the doctor. If your child has special medical needs you will also discuss what is being done medically for your child. Physical description needs to be included so that the court knows the adoption agency actually met with the family and saw the child instead of just talking to them on the phone. I always say that the physical and social development is the part of the supervisory visit when parents get to brag about their children. What new, exciting and fun things are they doing? How are they growing? Are they on target physically and socially for their age?
You will also talk about the daily schedule your child keeps including eating, sleeping and playing. You will talk about how much your child eats, what they eat and how often they eat and the napping/sleeping/playing routine of your child. There are, of course, no right or wrong answers to these questions. After all, each child is different and therefore has a different routine.
Parental work schedule and child care arrangements are discussed as well. Is one of you a stay-at-home parent? If not, what are your work schedules and who takes care of your child while you work?
How has the family adjusted to the adoption including parents, siblings, extended family and the child? Obviously, if the baby is a newborn there has been little to no adjustment problems as you are the only family they have ever known. However, in older child adoptions there is often a big adjustment period for all parties involved.
You will more than likely discuss the relationship you are having with the Birthfamily. Are you having an open adoption? Are you sending pictures and letters? What kind of continued contact are you going to have, if any at all?
The last part of the supervisory visit is to just discuss general information and the legal status of the adoption. For instance, have both Birthparents signed a consent to the adoption? Have you hired a lawyer to finalize the adoption? Where do you plan on finalizing the adoption? And any other information that is important pertaining to the adoption that is important for the courts to know.
I hope this helps answer some of your questions about adoption supervisory visits. When you have your supervisory visits you will more than likely discuss all of these things and might have to provide additional information such as medical records or photos to the agency for their files. Once the adoption is finalized, the supervisory visits are over as well, but you might choose to maintain contact with the agency in case you need them in the future.
Sometimes Birthparents and adoptive families choose to work together to make an open adoption agreement. This agreement is typically a written document of the expectations that each party has regarding post placement contact.
Most states do not recognize open adoption agreements to be legally binding. Instead they are a good way for everyone to be on the same page and to talk about the relationship that they hope to have after a baby is born and placed with the adoptive family. Although an open adoption agreement is not a requirement in most states, it is often good practice for agencies, adoptions and families to use.
Since they are not legal agreements, it does not have to be a formal document. Rather than be rigid in the expectations or things that each party agrees to do, it is better to be general and less formal about such subjects as time frames, amount of pictures or letters to be sent and when you plan to meet throughout the year.
Some of the things that are important to cover in open adoption agreements are: what type of contact you want to have, letters and pictures, the exchange of personal information and how to handle conflicts if they should arise. Birthparents and adoptive families need to take the time to think about what is most important to them in the relationship. I always like to say that it is easier to ask for things in the beginning then to try to totally alter a relationship once expectations and boundaries have been identified. As with any relationship, an open relationship can change and grow as people’s lives change.
The first thing you need to decide on is what kind of contact you plan to have. Are you going to have more of a semi-open adoption with just pictures and letters sent through an agency or are you going to have ongoing contact? Do you plan to maintain contact throughout the child’s lifetime or for a specified amount of time? How much openness do you feel comfortable with?
If you decide to send pictures and letters, you need to decide how often to send them and where to send them. For instance, do you plan to send them twice a year or four times a year? Are you going to send one picture or a bunch of pictures each time? Will you send them directly to the Birthfamily or to the adoption agency or attorney?
When sharing personal information, some families choose to form a relationship with a Birthparent before giving personal information whereas other families choose to exchange addresses and phone numbers after the first meeting. This varies from adoption to adoption because the circumstances and family dynamics of each adoption are different.
In any open adoption it is possible to experience some “bumps and bruises” along the way. Someone might misunderstand something and get their feelings hurt. There might be a previous set boundary that was crossed. It is good to consider how you would like to handle these things if they ever arise. For instance maintaining contact with a third party such as an adoption agency can be helpful if you ever need an intermediary. It is a good idea to talk about having this contact, counseling or help outlined in the adoption agreement.
There are two things that you need to keep in mind when putting together an open adoption agreement. First of all, never promise anything that you know that you don’t intend to keep. If you know that you don’t feel comfortable with future meetings then don’t tell a Birthparent that you want a completely open relationship if you know you won’t follow through with this in the end. As with any relationship, there has to be some compromise on both sides in order for it to work.
The second thing you need to do is to not be rigid with time frames in the adoption agreement. For instance, it is better to state that you are going to send pictures or letters four times a year instead of saying you are going to send them a certain day four months a year. If you can’t get them to the Birthparent by the date that you mention, there can be misunderstandings or feelings hurt. Life gets busy and it isn’t always easy to know that you can do something like meet three years from now on the 15th of June.
For more information about open adoption agreements, I encourage you to explore the subject with your local adoption agency or to read books about open adoption such as The Open Adoption Experience. The more comfortable you are with working with the Birthparents to come up with an agreement the better it is for everyone in the end.
When doing an adoption, there are reasonable expenses that are allowed by law to be paid on behalf of the Birthfamily by the adoptive family. It is important that, before you pay any money, you confer with an adoption agency or an attorney that practices adoption law in your state to be sure you are not paying for anything that is not allowed by law. In addition, you want to be sure that what you are paying for are legitimate expenses, not expenses that a Birthparent is claiming to need paid.
Many states do not specifically spell out what expenses are considered “reasonable expenses”. However, as a general rule, reasonable expenses include such things as grocery store gift cards, prenatal vitamins, rent, gas for the car to get to doctor’s appointments, maternity clothes and medical expenses that are specifically related to the pregnancy. Unreasonable expenses include buying the Birthparent a vehicle, home or jewelry. Each state also has a time frame in which paying expenses is permissible by law such as 1-2 months before a baby is born and a certain amount of time after a baby is born. You need to be sure that you stay within the time lines of your state.
No money should ever be paid directly to a Birthparent. This could be misconstrued in the court’s eyes as you paying for the baby. Rent money should be paid directly to the landlord, groceries can be paid for with gift certificates and medical expenses should be paid directly to the hospital or doctor’s office. It is a good idea to work with an agency or adoption attorney when it comes to paying expenses. They will be able to talk to you and the Birthparents about what is permissible in a court of law. When a Birthparent signs a consent to the adoption, they must list all expenses that have been paid on their behalf. In addition, if a Birthparent has a change of heart and decides to parent, they DO NOT have to repay you for any expenses that you paid. The reason that they do not have to reimburse you for these expenses is that, the court’s eyes, any money you pay is considered a gift otherwise it would be as though you are paying the Birthparent for the baby.
Because interstate adoptions involve the laws of two states, you should always consult an agency or attorney in your state and the state where the Birthparent resides. In addition, the sooner you involve an agency or adoption attorney in the other state to work with the Birthparent the better. They can confirm the needs of the Birthparent and verify that what the Birthparent is stating they need is true.
You should save all the receipts for Birthparent related expenses that you have paid. If there is ever a question about something that was paid, you can have proof of exactly how you paid for it. You can also use the expenses as part of the adoption tax law when filing your income tax.
In addition to the laws regarding paying expenses for a Birthparent, it is important for you to know that it is considered a big red flag if a Birthparent’s primary concern is money, getting bills paid and getting money for needed items. A Birthparent who is making a legitimate adoption plan is concerned with the welfare, safety, security and happiness of her child first and foremost. For this reason, adoption agencies tend to be a little wary of a Birthparent who calls for adoption information and asks about getting money before anything else.
If you ever feel concerned about expenses that you are being asked to pay, speak to an adoption agency or adoption attorney before paying for anything. It is important that you follow the legal guidelines when paying for expenses on behalf of Birthparents. These laws are in place to protect the rights of adoptive families, Birthparents and the children.
Whether or not you are working with an agency or attorney, there are certain things that you can do to help spread the word that you want to build your family through adoption. Simply going on an agency’s waiting list is fine for some couples, but others want to feel as though they have some control in the situation. Waiting can be the hardest part, but being productive and networking while you are waiting can result in the connection with a Birthfamily and can bring your closer to you hopes and dreams of becoming a family.
Control, or lack of control, is a big issue for many families who are adopting. For those who started their journey through the fertility process, there was the lack of control over timing, money and ultimately the ability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. Once you start the home study process you are giving some of your control over to the agency who is conducting the home study. Once the home study is completed you again have no control over how long you will wait and when or whether you will be selected by a Birthfamily.
One way to gain some of your control back is to be proactive in the adoption process by networking and letting others know that you are planning to adopt. The first way that you can do this is to let anyone and everyone know that you want to adopt. By everybody I mean EVERYBODY. This means tell your family, friends, church family, hairdresser, neighbors, grocery store clerk and the stranger at the bus stop. The more people who know, the more likely you will be connected to a woman who is considering making an adoption plan. You might tell your hairdresser and the next client she has might have a 16-year-old daughter who just found out she is pregnant. I did a home study for a family where the adoptive mother gave a testimony at a women’s church conference about what led her and her husband to adoption and there was a woman in the audience whose 22-year-old daughter wanted to make an adoption plan. Word of mouth is an awesome way to network.
If you are not going through an adoption agency, you can call different agencies to see if they accept outside home studies and profiles to show to Birthparents. Some facilitators or agencies connect Birthparents and adoptive families, but are not adoption agencies themselves. They are always looking for families who have completed home studies. Some reputable websites, such as Adoption.com, allow you to post your profile online. They require a completed home study before they will let you post. Many Birthparents and adoptive families are connecting online.
If you are connected with a Birthparent independently, you should involve a lawyer or agency early on to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met and things are being done legally the way they are supposed to be done. This is particularly important if they live in another state so that you can verify everything that is being said to you and you can also be sure that you are in compliance with the laws of the other state. Some Birthparents will want to get counseling, so agency involvement is best whereas others might feel more comfortable just going through a lawyer.
When doing adoption, you don’t have to put your fate and control all into the hands of a lawyer or agency. You can gain some control of the situation by doing your own networking. Let others know that you want to adopt. Seek agencies that will accept outside home studies so that you can increase your chances of being seen by Birthfamilies. The more proactive you become the more likely you are to come in contact with a Birthfamily and the quicker you will be able to build your own family through adoption.
As I write this article, I have just returned from conducting one of our home study groups for the adoption agency where I work. Today my job was to talk about if an adoption fails. This is such a heavy subject and the worse possible scenario for any adoptive parent. However, we have decided that it is still important to talk about this subject because if an adoptive family is faced with the grief and loss surrounding a failed placement, it is important for them to know where to start to get help in the grieving process.
When you are chosen by a Birthparent, you enter what I call the “cautiously optimistic” stage. You are extremely excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. This is the phone call that you have been waiting to get for so long, yet you want to guard yourself somewhat just in case things don’t go through. This is a hard place to be. At this point you need to think about who you want to tell. Do you want to tell everyone or just a few close friends and family members? Do you want to wait to meet the Birthmother before you share the news with anyone?
Once you are selected, you have already begun to form an attachment to the baby. This is the baby of your hopes and dreams. The more time that passes between the time you are selected and when an adoption fails, the harder the grieving process. If you have met the Birthmother, if you were present in the hospital, if you helped name the baby and if you bring the baby into your home all affect your level of attachment and the grief that you will face if the Birthparents decide to parent instead of making an adoption plan.
Grieving the loss of a child through a failed adoption is very similar to the loss of a child through death in many ways. Where it differs is the fact that there is no closure, no ritual to mark the ending and there is still a child out there somewhere. Many people who have not been through adoption or a failed adoption can not fully understand the scope of your grieving. Yet, this is such a significant loss in your life and one that will affect you in many ways even after you adopt another child.
For this reason, it is important to allow yourself to grieve. Seek counseling at your adoption agency. Ask if there is someone to speak with who has been through a similar situation. Tell your story and talk about your grief. Keep a journal. Avoid situations that can cause you more grief, such as baby showers, until you feel ready to attend them again. Don’t let people put a time limit on your grief. If the Birthmother changed her mind in the hospital, people might wonder how you can feel so sad when the baby wasn’t even in your home. This was your child if only for a short period of time, if only through the possibility of adoption, so of course you will grieve. If the baby spent some time in your home, you have an even more intense level of grief. One mother described the time between getting the call that the Birthmother had decided to parent and when the adoption agency came for the baby as feeling as though they were preparing for a funeral, that their child was dying. They gathered her stuff, chose an outfit for her to go home in and stayed up all night with her. It was an intense pain that took a long time to work through. Some people let her grieve whereas others almost seemed to act as though she should be over it one week later. It was almost as if they were saying that because this was a child through adoption rather than birth that the loss should be somehow less.
When we see a Birthmother change her mind, it is typically in the hospital or right before birth. It is very rare for a Birthmother to change her mind once a child has been placed. In nine years of working in adoptions, I have only seen it happen one time after placement. But, one time is enough. Most agencies will let adoptive families know if they have some concerns, if a Birthparent is having a hard time or considering parenting. If we are working with a Birthmother who is having a tough time in the hospital, we offer interim care to her for the baby. This gives the Birthmother time to get home from the hospital and be able to think through her decision again instead of placing the baby directly with the adoptive family. This is a protection for the Birthmother and the adoptive family.
If you get the call that a Birthparent has changed their mind, consider having someone to call who will take care of calling other people. This way you don’t have to worry about telling the story over and over again until you are ready to do so. Let this person be the contact person for a while until you feel ready to accept phone calls. Have them talk to your employer so that your co-workers will know what happened and you won’t be faced with questions when you finally return to work.
If you are faced with an adoption that falls through you are not alone. Local adoption agencies can offer you counseling or can steer you to a support group in the area. You can also find support groups and forums online to help you and support you. The main thing for you to do is to let yourself grieve and take the time that you need to be able to say goodbye to your child in some way, whether it be writing a letter or having some sort of ceremony to find closure. There is no need to rush the grieving process and no time line for the grieving process to end. Taking the time to find some sort of peace and closure is very important for your healing and for your attachment with the child that you will eventually welcome into your family in the future.
A Lifebook for adoption is a scrapbook that details how your child came to be with you. It is their history and past as well as their present and future. It is an awesome way to open the door of communication with them to talk bout adoption and also helps them to better understand how they came to be with you. It also helps them form their identity as they learn where they came from, who they look like, why their birthparents chose adoption and the journey they made to come to you.
You can start a Lifebook in a number of ways. You can either start from when you met the birthparents, when your child was born or even go back to when the birthmother was pregnant and started considering making an adoption plan. A Lifebook acknowledges that your child’s history did not begin with adoption. There is a whole story about their lives that happened before they were even born.
If you have a relationship with the birthmother and/or birthfather ask for their help with the book. Include pictures of them and their families in the book and pictures of the birthmother pregnant as this will help your child understand where they came from, especially when they begin to understand that babies grow in tummies. I primarily work with birthparents at the adoption agency where I work and I always try to get some pictures of them while they are pregnant (with their permission of course) to be able to give to the adoptive family. Have the birthparents write letters to add to the book. I worked with a birthmother who created a Lifebook for her child that was a labor of love for her.
Get your family involved as well. If you have other children, have them draw a picture or write something in the book. Your extended family can write letters or well wishes to your child and they can add to the story of how you told them that you were going to be a Mommy and Daddy.
Write down details as they happen, even if you just jot them in a notebook for now and add to them later. Things happen so fast and it is often hard to keep up with everything. You might think that you will remember exactly how you felt or what you were going when you first learned about your child or got the call to go to the hospital, but you might forget an important detail such as what the adoption worker said to you or how your spouse and family looked when you told them.
I worked with a birthmother from Guatemala who found out she was pregnant after an unfortunate event. She WALKED all the way from Guatemala to the US/Mexican border, endured 5 days locked in the back of a truck and walked from Texas to Tennessee to be with her husband and make an adoption plan. The adoptive family was able to chronicle the journey for their daughter, even though they did leave out some parts of the story to be able to share with her when she was older.
Even better than a child’s book about adoption, your child’s Lifebook will detail their own adoption experience. It will allow them to have their questions answered and it will also open the door for them to ask you other questions in the future. It is a way for you to celebrate your child’s story and what makes them so unique and a way to celebrate adoption as well. I would encourage you to begin the Lifebook even while you are in the waiting process so that you are able to share everything about your child’s story with them and write it down as it happens so that you don’t forget to share even the simplest details with them. Sometimes the fact that you were planting flowers when you got the call or rocked them all night in the hospital wrapped in the blanket their birthmother made for them end up being the most important details to them about their story.