According to the Child Welfare League of America, there are over 150,000 children in the United States awaiting adoption, and an additional 500,000 in foster care. Many of these children will also become eligible for adoption. The process of adopting a child is often complicated and lengthy, but sorting through some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding this issue can help put prospective parents on a clearer path.
The way that adoption is often portrayed in movies and television, where couples visit an orphanage and return home as parents, is hardly accurate. Children are adopted in many ways – through agencies that pair up adoptive parents with interested pregnant women, through the foster care system, international adoptions, as a result of family situations including death and remarriage and a whole host of other circumstances.
Making sense of a complicated process
Becoming a parent is always a vulnerable experience, but adoption adds an extra layer of exposure. “You’re basically naked,” Andrea, mother of two adopted children and a set of twins, says. “You’re being poked and prodded and inspected by complete strangers. The paperwork is overwhelming, and you feel like you’re walking on eggshells the whole time.” Still, she is quick to add, “I would have gone through 100 times worse. It is all completely worth it.”
No matter the path, adoptions generally fall into a few categories: open, semi-closed, and closed. These categorizations refer to the amount of privacy and ongoing contact the adoptive and birth families will maintain.
Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley handles a full range of adoption alternatives, and is well-versed in what modern open adoption looks like. “Today, open adoption enables two sets of parents to work together with courage and compassion so that a child can benefit from the best plan possible,” the organization’s website states. “Personally-arranged adoptions offer many benefits to both birth parents and adoptive parents.”
A closed adoption is typically less nuanced than an open adoption, where details about the levels of openness and ongoing contact can vary greatly from case to case. In a closed, or “sealed” adoption, identification records remain closed, though birth families are required to provide medical history that may be useful to the adopted child.
In addition to open and closed adoptions, some agencies can also work with prospective parents who have already made arrangements with a pregnant woman to adopt her child.
After the adoption
For Andrea, the circumstances following her two adoptions “couldn’t be more different.” One birth mother maintains limited email contact, and Andrea sends occasional updates. “Honestly, I wish it could be more,” she says, “but I need to respect her privacy and desire to keep a far distance.” Her other child’s birth family, on the other hand, has become an extended family to her own. She was present in the delivery room and the family bonds have only grown stronger over the years. Both sons even participated in her younger son’s birth mother’s wedding.
Dayton mother Susan Strong has also had a positive experience with open adoption. Her adopted daughters are now in their 20’s and Susan says that over the years, they have cultivated relationships with the girls’ birth mothers, birth fathers, birth grandparents and their immediate families. With an open adoption, she says her girls never had to dwell on who their biological parents were, what they looked like, etc. and could move forward in their lives from this sense of knowledge and security.
Adoptive families may find a post-adoption support group helpful once the adoption is finalized. Local organizations like ACTION Adoption in Dayton provide help for families working through issues like deciding when and how to inform family members about their decision to adopt, transitional issues unique to adopted children, and integrating a family with adoptive and biological children.
November is National Adoption Month. To find out more, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website: www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/nam/#twtr=pro.
A few Dayton area adoption resources
ACTION Adoption Services www.actionadoption.org
Agape for Youth www.agapeforyouth.com
Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley www.cssmv.org