When my husband Dan and I decided to adopt, we had done our best to learn about adoption: we’d read books, attended an information session at our local agency, and talked with friends who had adopted. Above all, we appreciated hearing first-hand accounts of what adoption is like from those who have lived it. Of course every story is unique, but it helped us to discover some general dynamics in the exciting, nerve-wracking, joyful, and heartbreaking experience of adoption.
Looking back now, with a toddler daughter and about to embark on adoption number two, we see how each stage of the process had both its own unique challenges — and invitations for us to grow. Adoption is not easy, cheap, or painless, but for couples called to this path, it is completely worth it!
Note: We adopted through domestic infant adoption, meaning a child born in the United States and willingly relinquished for adoption by his or her birth parents. The other main kinds of adoption are via the foster care system and international; while many parts of our story overlap with these kinds of adoption, there are important differences as well that would be best explored independently.
- The home study
- The waiting pool
The first part of our adoption journey was what’s called a home study. This is the process by which the state approves a couple to adopt. The exact requirements vary from state to state or even county to county, but overall it’s an in-depth look at a couple’s finances, relationship, health, family life, understanding of adoption and parenting, and so on. Simply put, it’s an evaluation of a couple’s readiness to parent via adoption.
To start, our agency gave us a big pile of forms to fill out. They included everything from simple “sign and date” forms to tasks like getting physicals, submitting our drivers’ records, writing our autobiographies, providing four references, drawing a layout of our house with an escape plan, getting our fingerprints taken, providing proof of our financial information, and much more. Once we turned everything in, we met with our social worker three times, after which she wrote up our official home study report. For us, the process took about six months from start to finish.
What is it like to do a home study? Two words in particular come to mind: it was vulnerable and self-reflective.
We felt vulnerable at many points throughout the home study. We gave our agency information about us that we may never have given anyone, and nothing about our lives was off-limits to examination. At times, it was difficult to accept that we had to do all of this work to become parents when so many others didn’t. It was a time-consuming process and cost us financially, the first big expenditure for our adoption.
But at the same time, doing a home study taught us a lot about ourselves and gave us many opportunities for self-reflection. How many people take the time to write out their own autobiography? Or talk intensively about their vision of parenting, discipline, and future family life? Or examine their finances in-depth, for that matter?
We learned so much from these exercises, and we think it did help prepare us for parenthood (as much as anyone can be prepared!). And we also kept in mind the point of all this — a child — and the fact that it is important to make sure potential parents are ready for that responsibility before entrusting them with a little one who has already experienced loss.
After our home study was completed, we then prepared to enter the waiting pool. In domestic infant adoption, pre-adoptive couples prepare a profile book — basically a photo album that presents your family to an expectant mother or father considering adoption for their unborn child. Couples working with an agency or a lawyer rely on those professionals to facilitate contact with possible birth parents; other couples choose to seek out possible birth parents themselves.
Regardless, the term waiting “pool” is apt because since the expectant parents are the ones doing the choosing, there’s no “top of the list” or any real predictability to this part of the process. A couple might wait for a week, several years, or any time in between.
For us, putting together our profile book was both fun (I enjoy scrapbook-type projects) and incredibly intimidating. How could we sum up who we are in ten pages? How weird is it that our chances of becoming parents are dependent on our ability to create an aesthetically-pleasing photo book?
There were a lot of nerves that went into choosing just the right photos with just the right text. We had to remind ourselves over and over that this was all in God’s hands; and that He would bring us together with a child for our family, no matter how perfect (or not) our book was!
When our book was done, we were live in the waiting pool — and then we had to get comfortable with waiting… and waiting… and waiting. Again, given the nature of domestic infant adoption, we knew that once we went “live,” we could get a phone call that very day about a child — or not for quite a long time.
The uncertainty and constant expectation were the hardest parts of this time period. And when we did show our profile book to expectant parents, as much as we tried to guard our hearts, it was terribly disappointing to hear that we weren’t chosen. Talk about an emotional roller-coaster!
Every day gave us an opportunity to trust in God’s providence; “today might be the day!” was never far from our minds. We were challenged to keep on living our lives without getting completely bogged down in anxiety, intensely focused on whether or not we’d be chosen. It helped throughout this time to keep a monthly “diary” of the fun things we did, as a way to remember the goodness of our lives and marriage, no matter what happened with the adoption.
And when possibilities did come to our attention, everything became so real. The information we got about various situations reminded us that these are real people, with real unborn children, in real, often very difficult, circumstances.
Remembering the “other side” (possible birth parents and their unborn children) was extremely helpful — it helped us realize that whatever uncertainty or anxiety we were facing as we waited was nothing compared to facing the decision of whether or not to place your child for adoption. We amped up our prayers for the women and men in that situation, as we continued to pray for a child.
We spent about a year and a half in the waiting pool before we were matched with the little girl who would become our daughter.
It was early February. We received a voicemail from our agency telling us about a baby girl due in April. We were given some basic information about the situation and then were asked whether we’d like to show our profile book. Every time we gave that little “yes,” it brought a rush of excitement and fear; what would happen next?
In this case, after agreeing to show our book, we didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, until President’s Day. We were both off work, enjoying some unseasonably warm weather and an espresso on the porch, when the expectant mom’s lawyer called. “They looked at your book,” he said, “and the expectant mom would like to speak to you… I have her on the line now!” After recovering from the shock, we spoke with her for an hour. It felt like minutes.
The next day, both back at work, the lawyer called my husband to let us know that yes, she chose you. While still on the phone, Dan emailed me the news and I immediately left my desk, went downstairs to the chapel to pray, then walked out of work — crying and laughing at the same time — to meet my husband, who worked down the street.
What an incredible rush of feelings! To be chosen, matched. We thanked God for this moment, for this little baby, and for her parents. We rejoiced, but with “cautious optimism” as our agency recommends. With domestic infant adoption, in every state there is a window after the baby’s birth wherein a mother can change her mind about placing her child for adoption. Thanks to crazy-confusing state-level adoption laws, that window ranges anywhere from 72 hours to 30 days. The father, too, has rights in this regard, although differently articulated from the mother’s. (The complexity of adoption law is why having an adoption lawyer on your side is a must!)
So we knew that being matched didn’t necessarily mean becoming parents. We had the greatest respect for the immensity of the decision that the unborn baby’s parents were making, and had yet to make after her birth. Much was still left to unfold. But we did our best to open our hearts to what was happening at that moment: expectant parents had chosen us as a family to adopt their child. We would honor that tremendous gift by praying every day for them and the baby, and by actively readying our hearts and home for this precious child, should she become ours in the end.
To that end we told our friends and family the news, we were showered with love and gifts at work and home, and we collected up the practical necessities a newborn needs. As other adoptive parents told us at the time, the effort we spent to love this little girl — even from a distance, not yet knowing the outcome — would not be wasted. Plus, if she did become our daughter, we wanted her to know how much we loved her even before we met her.
What an exciting, joyful, nerve-wracking, and intense few weeks this was!
Finally, the time came for us to fly across the country to where the baby would be born (Maryland to California). We’ll never forget the quizzical looks we got at the airport as people noticed a carseat, stroller base, diaper bag, pack-and-play — but no baby? We easily took up the entire conveyer belt at security with all our gear!
We arrived two days before the baby was expected to be born by C-section. We did our best to rest, get acclimated to the new time zone, and scope out the area.
Early on the baby’s birthday, we drove to the hospital. This felt in many ways like the final step in this journey of trust and waiting: we didn’t know what to expect, how everything would play out, what it would feel like, what would happen in the end, but we showed up hoping to have the courage to face it all!
Baby arrived as planned, healthy and crying — absolutely perfect. We spent three days with her and her mother in the hospital before both were discharged. Baby went with us, per the direct-placement plan agreed-upon beforehand. And one business day later, as this precious little girl slept peacefully in the car, the revocation period ended and the legal papers by which her birth mother entrusted her child to us became irrevocable. She was now our daughter.
After excitedly dreaming about becoming parents for so long, the reality was more subdued. At the moment we became Zelie’s legal parents, we were keenly aware that adoption always involves loss: the loss of a child’s first parents, and with older children, the loss too of familiar places and people.
We are and will forever be grateful for the tremendous gift of our daughter, knowing the very hard decisions and sacrifices made by her birth parents on her behalf. And the whole experience was very humbling, knowing that we can’t claim any credit for our daughter’s existence, and knowing that so many things had to come together for us to be her parents.
After we returned home, there were a few more steps to complete: three post-placement visits with our social worker before Zelie was six months; those reports were submitted to her birth state, which handled the official finalization of her adoption. A day before she turned nine months old, her adoption was finalized.
She’s 20 months old now — a full-fledged walking, talking, climbing dynamo of a toddler. And we’re just about to enter the waiting pool for adoption number two, starting the journey of faith and hope and expectation once again. This time around feels different, having learned and experienced everything we did for Zelie’s adoption. It’s a journey that stretched us and taught us so much, and for which we are grateful every single day.