For many families, the decision to adopt comes after a series of serious conversations. It may be something they never considered until faced with a life-changing event, such as infertility or a growing realization of the needs of children in foster care and orphanages.
But for our family, adoption was something we always knew we would do.
My husband Brad and I met in college while attending a small church in Union County. Since we didn’t start dating until after I graduated, we had four years of friendly conversation under the bridge before ever having to start any relationship discussions, and it was already clear that we both had a heart for adoption.
There were waiting children that needed a family. If we wanted to create a family, why not make them part of ours? Parenting is a choice; families don’t have to match.
Adoption had been normalized for us during those college years. North Carolina has a law that birthparents can change their mind about adoption placement within the first seven days after signing legal papers. At that time many adoptive parents were still choosing to wait for placement until after the seven-day waiting period had passed. Most children spent a week with a foster family before going to their “forever families.”
Some slightly older friends from church fostered for Christian Adoption Services, a local nonprofit adoption agency, so we saw a steady flow of children come through their home and often got a glimpse of the process and backstory. In some situations, we knew the adoptive families. In one case, I knew the birth mother.
By the time Brad and I were dating, we’d already had many discussions about adoption and knew that was an option we were both interested in for growing our family.
Knowing we wanted to have a larger family, we started young. Brad and I were open to having a mix of children that were biological and adopted, as circumstances led us.
As soon as we got married in our early 20s, we contacted Christian Adoption Services about applying to adopt. It turned out their particular agency rules were that couples had to be married for at least a year.
So adoption was put on hold, and we had our first child biologically. When he was nearing a year old, we went back to the agency to start the adoption process. We assumed that it would take at least another year to go through the application process, homestudies, and final placement. Two years sounded like a good age difference between siblings.
What we didn’t know was that at that time there was a Charlotte-area baby girl who would be born soon and wasn’t matched with a family. Prospective families fill out a form saying what health problems they are willing to accept, and none had checked yes on her particular disability.
While we didn’t intentionally seek to adopt a child with a disability, Brad and I felt that if we didn’t choose the health and characteristics of our biological children, we shouldn’t choose the health and characteristics of our adoptive children. We did not make any exceptions for disability on our form, having the faith that the child that was meant to become part of our family would be the one available at the time.
Because of that, when our pre-application hit the agency desk, we immediately got a call. If we were interested in meeting the birth parents and considering placement, the agency would expedite our process. We said yes. Less than four weeks later our daughter was born and in our home.
We went on to have another child biologically and another child through adoption from Rockingham, NC, with Christian Adoption Services, growing our family by four children in four years.
The process of adoption
Our personal experience was with domestic adoption facilitated through an agency. Many of our friends have adopted internationally, through private adoptions, or through foster care. Each of these ways to adopt come with different regulations, waiting periods, and costs.
Adoption from the North Carolina foster care system has been growing steadily since 2006. In 2009, over 1,700 children were adopted from foster care, and that number continues to rise. And according to PBS, “In 2001, there were 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, representing 2.5 percent of all U.S. children.” This total number includes all adoption types, including international.
The cost of adoption varies depending on type. BuildingYourFamily.com says “The majority of domestic newborn adoptions cost between $20,000 and $40,000, while a strong majority of international adoptions cost more than $35,000. U.S. foster adoption is the least expensive adoption route, by a significant margin. 69% of survey respondents reported less than $1,000 in expenses.”
Our youngest child was adopted in 2008, and the cost was significantly less at the time. Every year fees increase as more regulations are put in place to ensure child safety.
After you’re home
Adoptions can be open, semi-open, or closed. North Carolina law does not legally enforce any arrangement, but the birth families, agencies, and adoptive parents decide on what seems best for their personal situation.
In a closed adoption, no identifying information is shared, but if known, families may be given some family health history. In a semi-open adoption, identifying information is shared between the adoptive and birth families, but communication such as letters and pictures are usually facilitated through an agency. In open adoption, all information is shared, and it is up to the families to decide when and how they communicate,
Like us, more and more families are choosing open adoption. There are many reasons to do so, but most people agree that unless a situation is dangerous, it is in the child’s best interest to have access to their first family because most children have an inherent psychological need to know about their origins and have access to their health history.
Our two open adoptions look very different. One child visits their birth family frequently and has even spent the night at their house. The other child has fewer visits that all take place in a public area. Both of these arrangements work well for their individual situations.
Although there have been a few times we’ve been the recipient of other people’s concern or disapproval over our choice to adopt, overall, society seems to be much more accepting of adoption than they were even 20 years ago.
As birth families and adoptive families share their experiences, good and bad, my hope is that adoption relationships continue to become healthier, and the adoption process continues to improve for all the individuals involved.
Photo: Annie Beth Donahue