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Adoption Options

Adoptions can be divided into a number of different categories, the broadest being related (when the child is adopted by a family member or stepparent) or nonrelated. Approximately half of all adoptions in the United States are related.

In nonrelated adoptions, there are two main categories: domestic (when a child is adopted within the same country) and international. The wait time for international adoptions is typically shorter. There is greater opportunity to specify the age and gender of a child, and there are fewer restrictions for who may adopt. Common drawbacks are that the children are rarely newborns, there is more legal paperwork, and the process can be quite costly — although the fees are often more predictable.

Most international adoptions are closed adoptions, meaning the identity of the birth mother is unknown to the adoptive family. This can be a disadvantage to the child's emotional development and to her physical development when medical history is unknown.

In open adoptions, there is a relationship between the birth mother and the adoptive family, before and/or after birth. These agreements range from simply leaving records open for the child to investigate later, to regular pictures and updates, to scheduled visits and contact. Regardless of the arrangement, persons from all sides of the process benefit when the terms are secured in writing. Most adoption professionals consider open adoptions a healthier situation for the child and both sets of parents.

Most independent adoptions are open. A birth mother and an adoptive family choose each other and make an adoption plan that is completed by an attorney. Birth mothers and the adoptive families can determine their own terms for the adoption, offering less privacy but more peace of mind. Although they are often faster, less expensive and allow for more freedom — especially from the birth mother's viewpoint — independent adoptions are illegal in a few states. Families in all states may identify their own adoption plans and then bring it to an agency to complete.

Agencies may be public (funded by the state) or private (profit and nonprofit). Public agencies place children who are wards of the state due to abandonment, abuse or neglect. They are the least expensive with the shortest waiting time of all adoptions. However, most children placed by public agencies have special needs, and few are healthy newborns. Families may have the option of foster parenting before completing the adoption.

Private agencies can place these children, but they may also place children who have been brought to the agency by the mother before or after birth (giving her the opportunity to choose the family who will adopt her child). Private agencies are more selective of both birth mothers and adoptive families. But while waiting for both parents' custody relinquishment, children may be placed in foster care or risky placements, and families may lose significant amounts of money when placements fail. Profit agencies may place children more quickly but they are more expensive than nonprofit agencies. You should choose only a reputable agency that is licensed in the state in which it operates.

In a transracial adoption, children are placed with an adoptive family of another race. This type of adoption may fall under any of the categories previously listed and amounts to roughly 8 percent of all adoptions.

A new option available to parents, and especially attractive to infertile couples, is "embryo adoption." Couples who are attempting pregnancy by in vitro fertilization often create more zygotes than are used, which are subsequently frozen for storage. The genetic parents may choose to place these zygotes for "adoption," making them available to another couple for pregnancy through an embryo adoption agency. The transfer of the zygote is not legally an adoption but a property transfer. But after acquiring the embryos, they are implanted via in vitro fertilization into the adoptive mother, making her also the legal birth mother — able to experience pregnancy, childbirth and nursing.

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