On a blustery evening in March 2005, just days after experiencing our latest miscarriage, my wife, Julie, and I received a call from a friend. After some initial small talk, he posed a question that changed the course of our lives.
A young, unmarried friend of their family was five months pregnant and looking to make an adoption plan. Might we be interested?
We immediately said yes!
At the time, we had no idea how the next four months would unfold. Although a few of our friends had adopted internationally, we were still relatively unfamiliar with the process, especially when it came to domestic adoption.
To me, adoption was something that happened to somebody else, and most often in a movie, a book or on television.
Today, 12 years and three adoptions later, I’ve often thought about how helpful it would have been to know then what we know now. Here are 10 things we’ve learned about adoption. Granted, this list might make the journey seem daunting, but let me assure you, it’s worth it!
- The adoption process is hard, but it’s good. There were plenty of ups and downs in the months between our friend’s phone call and our son Riley’s birth. If you’re the kind of person who likes everything neat and predictable (like me), you’re going to have to let that go. Almost every adoption discussion involves more questions than answers. There will be good days and bad days. Every placement is unique because every child is unique.
- Patience is a necessity. That picture-perfect, stress-free, smile-filled meeting between the adoptive parents and their new son or daughter – the one you see in the movies? That may happen eventually, but before it does there are mountains of paperwork, interviews, financial disclosures, difficult decisions, home visits, parent training, CPR classes, fingerprints and waiting. Lots of waiting. If you’re the type of person who likes to run the show, you’ll again need to make some adjustments. The Lord may be in control of the process, but the birthparents and agency are also in the driver’s seat.
- Don’t let the cost scare you away. It’s easy to be discouraged when you read that the average cost of adoption is more than $40,000. While it can certainly be expensive, there are many different types of adoption and not every placement costs even close to that amount. Private and agency adoptions tend to be the most expensive, but the federal adoption tax credit is significant. Adopting from foster care, meanwhile, is often less than $2,000. Low-interest loans are also available. In the end, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lots of families hold creative fundraisers, and many people enjoy giving to such a worthy cause.
- Don’t keep your desire to adopt a secret. While families adopt for a variety of reasons, infertility is a common motivator. Although it’s a very personal and intimate matter, resist the urge to keep quiet about it. Adoption placements occur through family and friends of friends, so the more people who know of your interest to adopt, the greater your chances of being matched with a child.
- A candid family profile can make all the difference. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward when putting together their adoption profile, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and down-to-earth. Most birthparents appreciate authenticity. Sometimes it’s the little things: One caseworker told us about a birth mom who chose a family because they had a black Labrador retriever. “I want my daughter to have what I had growing up,” the mother said.
- A good attorney is worth the expense. Skilled legal counsel is invaluable. Some adoption agencies have attorneys, but they’re responsible for representing the agency, not necessarily your family. With our third adoption, a complex out-of-state placement, our attorney’s advice at a key turning point helped prevent the entire process from falling part. Lawyers might not be cheap, but good ones are worth every penny.
- Don’t be intimidated by an open adoption. The thought of maintaining an ongoing relationship with our eldest son’s birthparents put a lump in my throat. What if his mother didn’t like me or my wife? What if our son liked her more than us? Open adoption is increasingly common, and while it’s not possible or even wise for every placement – especially those involving adoption from foster care – it can still be tremendously rewarding.
- Don’t be overly sensitive. Adoptive families still represent a relatively small demographic, so many people aren’t quite sure what to say when discussing the topic. It’s important to remember that most people mean well, even if they say the wrong thing. For example, we’ve had people ask about our boys’ “real” parents. And since two of our sons are Hispanic, we’ve had people ask if they’re brothers, which of course they are, though not biological. In the end, cut people some slack. If I’m honest, I probably made some of the same mistakes before becoming an adoptive parent.
- Yes, you can love them just as much. Partially out of ignorance and admittedly out of pride, I was initially determined to do whatever my wife and I could to conceive a child naturally. I liked the idea of having a child with our DNA and our characteristics. After all, it was President Ronald Reagan who famously said that having a daughter “was like watching your wife grow up all over again.” Yet I’m so thankful that God had other plans. Had we conceived biological children, we likely never would have adopted the three boys we now have the privilege of raising.
- Real life can be awkward, and that’s OK. When I grew up, TV shows were mostly wholesome and innocent. I came to subconsciously believe that most challenges in life could be solved in 30 minutes or less. Of course, real life is unpredictable. Real life involves awkward and difficult moments. In the midst of adopting three children, I’ve come to realize that some of my most invigorating, faith-filled moments came on the heels of some of the most stressful circumstances surrounding adoption.
In such moments, I’m reminded that we weren’t created to handle life’s challenges alone.“My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord said to Paul, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (Corinthians 12:9).
Indeed, the Lord’s grace is sufficient in our parenting pursuits, whether we’re raising biological children or forming our family through the gift of adoption.