I have had TONS of emailed questions and post comments requesting more info about why we decided to adopt the way we did. So I have detailed my answers to many of the most commonly-asked questions we receive about our adoption.
**Note: Please know that I am not claiming to be an expert on adoption nor will I ever be. I can only share what I have seen and experienced personally. I also detail why we switched from our religious-based agency to a private agency, which may not be what we would recommend to everyone.
I don’t know how much you already know about adoption, so I will tell you what I have learned through my experience. This is just info from our own experience, so please don’t be offended by anything in here.
While living in Missouri, my husband and I heard about a religious-based agency and its strong need for short-term foster care families for newborns. We were drawn to it… since we had been so blessed with a good home, great job, and fabulous children that we felt it was time to give back. We talked with another couple who had participated in the system and they absolutely loved it. We completed the homestudy and became foster-care certified with that and one other religious-based agency. Our role would be to take care of these infants during the required “wait period” for a mom to be sure she wants to give up the child, which in MO was 5-7 days. (It could be much longer if the agency has to chase down the father to sign over his rights, or if he is unwilling to do so.) We only had a chance to foster one baby before my husband was recruited to Utah. But we really enjoyed it!
Our fourth biological baby also started out as twins… we lost #4’s twin just over three months into the pregnancy. Although we always thought we would have four children, our minds quickly adjusted to five during those first three months. After the birth of #4, our family did not feel complete. A few years after, we started trying again for one last baby and simply couldn’t get one here amid some strange, reproductive problems that worried us. For two years, we went to many doctors (including my uncle who is an infertility MD) and after many procedures – nobody could figure out exactly what was wrong with me and why nothing would take. After some time and expenses (even with my uncle’s discounts), I decided it was time to explore other options.
We both knew we were open to adoption due of our foster experience, but my husband could not get over the financial aspect (he eventually did and it is explained further below). Knowing that moving forward with further procedures would also be costly, we decided to certify for adoption with one of the most affordable religious-based agencies Agency A here in UT (costs also outlined further below). It seemed like an awkward and long/slow process for us, mostly administrative, and other adoptive couples felt we should not be there because we already had four children. I know some of you may agree with that, and that is OK. In our minds, we needed one more child and would not be truly happy until that happened. In the process of certification, we prodded the case worker to tell us, realistically, what we were looking at in terms of wait time given the size of our family and the crazy “demand” for babies in their system. The agency does not explicitly answer such questions, but enough information was provided to assess that it would be at least 3-4 years before our getting a baby and maybe longer. They were the less expensive option by far, but in our case that would come with an expense in terms of completeness/happiness and we are not getting any younger. This option likely would have been the best one if we had not had any children, but for us… time mattered.
The application process took five months with Agency A, when it is apparently slightly shorter with H2H given the experience of some friends. Part of that delay was due to our having lived in multiple states over the past three years (police background checks), which would have happened at either agency, but our social worker at Agency A only worked part time and it was very difficult to get any response each time we tried to reach her. (I need to be careful not to over-generalize that all Agency A case workers were like her, because I am sure this is not the case. This was simply our experience.)
As expected, we were asked a LOT of personal, financial, and spiritual questions, etc. We were interviewed separately, which, I am positive was for safety measures when considering placing a child in the home… It just felt somewhat like being on trial. It is likely that the homestudy with H2H (or another) may include some of the same questions. I don’t know because we didn’t certify through them. Though in talking to friends that used H2H they make it sound just as thorough yet much less invasive. We asked specifically when we started the homestudy with Agency A if it were possible to use that homestudy at other agencies and they told us yes. So our homestudy with Agency A simply rolled over to H2H when we decided to switch over. Although, since then I have heard some people are having a hard time getting their homestudies released from Agency A for private adopotion. Again, this is only our experience…
To our knowledge (I called H2H and verified), there is no legal age spacing for an adoption if your last child is a biological. However, legally there is a six-month wait between two adoptions. Private agencies who have a high supply of babies can adopt out to the same family as soon as the family has finalized. So even though our little guy is only six-months old, we could adopt again anytime in the next year… with our homestudy being good for 18mos. I think the one-year wait comes from Agency A and its organizational preference for six months longer than the legally-required six months. Since its agency is heavier on adoptive families, I assume this is in effort to thin out the adoptive couple pipeline and give others a better chance to receive a baby. Agency A will also require you to complete a new homestudy with each child regardless of time frame.
Also, there was not a requirement of a bedroom for the child nor is there a set number of square feet required for EACH member of the family. This is a state foster–care law and not mandated by Agency A or H2H. I can’t remember the exact number, but let’s say you needed 400 sq’ft per person and you had four people in your family and wanted to foster one child. You would need to have at least 2000 sq’ft in your home. Make sense? However, when we did our homestudy through Agency A, all they asked for was the total sqft of the home and # of bedrooms (writing them down). We don’t have a finished basement yet and only have four bedrooms total for seven people. So our finished square footage would be smaller, and we didn’t have a designated “room” for the baby, which apparently didn’t matter. The case worker walked through the home at one point during the homestudy, but more to look for safety hazzards and assess general cleanliness, etc., than anything else. Later, after we had switched to H2H and we were having post-placement home visits with our caseworker, she again walked through the home – but never asked questions about square footage or bedrooms.
During certification, we sat for a few months contemplating our position and timing for our family. By that point, I had a friend who had just recently adopted using Heart to Heart in Sandy, UT. She LOVED this agency and had a baby placed in her home within 47 days! We were happy for them but just weren’t ready to commit financially to H2H because of the cost difference. Not long thereafter, H2H called my friend stating, “We have too many babies and not enough families –particularly for infants of various ethnicities. Do you know anyone interested in adopting?” Sarah said “Yes, I have a friend who just certified with (XX) who is considering private adoption. They are a great family!” That same day, H2H called us, stated the baby situation, and asked if we were interested (ethnicity was not a factor for us).
We thought about H2H and their fees for a few days and the financial ramifications on our family. Honestly, we finally decided that it wasn’t fair to ask God to be blessed with an adopted baby and then expect the process to fit our budget and our timeline, etc. For every blessing there must come some sacrifice. We looked at all options, made an informed decision, and felt good about switching so we called H2H back and in three days had our paperwork in and approved (it helped tremendously that we were already certified with the other agency).
The process was so simple and we really felt like we were valued in their system and not so much of a “you-are-just-one-in-a-million, so-good-luck” mentality we felt with Agency A. It was a completely different experience. We were so excited for our family to get a baby in a system where the “demand” was essentially reversed (such a need for good adoptive families).
Plus, adoptive families seemed to have a lot more say at H2H than the Agency A. For example,
Agency A: You are on a list with literally 1000’s of families and the birth mom simply goes through and “picks” the profile she likes. You don’t really have much say in the process as they strongly discourage rejecting a match even if you may not be fully comfortable with it because there is no assurance that you could be picked again soon.
H2H: You are on a very short list (maybe 7-10 unmatched families) where they profile only 3-4 families at a time to the birthmoms so you are much more likely to be chosen. Before you are profiled to the mother, you get to see ALL the birth parents info (location of adoption, adoption costs, medical histories, pictures if they have any, etc.). You essentially get to choose which birth moms see your family profile.
Agency A: You fly to wherever the birth mom lives. This cost is on top of what you pay for fees. You have to deal with interstate compound laws if the birth mom lives in a different state than you do. You abide by that state’s adoption laws and what the statutes are for the local birth parent rights.
H2H: We requested a UT birth mom, since that is where we live. Many of H2H’s birth mom’s come here since the agency is based in UT (which, I think, shows a high level of commitment to placing the baby since they would be out of their environment and most birth moms come alone). Ours had already been here for two months. In fact, the agency works to convince the mothers to come here for reasons to be explained. UT is one of the best states in the country in favor of adoptive families. It has what is called “informed consent” for the birth parents. Basically, if the father knows how to have intercourse, he demonstrates that he knows he could potentially have a child. So, the dad has to literally be present and sign the birth certificate in order to obtain parental rights… no chasing down some random dad in order to begin the adoption process. Our birth father didn’t show up for the birth, didn’t sign the birth certificate, and therefore, had no rights from day ONE. Our baby’s birth certificate lists the father as “unknown”, even though we know exactly who he is. UT adoption law also has a clause where a birth mom can sign her rights over 24hrs after delivery. Those 24 hours are required just to be sure that she wants to proceed with placing the infant. Our mother signed at 36 hours to accommodate the agency schedule, etc., but other states vary and the majority is much longer. In Missouri, the buffer time is 5-7 days… in Arizona, it is 72 hours. Can you imagine??? That allows quite a bit of bonding time for a birthmother with the baby where, since you are online for some of the costs at this point, she could keep the baby and you walk with nothing! Personally, I believe the longer they have to bond and agonize over the decision the less likely it is they will adopt the baby out – even if it is the right choice for the baby. It is not always the case, but it was explained to us by H2H that it does happen. It’s just so hard on the birth mothers, and I really feel for them. That’s tough. I didn’t recognize how hard it would be to watch our birth mom give up our son until we saw her with him. She really, really loved him and we love her for it. We bawled right alongside her.
Let me just note at this point that you DO NOT have to live in Utah to use H2H. You can live anywhere and travel here for birthmom meeting, delivery, and finalization. Those travel costs are on top of H2H’s fees, just as they are with Agency A.
Agency A: We were told not to specify a gender since it would severely limit us with the birth moms. We were also told the more open to different races, the more quickly a match may happen. The agency system relies quite a bit on an online system-wide search portal where a birth mom can select parameters when looking at families, so you could be limiting your options for a match and not really know it. They also have walk-in situations where birth moms can look at a book of families in the area or the caseworker counseling with a birth mom, if the worker is impressed with your family, would show your profile to her.
H2H: We were told to absolutely choose a gender or specific race if we wanted to. This was a big one to my hubby who, having four girls, desperately wanted a son. We specified a boy. Ethnicity was not a concern for us. Your participation in the process of matching is much greater since you approve of available adoption situations before the birthmother sees your profile. With Agency A, a birth mom could see your profile and you would never know unless a caseworker actually handed it to them and told you after the fact.
Adoptive Couple Stipulations
Agency A: You must be a married, two-parent, home. Adopted couples must be active in the agency’s affiliated religion. The couple cannot have had an elective sterilization surgery (you or hubby). Medical sterilizations are different. Certification can be limited based on some medical conditions like previous cancer, etc, however these are on a case-by-case basis.
H2H: Can be single or unmarried, any or no religion, and previous medical procedures or conditions won’t eliminate you as a candidate.
Both Agencies: You can live anywhere and still use either agency. Agency A has locations all over the country so you simply look up your local office. With H2H, when we were in the hospital with our son, there were two other families adopting as well. Both were from outside UT, but both were using Utah private agencies (again, because of the great Utah adoption laws).
Agency A: The office we were using told us that they place about 10+/- babies per year. This office is the second busiest location for this agency in the nation, so you can see that placement is quite low. Because of its religious affiliation, most members only consider this avenue because it is what they are comfortable with (plus part of the adoption costs are subsidized by the church). There is nothing wrong with this, because we felt the same way when we first listed with them. This is not always the case, but even those who are open to private adoption stay here primarily because of expense.
H2H: Placed 115 babies in 2008. That is about 10 per month, and is a really accurate average for the last several years. Again, you have a say in who sees you so you have an accurate idea of your situation.
Meeting the Birth Mom
Agency A: Once the birth mom selects you, you may or may not meet her (it depends on what she wants). Legally, at this point you can still say no but it is STRONGLY discouraged (as mentioned above). It is so hard to just get selected via this agency that most couples don’t even think about questioning it. If you are matched, then there is an agreement you have to sign.
H2H: Once the birth mom has selected you, you will have a chance to go to dinner with her and meet her. You can ask any questions you have, etc, at that time and she will do the same. After dinner the agency will call both parties and ask how you felt about the other. If you both say you felt good, then this is considered a “match”. You receive the adoption contract the next day. But you can say NO at this point, too. I have heard of a few people that have done that with our agency.
Agency A: They recommend that you have as “open” of an adoption as you feel comfortable… with a warning that choosing a closed arrangement could eliminate you from consideration. The more open you are to ongoing contact with the birth mom the more likely it is you will get chosen. We were told by Agency A that they promote an open adoption to the birth moms since they feel it is helpful for the birth mom’s healing to have lots of contact shortly after birth. You can limit the amount of contact to whatever you are comfortable with; however, the birth moms receive counseling where they are told it is healthy to have an open adoption. So… most of the birth moms want AT LEAST blogs, letters, pictures, e-mails, on a consistent basis. Some request visits, dinners, holidays, etc… it totally depends on the birth mom. We were told that rarely do they have one that wants a closed adoption, which tend to happen in rape instances, but not always. The birth mom will know how much contact you want before selecting you–so if you don’t have enough openness they will simply eliminate you. As is mostly the case, selecting “open” does not mean that the birth mom will go gangbusters for contact forever… many do lose interest sometime after the first year.
H2H: The birth mom can tell you how open she wants to be, but it is solely at the discretion of the adoptive family. H2H does not counsel one way or the other, except that they ask the moms to be considerate of the families as well in coming to a mutual arrangement. Our birth mom asked for an “open adoption” and we were thinking “Oh no, what exactly is she looking for?” Then she said that she wanted letters and pictures so she could keep a scrapbook, which is technically the definition of semi-open. We were relieved! H2H strongly discourages any trading of personal info like address or phone numbers. They do encourage a few letters and pictures (especially for the first few years). The paperwork we were given said “One letter every other month for the first 6 months, then one letter every six months (or on major events like birthdays and Christmas) for the first couple of years“. All letters are sent through the agency so it doesn’t have your return address on it. Basically I call our situation a “semi-open” adoption… meaning we do have some contact, but it is very limited. H2H’s version of open is really semi-open. There are quite a few moms that prefer a closed to moderately-closed adoption as well. We sent 4-5 letters to our son’s birthmom through the agency, but the last one is still sitting there. The mom has not checked back in with the agency since a few months after his birth. Makes me sad, but I can also understand her desire to move on.
TWO OF THE LARGEST HURDLES TO OVERCOME IN CONTEMPLATING ADOPTION…
“I (or the other spouse) don’t know if we could love an adopted child like a biological child(ren)…”
Honestly speaking, this one is tough. We have been on both sides of this statement and agree that for some… this one is a real stickler. For some reason, we are mostly pre-programmed to believe that the love that exists in a family has something to do with biology among other things. To some extent, it is. Often couples love talking about their unborn child… wondering whose nose the child will have and if they will inherit natural curls from the mother or the dimples of the father, etc. There is something somehow bonding with the knowledge that this little child is “half me”. We’ve been there four times, so we know how it is.
In my opinion, we should not mistake this as bonding love. Each child has a spirit that is just as special as any other. Biologically, we are all defective… subject to all the ailments around us. Genetically, our biological children will inherit all the good and bad from both of us. Adopting a child would never mean that the child would somehow be genetically inferior to our own biological children. Ever. My point is, one does not have to be biologically related in order for the strong familial love to be there. Think about the love you have for your spouse… I am fairly certain that most of you are not blood-related to your spouse, yet the love bond there is as strong as you will ever experience toward another human being. Granted, a child/parent relationship is not on the same level… well, it is, but on a much different plane so the position stands valid. Another viewpoint will be shared later about a child in sickness.
One interesting note, how many of you have seen those late night talk shows where the host compares the looks of pet owners and their pets? Isn’t it crazy how after some time the pet owner and pet start looking and acting like each other? There is something inexplicable to that. I have seen several adoption cases of friends where their child actually begins looking and acting like either one or both adoptive parents. This is the age-old question… how much of us is nature vs. nurture??? I know what I believe, so I will leave that up to each of you to decide. I think we need to recognize that in the big picture, it may not be so much as us choosing this child as it is… that this child is choosing us!
Again, these are my opinions based upon now having been on both sides.
“Adoption, especially through a private agency, is just so expensive. We simply don’t know how we could come up with the money to do it…”
The money is perhaps the most difficult hurdle in adopting because it has a major impact. It was really hard for us to mentally get there, you know? It is a significant outlay of cash and not easy for most people to easily swallow. It wasn’t until we started thinking in perspective that we could get to where we needed to be. Perspective, as in what if one of our children or spouse was diagnosed with a debilitating disease like cancer, failing heart, etc? How much would we spend on medical bills trying to cure them… $25K? One million dollars???? There never are any guarantees. How much did you spend on your last car or on that Hawaiian vacation? Or, what price tag can I put on giving a child a great life full of opportunity, with religion (if you are religious), in a home where there is a father, and parents who love each other? Can you put a price tag on those things? In these cases, $25K should be no different than $1MM? It is a sacrifice, that’s for sure. Looking in our little boy’s eyes, we have not second guessed our decision at all. At all.
With Agency A, adoptions are subsidized about by as much as $18,000 per adoption. That was what they told us. Therefore, the true base adoption cost is no less than $5,000 and no more than $10,000 per child. It depends on your income… exactly 10% of your gross as a flat fee up to $100K salary . So if you make $80K you would pay $8K in adoption fees. If you make $120K you would still only pay $10k. Plus, there is a “floating cost” of $3K. Basically if you had a birth mom that needed help with rent or food prior to birth because her parents kicked her out, this would fall into the $3K area. This is unusual, but you agree to it all or nothing and don’t really know until a birth mom selects you. Plus there is $1K to get your home study done with Agency A, not including any travel expenses. The attorneys fees in preparation to finalize the adopttion will range from $700-1200, depening on who you use. Full or mixed-race placements do not change the fees with Agency A… it is all the same.
With H2H and most other private agencies, fees range depending on gender and ethnicity. On average, African-American baby adoption fees were between $14-16K including the birth mom being brought out to Utah. Fees for Hispanic (or a blend) baby ranged from $18-24K. Any baby with a mix of caucasian ethnicity had fees of about $24-30K. I don’t get why there is a variance in adoption fees, as it’s all the same work being done. A child is a child.
H2H charges only $700 for their homestudy. The attorney we used to finalize only cost us $700 and we LOVED her… she isn’t tied to any agency so if you ever need one let me know. She was very affordable from our research. In total, the adoption fees for our little boy was $16K base, plus we agreed to all medical expenses. As stated before, H2H tries really hard to get their moms on Medicaid if they qualify, but our mom had other children who stayed back in Louisiana so she couldn’t switch her file to UT. We will end up at around $25K in adoption fees with everything. Before you panic over this number, read on further below.
One advantage to Agency A, is that if you are matched and the birthmom changes her mind, you lose nothing and you are rolled back into the adoptive couple pipeline. (Agency A can afford to do this because a large portion of the adoption is subsidized by the church with which it affiliates.) In this situation, the case worker mentioned that they do make special focus to show your profile to birthmoms hoping that one will place with you soon to help heal the devastation from losing the previous placement. With H2H (other private agencies also), when a birthmom decides against placing shortly after birth… the agency has incurred some direct costs associated with the birthmom for which you would still be responsible. They told us that they roll over as much of your fees as possible to another placement, and make special focus with new birthmoms on profiling you. They also told us that this is why they try to pursuade birthmoms to aquire Medicaid, if they can qualify, so that you would not be responsible for the birthing costs regardless.
Just an FYI–banks will do loans. We had the cash for the full agency fee, but not enough for the medical bills and finalization. My husband completed a home equity line to fund the remaining amount, of which interest can be a tax deductible. We have been whacking away at that principal since July and will apply our tax return from 2009 to finish off that debt.
I know some people who have found very low interest credit cards if they can qualify for the card, where interest rates are extremely low (like 2-3%). Some people borrow money from family etc. There are grants available (do a Google search) but most are for children already in state care who need placement or are for children with special needs. Any grants offered would be done by financial need and through a standard application process similar to applying for a college scholarship or Pell-Grants/student loans.
Company Adoption Incentives
You should know that there are financial perks to adopting as well. Most companies will help subsidize an adoption (ours covered $2,500 in fees but we have heard of anything from 0 to nearly all of the fees!). My husband’s company gave him one week off for adoptive paternity, however we never received any for our maternal deliveries (weird, but true!). So we had great family time in which we could bond with him at home. Be sure to talk to the person in your company’s HR responsible for insurance to find out what its adoption policy covers.
There are also BIG tax breaks for adoption. The tax season AFTER finalization you can get up to $12,150 in 2009 (or up to $11,650 if you finalized in 2008) spread over multiple years if your deduction exceeds that year’s tax. Plus there is the great $1K tax break for adding a new dependant to your family via the Child Tax Credit (also in the year that the adoption is final).
So although you have to scrimp and find the money up front, your company and the government can heavily subsidize the adoption. For example, if you adopted an African American child for the flat $16k adoption fee from H2H, you would eventually get $12.1K back from taxes (less company contributions) as well as $1K in child tax credit. If your company paid any towards the adoption, you might even come out close to breaking even on the base fee.
Plus, do not forget that having a biological baby isn’t free! Having a baby for us was anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 in hospital bills. It would cost a lot more than that for a biological baby if you were working with infertility treatments. (I do know of a great infertility Dr. if that’s the route you choose to go. I’m happy to send the info to you.)
We were excited to complete our family. Our little guy is so loved, happy and healthy. He is in a home full of faith, a mother and father who love each other, and four sisters who dote on him. Our community has great schools, plenty of sports and STEM programs, and fabulous traditions. There are widely-known statistics that point to potential outcomes for children growing up in much less favorable circumstances, and these were the very reasons our birth mom sought out a better life for her son.
I don’t mean to sound so pro or a downer about any given agency… our scale ended up weighing out in one direction for us and it made sense. Our experience was wonderful! Please don’t send me harsh comments about how wrong I am about the agency we chose. We willingly admit that this is our experience and others may have different perspectives. We simply did extensive research and found a good fit for us. In all honesty, we relied quite a bit on prayer also, to fill in the gaps, and feel very much led to the agency we went through for obvious reasons (our son).
We have learned that your baby will find its way to your home no matter what. We have learned to have faith in that. We have also learned that we can’t dictate how, when, where, or the cost of receiving a baby from God. There is a plan and we simply have to do our best to find our way in it.
Our little guy’s adoption was such an AMAZING experience! We put our papers in and about 10 days later were picked by a mom delivering our son nine days later! We could hardly catch our breath before he was literally born! We met the birth mom for dinner, both sides felt good about it, went to lunch a few days later, she allowed me to go to her final Dr’s appt a few days later….then BAM!!! Our son was here! The birth mom let us come into the delivery room and she allowed me to hold her leg and cut the cord. It was so amazing!!!! (Now, I am not going to lie… having a baby without delivering personally is FANTASTIC!)
Comparing natural birth versus adoption, personally I believe that adoption is much harder emotionally… just the unknown of when or if you are really going to bring a baby home. All of it – but it was SO WORTH IT! I would recommend adoption to anyone now at that crossroads. I think it makes your family that much better, more well-rounded, and open to accepting people into loving and lasting non-biological relationships that may never have existed.
When I think about where I was one-year ago, right now (yes only one year), just starting my paperwork, I am BLOWN away! I am so much better off having had this experience in my life. I couldn’t love this little guy any more than I do right now! He was meant to be a part of my family and we are so lucky to have him! Our family’s eyes are certainly more understanding of “non-biological” love… of all kinds of cultures and ethnicities/nationalities… because we are all different and have a desire to be loved and to belong.
Isn’t it amazing?