I was talking with Mary, a fellow adoptee friend of mine, this afternoon when she asked how our adoption progress is going. I said what I always do, “we’re waiting.”
Our parents waited as well, but they were on a true waiting list. Back in the olden days (ha ha), infant adoption was something of a first-come, first-served situation for adoptive parents. Potential adoptive parents would go through background checks, have a home study done, and register with their adoption agency, who would put them on a list. A birth mother would place her newborn with an adoption agency, then the baby would often live with a foster family or at an orphanage-type home until after any waiting period was over. Adoptive parents were then called to pick up their child. Mary’s parents got the call while they were visiting relatives out of state, when she was three months old. My parents’ agency called them to come pick me up when I was two months old.
These days, potential birth parents are more likely to want to be (and are allowed to be)
part of the process of choosing adoptive parents for their child. Through open adoption agencies like ours, potential birth mothers are presented with a stack of family profiles based on their preferences (such as geographic location, race, whether or not there are other children in the family, etc.). Often, the potential birth mother already has a family in mind–whether they be friends-of-friends, coworkers, or folks they’ve found through social media or an adoption agency website. From there, she can choose to contact families of interest to her and plan a meeting. If she narrows her choice down to a family and everyone involved thinks it’s a good idea, they can elect to be “matched” together. All of this is usually done while she is still pregnant, so a match can last a few weeks or several months, depending on how far along she is in the pregnancy. She may or may not want the potential adoptive parent(s) to be there when she gives birth, and her adoption plan may include spending lots of time with her new baby, none at all, or something in between. Legally, the potential adoptive parents have no connection to the baby until the birth parents sign paperwork voluntarily terminating their parental rights. This means it’s possible for a potential adoptive family to be matched with a potential birth mother for months, witness the birth, and even take the baby home, and a member of the birth family change their minds and bring the baby back–as long as that happens either before the birth parents have signed the paperwork, or after signing if they’re still within a state-determined window of time when they can change their minds (often 30 or fewer days after the birth). More frequently, if the match has lasted through the birth of the child, the rest goes according to the birth mother’s adoption plan the baby’s legal custody goes to the adoption agency. The baby goes home from the hospital with their adoptive parents-to-be, and the adoption is finalized within several months.
Also in contrast to my adoption and Mary’s, now open adoption with continued communication between the adoptive family and birth family is common. That can mean that the adoptive family sends updates like school photos and letters to the birth family, or everyone gets together several times a year. Lots of families use social media and texting to keep in contact now. There are also birth families who don’t want as close a connection, or they do only up until a certain point in the child’s life. With open adoption, the birth parents get to set those parameters in their adoption plan (although such agreements aren’t legally binding in all states, so being able to trust that the adoptive family will follow through with the plan is very important).
Modern-day infant adoption is complicated, but studies show that it works best for everyone involved. The risk is definitely scary for potential adoptive parents. I’m still hoping we’ll get a last-minute call from a woman who put the finishing touches on her child’s adoption plan after giving birth, so our relationship with her and the baby can grow from there. But we’ll ride this out whichever way it happens, knowing the “front of the line” doesn’t exist until we get there.