Adoption is a long and arduous process, fraught with the risk that your child won't turn out the way you hoped. In other words, it has many similarities with giving birth. Despite those high-profile horror stories about toddlers being removed from their adoptive homes, seven-year waits for infants, or exorbitant costs, "adoption works," says Sandra Gosline, a Philadelphia woman who adopted a newborn 21/2 years ago. "Just keep plugging away."
If you persevere--and have deep pockets--you can adopt a healthy newborn, says Arline Tannenbaum, director of adoption services at Work/Family Directions, a Boston-based firm offering consultation and referral to nearly 200 corporations. In the U.S., roughly 60,000 children are adopted annually. About half are infants of the same race as the adoptive parents. Also, half are children with special needs, which may simply mean they are older than 2 or have to be placed with siblings.
Before you begin the process, a lot of research and some soul-searching is in order, says Lois Gilman, author of The Adoption Resource Book. If, like most people, you are considering adoption because of infertility, "the main question you need to come to terms with is, do you want to have a baby, or parent a child," says Gilman. If it is parenting you are after, there are thousands of children who need you here in the U.S.
First, learn the laws in your state. Contact public and private agencies for information. Read books, join parent groups, attend conferences, and tell everyone you can think of about your plans to adopt as a way to expand your contacts. Also check with your employer: A 1993 study by Hewitt Associates found that 18% of 1,000 large companies surveyed reimburse some adoption costs. Coca-Cola, for example, provides up to $4,000 per adoption.
COSTLY PROCESS. You'll need the help because adoption is getting increasingly expensive. For an infant, expect to spend between $10,000 and $20,000--largely to cover the birth mother's care, says Tannenbaum. Other trends: Domestically, birth parents are getting more say in deciding who adopts their children and demanding more opportunities to stay in touch. And U.S. courts are enforcing birth father rights, so try to make sure the biological father has signed legal documents giving up his rights. Some couples turn to international adoption in part to avoid the risks of birth parents resurfacing.
Since there is most demand for healthy white infants, these are the hardest children to adopt. The more flexible you can be about the age, race, health, and background of the child, the easier and less expensive the process will be. If you want a "baby," does it have to be a newborn, or could it be a toddler? Is it a high priority that your child be physically or mentally healthy? Would you enjoy and be proud to parent a child of a different race or culture? "The most important thing is that the parent is comfortable with the child they are choosing to raise," says Gilman.
If you want an infant, you essentially have two choices. You can use a private agency, which entails long waits and high fees. Some agencies also have requirements about age, religion, and marital status of prospective parents. Agencies typically put together a file, including a home study done by a social worker, a picture, and a letter you write to the birth mother describing yourself, your home, and your plans for the baby. The birth mother usually gets to choose the adoptive parents from among several files.
Another option is to locate a baby available for adoption on your own, a process known as independent or private adoption. If you are unfamiliar with the process, it may appear unseemly at first. It essentially involves networking among friends, doctors, and other professionals and advertising in newspapers to locate a birth mother. You then set up an 800-number "baby phone" in your home and wait for pregnant women to call. A lawyer usually acts as intermediary, and you pay the woman's pre-birth expenses. Such adoptions aren't allowed in a few states, such as Connecticut.
While independent adoption may be quicker, it is very expensive and much riskier, since birth parents often back out. But today about half of all infants are adopted this way, estimates the nonprofit Adoptive Families of America. If you pursue this course, hire an experienced lawyer.
RICH REWARDS. To adopt one of this country's estimated 100,000 "waiting" children currently in the foster-care system, you can go through your state's public agency at no cost to you. Subsidies may even be available for mentally or physically handicapped kids. "You need to go into it with your eyes wide open and know that there are additional difficulties" raising a child that may have emotional problems, says Charlotte Vick of the North American Council on Adoptable Children. But seeing such a child thrive in a permanent home can be greatly rewarding.
It's wise to pursue several channels at once, advise Nancy and Ernie Cozadd of Southern California. They suffered the disappointment of having the birth father suddenly appear to protest their long-planned adoption the day they went to the hospital to take their newborn daughter home. "Rather than keeping this child in limbo and dragging everyone through the mud, we let her go," says Nancy Cozadd. Luckily, a month later an agency offered them a 3-year-old girl and her 5-year-old brother who were slated to be separated. Now the Cozadds can't imagine life without Tony and Mary. And their struggles seem a small sacrifice to have the two children they love.
ADOPTIVE FAMILIES OF AMERICA (AFA) 800 372-3300. Can direct you to local parent groups and free information. Call for its 64-page Guide to Adoption and a catalog of parenting resources.
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ADOPTION
ATTORNEYS Box 33053, Washington, D.C. 20033-0053. Write for a free list of lawyers who help with independent adoptions.
NATIONAL ADOPTION INFORMATION CLEARINGHOUSE 301 231-6512. Offers referrals and free information on how to adopt.
NORTH AMERICAN COUNCIL ON
ADOPTABLE CHILDREN 612 644-3036. Advocates for "waiting" children, who may be older, physically or mentally handicapped, have emotional problems, or be in sibling groups.
BOOKS: The Adoption Resource Book by Lois Gilman ($12), Adopting After Infertility by Patricia Irwin Johnston ($14), The Essential Adoption Handbook by Colleen Alexander-Roberts ($13.95). Available through AFA.