Friday, November 02, 2012

November is Adoption Awareness Month

If you're reading this, chances are, you know someone (hello!) touched by adoption. It's becoming more and more common and definitely something that's more accepted by society as a whole. I'd like to say there's been progress made in the way adoptions are handled, but in a lot of ways, it's just as taboo as it was in the past.

I think people still have a lot of misconceptions about adoption. I blame the media for this. It's too easy to jump on the band-wagon and report about negative stories. People who don't know someone touched by adoption, don't always have the correct information, and either use negative stereotypes, inappropriate language, or offensive language when discussing adoption.

Just as each individual is unique, each adoption is unique. There are many things that create the adoption that each family has, and choices are made by everyone involved, that ultimately create the adoption life being lived.

Since it's National Adoption Month, I'd like to start by giving some basic information that many people may might/might not know/understand.

1) A pregnant woman who is considering adoption is NOT a birth mother. She's an expectant mother just like any other pregnant woman you may see. She may have a desire to PLACE her child for adoption, but until she signs TPR (termination of parental rights), she is an expectant mother and should only be called an expectant mother. Calling her a birth mother before she has signed TPR is offensive and highly inaccurate.

2) Saying someone "gave up" their baby is also terminology that's not used in the adoption world. Women place their children for adoption... they don't "give them up." By saying someone "gave up" their child, makes it sound like a willy-nilly, carefree, easy decision and they just stumbled into adoption and moved on. Like "giving up" chocolate for Lent. 

3) It's offensive to ask someone who has adopted/is adopting the following questions:
- How much did they/he/she cost?
- Was the birth mother on drugs?
- Why is she giving up her baby if she has other kids?
- Aren't you worried that they'll (the child) grow up and want to be with their real parents?
- Are you going to have a relationship with their real parents?

4) There are three types of adoption. Open, Semi-Open, and Closed. I'll give a brief description of each:

Closed- No identifying information is ever exchanged between the birth parents and adoptive parents. There is no relationship between the two parties once the child is both. No pictures/videos/gifts/contact between the child and the birth family. Usually, all records are sealed/closed and the child cannot access information about their biological roots. 

Semi-Open- Usually an agency or attorney act as a middle-person between the birth family and adoptive family. All contact goes between the agency/attorney and not done directly with the adoptive and birth family. Pictures/videos/letters/gifts can be shared, but usually through a middle person. Last names are almost never shared and there's no identifying information shared (location/last name/jobs/etc). Health info is shared and once the child is 18 (maybe 21) contact between the child and biological family can happen if agreed upon. There's usually a contract with parameters for contact.

Open- Can look like semi-open but the two parties involved may change their minds about using a middle person and just contact each other at some point. Open adoption is different for everyone and has different parts for each situation. The biggest difference being that everyone involved enters into the adoption with the notion of keeping everything open. The child knows they're adopted, maybe sees/talks to their birth parent, face-to-face visits happen, videos, phone calls, and identifying information may be shared.

Most agencies will only do open adoptions, but there are some that still do semi-open and closed. There are circumstances where both are appropriate for the benefit of everyone involved. My own personal opinion is that open adoption is the only way to ensure that a child grows up knowing who they are. 

5) There are several ways to adopt a child. International adoption (a child born outside the US), Domestic adoption (children born in the US), Foster Care adoption (children in the foster care system), Family adoption (adopting a child born to a family member), Agency adoption (using a licensed agency to adopt a child), and Private/Independent adoption (using an attorney to adopt and usually the family finds their own expectant mother).

6) When an expectant mother finds a family that she would like to place her baby with, the adoptive family can decide to pass on the situation, or if they accept, they're matched. This means that the baby inside the expectant mother, when born, will be placed with the family.

7) Once a family is matched, with an agency, they're usually not shown to other expectant mothers. The match isn't legally binding, but the two have an agreement that they will only work with each other. There ARE cases where expectant mothers match with more than one agency... this is fraud. Please don't think that it's a common occurrence. It does happen, but it's not something to assume is going to happen to everyone who matches.

8) When an expectant mother has her baby, she has a period of time before she can sign TPR (every state has a different time requirement). Once she signs TPR, depending on the state, the baby is placed with the adoptive family and they enter what's called the risk period. Each state has a different time for the risk period (with Gus being adopted in MI, the risk period was 30 days).

It's called the risk period because even though the birth mother has signed TPR, she has a set number of days to change her mind and decide to parent. Each state's risk period (revocation period) is different. The state of Florida doesn't have one. When a mother signs TPR, that's it.

In most cases, the risk period is the ONLY time a birth parent can decide to change their mind.  

9) If an expectant mother decides to parent her child BEFORE signing TPR but while matched, it becomes known as a failed match. This means that the family hoping the adopt the baby is left without a child.

A failed match is one of the greatest fears that anyone adopting a child faces. It's scary to put yourself out there and hope and dream, and then to have it all removed. Many families become really close to their expectant mothers, they may give financial support, emotional support, and they open up their lives to a virtual stranger, with the thought that once the baby comes, they'll be connected forever.

A failed match is like a death of a child. I've heard that for some, it's worse because the child isn't dead. They're alive, but the adoptive family who got so close to being the baby's parents, are left with nothing. It's a horrible, terrible thing and something I pray I never have to experience.

Failed matches happen. It's a reality that the mother can and may change her mind. When adopting through an agency, usually when the adoptive family is ready, they can be added back to the waiting family list and their profile can be shown to expectant mothers again. With an independent/private adoption, if there's a failed match, that's it. End of story. The adoptive family has to start over (in most cases).

10) If a woman has her baby, signs TPR and the baby goes with the adoptive family, and then during the risk period she changes her mind, it's called a failed adoption.

Personally, I think failed adoptions are worse than failed matches because the baby was taken into the family's custody and they became the caretakers of the baby. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to have a failed adoption. 

When there's a failed adoption through an agency, usually there's a multi-month wait before the family can be added back to the waiting family list... mainly so they have time to heal.

11) Once the risk period is over, the adoption paperwork can be filed. This means that the court will check over everything and make sure that all steps have been followed for the adoption to finalize. Depending on the state, it may take several weeks, to months before the adoption can be finalized by the court. Post-placement visits may be required by a social worker to make sure that the baby is doing well in the new home and the adoptive parents are doing well with having the baby.

You see movies and tv shows that make it sound like a birth mother can just come back and get their baby at any time. Maybe in the past that was more likely, but there are laws and procedures in place today, to make sure that these things cannot happen. In almost every situation, once the adoption has been finalized by a judge, it's final. PERIOD. 

Keep in mind this is all coming from my experience and perspective. These are my opinions and what I know to be true. I'm sure there are exceptions to many of the things I just wrote about, but I'm being somewhat generic in what I'm writing.

This month, I'm going to try to post something about adoption every day. Hopefully, you've learned something new from reading this post. Even if it's that you know not to say someone "gave up" their baby, or that a pregnant woman is just an expectant mom until she signs TPR... and only then is she a birth mother.

That is all for tonight.


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