This is a guest post from Susanna Brown, a homeschooling mama to four young children (and one on the way through adoption). Susanna holds a BA in Social Work from Auburn University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Alabama.

Click here to follow Susanna’s family adoption blog and see the journey from start to finish.

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Enter Susanna

Are you considering adoption?

Wondering how to support a friend or family member on the road to adoption?

Just curious about the adoption for the future?

Check out the unofficial ABC’s below to learn more about this wonderful journey…

Adoption

According to Dictionary.com, the word adopt means “to choose or take as one’s own.”[1] This is a beautiful definition…to choose or take as one’s own. Isn’t that what we’re doing when we adopt a child or children into our home? Dr. Russell Moore, author of Adopted for Life says, “The most critical part of this—whether you’re a parent, child, or other—is how you view the term ‘adopted.’” Adoption can be part of someone’s identity, but it doesn’t define every aspect of who they are. Moore continues, “Adopted is a past-tense verb, not an adjective.” Adoption refers to how a child came to be in a family, not to his or her present status.[2] Once a child is adopted, he or she is as much one’s own as if he or she was the parent’s flesh and blood. This is a precious reality. Adopt.org defines adoption as “A permanent, legally binding arrangement through which a person, usually a child or teenager, becomes a member of a new family. In this arrangement, persons other than the birth parents assume all parental rights and obligations. The birth parents no longer have these rights and obligations and are no longer the legal parents of the child.”[3]

Birth families

Before we move forward to discuss various aspects of adoption, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge birth parents. The reality is that adoption exists because of loss in one way or another. A child is an orphan because of loss. Perhaps it was abandonment, illness, or death. Perhaps the birth parents were unable or unwilling to care for the child, but regardless, birth parents of an adopted child will forever be part of his or her identity. Many birth parents bravely choose life for their children and endure untold loss and heartache during the process of placing their child for adoption. Whitney White (International Education Counselor) and Allison Fuqua, (Education Development Coordinator) who work with Lifeline Children’s Services elaborate.

“Regardless of how many years, days, or moments they spent with their children after they were born, birth mothers are, and will always be, a part of their children’s identity. For this reason, adoptive and foster parents need to honor their children’s birth mother. To speak or behave in a negative manner toward a child’s birth mother may create disruptions in relationships and may send unintended messages of disapproval of the child’s own identity. Adoptive and foster parents must be willing to privately recognize and process their own feelings or biases towards their child’s birth mother. Doing so will help provide a safe environment in which their child can explore the complexities of his or her emotions and identity in your presence. Remember to speak with age-appropriate honesty and openness when discussing birth parents with your child. It is always okay to say ‘I don’t know.’”

In this thoughtful article they offer ten practical ways to honor your adopted child’s birth mother if you have contact with her and ten practical ways to honor her if you do not.[4] The same should be said for birth fathers.

Christian perspective on adoption

In short, adoption is a tangible picture of the gospel. In the foreword of my favorite book about adoption, C.J. Mahaney writes of his own adoption in a way that might surprise you.

I was adopted when I was eight years old. I wasn’t an orphan, the way most people think of the term. I wasn’t an abandoned child. But I was in a condition far more serious: I was a stranger to the family of God.

And I didn’t even realize it until my friend Bob began to share with me the good news that Jesus died for my sins. As I listened, God opened my heart to understand and believe the gospel. I turned from my sin and trusted in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death for my sins. In that moment, I was adopted into a new family. God the righteous Judge became my merciful Father.

And if you are a Christian, if you have trusted in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for your sins, you too have been adopted.

It would have been extraordinary enough for God to simply redeem us, to forgive our sins, to declare us righteous. But he does not stop here—he makes us his children (Galatians 4:4-7).[5][6]

Deciding how to adopt

We will focus on three main types of adoption including adopting a child from the foster care system in the United States, adopting privately within the United States or domestic adoption, and finally intercountry or international adoption. Other circumstances and situations also exist such as kinship adoption, adopting a stepchild, embryo adoption, and in some cases adopting an adult or child over 18. Determining which type of adoption is right for your family comes with many considerations. Age of the child (infants are not typically available through international adoption), practical logistics (travel time), and length of wait time before being matched with a child are all factors that may help you determine which route is best for your family. Read a bit more about several types of adoption below.

Adopting from Foster Care

Today there are over 400,000 children in the foster care system. Children and youth are in the foster care system because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment by their parents or guardians. Through no fault of their own they are unable to continue safely living within their families of origin. The average child spends more than a year in foster care, many times in multiple foster families and group home placements. More than half will be reunited with parents or caregivers and nearly one quarter adopted, many by their foster parents. Every year, close to 20,000 youth will age out of the foster care system and are at increased risk in many areas including education, housing and employment. Find these and other statistics, view waiting child profiles, or learn how to become a foster parent or how to adopt from the foster care system in your state at Adoptuskids.org.[7]

Domestic Adoption

Many families will choose to pursue domestic adoption. In many states this can be done privately with an attorney acting as the intermediary. If you choose to pursue domestic adoption, it is best to find an experienced, licensed, and reputable adoption agency to walk you through the process. Adoption may be either closed or open, but today, closed adoptions (where no contact information is shared between birth and adoptive families) are much more rare than in years past. Open adoption allows for some level of contact between birth and adoptive families and the child and is much more common today. This can range from pictures and updates being sent to the birth families on the child’s birthday to regular visits and communication. Some adoptive families may have concerns about what effect an open adoption may have on their child. There has been an abundance of information and research about the success of open adoptions for many years now.[8] Visit this page on Childwelfare.gov for more information. It is best to find a trusted adoption agency to help walk with you through the entire adoption process. (See letter “V” for more details.)

International Adoption

Choosing to adopt a child internationally who cannot be cared for by his or her biological family involves its own unique process. Many countries in the world allow children to be adopted by families in other countries, many in the United States. These children are typically young toddlers and older. Families must meet all requirements from the country of origin and work with an Adoption Service Provider accredited by the U.S. Department of State. A satisfactory home study conducted by a Hague-accredited agency as well as approval from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are also required. There is typically a follow-up period after the adoption to evaluate and report on the child and family’s adjustment. Depending on the country of origin as well as federal and state laws, some children go through the readoption or validation process once they have returned to the United States. If a child’s adoption was finalized in-country, then this is not necessary. Read more about readoption here.

Explaining adoption to children

You may wonder how and when to talk to your child about adoption. Adoption is one way that a child becomes part of a family. All children are born into a family, and some children are born into a family and then adopted. Every parent should talk to their children (whether biological or adopted) about adoption just like they would talk about other things. When considering how to talk to your child who was adopted about his or her story, early and often is a good rule of thumb. Adoption is not something children should learn about suddenly, but rather have this information incorporated into the family dialogue in such a way that encourages questions and thoughtful discussion. As your child grows, it is important not to shy away from hard questions and to be willing to help your child discover more about his or her family of origin if he or she desires. Honesty is also very important. If there are unknowns or difficult circumstances surrounding your child’s adoption, carefully consider how to answer questions in an honest and age appropriate way remembering to always show respect through your words and attitude toward your child’s birth family.

Consider as well, especially when adopting a young child, that his or her story is just that…his or hers. Allow your child to share his or her story with others when the time is right for them. They may choose to share details from their birth with many people or may choose to keep it private. Be considerate when talking to family and friends and allow your child to make these decisions once he or she is old enough to do so.

For more information, talk to your adoption agency and social worker or read this excellent article by Nicole M. Callahan from The National Council for Adoption. There are also some wonderful picture books for young children that highlight the beauty of adoption including my favorite, A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza.

The ABCs of adoption guide by Mama Natural
Image of Susanna Brown’s children before they adopt a 5th.

Foster parenting

Every year, many children will enter the foster care system and be placed in residential or group homes because there are not nearly enough foster families available. Requirements vary by state but becoming a foster parent requires a long-term commitment and several weeks of training in preparation for adding children to your home. I have tremendous respect for the foster families I have known personally or worked with professionally. While foster parenting will undoubtedly require you to be flexible and develop new skills to navigate challenges along the way, most foster parents will tell you there is unspeakable joy in serving vulnerable children in such an unselfish way. Many foster parents may eventually adopt children who are unable to be reunited with their birth parents, but the goal of foster parenting is reunification of the child or children with the birth family in a safe and healthy way. Visit this website to learn more about types of foster care including respite care, therapeutic foster care, kinship care, emergency care, and foster-to adopt care or to access a state by state directory of foster care agencies.

Grant funding

Grants given to adoptive families are just one way to offset the cost of adoption. (See letter “M” for more information.) Checkout Julie Gumm’s blog for a long list of available grants. You may consider purchasing this Adoption Finance Toolkit with an up-to-date list of grants organized for easy use. Your adoption agency may also have an updated list of available grants.

Home study

Many prospective adoptive parents are nervous about having a home study conducted. A home study is one of the major components of the adoption process. Rest assured, the social worker is not coming to do a white glove test on every piece of furniture or looking to see if your sock drawer is organized. While specifics vary somewhat from state to state and between Hague and non-Hague adoptions, a home study generally includes one or more visits to your home, a description of the living environment and the physical, mental, and emotional capacities of all adults in the home to provide a safe and loving environment to a child, background checks and criminal history, and a determination of the prospective parents’ suitability to adopt.[9] Click here for a more in-depth look at the home study process.

International adoption

If you have already determined to pursue international adoption, you must then decide which country you plan to adopt from. Country requirements vary greatly and are ever changing. Sometimes there are practical reasons why you need to choose one country over another. For example, many countries require prospective adoptive parents to be at least a certain age or to have been married for a certain length of time. Travel time in-country varies a great deal and some couples may not be able to make more than one trip or be away from home, work, or other children for an extensive period of time. Your adoption agency should help you navigate these requirements when choosing a specific country for international adoption. You may also research specific country information or sign up to receive alerts about a specific country here.

Joys and challenges of adoption

Parenting children who were adopted will include both joys and challenges. In fact, as you know, parenting any child will include both joys and challenges. There are some challenges that are more common with adoption including attachment and bonding issues (especially if a child has spent time in an institutionalized setting), helping a child recover from grief and trauma they may have experienced, navigating various aspects of interracial adoption, and more. I believe it is helpful to have realistic expectations about what life will be like post-adoption. We cannot perfectly predict how big life changes will impact us, but we can plan, prepare, talk to other adoptive families, talk to the child’s siblings ahead of time about some of the potential challenges, and be prepared to love a child unconditionally, even if or especially if he or she cannot reciprocate or communicate that love in return.

Know any famous people who were adopted?

Checkout this fun list of famous people who have been adopted!

Lifeline Children’s Services

Lifeline Children’s Services is one example of an outstanding and comprehensive adoption agency. Lifeline is Hague accredited and has over thirty years of experience ministering to vulnerable children as well as birth and adoptive families. Lifeline exists to equip the body of Christ to manifest the gospel to vulnerable children.

Money, money, money

Adoption can be expensive, but not in every situation. Many people do not realize that adopting through the state from the foster care system (without a private agency facilitator) costs little to nothing. If you choose domestic or international adoption it can cost approximately $20,000-$40,000. There are many, many resources to help families including grants, fundraising (including crowd funding websites), no interest or low interest adoption loans, and the adoption tax credit (see your tax professional for details). When you stop to consider legal fees, background checks, home studies, documentation, agency fees, travel and more it starts to make sense why adoption costs so much. Show Hope elaborates here in an article entitled 5 Reasons Adoption Can Be Expensive. Check out these websites for more information about how to adopt debt free. The first one even has a free Adoption Funding Kit you can have sent straight to your email. Additionally, adoption agencies should have ideas and resources to help you fund your adoption as well.

The ABCs of adoption guide by Mama Natural
Susanna’s husband and their youngest child.

Numbers

Sometimes statistics can be confusing at best and misleading at worst. Go here for a downloadable guide from Show Hope entitled Understanding Adoption and the Orphan Crisis. Also, checkout Christian Alliance for Orphans White Paper: On Understanding Orphan Statistics for a helpful explanation of orphan statistic worldwide.

Orphan care

There are many ways to care for vulnerable children even if you do not choose to adopt. Donate on behalf of children who have special needs (see letter “S” below), plan a fundraiser for or give to an adopting family, provide respite care for foster parents, sponsor a child through Compassion International or Lifeline Children’s Services, or become involved in their (un)adopted program (see letter “U” below).

Patience

Many people wonder why adoption takes so long. This is an excellent question with a multifaceted answer. Adoption can take anywhere from 6 to 36 months depending on the type of adoption and circumstances, etc. On one hand, it takes time for prospective adoptive parents to be approved to adopt. Licensed social workers must conduct a home study investigating whether a potential couple is prepared to offer a loving home to a child. Background checks must be gathered and paperwork filed, profile books or autobiographies created…these things take time and there are many places for hang-ups along the way. If prospective adoptive parents are seeking only to adopt a healthy infant, it can add time to the wait. On the other hand, orphan status of a child must be verified. Is reunification possible? Are there family members willing and able to care for a child? With international adoption, government requirements must be met for two countries and one state, immigration paperwork must be filed, and the list goes on.

The important thing to keep in mind is that regulations are necessary to maintain the best interest of the child and combat unethical practices in adoption. The United States signed the Hague Adoption Convention in 1994, which is an international treaty providing critical safeguards that protect the best interests of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents involved in intercountry adoption. It entered into force in the United States in 2008 and all subsequent intercountry adoptions among Hague countries must follow its processes. [10] Adopting a child from a non-Hague country is a slightly different process. [11]

Questions

The one BIG question many people wonder about but few are willing to ask is this, “Will I love my adopted child as much as I love my biological child?” A follow-up question might be this, “Is love a feeling or an action?” Dr. Luke Stamps, a Christian Studies Professor at California Baptist University says this:

There are errors on both sides of that question. Some, seeking to avoid the fickleness of human emotion, have suggested that love is essentially action-oriented. Love is a choice, they say. Others, seeking to avoid a kind of heartless going-through-the-motions approach, have argued that love is irreducibly affection-oriented. Love is a matter of the heart, they say. How we choose to answer this question is largely a function of our temporal frame of reference: are we judging love like a snapshot or more like a long, uninterrupted take? While love is never finally or perpetually without affection, not every discrete moment of love is equally rapturous, nor does that indicate a defect in the love or the lover. So we still have an obligation to act out of love even when we don’t feel like it. I would say the hope is this: oftentimes our hearts follow our habits. So when we don’t feel love, if we choose to love, then God may eventually give the feeling as a gift that supervenes on the loving act.”

With this in mind, let’s look at some further thoughts from those who have considered this question in a personal way.

“It is very natural for parents to wonder… Could I possibly feel the depth of love for my adopted children that I do for my biological children? I have seen time and time again families bring children into their homes through adoption. The bonding process begins immediately and grows and grows over time just like with a biological child.” –Lucy Olson, Licensed Child Psychologist and Foster Parent in Minneapolis, Minnesota

“You know how irresistible your baby is to you? How you could just eat him up? Having both biological and adoptive children, I can attest that although they arrived in our family different ways, we have experienced that our love and devotion has the same intensity for all of our children.” –Parent of both adopted and biological children in Minneapolis, Minnesota

“When I was asked this same question over five years ago my answer was, ‘Of course!’ I believed that if the Lord was calling us to adopt then he would provide us with the love our baby needed. I also had a romantic view of how it would happen. I thought it would be love at first sight. The second she was put into our arms I had an overwhelming sense that she was OURS. No matter what. There were many days where she was hard to love. We felt rejected and defeated. Many days she didn’t feel like my other two children felt. But in time, God began to blur that line of biological vs adopted. Now I can say that without a doubt she feels every bit as much my child as my biological children do, and our love for her has surpassed what we could have ever imagined.” –Parent of both adopted and biological children in Birmingham, Alabama

“[Adopting] won’t in any sense feel like some sort of consolation prize. Your affection for your child and the permanence of your relationship will be as real to you as if you’d birthed him or her yourself. I know you can’t imagine that now, but it’s true.” –Dr. Russell Moore in Adopted for Life, addressing couples who have experienced infertility

Moore published an article entitled, Don’t Protect Yourself from Adoption in which he offers this surprising warning:

If you wish to avoid the risk or possibility of being hurt, do not adopt a child. Do not foster a child. Do not engage in ministry with orphans or with widows or with the sojourners or with the poor. Do not have children, in any way. Do not get married. Do not have any friendships. Hide under the bed, and hope for the best. Any human relationship brings with it the possibility of deep hurt. You can protect yourself from that possibility, but only by walling yourself off from love.

If what’s behind your adoption or orphan ministry isn’t a crucified, eyes-open, war-fighting commitment, the end result could be a twice-orphaned child. You could wind up with a child who has faced the trauma of a loss of parents in the first place, and then the trauma of rejection by another set of parents. A child should not face the challenge of living up to your expectations…

Caring for orphans means, in a very real sense, joining them in their distress. I cannot tell you that won’t be risky. It could up-end your plans for yourself and your family altogether. It could wreck your life-plan. These children need to be reared, to be taught, to be loved, to be hugged, to be heard. That may take far more from you than you ever expected to give. This sort of love is not easy. But for those who are called to it—it’s worth it.

Rallying support

If you’re anxious about sharing your adoption plans with friends and family, remember to show grace to others. If adoption is unfamiliar, it may take time for friends and family to process your news. Don’t be discouraged. The community spirit surrounding adoption is one of the most uplifting parts of the process. For believers, we know that God created us for community within a local church as we share one another’s joys and burdens, and that is just what you’ll find as you begin the adoption process. If you have already adopted, you can probably rattle off numerous ways your friends and family supported you during the process.

Special needs

Adoption is a wonderful way to care for a child with one or more special needs ranging from a learning disability to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, a cleft lip or palate among others. Reese’s Rainbow is an organization providing grants to families desiring to adopt a child with Down Syndrome. You can give online to sponsor a family or donate to a waiting child. In ten years they have helped over 1,700 children with special needs join their forever families![12] Also, many adoption grant databases like the ones mentioned above have special categories specifically for families adopting children with special needs.

Things to read

Unadopted

Only a small percentage of the world’s orphaned children will be adopted. Go here to learn more about one agency’s strategy to minister to vulnerable children through their (un)adopted program. (Un)adopted exists to reach orphaned and vulnerable children with the hope of the gospel and to equip them with the life skills needed to bring about community transformation.[13]

Vetting an adoption agency

It is very important to choose an agency you trust, with a proven track record and an honorable reputation when considering adoption. For Christian families, the Christian Alliance for Orphans has a list of trusted agencies and affiliates here. Even if you get a solid referral from someone, do your own research beforehand. What is their mission and does it align with yours? How long have they been in business? Ask for references or talk to friends who have adopted with them. Are they Hague accredited? What other if any organizations are they affiliated with? What kind of adoptions do they facilitate? If you are adopting internationally, what country programs are available? Do they have an orientation or webinar you can attend to get more information? Find out what the process looks like and ask for an explanation of fees. Schedule a meeting with a representative so you can get a feel for the agency and talk through questions before you begin.

Websites to explore

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Christian Alliance for Orphans

Empowered to Connect

National Council for Adoption

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Department of State Intercountry Adoption

Xtra support

Just like those first precious days and weeks after the birth of a child into your family, adoption is a significant life change that should be treated as such. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and family. Many will be eager to support you with meals, help running errands, babysitting siblings and more. Also, be aware that like baby blues or postpartum depression, Post Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) can affect newly adoptive parents. Before you adopt, make a list of people you can call on for support when needed.

Your life after adopting

While it can feel like climbing a mountain to navigate the paperwork and process necessary to bring a child into your home through adoption, once a child is home it is just the beginning of a new chapter for your family. Like waiting and waiting for your body to go into labor after carrying a baby in the womb for nine months, the delivery finally arrives and it is the end of a pregnancy, but only the beginning of a new chapter when you can finally hold your baby in your arms. Adoption is the same way.

For those adopting internationally, finding a good International Adoption Clinic for assistance both before and after the adoption is extremely beneficial. These clinics are an important resource to help you navigate your child’s medical history and any special needs. They provide pre and post-adoption evaluations, answer questions while traveling in country, connect you with resources upon your return and more.[14] Find a list of clinics and doctors in the United States and Canada specializing in international adoption medicine here.
Thoughtfully prepare how to answer comments and questions about adoption from family, friends, and strangers with grace and a desire to educate. This can be especially important if your adopted child will not look like you. Most comments that may seem offensive at first come from a place of genuine curiosity or ignorance. Take the opportunity to model for your child grace under pressure and respond in a way that will benefit those who hear.

ABC's of Adoption, Guest Post by Susanna Brown family photo
Susanna Brown’s family at present.

Zooming in on post-adoption issues

The Bible teaches, scientific research has confirmed, and most of us know by experience, that human beings were created for relationships. “Children from hard places” as Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child references, have often not had the opportunity to build a foundation of trust early in life due to the lack of nurture and stimulation or trauma experienced. It is crucial for adoptive parents to learn how the impact of a child’s experiences affect him or her and how they can best help their child heal. This is a wonderful website with a myriad of resources for education on adoption and parenting. Specifically, these eight videos review some of the basics that every adoptive parent may benefit from learning or reviewing during their adoption journey.[15]

There you have it folks…adoption A to Z!

There’s so much more that could be said of course, books and blogs, and years of testimonies of beautiful families woven together through adoption…

Have you adopted a child? Interested in adoption? Tell us about it in the comments below!

How did friends and family come alongside your family during the journey? How did you afford adoption? What was your adoption journey like?

SOURCES:

[1] Adopt. (n.d.) Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/adopt.

[2] Moore, Russell D. (2009). Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

[3] Glossary. (n.d.) Adopt.com. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from http://www.adopt.org/glossary.

[4] White W. and Fuqua A. (n.d.) Honoring Your Child’s Birth Mother. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from http://lifelinechild.org/honoring-your-childs-birth-mother/.

[5] Moore, Russell D. (2009). Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

[6] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. (2001). Bible Gateway. Retreived January 28, 2017 from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%204:4-7&version=ESV.

[7] About the Children. (n.d.) Adoptuskids.org. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from http://www.adoptuskids.org/meet-the-children/children-in-foster-care/about-the-children.

[8] Open Adoption and Contact with Birth Family. (n.d.) Childwelfare.gov. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/adoptive/before-adoption/openness/.

[9] Home Study Requirements. (n.d.) U.S. Department of State Intercountry Adoption. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from https://travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en/adoption-process/who-can-adopt/home-study-requirements.html.

[10] Hague Process. (2016, May 13). Retrieved from https://www.uscis.gov/adoption/immigration-through-adoption/hague-process.

[11] Orphan Process. (2015, July 15). Retrieved from https://www.uscis.gov/adoption/immigration-through-adoption/orphan-process.

[12] Reece’s Rainbow. (n.d.) Reece’s Rainbow: Down Syndrome Adoption Grant Foundation. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from http://reecesrainbow.org.

[13] Unadopted. (n.d.) Lifeline Children’s Services. Retrieved on January 28, 2017 from http://lifelinechild.org/unadopted/.

[14] International Adoption Medical Clinics. (n.d.) Come Unity. Retrieved on January 28, 2017 from http://www.comeunity.com/adoption/health/clinics.html.

[15] Empowered to Connect. (n.d.) Empowered to Connect. Retrieved on January 28, 2017 from http://empoweredtoconnect.org.