You’ve seen Brad and Angelina do it. Madonna, Meg Ryan and Sheryl Crow, too. It’s seen as the hip thing to do in Hollywood these days, but adoption is far from a fad.
Before you jump on the bandwagon, consider a few things before making the decision to adopt
1 Feel it. Adoption is a decision that should be made in the heart, not only in the head. You may have the money and time, but your heart needs to be fully committed to adoption.
"If your heart is filled with the want of adopting, you cannot be making a bad decision," says Kima Spaulding of Villa Park and adoptive mom to Bryson, 19 months.
Once you know that adoption is the path you want to follow, prepare to experience the journey of a lifetime.
2 Not second best. Many couples approach adoption after infertility, but they need to learn quickly that adoption isn’t a consolation prize. The emotional strain of dealing with infertility should be dealt with before beginning the adoption process. Confide in your spouse, a counselor, member of the clergy or friends.
"If the hurt feelings of infertility are fresh, they might need time to grieve first," says Phyllis Laughlin, clinical director of adoptive parent services at The Cradle in Evanston.
3 Attend a seminar. Most local agencies offer free informational meetings for potential clients that discuss fees, countries, domestic vs. international and allow you to question social workers.
Visit more than one agency before making any decisions. Find out where you feel comfortable and which agency meets your particular needs.
4 Be open to the unexpected. Adoption never happens like you expect because the process is far from static. Agencies change and countries revise policies. Don’t commit your heart or calendar to one particular journey because you never know where you’ll end up.
My husband and I entered adoption with every intention of adopting a daughter from China. Yet our ultimate decision was to seek a son in Korea. Until we understood the pros and cons of each country, including the U.S., we weren’t prepared to make that decision.
Adoption is full of surprises, so be prepared to keep an open mind throughout the entire process.
The Lichners of Elk Grove Village had decided to have their son, Henry, now 15 months, escorted to O’Hare International Airport instead of traveling to Korea themselves. When they were given the option to pick him up instead of waiting indefinitely for an available escort, they quickly changed their minds.
"... It was such a big part of the picture that helped us connect with Henry’s culture and early life that we would not have been able to experience had we not traveled," Amy Lichner says.
5 Visit the Web and blogs. Online you can find a plethora of information on adoption, including opinions from adoptive parents, adoptees and birth mothers. There is a great deal of anger, joy and confusion from all three angles.
Jump into the conversation at www.adoption.com, which also offers articles for all aspects of adoption.
6 Build a community. Seek out other parents who are entering or experiencing adoption, especially if you are considering an international adoption.
"Sometimes talking to people adopting from China when we were adopting from Korea wasn’t entirely helpful as the process was similar, but still different," says Lichner.
Make time in your life to speak with parents who have been through the process.
7 Cultivate patience. Unlike pregnancy, which is a guaranteed nine-month process, adoption can take anywhere from a couple of months to many years until you hold your child in your arms. There are no guarantees. Birth moms can change their minds, adoption agencies might close and countries may shut down international adoptions.
Be prepared for a long process. Getting caught up in specific dates may only lead to disappointment.
In many cases, potential adoptive parents spend months completing paperwork before even receiving word of an available child. Don’t expect a baby tomorrow.
8 Find the money. Rarely a cheap endeavor, adoption can cost upwards of $50,000 depending on where you adopt. While a few local companies do cover some adoption costs, most companies and insurance do not. Don’t let the costs deter you.
"Any agency should share their schedule of fees openly," Laughlin says.
Once you know where you want to adopt, review your financing options. Churches and foundations occasionally give out adoption grants. Home equity lines or loans of credit can fund you. Hold fundraisers of your own or garage sales. Once an adoption is completed, the government offers an adoption tax credit upwards of $11,000 depending on your financial situation.
9 Talk to your family. When people decide to get pregnant, they generally don’t run the idea past anyone. But adoption is different. Knowing how your family feels about adoption may avoid hurt feelings. If members of the family have too much prejudice to accept a child from another culture or region, it’s better to know now than when you bring your child home.
"Extended family should matter," Laughlin says. "Try to educate them up front. If they can’t get to acceptance, parents need to know what it means for the future."
10 Live it every day. "Adoption is a lifelong commitment," Laughlin says. "You are always going to be an adoptive family."
An African-American son in a Caucasian family will always be conspicuous. A Chinese daughter will never have blonde hair. There will always be questions and comments. Committing to live adoption every day is not hard, but it will always affect you.
Take the advice of Kima Spaulding, not only an adoptive mom, but an adoptee herself: "If you do your research, pinch your pennies and wait patiently, it all comes together in the end. Follow your heart through the whole journey and let none of your fears stand between you and your child."
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. You can contact her by e-mail at email@example.com or on the Web at www.michellesussman.com.