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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Barren Advice: Fourteen

This is the fourteenth installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel:

We live in a country where adoption is not that common, and domestic adoption is usually of children who have been in foster care – it is free to the adopters, but carries all the risks many people will be aware of, and it is very rare to adopt young infants either through this route or through overseas adoption – the usual age range is 12 months to 3 years or older. Both take quite a long time. We are nonetheless currently veering towards foster adoption.

However, I am a US citizen (though my husband is not, and is not a permanent resident either) and we are due to spend a bit less than a year in the US very shortly. I am wondering in a very, very unformed way what would be the prospects of domestic adoption for us if we were to start immediately once we arrived in the US.
We could spend longer if we were matched with a child as we have a generous adoption leave allowance, but I’m not sure what the chances are of going through the approval process in the time we have (8 months), getting a match in that time, actually being legally eligible for US domestic adoption if we aren’t permanently resident even though I’m a citizen, as I gather the rules have recently changed us getting a match at all.

To give you an idea of where we are coming from: We are both professionals, and I work in a very child-centered field. I’m just over 40 and my husband is about 10 years older, we have led what we regard as principled lives, and are liberal politically. We aren’t planning to become full time stay-at-home parents (but as I mentioned we get very generous adoption leave, and part-time work is also an option), we could certainly give a child a very varied set of experiences (especially regarding travel, obviously) and we would be very open to the idea of open adoption (all domestic adoption in our home country is either open or semi-open), including returning to the US to visit birth parents.
We’d also be open to the idea of adopting a mixed-race child (we are white).

We will be living in the state I last lived in, and where I think open adoption is the most common kind. We would be renting though we own our own home where we normally live. From reading potential adoptive parents profiles, we are not typical in a number of ways. But perhaps that is good (she says, hopefully)? I’m at the stage where I’m just rolling this idea round in my head, really, so perhaps some good hard common sense would be best for me!


I'm unfortunately going to have to pee in your cheerios and come at you with some...well, it's not common sense insomuch as its things you need to consider. There are huge logistical hoops that US residents (who are not on a time line) need to jump through in order to pursue domestic adoption including finding a slot with an agency, collecting paperwork, fingerprinting, letters of reference, completing a home study, house inspection. Some of those tasks are within your control (if you want to put your nose to the grindstone, you can choose how long it takes you to fill out the forms) and others are not. If you cannot be fit in for several weeks for your home study, you have lost several weeks from the back end (the waiting period) of your process. So, with eight months, you're looking at a tight squeeze even with a best-case scenario.

Domestic adoption takes (on average) between a year and a year-and-a-half. Most domestic adoptions take place within a two year period. Average is the operative word. There are people who match a few weeks after getting in the books. There are others who take a lot longer.

But think about it this way: someone who is dating and wants to get married can do a few things to speed along the process. They can put themselves out there, untangle themselves from dead-end prospects early on, and aggressively pursue set-ups. But they can't do anything to ensure that they can get married within a time frame. I'm sure someone could do a study and say that people who aggressively pursue marriage on average get married within two years of beginning the marriage process, but think back to when you were single: was it truly within your control when marriage occurred? It felt for me, at least, like statistics be damned. I had no clue whether or not I'd get married and I can't imagine the pressure I would have felt if I had a time frame where I needed it to happen.

Which is actually the part that worries me most--the emotional journey you'll put yourself through having an end date (however loose) in place. If you put yourself through all of that work and it doesn't happen, will you be able to go home without a child and several thousand dollars poorer?

If the answer is that you could walk away with peace of heart at least knowing you tried, I can give you three pieces of advice. There are probably going to be those who will write in the comment section below about how this arrangement isn't fair to expectant parents (and I have to be frank, taking a child immediately and permanently out-of-country goes against part of the philosophy of open adoption) or to the child, but my concern with this question is you, the question-asker. Therefore, I am only addressing your side of things.

(1) Be absolutely honest and clear when conversing with expectant parents what your limitations are in terms of open adoption. They need to know where you live in order to have their own peace of heart with the decision. Don't make any promises that you can't keep.

(2) Expand your search to national rather than keeping in-state. This means you must be willing to travel at a moments notice and you will possibly need to remain in the state where the baby is born until you are cleared by a court and given permission to take the child out of state. It's one more hoop, but a national search is going to move faster statistically over an in-state search.

(3) Start the process from home right now, working with a US agency and perhaps securing an adoption attorney for the state where you'll be living. They are going to know the laws that apply not only to all US adoptions but to laws specific to each state. Yes, it will add another cost to the process, but an attorney can guide you through choices in the interest of time. There are specialized attorneys working in the field of adoption and ART (Elizabeth Swire Falker, for example, works out of NY and her practice in family law specifically covers adoption, donor gamete contracts, etc) and I'd search for one by state and then check credentials (please do this--there are a lot of people working within adoption who are not kosher and you want an ethical adoption).

Sending a lot of luck for the journey. I don't know how feasible it would be to move back to the US for a few years right now rather than just a few months. If that were the case, it would change some of the information above and take a lot of the pressure off the process. In the end, you want to love your life and bring a baby into it rather than have a baby be the element bringing peace to your life (in other words, a child should be the cherry on top and not the dish holding the ice in this analogy, the ice cream is you). Therefore, if your happy life is back in your current home, I would never recommend moving because a dish full of ice cream is still sweet. But if "home" is simply your marriage and you want a new adventure together, moving to a new place could open a lot of doors in the pursuit of the cherry on top.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely. I would love to hear from anyone who has pursued domestic adoption and the time frame you faced with the process.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice


luna said...

I want to echo what Melissa said that "taking a child immediately and permanently out-of-country goes against part of the philosophy of open adoption."

I would imagine that many states and agencies would have strict rules to prevent people abroad from doing this, regardless whether they are US citizens. A few calls to agencies might address this.

While there are all levels of openness, I would think that many expectant mothers and fathers in open adoption would want the at least the ability to have contact, which would be greatly diminished or impossible in this situation.

Finally, I think the advice seeker vastly underestimates the domestic adoption process and what it entails. I'd recommend doing some serious research and education on both the process and philosophy behind open adoption before seriously considering the investment in time, energy and funds.

luna said...

At the risk of being repetitive, I want to clarify one basic point, since maybe I didn't spell this out very clearly...

Open (really any) adoption should be child-centered. It is critical to consider the needs of the child. Removing the child's ability to have contact with his/her birthparents where they are open to such contact goes against that fundamental philosophy. The match is only the beginning.

Solitaire said...

Is there any way you can pursue international adoption in your home country? Maybe not, I guess. I am a US permanent resident but not a citizen, so international adoption is barred to me. But if your spouse is a citizen of that country, maybe you can do it? I thought of going back to my home country to do what you're thinking of doing but the logistics and rules of how long you have to be resident for were too overwhelming.

So now I'm back to looking at domestic adoption within the US. It's going to be lengthy and complicated but I would think if you work really hard at it it might be do-able. Having said that, what happens when your time is up? If you've already adopted, your adoption leave can kick in, but what if you're only nearly there and have to go back to work? Could you leave and come back? What if you're nowhere near a placement and would have to essentially give up all the money you paid?

Just things to think about. And not all birth mothers want an open adoption so I'm sure if you spelled out very carefully that you'd probably take the child out of the country you might still get some takers. It might make it take even longer though which would complicate things further.

It's a tough situation to be in, so you have my sympathy at trying to figure all this out.

Jen said...

I knew two kids that were adopted from Alaska by parents who lived in California. Now, obviously, those are both states, but in distance it is similar to other countries. They had a semi-open adoption. I guess my point is that not all birth parents would be totally against the child going a distance away immediately.

Not having much experience with adoption personally, all I can say is that I think adoption is far too expensive and difficult. (I understand why, of course, but I still think it isn't fair!)

Samantha said...

I would think you should start doing as much research as possible from outside of the country to find out the feasibility of adopting in the U.S. I would hate for you to get started down that path, only to be shut off. Your situation as a U.S. citizen living abroad is probably unusual, but not unique, so if you do some research, you may find an agency that would be perfect to work with.

Sassy said...

Just wanted to add that what you are proposing is illegal in some countries so even if you do manage to adopt, you may find the country you live in will not let you or the child back in.

Australia has very strict guidelines and to prevent you moving overseas for the sole purpose of adopting. I think it's best to meet with someone from your local government to determine if this is legal from their point of view.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add some clarifications and thanks as the original questioner.

I think that although adoptions here are almost all "open" the definition may be a little different. Some involve only letter/photo/card contact (and this I now know is probably called "semi-open" in the US). Some involve usually annual or semi-annual face to face visits. Rarely these will be in the adopters' home but sometimes they will - sometimes they must be in family contact centres for reasons of safety, and most commonly in a public place.

With our situation, annual visits to the US would be very possible (I'm sure my US family would like to see me more often, too, though my parents aren't there at the moment), but this might be far less than many expectant parents would be looking for, which I appreciate. Obviously letter/email/phone contact would be possible but again I appreciate this might not be what expectant parents would want.

The legal situation with my country of residence would not be a problem as if legally adopted before return the adoption would be recognised - the only part I think might be complicated would be whether we counted as resident in the US or as intending to move back - I would assume the latter but considering I seem to be still resident for tax purposes I'm not sure!

I'm actually very grateful for common sense and don't worry about raining on my parade. I think the question is really could we invest a lot of time and money into something we might need to leave behind with no results, or could we arrange to stay for a year or two in order to give ourselves the best shot of finding a mother who was willing to work with us. The casting the net wide and flying at a moment's notice part we could cope with as that's the same even in foster care adoptions here!

Finally I just want to clarify that overseas adoption from our country of residence almost certainly won't work for us, for a couple of non-legal reasons. There are very few countries with active overseas adoption programs from our country, and we would not be able to adopt a child who was any younger or with any less likelihood of a history of abuse or neglect, than if we adopted a child from foster care in our country.

Given how rare both overseas and transracial adoption are here, we feel that to be fair to a child and not force us (or them) to explain that they are adopted with every chance encounter throughout their life, we would prefer to adopt a child who could, ethnically, be a child of at least one of us - not necessarily both, given how common transracial blended families are. This is also another reason we don't want to consider overseas adoption, though it's not the main one.

I have known people who have adopted here and they, and I, have known people who have adopted in the US. I appreciate it is a difficult, costly, and long process in the US - but here, even approval can take 3-4 years!

Bea said...

Anon - I think I know where you're coming from. I would agree that 8 months is relying on a lot of luck given your restrictions on what kind of open/semi-open adoption you are able to offer.

Also, it was my understanding that (for example) Australian authorities don't like to think that people have moved overseas just to adopt, and that they're more likely to approve the whole thing if you've lived o/s for a year before you start the process. Perhaps this is a false impression, or I'm remembering it slightly wrong and it was a year at completion. Perhaps it's different for you, as you're a citizen in the US. Perhaps this is truer in writing than it is in practice, or you could convince them that the job offer came first, etc etc.

I only say it because you don't want to be caught out so best to double and triple-check the regulations in your country of residence, whatever that is.