This is Part Eight of a series on Adoption called Everything I Want You to Know About Adoption. To see the links to each individual post in this series, click the “adoption” tab on the nav bar at the top of the blog, or click here. I am in the process of answering a series of Adoption FAQ’s. This post covers all the questions I’ve received from you, the reader, since beginning this series. If you have a question about adoption, feel free to ask. I promise to answer it before I conclude the series.
Question from Melissa on Facebook: Were you at Elijah’s birth?
Answer: Yes, I was. I gave his birthmother my cell number so she could call me when she went into labor. Except the night she went into labor, I forgot to sleep with my phone (this was 10 years ago, long before it was customary to sleep with your cell phone.) She called and called, but couldn’t reach me. I was snoozing. She ended up calling our adoption coordinator who then called my home phone—the ringing of which failed to awaken me, still. But it did awaken Jon, who awakened me. Once I made it to the hospital, I was at the birthmother’s side the entire time.
Incidentally, of my four children, Elijah’s birth was the only one I actually witnessed. Noah’s birth was an emergency C-section and Rebekah’s was a scheduled C-section, so I was sufficiently sheltered from the medical procedures. We didn’t meet Elliana until she was 13 months old, so I never saw her birth. I am so thankful I was in the hospital room when Elijah was born. A mother of four should get to see the birth of at least one of her children.
Also from Melissa: Did you meet Elijah’s birthmother?
Answer: Obviously, from the previous answer, you can see I did. But, I first met her a few weeks earlier, after she selected us as the adoptive parents. Jon and I had dinner with her and our adoption coordinator at a restaurant, where we talked for hours. That night, she asked if I wanted to take her to her next doctor’s appointment. I’m so glad I said yes. That day, she gave me a tour of her apartment and we spent the afternoon talking about life. Since Elijah’s birth, I have seen her one other time, when Elijah was two years old. We keep in contact through Christmas cards.
From Melissa again: Did you get Elijah as a newborn, or was there a wait?
Answer: I took Elijah home from the hospital when he was one day old. Elijah was born in Florida. Florida law (at that time) was “irrevocable consent,” meaning that once the birthparents signed consent papers, the baby was legally ours, forever. The birthmother could not change her mind once she signed, but she had to wait 24 hours after the birth to sign. Elijah’s birthfather signed a few days later. (I will talk more about meeting him in a future post).
Not all states have such adoption-friendly laws. Some states have a waiting period where you can take custody of the baby, but the birthparents have time to change their minds—usually 30-90 days. Some waiting periods are up to 6 months. Some states, like Kentucky (where I currently live), require the baby to go into foster care for a period before going with the adoptive family—which is a terrible law for everyone involved. I know people who circumvent that law by becoming foster parents, so their newborn can spend the foster-care time with them. Brilliant.
Question from Jody on Facebook: Did you keep Jaqueline as Elliana’s middle name?
Answer: Yes. Actually, Elliana’s birthmother named her “Jaqueline Lineth” (pronounced li-NET). Her birthmother’s middle name was also “Lineth.” Our original plan was to name her “Elliana Jaqueline Cooper,” since Jacqueline was my mom’s name. But while we were in Guatemala for a week, everyone there referred to her by her legal name, “Jaqueline Lineth.” It sounded so beautiful when they said it, it started to grow on me.
When we were at the embassy, doing our final paper work, the embassy employee asked us to state her new name, how it would appear on her new birth certificate. Jon and I looked at each other and immediately agreed we’d keep all her names—I just couldn’t stand taking away the name her birthmother gave her. So, her legal name is now “Elliana Jaqueline Lineth Cooper.” Poor kid will NEVER fit that name into those little boxes.
Question from Anonymous: I’m curious about finding the “right” adoption agency. Is it a lot of phone calls/ questions/ research? And what is the best place to start doing such research?
Answer: I think the absolute best place to start is with personal referrals and word of mouth. Ask other people you know who have adopted what agency they used, and start there. At the same time, I would also do an internet search. Be specific: “Christian Adoption Agency Guatemala” or “Newborn Adoption Agency Kentucky.” Every agency, large and small, should have a web presence. There are several large agencies with great reputations—those will probably come up first on your search. I would request their info packets and place a call to the agencies that interest you, so you can speak to a live person.
Every agency should also provide you with a list of people they use as references—real adoptive couples. Call them. Ask lots of questions—whatever it is that YOU want to know. Based on those first few interactions, you will start to get a feel as to where you should go and where you should not.
Also from Anonymous: I hate to have to put a price on something like this, but are there any options that are more “affordable” than others? Does it vary from agency to agency or how you choose to adopt (ie: newborn vs. an older child vs. foreign)?
Answer: I sort of covered this in the post “I Want to Adopt. Where Should I Start?” But here it is again. Generally speaking, going through a governmental agency is your least expensive route. To my knowledge, it is free to adopt through the government, plus, you often receive government assistance for food, clothing and medical expenses for a period of time.
Private adoptions through an attorney or adoption coordinator are probably next on the expense scale, because you are not paying an agency fee—just attorney fees, court fees and the cost of your home study.
The most expensive adoptions are private agency adoptions and international adoptions. These vary from agency to agency and country to country. In these adoptions, you are paying all the attorney and court fees, the home study fees, PLUS agency fees and travel expenses (depending on where your baby is.)
Hard-to-place children are the least expensive to adopt, no matter what the method. Since most couples want healthy, infant, Caucasian babies, anything other than that would be less expensive (usually, older children, children with known medical or psychological conditions, African-American, Hispanic and racially mixed children.)
Don’t let the cost deter you, though. There are many ways to finance an adoption. I am covering this topic—including information about the Federal Adoption Tax Credit—in my next post.
More from Anonymous: Did you have to pay for Elijah’s birthmother’s medical bills, and if so, what did those include ie: prenatal visits, hospital bills, etc.? Is that something that is already included in the adoption process and fees? Do you HAVE to pay for those medical expenses?
Answer: Yes I did, and yes, I had to. In Florida at the time, I believe the birthmother could claim up to $1500 in pregnancy-related expenses. She had to show receipts to the adoption coordinator, and I reimbursed her based on those receipts. Since I met the birthmother so late in her pregnancy (35 weeks), she already had receipts exceeding $1,500. I remember simply writing a check for that amount, and calling it a day. I don’t think I ever received copies of those receipts. I trusted that the expenses qualified, as defined by the state laws.
Actually, after I met her and reality hit that she was carrying my son, I would have bought her the moon, if I could have. For me, it wasn’t a “have to,” as much as it was “how can I help her get the best medical care and nutrition so that she delivers me a healthy baby?” I wanted to give her more–way more than the limit of $1,500–but our adoption coordinator advised against this.
I have one friend who paid the birthmother’s expenses, plus a whole lot more (like rent and groceries), only to have the birthmother change her mind toward the end of the pregnancy, and keep her baby. I think my friend lost all that money. That’s always a risk you run in adoptions. But it’s rare that something like this happens. And it’s a small price to pay in the big scheme of things, I think.
Even more from Anonymous: How does the actual “handoff” process at the hospital work?
Answer: Elijah’s adoption was “open,” meaning the birthparents and I had some knowledge of each other’s identity. In our case, we met previously, and I was in the hospital room when he was born. The medical staff handed Elijah to me immediately after his birth, and I held him in the hospital room. Once he went into the nursery, I was free to go in as often as I liked to feed him, change him, hold him, whatever. Then, I took him home the following day.
Our adoption coordinator drew up a “plan” with the birthmother before she gave birth. She decided beforehand who she wanted in the room, if she wanted to hold the baby, if she wanted to interact with me, when she would sign consent forms, etc. All of that was predetermined, so there were no surprises or emotional decisions made on the actual day of Elijah’s birth. We agreed to do whatever made the birthmother feel most comfortable.
In a “closed adoption,” the handoff would be different, since there would be no contact between the birthparents and the adoptive parents. Each state and each hospital probably has its own way of doing this. I assume most reputable agencies and attorneys draw up a similar plan for each individual adoption.
Another from Anonymous: How old was Elliana when you got her? Being that she was “older,” and perhaps already had a routine, was there more of an “adjustment” phase for her, to get used to new routines, people, etc.? How did that process go?
Answer: Elliana was 13 months old when we got her. And yes, absolutely, there was a long adjustment phase. Not only were we complete strangers to her, but we spoke a foreign language AND we removed her from everything that was familiar to her. In our case, she didn’t have a toy or a blanket or anything when they gave her to us. Just the clothes on her back. The foster mother gave us information about her schedule through an interpreter, and we tried to stick to it for the week we were in Guatemala. But after that, I began making slow changes that better accommodated her integration into our already-functioning family.
The biggest challenge for us was her sleeping. While in foster care, she co-slept with her foster mother every day of her life and took catnaps on her foster mother’s chest. This is actually a wonderful thing, considering so many children are neglected in orphanages. Elliana, on the other hand, was loved and held constantly. But the constant holding and co-sleeping made it very difficult for us, since she refused to sleep alone. Ever. During those first few months, I talked to many other adoptive moms. I also read probably five books on toddler adoption and teaching babies to sleep without wrecking their lives.
I will write a separate post about toddler adoption because it does require a different set of rules from infant adoption, for sure.
Question from Shelley: Was the rest of your family supportive of you adopting?
Answer: With Elijah, absolutely. With Elliana, mostly.
We had lost our 9 month old biological son, Noah 3 years before Elijah’s adoption. Our family grieved that loss right along with us and knew well the potential medical risks to me and to our future biological children. Therefore, our family was extremely empathetic to our desire to build our family through adoption. Jon’s sister was adopted, so his family, in particular, was 100% on board.
When we announced we were adopting Elliana 5 years later, we received a little bit of resistance, but not much. It was mainly from my Dad, who was 82 years old at the time. He wanted to be supportive, but he comes from a generation and mindset where racism abounds. On top of that, my Dad was a child during the Great Depression. He really could not wrap his mind around the fact that we wanted a dark-skinned child AND we were going to spend $35,000 to get her. I had many stressful and emotional conversations with him along the way—he was convinced everyone in Guatemala was stealing our money and we’d come to regret this foolish decision. I tried to be patient with him and stick to my guns. Just like I would with any decision I knew was right and good.
When it was all said and done, he embraced Elliana just like he has every one of his many grandchildren. Elliana is his buddy now, for sure. He loves her and accepts her, dark skin and all.
Since that time, my sister and her husband have become certified foster parents. They have adopted one foster child and are hoping to adopt another (a racially mixed boy) soon. All of these experiences have been so good for my Dad—now 87 years old.
If your extended family is closed to adoption, don’t let that deter you. You have no idea how God will use your adoption experience to soften hearts and open minds. Stick to your guns–just like you would any decision that is right and good.
Thank you to all of you who are letting me know about your desire to adopt. I have an adoption prayer list and have added you to it–I am praying for you every single day. If you would like to be on this prayer list for anything related to adoption, let me know. I would be honored to pray for you, too.
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