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Operation: Adoption
What's the adoption process really like? Get the full rundown, from what your options are, to how much it costs and how the process will impact your life.

The adoption process is trying, but well worth the effort.

A few years ago, Dan and Tracey Rechtin decided they wanted to adopt. They had thought about it on and off throughout their marriage, but when their neighbors adopted a little boy from Belarus, they fell in love.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go so well for Dan and Tracey. "We and two other families had a failed adoption in Belarus and were caught up in a political snafu. We had spent three days with our son, bonding and getting him to trust us. In the end, we had to leave our son behind; having no word on when or if we will ever be able to adopt him," says Tracey, who works at Maryville University in St. Louis. That was more than two years ago. "That was one of the worst experiences of our lives," she says.

But despite that failure, Dan and Tracey decided to try again. The second time, they went through an agency in St. Louis called the Small World Adoption Foundation, ultimately finding a child in the Ukraine they could become the proud parents of. The whole process took roughly eight to 10 months, but they say it felt like a lifetime—"It’s time consuming. Waiting is the worst. But in the end, it’s all irrelevant once you have that little person in your arms and in your home," says Tracey.

By working and planning the tough times were made easier. "It’s all you can do because all the worry and stress in the world doesn’t make it move any faster or the process any easier," says Tracey. Once the challenges of adoption finish, the challenges of parenthood begin.

When little Jenna came into their lives, Tracey and Dan found the foundation of their marriage tested. "We always talked about what we’d do in certain circumstances if we had a child," says Tracey. "Then when the time came and we did have our child, we weren’t always on the same page like we’d both thought."

The Rechtins’ story—beyond their Belarus debacle—is pretty typical. According to an Adoptive Families (www.adoptivefamilies.com) magazine poll, domestically, 95 percent of couples waited two years or less to adopt, and 76 percent waited one year or less; internationally, 96 percent of couples waited two years or less to adopt, and 61 percent waited one year or less. And as stressful and time-consuming as the process can be, once couples get their children, they seem to forget the pain they went through—just like childbirth.

Unlike the Rechtins, you don’t have to go overseas, or even through an agency to adopt a child. In fact, there are many different ways couples can go about the process. To get a rundown of your options and what you can expect when adopting, we went to some experts. Our small panel consists of Sara Dormon, adoption expert for over 25 years and author of So You Want to Adopt . . . Now What? and Zoe Francesca, adoptive parent and creator of the forthcoming My Family, My Journey: A Baby Book for Adoptive Families and author of the website Adoption Muse (http://adoptionmuse.typepad.com/). They’ve answered some common questions you may have about adoption:

Hitched: What are the first steps a couple should take toward adoption?

Francesca: The first step is to research local adoption agencies and educate yourself about public adoption versus private adoption and domestic versus international adoption. Find out all the details of the process before you fall in love with a child. Another important step is to set financial limits and promise yourself you'll stick to them. And be prepared to make time for filling out paperwork, getting a medical checkup, taking photos, getting fingerprinted, et cetera. Most agencies are pretty thorough.

Hitched: To help hitched readers with their research, what are the differences between public adoption and private adoption?

Francesca: Public adoption is a result of situations where children have been removed by county officials from their homes and placed in foster care. Children in the foster care system range in age from newborn up and often have special needs. To adopt one of these children, you first have to qualify as a foster care parent. The costs to you are very low. Private adoption is when an attorney or adoption agency contracts with you to help you find a child to adopt. They advertise in print and online, and work with various agencies and institutions (such as hospitals or schools) to connect you with women who are pregnant and have chosen adoption, or are at least considering it.

Hitched: What are the differences between open and closed adoptions?

Dormon: Open adoption is when the birth parents have the opportunity to meet with and choose the adoptive parents. They would most likely continue contact after the adoption by way of letters, pictures, e-mails and occasional phone calls. Visits are sometimes part of the openness, but they’re generally discouraged. A closed adoption would be one where there’s no knowledge shared between the adoptive parents and birth parents.

Francesca: Most adoptions of the past were closed adoptions, but nowadays the trend is toward open adoption. In a closed adoption, there's a big information gap that one or both parties almost always seeks to fill because records are sealed, names are hidden and choices are limited.

Hitched: What are the differences between domestic and international adoptions?

Francesca: Domestic means within the United States, international is outside the US. If you do your homework, you'll quickly come across disputes and controversies concerning international adoption. To understand this better, imagine that the US is a poor country in which children became one of the biggest exports. In some countries, regulations for international adoptions aren't quite what biological parents (or adoptive parents) would like them to be. There are many reasons why some adoptive parents choose international adoption, one of them being a close connection to a particular language or culture. Another thing to consider is that most international adoptions are closed adoptions. Check into adult adoptee organizations like the International Adoptee Congress to find out more about the child's experience.

Hitched: What are the different costs and timelines involved in different types of adoptions?

Dormon: The cost and timeline of adoption varies considerably depending on which type is done. Adopting out of the foster care system is relatively quick and inexpensive, but you’ll most likely not be adopting an infant. The average age in foster care is 6 years old. There’s a tax credit of $10,630 for people adopting, which also helps to keep the cost down. A private adoption can be anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000 and take months, possibly years, depending on what the adoptive couple wants. An agency adoption can be anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000, and the time involved will depend on what the couple wants and the availability of birth mothers in the agency.

Francesca: One common mistake is to spend too much money. An adoption should not have to bankrupt a family or put them into too much debt. Nobody wants to think of "buying" a child, but the truth is that almost all adoptions come with a price tag. The question we all need to ask is: Should anyone be making a profit?

Hitched: What types of resources should couples use to help themselves along the way?

Francesca: Talking to the adult adoptees and adoptive parents in your life is the best place to start. Ask them about the positive and negative aspects of their own adoptions, and learn from them. Join an adoption support group; it's an amazing resource. Important information about adoption is also available from books like Adam Pertman's Adoption Nation or online at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (). And remember, just because someone is an attorney or adoption agency representative doesn't make him or her trustworthy. Anyone who makes money conducting adoptions, unless they are a county employee, should be thoroughly checked out.

Hitched: What can couples expect from the adoption process in general?

Dormon: The pre-adoption process involves a lot of paperwork, time and emotion. The post-adoption process involves a lot of adjustment, time and emotion.

Francesca: It's like planning a wedding or being pregnant. It's a very personal, emotional experience that can bring you closer together and also cause tensions.

Hitched: What’s the best advice you can give parents going through the adoption process?

Francesca: Share your true selves with the professionals and parents you meet. Be honest and expect honesty in turn. Open your hearts. Be flexible, be adventurous. Be loving and compassionate towards the biological parents. And remember: it's not a matter of whether you'll be parents, it's just a matter of when. If you want a child, it will happen. Once your child is with you, you will feel as if there never was a time when he or she wasn't yours.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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