What You Need to Know Before You Adopt

Expert advice for those considering adoption.

Gavin Owens

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Those seeking a healthy baby – a situation in which demand exceeds supply – should plan for unpredictability. "You have to put yourself out there and wait to be chosen" by the birth mother, Caughman says. "It could be three months. It could be four years. It could be never." But the average waiting period runs about two years, she says, and the cost ranges from $25,000 to $30,000. Adoptive families are eligible, however, for a federal tax credit of about $12,000, according to Donald Cofsky, president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

Today's approach, in which the birth mother and adoptive families typically choose each other, is far healthier than the cloaked arrangements of decades past, experts say. In particular, open adoptions, in which the birth mother and adoptive parents remain in contact, can be helpful to all involved.

When the adopted child becomes a teenager, for example, questions about his or her background can add angst to the identity-seeking of the age, Hochman says. "Many adopted parents are so relieved that they can have access to their birth parents so that these questions don't have to loom so large and haunt a child – and for many children, they do." Such issues also surface at major life events such as milestone birthdays, graduations, weddings and having children, Hochman says.

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Despite widespread fears about open adoptions – that the birth mother will become intrusive or try to reclaim the child – such concerns are baseless, experts say. "They think the birth mother's going to be at their kid's soccer game," Caughman says. "Generally, the families stay in touch through letters or Facebook or pictures and then, oftentimes, the relationship fades away," she says, noting that the adoptive family commonly feels disappointed when the birth mother recedes from their lives. In the 1,500 to 2,000 adoptions Cofsky has handled, he's not once encountered a problem with open adoption, he says.

In any case, prospective parents are urged to do their homework. That means researching local adoption laws, which vary by state, fully vetting the birth parents, ensuring the birth father has been notified of the adoption, considering potential issues that may arise if adopting a child from another race or ethnic group and learning as much as possible about the child's background and needs.

"You need to work with a very professional team and with good counseling for all parties," Caughman says. "It should be a good experience for both parties – nobody should feel taken advantage of."

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And what of the fear about bonding with a kid who is not biologically your own? Many parents swear that the child they adopted was absolutely meant for them. When the Owens saw Jayden for the first time, it was through a TV feature. "I remember we were all siting in the living room, and it was early morning, and the news came on and his little face popped up and, I don't know, we fell in love," Karen Owens says.

And while anyone considering adoption will surely want to consider the investment, don't forget about the return. As Owens puts it, "Sometimes you just have to step outside what's comfortable and take a risk, and the outcome is just so amazing. I can't even put it into words what we get to be a part of and how we get to watch our kids heal."