Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why We Chose Agency Adoption, and Not Private

If you decide that you want to pursue adoption, you are faced with a lot of choices. International, domestic, or foster? Agency or private? In-state or out-of-state? Infant or older? And that's before you even get to decisions about exposures, openness, or the myriad possibilities to consider on a Child Interest Grid. 

We chose domestic infant adoption, and picked an agency to work with that people we knew had been successful with and that seemed to have to best placement rates of any local agency. We wanted the opportunity to parent from as early as possible -- we wanted to "miss out" on as little time as possible with our future child. We wanted our child to have the option of a relationship with his or her birth family -- to have as little mystery as possible and to know all the pieces. We could have done this with private adoption, but we chose agency. 

This is our perspective on the differences between agency and private adoption, and why we do not feel that private is right for us (even though it could totally be right for you). In no way am I intending to be judgy to those who have chosen one over the other, any more than I like to be judged for making the choice that we did. These are my thoughts on the two processes. 

With an agency, you have a central place for all things adoption. You are given a consultation where the process is explained to you and your motivations are discussed before you begin filling out and signing a daunting stack of paperwork. You have a place for adoption education classes. You have a point person to call regarding concerns or decisions that you struggle with. 

For us, one of the biggest pieces to having an agency is that they provide services to the women who seek help making a decision or making an adoption plan. They offer counseling to expectant women, that often includes all their options for accessing services that would make it possible, potentially, for them to parent their child. This is so important to us, because we want to be sure that the birthmother who may make parenthood possible for us is confident in her choice, that she knows all the alternatives, and that there is no sense of coercion. This is not to say that agencies haven't in the past been coercive in some way: America has a long and sordid history of adoption atrocities where expectant mothers weren't given choices, were told what they had to do, were denied the ability to have any contact with the child they may or may not have willingly relinquished. I'm sure there are agencies who do not have great practices now, too -- I am not naive to that. 

However, I feel that our agency very much has the interest of the birth parents in mind. They are very clear that they are there to find families for children, not children for families. They serve the interests of the expectant/birth families first. As adoptive parents, we are the ones who wait to see if we are chosen to parent someone else's child. It is so hard to wait to see if we are the ones who were the best fit, but it is infinitely harder to have to make the choice based on a book, Who will parent my child? Having empathy for birth parents doesn't make it any less difficult to go through the waiting and the possibilities that can be yanked away so swiftly, but it is helpful to remember that ultimately, the agency is there to support an expectant/birth mother in making the best decision for them, and that results in our parenthood. Not the other way around. 

I appreciate that the women who work with the agency chose to do so, and in most cases before adoptive parents are called about profile opportunities (where we get "in the running" to be chosen), they have already been counselled on the many ramifications of the decision. The agency isn't scooping up pregnant women. They have a presence at places like hospitals and Planned Parenthood, a web presence, but it is the woman's choice to make that call and/or to physically go to the agency and begin weighing out making a plan. 

The agency offers support, during the process and also after -- it can be frustrating to feel that you need to call more often than you receive some sort of check in, but I have not had the experience of calling and having no one respond to me. I can always get through to someone and work out a question or a concern, eventually. For me, the after support is so important. Support for you and for birth families, and most importantly for your child. 

Some downsides are that you are dependent on the agency to call you with opportunities -- if there aren't any that match you, or you aren't on the radar for whatever reason, there can be lulls with no activity. Agencies can be busy and have a lot of families that they are working with, and so you can feel a lack of immediacy, or that somehow you are forgotten or not as important. With an agency you surrender control of the process over to the social workers who determine profile calls and pull books -- you are waiting for calls and not a part of the process in an active way so much until you are matched, and even then you could have a situation where the expectant/birth mother prefers to have contact via the agency. Some women do not wish to work with an agency -- they may find it impersonal or have a mistrust founded in bad experiences they or others have had. 

But for us, the positives outweighed the negatives. 

Private adoption does not involve an agency at all in most cases. Instead, you have an adoption attorney to help guide you in your quest to search for an expectant/birth mother. 

That is the first difference -- instead of being in a pool of agency-selected books or information that is presented to an expectant/birth mother where she chooses which family to go with, you are actively searching for an expectant/birth mother yourself -- maybe she is also being approached by other prospective adoptive parents, or considering an agency, but you are the searcher. 

In New York, your attorney can only advise you on each situation. They cannot act as a resource for finding potential situations. They cannot be a placement opportunity presenter, they can only advise you on your advertisements or connections and set up the contracts and legal pieces for placement. You are the one who finds the person seeking an adoptive family for their child. 

How do you search? Through advertising. 

How do you advertise? You can have a 1-800 number, a website, pass-along cards, advertise in Cr.aigs' List or newspapers or online services such as Adop.timist or even Fac.ebook or Pint.erest. 

1-800 numbers lift financial burdens from expectant moms as you incur the costs, and they also provide you (and her) with the privacy of some level of anonymity, at first. You can have a 1-800 number directed to any phone (such as your cell phone) and have services that help you track area codes. You take on the opportunities and risks of answering the phone to women in crisis -- at a training we went to to explore this option we were told that most women who call for ads are in their first to second trimester -- they are trying to decide if this is the right option for them. You can have far more opportunities this way, but the risks are higher. There is a lower rate of follow through. In the training, it was explained as, "You will likely have a lot more contact and a lot more opportunities to have early matches with expectant moms, but the rate of placement is not actually higher." You have to be willing to understand that the phone will likely ring at any time, and you will need to prepare yourself to have a conversation that cannot in any way seem coercive (because if the court finds your adoption coercive, even if you didn't intend it, that will not work out in the end), that you are sure to not just focus on the pregnancy but on the actual live woman who is talking to you, and to prepare yourself that not everyone who calls is legitimate. There are red flags for scams, such as immediately asking about money or requesting money to talk further, inconsistencies in details, not following through on doctors' appointments or request for proof of pregnancy. These red flags don't mean it's not a real situation, but unfortunately you find yourself in the position to figure out if this is real or a scam, without offending the person. Also unfortunate is sifting through people who will literally call your 800-number to tell you that you are an awful person who is stealing babies. By putting yourself out there, you are opening yourself up to people who wish to hurt you. There is a lot of risk. 

On the other hand, while there is risk, there is also the possibility that you can find the right situation for you, and you have the control over the calls, the connection, instead of relying on an agency to do it. There are a lot of people who believe that it's better for this reason, and that it gives the expectant mom more power in the relationship as well. You can also choose how much you want to advertise -- a lot or a little. 

Something that turned me off the idea of advertising was some advice we received about where to advertise -- "think of places where someone who is in financial crisis might go -- a laundromat, a check-cashing place." Honestly, that sounded downright predatory to me. I sincerely hope that we don't have the situation where a family is choosing to place solely because of financial hardship -- that is a circumstance that breaks my heart because in my mind, that reason alone shouldn't have to result in placing your baby. There should be social services to help in those cases. It is hard to think that income inequality, the idea that we can afford to raise a child but someone else can't, could be the reason why we parent someone else's child. I am not naive enough to think that if we are presented with an opportunity and financial hardship is the only reason for placing, that we would say no to being considered, but it bothers me. A lot. The idea of preying on this possibility by advertising specifically where someone who is pregnant and in financial crisis would see it makes it feel coercive, manipulative, counting on someone else's desperation to make my dream of parenthood come true. It feels icky. 

Our agency offers a "Private Track" option as well -- where you do the searching and advertising yourself, and then you connect with a potential expectant/birth mother, and then when it seems that things are going well you refer them to the agency, where everyone can receive support (but also the agency receives fees from you, although reduced). Because that is another advantage of completely private adoption -- it is often much less expensive. 

In our mind, though, you and the potential birth mother receive less services for less money. In fact, in New York, the revocation period for private adoptions is 15 days longer if you adopted privately -- 45 days instead of 30 -- because it is assumed there is less counseling beforehand. If you do not do an agency private track, you do not have easy access to post-adoption services beyond required post-placement home study visits -- you are on your own. You can seek those services but privately. 

For us, the upside of more control over the process and more constant action was not even remotely worth the downsides. For us, the downsides are myriad: You must invest the time and money to not only set up the advertising but then be available at all times for calls that you need to sort through; I am not trained as a social worker and do not feel qualified to be the first contact with women who are deciding if this is the right choice or not; I do not want to vet out if circumstances are real or not, I very much appreciate the agency's experience in first contact; and for me, it was very eye-opening to be presented with the information that more profile opportunities through private do not result in more placement. My heart is raw from our long journey, from disappointment and loss. I do not think that I could handle thinking I am matched and having that fall through over and over again, being the person who the first and only contact. I know people who have been successful through private adoption, and this is a great option if you like the idea of being in control of advertising and connecting and running all those processes yourself, with attorney guidance. For me, that is unbelievably overwhelming. Putting together the profile book was stressful -- to build an entire website, to make cards and put myself out there to a much larger extent makes me intensely uncomfortable. I don't know when I would do all this and still hold my job that I love so much. The time is definitely a factor, but the emotional drain is probably the biggest deterrent for us.

It is good that there are choices. It is good that everyone can make the determination for themselves which route to take, what they are and aren't comfortable with. For me, I have seen people get matched and placed very quickly with our agency, and I have seen people wait for years. But the same is true of private. Going private does not mean that all of a sudden you will find the right match and it will all work out faster -- it could, it's possible that you could find that right connection right away -- but it can also result in a lot of false starts. Maybe if we had come to adoption sooner we would have the energy to sustain more of those ups and downs, but I do feel that for us, agency is best. We have weighed out the possibility of trying private to some extent if we need to renew our homestudy a second time, but in the end, our decision-making T-chart is clear. We will stick it out with the agency and see where that leads. Hopefully we are one of the lucky ones who has a match that ends with a placement. 


  1. WowJess. Thanks for writing this post. There is definitely SO much to think about when deciding to adopt.
    I agree with you that private has a lot of messy details that I would not want to turn and sort out by myself. The thing you pointed out, not being qualified to be the first contact for women in crisis...YES. I can't even imagine how much emotional and mental stress taking those kinds of phone calls would be, not to mention trying to tow the line so as not to sound coercive. I also agree that financial reasons should NOT be the sole reason someone gives up their baby, but unfortunately so many times financial reasons go hand in hand with other bad circumstances.
    I pray that you get your match very soon.

    1. I've been meaning to write this post forever, and your comment made me get down to it, so thank you! :) I'm sure I left out so many details that could have been included, but these were the main points for us. It really is so difficult to realize that the only way for us to become parents is due to someone else's personal tragedy -- even if it is a carefully thought out, well-researched, well-counseled decision made freely. It weighs heavily. I hope that our match comes soon, and I hope that it doesn't feel icky. Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. That's really interesting. I didn't even know there was such a thing as private adoption the way you describe it. It does sound overwhelming to me too, but I guess it is good that different options are available, as long as everyone is treated ethically.

    1. Yes, the key is the treated ethically part. I definitely would not want to unintentionally mire myself in a situation that wasn't ethical. I admire the people who have it in them to tackle private adoption. I don't know if this is something available in Canada or not -- sometimes the different laws make some options...not, like how gestational carrier is incredibly challenging legally in New York but not as much in other states. Interesting stuff.

  3. I think this post helps to illustrate some of the complexities of adoption. When people say, "Just adopt," there are so many things to learn and questions to ask yourself. It is a lot of work to understand your options and then pick the route that best suits your situation and values. Plus, you have to understand the laws that relate to your adoption process, which can vary from state to state or even county to county in your state. It is also very helpful to have a lawyer who really understands all of ins and outs of the process to finalize the adoption.

    Once upon a time I had researched adoption options. I found an agency that I felt at that time struck a good balance of supporting the birthmother and potential adoptive parents. It was also important to me that the birthmother not feel coereced and that she was supported throughout the process, especially by professionals. I like how you pointed out that your agency has been working with birthmother before introducing them to prospective families. To me that provides a better opportunity to confirm pregnancy and understand the birthmother's reasons for choosing adoption for her child before moving to the steps of the matching process.

  4. I wish a post like this was available to me when we were exploring adoption. We explored private adoption briefly, but were also struggling with the advertising piece. The other element I liked about the agencies we were leaning towards was the access to continuing counseling for all parties (adoptee, adoptive parents and birth parents) before and after the adoption process was completed. In my eyes, it was not only more ethical but also more wholistic.

    Thank you for writing this important and unbiased post.

  5. Such a helpful post. I'll be sharing.

    Thanks for mentioning the importance of counseling. The myriad emotions surrounding infertility, adoption, parenting and placing can be HUGE (are we saying "yuge" these days?) and having support for both sets of parents is supremely helpful both before and after placement.