Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

Preparations for a Family

by Lisa Ritter Starr

Part 2: Your Life in Hardcopy

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the process of preparing to adopt, from choosing the type of adoption to locating a birth mother or couple planning to relinquish a child. Part 2 is a brief overview of the application process for those who have chosen to use agency adoption services.

Once a couple has chosen to adopt a child, they go through a long process of self-examination in order to discover what type of adoption they prefer and the adoption agency or lawyer they want to hire. With a lawyer, networking and advertising are keys to making a connection. With an agency, however, the application process must be completed in order for an adoption to take place.

The Application

Couples who wish to adopt don't have to be wealthy, but they must be able to demonstrate financial stability and ability to meet the expenses of another family member. These expenses begin with the adoption agency application, which averages about $150 per application.

The application packet for each agency is different, but each includes an extensive set of questions about the couple and requires a set of reference letters from people who can attest to the couple's character. Questions on the application cover the financial, medical, and emotional background of the couple. A background check will be ordered, and the references from friends and respected professionals in their community are looked at closely. An application may be accepted or rejected, and a letter will be sent to inform the couple of the agency's decision.

If an application is rejected, the agency may explain but is not usually required to do so. Dean Howells, adoptive parent and author of The Story of David, recounts a disappointing setback in their application process. Howells and his wife were stable, middle-class, fairly educated, and respectably employed, and spent long hours carefully reviewing agencies. Their number one choice rejected them with no explanation. Though the agency's decision crushed their hopes temporarily, and they never figured out why they were not accepted, the Howells went on to find another agency and to complete an open adoption that far surpassed their expectations.

The Homestudy

Once accepted by an agency, a couple is assigned a social worker and arrangements for a homestudy are made. If the agency is nearby, the social worker herself may visit the couple's home. Other arrangements are made depending on the situation. For example if the couple is seeking to adopt internationally, the agency may be far away and may work with a cohort that can send someone locally. Usually a qualified social worker from the local agency visits the couple at home to make a personal assessment of their situation. They may take note of the physical details, such as the child's bedroom and the amount of space in the home, but they may also interview the couple. This is usually informal, but this part of the homestudy can make the couple a little nervous. After all, they have expressed a wish to give a child a home and have already sent proof of their financial and personal background. It might be hard to accept this assessment at first. Children are born every day to coupl es that never undergo evalu ation of their parenting ability. However ironic this may be, a homestudy is meant to give a personal component to an application process that is otherwise entirely on paper.

The Autobiography

Depending on the agency and the type of adoption, couples will have to write a more or less detailed autobiography. In the case of international and many closed adoptions, this is more for the social workers at the various agencies working to complete the adoption. If the couple has chosen an open adoption, the autobiography is written with the birth parents in mind.

The autobiography is meant to be informative, giving personal background of the couple so that the birth parents can have some idea of what the couple is like before they meet. It is very helpful to the birth parents in their initial choosing process, which is one reason why writing it may seem an extremely daunting task. However, even if a couple is not used to writing, or to revealing so much about themselves on paper, it is one of the best ways at this point to finding a good match.

Many birth mothers know from reading an autobiography whether they have chosen the "right" couple. This may seem unfair to those couples who feel they represent themselves best in person, rather than on paper. However, both sets of parents have to let the process go its own way at this point. A good match is a good match, regardless of writing ability or ease in self-revelation. Even some facts about your personal history, which you might consider negative and want to leave out, might actually draw a link between you and a birth mother. In truth, you never know what connections will draw you together.

When I read through the autobiographies of the three couples I initially chose, there were certain details that confirmed my immediate, gut feeling of the "right" couple. However, the couple I chose (and who chose me in return) would never have guessed what these details were. To many couples, facts like "we live on a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood within walking distance to the park" are important highlights. They may also want to show that they are well-off financially, knowing most birth parents lack adequate finances and that this is often a factor in choosing to relinquish a child.

To a birth mother, anything that helps her relate to the couple specifically and personally is a highlight. Most can simply assume that a couple's finances are adequate - the agency otherwise would not have approved their application. For me, it was important when the couple I chose wrote that the wife "practices meditative dishwashing" while looking out on the patch of land they were making into a garden. Though they did live in a quiet neighborhood by the park (as most prospective adoptive parents do, it seems), and I thought that sounded nice, the phrase "meditative dishwashing" stuck out above almost all else, and I was intrigued by this incomplete garden. It was not important that they probably did not have a dishwasher and maybe couldn't afford their every desire. What I cared about was that their statements hinted at the couple's unique spirituality, from which I have learned immensely.

I remembered thinking, too, about this unfinished half-acre space that was becoming - but was not yet - their backyard garden. It seemed like the analogous picture of what I hoped this adoption was going to be. They didn't have everything finished, or all figured out. There was room to grow. That was the kind of openness I envisioned, and that has continued to be what we have created, together.

Whatever kind of adoption a couple chooses, the right match is out there. There are many potential families that could be created. The application process is there to help refine the possibilities, and transform the fuzzy dream of family into a clear, firm reality.

Next: Part 3: The "Dear Birthmother" Letter

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