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Finding - and bringing home - the child who is right for you.


ADOPTION has changed. The process that once seemed cold, secretive, and formal has been transformed. Sure, adoptive parents still must deal with waiting lists, reams of legal paperwork, and visits from social workers, but the heartening truth is that the entire process has become faster, less costly, and more open and human. While there are many reasons for this friendlier new face of adoption, one of the biggest undoubtedly is the Internet. The world of hard drives, URLs, and bandwidth can yield a decidedly untechnical result: a deeply cherished bundle of joy.

Successful adoptions are all about information, communication, and resources, and that makes the Internet a natural tool for bringing families together. In the past several years, the adoption community has developed a substantial presence on the Internet. It has connected adoptive parents to agencies and facilitators, lawyers, and social workers, creating a thriving online community of adoption professionals and enthusiasts. Cyberspace now is filled with countless "hotlinks," online adoption resources that range from private and public agencies, to chat rooms, to birth mother profiles, to attorneys. Without the Internet, many thousands of families would not have found the children who have made each of their lives wonderfully complete.

Yet, beyond the Internet, there are a number of simple techniques to help improve the odds of finding--and bringing home--the "right" child. For example, do not let "reclaim" fears hold you back. It is a common belief, reinforced by media sensationalizing, that a birth mother can come back during the child's life and reclaim her offspring. If the adoption is legal (no fraud nor duress), then it is irrevocable. However, for a period of time after the birth, as set by state law, the biological mother may decline to sign papers relinquishing parental tights to her child, an act known as reclaim. In ' Washington State, she has 48 hours; in California, 36 days; and, in some states, six months. Do your research; choose a good adoption professional (who knows the red flags); and make certain the adoption is legal and aboveboard.

If at all possible, consider open adoption--in which the birth parents may select the adoptive family and sometimes have contact with the child afterward--as it is healthier for everyone involved. The birth parents will be satisfied that they made the correct choice, and the adoptive parents will have access to the medical information necessary to raise their child safely. The level of contact the birth parents have with their offspring can vary. It may be the exchanging of photos, e-mails, and letters, or having more direct contact, such as telephone calls, or, in some cases, getting together on occasion.

In writing your Dear Birth Mother letter, speak from the heart. Your adoptive parent profile has to sketch an intriguing and truthful portrait of who you are and the kind of parent you will be. For instance, when you tell about your childhood, the birth mother wants to know what you learned that made you into the person you are, the parent you will be: the morning you saved the life of a sparrow fallen from its nest; or the time you broke your mother's favorite cookie jar and she responded not with anger, but with love and a kiss. You will want to cover the essential topics: life in your home; the people in your family; the fun things you do; and your ideas about parenting. Share yourself with your birth mother. She will appreciate it.

Remember, too, that little things can mean a lot. Something you might consider trivial could be the deciding factor. I once worked with a couple whose profile had not gotten a nibble from even one of some 50 birth mothers. The reason? The husband had a full, bushy beard that made him look, in the words of one birth mother, like "an axe murderer." Once he shaved his beard and submitted a new photo, the couple soon was matched with a birth mother. When they finally met in person, the husband had grown his beard back. By then, however, the birth mother had gotten to know the person inside.

When it comes time to speak to the birth mother, you can avoid having to ask the tough questions: leave that to your adoption professional, who talks every day with birth mothers about touchy subjects and, as your buffer and with her permission, will pass the information on to you. That way, when you talk with her, you can concentrate on matters that will help the two of you befriend each other and bond.

Now, when adopting a child with special needs, couples should observe and talk with parents raising a child who is similar to the one they might adopt. Visit Internet forums to read about adoptive parents whose lives are Idled with purpose and joy, and also to hear about those who are struggling. Search for information about your child's condition, new treatment methods, and advice in the writing of experts. If your agency requires counseling for your family to adopt a special needs child, accept it graciously and do not be offended--it will help you.

Of course, a big concern with any adoption is fraud. Be wary of any organization promising to find you a birth mother within a short amount of time. Most adoptions take between six and 18 months. Also, protect your privacy: In online profiles, do not mention your employer, salary, or home or work phone numbers. Use your adoption professional's toll-free telephone number for birth mothers to call. Be cautious about revealing personal information in chat rooms and, if any party to your adoption asks for a quick decision or fast payment, consider it a red flag.

In addition, as a general reference, more than $15,000 paid to any one adoption professional should be questioned. Know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable birth mother expenses. About half of all birth mothers do ask for monetary assistance. The way it usually is handled is that the adoptive parents place a budgeted amount into a trust fund and an attorney disperses the checks. Acceptable expenses can range from maternity clothes to rent to insurance co-payments to phone bills. Believe it or not, I have come across cases where unacceptable asked--for expenses have included vet bills, new carpet, a limo to the prom, hair highlighting, and a Hawaiian vacation.

While nobody is perfect, birth mothers always should be treated with respect. Our adoption center once made a match in which, after a very strenuous labor, the birth mother chose not to consent to the adoption. The couple was extremely upset with her, even to the point of using foul language. A few days later, this birth mother decided to place the child after all. Of course, she chose another family. I do not think that first couple ever did adopt. They only needed to have compassion and empathy for the birth mother and they would have had their baby.

If there is one overarching message I can give to potential adoptive parents, it is: Do not give up. Even today, with so many resources at your fingertips, adoption takes time. There may be false starts and disappointments. You may feel like you are riding an emotional roller coaster--elation one day, tears the next. That is normal. If armed with information, you can keep the twists and turns of your journey in perspective. You are not alone; your child is waiting--just keep looking and one day you will be holding him or her in your arms.

Mardie Caldwell is the founder and CEO of Lifetime Adoption, Nevada City, Calif., host of the radio talk show, "Let's Talk Adoption," and author of Adoption: Your Step-by-Step Guide. This article is an adapted excerpt from that book.


Words have meaning, and written ones can convey heartfelt feelings and truth. The trick is actually getting them down on paper:

* Imagine yourself as a birth mother. Put yourself in her shoes. What would you want to know about prospective adoptive parents?

* Share with her your genuine feelings, written personally. This will touch her heart and set you apart from other Dear Birth Mother letters.

* Tell her that you will love her child unconditionally.

* Most women are looking first and foremost for a family they can trust.

* Do not make your profile too good to be true. The birth mother will sense that you are trying to manipulate her to get her baby. She will not trust your words.

* Do not misrepresent yourself or try to impress by stretching the truth. Be yourself.

* Tell stories; they move readers and are the most natural way to communicate.

* Have friends and relatives review the draft of your profile and make suggestions.

* When you write about your life in areas such as Around the House, Holidays, Work, Your Passions, tell about the unique things that make you who you are.

* Phrase your profile in a way that will not offend anyone. For example, do not write: I can provide your child a home you never could. Instead say: I can provide a loving and safe home for your child.

* If you have a particular passion--about sports, for example--do not bring it up in every paragraph. A birth mother wants adoptive parents with balance in their lives.

* Your faith may be important to birth mothers, but be brief when writing about it.

* Do not preach or sound as if you are trying to convert or rescue the birth mother. She will sense that you are judging her for her lifestyle.

* Do not whine about your infertility or the birth mother will believe you have unresolved issues.

* Briefly mention that you have tried to conceive, that doctors did all they could, and now you are thrilled to bring a child into your lives through adoption, if this is in fact what you did.

* Your profile and the website where it is posted are the first images a birth family will see to judge you as prospective parents. Make the best first impression you can.

* Few birth mothers respond to profiles on websites that are cluttered and poorly designed. So find a well-designed site for yours.

* The number-one reason that website users click the stop button is slow downloading. If your profile does not load fast, put it on another site with a faster server or reduce the size of your images.

* Be there when the birth mother calls. Be sure there is a live person to talk with her--your adoption professional, a friend or relative, or answering service personnel; it certainly should not be a machine or voice mail.

* Have fun creating your profile and it will show you are really happy about adopting.


This may not be the most important conversation in your life, but it probably is one of them. Treat it as such by being prepared:

* On your first call, take the time to get to know her. This is someone who may play a big part in the rest of your life.

* Treat her as the equal partner she is in adoption.

* Do not pressure her to commit to you.

* If you pepper her with questions or try to interrogate her, she will take offense and hang up.

* Use words she understands. Do not talk down to her.

* If she shares something about herself that does not fit with your moral code, do not act shocked. Instead, respond with unconditional caring.

* Do not judge, preach, or try to be her parent.

* Give her room to consider whether adoption is the right choice for her and the child.

* Do not push to get her phone number on the first call.

* Leave the conversation with her wanting to call you again.
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Title Annotation:Life in America
Author:Caldwell, Mardie
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
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