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The Process of Adoption

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Adoption can be exhilarating, scary, confusing, and hopeful, all at the same time. Adoption, though a fairly common means of forming a family, is rarely represented in media; as a result, prospective parents are often unfamiliar with the overall process and timeline. They may also be blindsided by the confusing emotions they experience, as well as by the sometimes disheartening responses from family and friends. Learning about the complex, often-slow road to a successful adoption—and educating oneself about a child's arrival—can help parents feel in control and develop the stamina to navigate the process and create a family.

Deciding to adopt

Making the decision to adopt a child is easy for some; indeed, there are many people who report that they’ve wanted to form a family via adoption for as long as they can remember. For others, however, the decision is more complicated. Many pursue adoption after trying unsuccessfully to have a biological child; in these cases, they may worry that adoption is “second best” or face confusing feelings of grief or shame. Others may feel excited to adopt but find the process to be slow, costly, or confusing. Prospective adopters often find that keeping their expectations realistic, educating themselves about adoption as much as possible, and seeking support from those who have been there are the best tools for navigating the long road to their future family.

How long does adoption take?

Adoption can be slow. The process typically lasts anywhere from several months to several years, depending on which route the prospective parents pursue. Domestically, adopting an infant typically takes significantly longer than adopting an older child or adopting from foster care. Internationally, the wait varies by country but typically takes at least a year; for countries that have tight restrictions and/or a long waiting list, it may last five years or more. Adopting a child without special needs takes longer than adopting one with special needs, both domestically and internationally. Talking to a reputable adoption agency can help prospective adopters get a sense of how long they can expect to wait before being matched.


I’m excited to adopt, but the process seems daunting. What should I know before I get started?

Adoption is often a fulfilling journey for soon-to-be parents, but it’s not without its challenges. Most adoption experts advise prospective parents to prepare themselves for a long wait; if it goes quicker than they thought, they may find themselves pleasantly surprised. They should also be ready for false starts—a birth mother who seems to like them, for instance, but ends up choosing someone else. Recognizing ahead of time that there may be bumps in the road can build parents’ resilience; many parents also report that weathering a few challenges ultimately made their journey to meet their future child feel even more rewarding.


Getting Through the Wait

Much of the adoption process involves waiting: waiting for a home study to be completed, waiting to meet and be interviewed by expectant birth mothers; waiting to meet their child, if he or she is older; and/or waiting until the child is ready to come home. Unlike the wait for a biological child, it may feel as if there is no clear end in sight—particularly if the parent or family experiences false starts, agency roadblocks, or other time-consuming setbacks. Navigating the long wait without sinking into despair or apathy is a common challenge for adoptive parents; seeking support from others who are also waiting is a common and effective way to stay positive and remain focused on what needs to get done in order for a child to arrive home.

How can I mentally survive the adoption wait?

The adoption process is all about endurance. When first starting out, prospective parents should remind themselves—and friends and family, if necessary—that it may take a very long time. Beyond practicing patience, adoptive parents often find that it helps if they dedicate the time to education and preparation. This could mean learning about adoption, parenting, and trauma or setting up a space in their home for their new child. It may also mean figuring out what they will do for schooling, whether their employer offers adoption leave, where they will seek medical care for their child, and other basic necessities. Since much of the adoption process is out of parents’ control, focusing on areas in which control is possible can help reduce stress and increase feelings of security.


How can I best prepare myself for parenthood?

In some ways, preparing for biological parenthood and preparing for adoptive parenthood are similar. The parent(s) will usually “nest” (get their home ready for the new arrival), make a plan for taking leave, and/or educate themselves about what the first days and months with their child will be like. Adoptive parents may need to dig deeper into self-education—learning about their child’s birth culture, how they can best promote attachment, how they can manage special needs (if applicable), and how they can talk about adoption in an open, honest way once their child arrives. All parents—both biological and adoptive—should make sure to practice self-care; preparing for parenthood is stressful and time-consuming, and parents should work to reduce anxiety, prioritize their own health and well-being, and be patient with themselves.


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