The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Adoption

Everything You Need to Know About Domestic and International Adoption


By Elizabeth Swire Falker

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This comprehensive, accessible guide leads you with confidence through every decision you’ll have to make during the adoption process — including the ones that you’d never know to expect.

So you’ve made the decision to adopt. What’s next? For starters, how do you know whether domestic or international adoption is right for you? (And what are the real differences between the two?) Adoption insider Elizabeth Swire Falker answers these questions and many more.

As an attorney who practices in the area of adoption and has worked with hundreds of families, and as an adoptive parent herself, she offers expert advice on each stage of the process.

Complete with checklists, tips, sidebars, and plenty of advice, it shows you how to:

  • Identify which adoption experts you do and don’t need
  • Find the right birth mother or choose the right country for your family-and how to spot red flags in potential situations
  • Select an attorney or agency and prepare for your home visit
  • Finance an adoption on a budget, manage the red tape, and get around the roadblocks
  • Navigate all of the complex emotions that surface along the way

With Elizabeth Swire Falker’s warm yet been-there-done-that voice, The Insider’s Guide to Adoption is sure to become a tried-and-true resource for adoptive parents everywhere.



Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Swire Falker

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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First eBook Edition: June 2009

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ISBN: 978-0-446-56230-0


First and foremost I would like to thank my agent for her unbelievable support for this book; without Debra Goldstein (and creative culture, inc.), there would be no book. Thank you for believing in this project and refusing to give up!

To my editor at Warner Books, Natalie Kaire, thank you for contributing your brilliance and insight into ensuring that every nuance of every word contributed to the underlying message about the miracle of adoption and becoming an adoptive parent.

To my friends and colleagues at the Gladney Center for Adoption, thank you for the privilege and honor—and the amazing experience—of serving as head of the New York Tri-State Family Association. I am forever grateful for your collective and individual wisdom and support. To Andrea, Chontel, Debra, Gongzahn, Jim, Marshall, Meredith, Nonya, Sharon, Vanessa and Mike, from the bottom of my heart, thank you! (See you at the picnic!)

To the incredible staff at the Wykagyl Starbucks, thank you for making my daily delicious iced, half-caff, venti, seven-pump, skim, extra ice, double-cupped mochas (now known as an iced-half-caffventi Liz). I would not have a functioning brain or my sanity without your coffee.

To Diane, Gretchen, Jennifer, Jill, Kate, Kathy, Kim, Laurie, Lisa, Nora, Noreen, Molly, Tara and Vickee (and all of the women who attended the GFA's Coffee Klatches), thank you for sharing your voices and experiences with me and being a part of my own process of becoming an adoptive parent.

To my amazing and brilliant office staff: my legal assistants Brenna Kaplan, J.D., and Danielle Bifulci. Your dedication to this book and attention to detail did not go unnoticed. Thank you for helping this book get to press. I am truly blessed to have such talented women working in my office.

To my husband, life partner and soul mate, for his unending patience and support while I learned to parent a toddler, run my own law practice and write a book all at the same time; thank you for continuing to help me hold the door shut!

To David, without whom I have no focus or center, thank you for being my son and bringing new richness to my life.

And to Diane, * for your bravery and honor; thank you for being our son's birth mother and being a part of our family. Namaste.



Or did it choose you?

So you're thinking about adopting? Wow! Congratulations, that's fabulous! Let me tell you, with very few exceptions, the adoptive parents I've had the privilege of meeting (and I've met many) are—in my opinion—enlightened, or at the very least, more evolved than the average parent. I know, because I've been there and faced the tough questions about how, when and why I was going to become a parent. I spent tens of thousands of dollars on assisted reproductive technologies, I endured multiple miscarriages, and it was only when I came face to face with the thought of losing my husband on September 11 that I really looked at the reality of my life and the depth of my despair (not to mention impending financial ruin) and was able to open my eyes to the beauty of adoption. I guess you could say I was a tough case at first. But let me tell you, while adoption wasn't my first choice in family building (infertility treatment came first), it was my best choice. And as you will read in a moment, adoption wasn't exactly the easiest experience for me. But now, as an adoptive parent, I can tell you that I've never been happier in my life. And it's what I went through to get here that makes me tell you this now—you'll never ever regret the decision to adopt. You'll only wonder why you didn't do it sooner!

I am proud of you for thinking outside the traditional family-building box, whatever may have brought you here (infertility, age, sexual orientation or some combination thereof). There are more babies and children in this country, let alone in the world, in need of a loving home than there are adoptive families. It is especially difficult to be considering adoption if you're going through or have gone through infertility treatment (been there, done that!). Considering other options for creating the life you've always dreamed of while letting go of fantasies about how you'd get that life isn't easy stuff. And you're facing those issues head-on if you're reading this book. You're taking charge, making a plan, and becoming a good consumer (and let's face it, you're probably going to spend a lot of money during this process, so you need to be a savvy consumer) as you work toward your dream of being a parent to one of those babies or children who need a home. So you, dear reader, are enlightened!

This book will tell you everything you'll ever need to know about becoming an adoptive parent. From talking about the types of adoption, coping with your home study, and filling out paperwork for your agency and/or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) 1 to managing the what may feel like a way-too-long wait for your beautiful family to be created, this book will help you navigate your journey and provide support and reassurance while you wait. There is a lot to learn and a lot you need to know in order to speed your journey toward parenthood, and it's hard to find the straight poop on adoption so that you can become an expert at cleaning poop off a beloved little tushie.

This book will give you the facts without telling you how you should adopt. Have you encountered them yet?—those exceedingly nice people who seem to think the only way to adopt is to go through a domestic open adoption in which you see the birth family every weekend? Or the people who think you're selling out if you don't schlep halfway around the world to save a child? Well, if you haven't met them yet, don't worry—you will! When I was struggling to become a parent, there were so many people telling me what to do and how to do it. I felt inundated with well-intentioned but completely inappropriate advice—at least it was inappropriate for me and my husband. As a result of all the "should-upon do-gooders" you'll encounter along the way, I made a decision that there will be no judgments made in these pages, no right or wrong way to adopt; just the information you need to become a parent and stay sane while you do so. Single parents, gay parents, infertile parents, not-exactly-thirtysomething-anymore parents: all are welcome in these pages. Take the information you read here, apply it to your situation, and adapt it to your life and needs.

There is also no right way to read this book. Please feel free to read this book in consecutive page order or to skip around. I've laid it out as best I can—chronological order in the adoption process based on the type of adoption you're pursuing—but if you're still choosing between domestic and international adoption, you might want to read more carefully the chapters that demystify these types of adoption and assess the pros and cons of each.

The first part of the book (chapters 1–3) focuses on issues that all adoptive parents must consider, from deciding where and how you'll adopt to financing your adoption and surviving your home study. The second part of the book (chapters 4–7) focuses on domestic adoption and will cover the essential aspects of adopting from the good ol' U.S. of A. We will discuss (among other things) the pros and cons of using an agency or an attorney, what you need to think about before you begin searching for a birth family, how best to market yourself, what to do and pack when you travel to get your baby, and how to cope when you get home. The third part of the book (chapters 8–10) focuses on international adoption. In Part 3 we'll talk about how to choose a country, how to find the right adoption professional to assist you, how to complete your USCIS paperwork and dossier, what to pack and what not to pack when traveling halfway around the world to get your baby, how to survive in a hotel and on the airplane home with your new little one, and how to cope once you're home.

Once you pick the type of adoption that is right for your life situation, you'll undoubtedly read every word I've written in the relevant section of the book and thus garner all the wisdom and cumulative experience I've gained from speaking with and supporting (through their adoption process) dozens upon dozens of adoptive families. We will make you an adoption pro before you even become an adoptive parent! Then, as your adoption process moves forward, you'll reread each and every word at least three times because you can't wait to make it happen!

It may have been a long haul to get here, and there's a lot still to accomplish before you actually hold your child in your arms. I want you to be excited as you read this book. Most of us—except for the unusually enlightened people who choose adoption without trying to conceive a biological child, known among adoption advocates as preferential adopters—come to adoption after an arduous journey through infertility. Once you decide to adopt, you're "expecting" just like all those people who do it the old-fashioned way, and even if no one else knows what's about to happen, you do, and you should be thrilled! There will be hard days, no doubt, but this is it: you're about to become a parent!

For some of us it takes a little longer and you need to do more exploration before you hit the bliss zone. Maybe you've been exploring the various ways to adopt, but nothing feels right. Birth families and relinquishment laws scare you, or the often-feared (and often baseless) lengthy wait for a domestic newborn turns you off, or traveling to Russia multiple times doesn't work for your work schedule. Don't worry if this is you; if adoption is right for you, one day you'll stumble across a seminar about adopting from Vietnam, and everything will click. Suddenly, everything in your life makes sense; it's like you've just put on a pair of glasses that bring everything into focus. Sometimes it takes even longer, and the fear and anxiety left over from years of infertility or trying to decide whether parenthood is right for you stay with you even as you pursue an adoption plan. That's okay too. For some people it takes a couple of days, weeks or even months before they realize that this is what is right for them, and then they experience the rush of rightness repeatedly (like every time your baby wakes up). I was a tough case at first, and I have to admit that more than once in the middle of the night I've started sobbing uncontrollably, holding my little boy and thanking the All-That-Is for helping me find him. It's in this moment that I realize I didn't choose adoption; it chose me.

Whichever of these paths finds you, when you decide to adopt, you experience a paradigm shift—the way you look at the world changes, and suddenly you feel more at home than you ever have before. You realize that this is what the Universe (God, Allah, the powers that be) always intended for you. There will come a day when you realize that while adoption may have been your second choice for family building, it is not—by any means—the second-best choice. It is in fact the right choice.

Although I now realize that adoption is my path and I've never been happier in my life, I first had to endure seven years of trying to conceive, six cycles of in vitro fertilization, seven miscarriages, and the donation of over $100,000 of our hard-earned money (and that of my insurance carrier) to the bank accounts of our infertility clinic. And I will admit that when we first started the process of adopting our son, I was also still trying to get pregnant (there's a confession if ever there was one!).

Our son, David, is now three and half years old, and the way he came to us has served to become a symbol to me of the destiny inherent in adoption. There were endless twists and turns in our adoption process, and because of the obstacles we faced in his adoption and the fact that he ultimately came home almost six months after his birth, there is no doubt in my mind or heart that David was always meant to be my son. He reminds me every day that our children pick us from someplace in the universe and that even if—or because—we can't or won't have biological children, they find a way to come home to us. It doesn't matter if we look the same, have the same religion, or speak the same language; our children find their way home to us. It is destiny. I know one day you will look in your child's eyes, and this knowledge will engulf and overwhelm you with a warmth and serenity that words cannot do justice.

I have learned so much from our process in adopting David and through my other adoption experiences since, and while working as an adoption advocate. I am motivated to write this book because I so wish that I had had an adoption-savvy friend guiding me through my adoption process, holding my hand, and helping me sort through emotionally and financially challenging issues without losing my sense of humor. I wish someone had told me before I started planning David's adoption everything that I know now.

In fact, it was as a result of my work as an adoption advocate for RESOLVE and as president of the Gladney Center for Adoption's New York Tri-State Family Association (the GFA), which provides support to several hundred pre- and post-adoptive families in the region, that I became dedicated to shedding light on the process of becoming an adoptive parent—demystifying and exposing the nitty-gritty truths as they are discussed by and among adoptive parents. All the "if I had only known" and the "what does this mean" conversations I've had with other adoptive parents are shared with you in this book. All the beautiful moments and experiences that I have been privileged to share with people as they become parents are shared with you in this book.

I was so moved by my experiences working with and supporting adoptive parents that not only did I seek out the opportunity to write this book (a labor of love if ever there was one) but I transitioned my career from one devoted to meaningless (to me) commercial litigation to practicing reproductive and adoption law. My understanding of adoption laws and the myriad legal issues that can be faced in domestic and international adoption gives me a unique perspective. I am not only able to help you understand the nuts and bolts of planning your adoption but I can also help you figure out when and how a particular law pertaining to consent or relinquishment of parental rights might be relevant for you, and help you understand what that law means in practical terms.

But most of all, I wrote this book because I want you to know in your heart and soul that your baby was always meant to be yours. I want you to be educated enough to know how to find the right birth mother. I want you to be aware of what is legal and possible in international adoptions and to choose a program that works for your family, not to select the popular program or agency that everyone else is using (or the only one that you think will accept you when there might have been others available) and wind up dissatisfied, frustrated and still waiting for your baby.

I want everyone to have the practical tips I have learned for traveling to get and bring home a baby or toddler (whether it's a two-hour or two-week journey home). I hope everyone at least thinks about the possibility of breast-feeding (and I know most of you still don't believe it's possible despite my assurances to the contrary), having a baby shower, planning a nursery, or hiring a doula (even if only for your hotel stay). And I want everyone to be prepared for the all-too-common depression that often follows adoption. No one talked openly to me (and I am an educated consumer and parent) about these things, and they're so important! I hope this book will help to educate and empower you, to help you find the resources you need when you need them so that you too will one day sit, rocking your child in your arms, and feel the power and love of adoption and know in your soul that this was meant to be.



The Pros, the Cons and All the Beautiful Screaming Babies on Airplanes

There are a ton of misconceptions about domestic and international adoption, and I hope to dispel most of them in this chapter and help you figure out which of these two types of adoption is the right way for you to bring home your baby or child. Becoming a parent is hard enough an experience. (I'm sorry, my friend, but everyone has been right—you've got no idea until you're doing it just how tough it is to be a parent!) You owe it to yourself to make sure that you're comfortable with the type of adoption you're pursuing and that it's the right fit for your family and/or lifestyle. You will minimize the difficulties inherent in the adoption process and make the transition to parenthood smoother when you choose the right type of adoption for your family's needs. Not everyone can or should try to parent a child of a different ethnicity, or for that matter take care of a newborn. Making smart choices now can make life easier down the road.

Before you make up your mind between domestic and international adoption, you first might want to think about all the variables that go into building a beautiful family. Take the time now to think about skin color, racial features, age, finances, ignorant and enlightened family members, and political preferences (e.g., making a statement that you're making the world a better place by adopting an orphan), and then decide how and when you want to pursue adoption. One of the great things about being an adoptive parent is that you get to choose so much about how your family is going to look and be. Parents of biological children take what the universe gives them. We have the unique opportunity to say we want to parent a little girl from China, a little boy from Guatemala, a sibling set from Russia, or even a blond-haired, blue-eyed baby girl from Oklahoma. Ours is a unique situation, and for those of us who've lost all control over our reproductive lives, having the opportunity to exercise degrees of choice not common among the general population is pretty interesting and refreshing.

Let's take a moment to focus your thoughts. Take a look at the following questions, and then go through your answers with the detailed discussions that follow each topic. (There are no right or wrong answers here, so relax and have some fun fantasizing about your future family.) This exercise will help determine whether domestic or international adoption is right for you.

  • Question # 1—The Baby Age Issue: Do you want to adopt a newborn, or are you open to adopting an older infant or child? You are going to have sleepless nights either way, but it is way, way more intense with a newborn than a two-year-old.
  • Question # 2—Birth Family Contact, Identity Issues and Relinquishment Laws: Do you want to have a relationship with your child's birth family, or do you not want to deal with this at all? What will it be like for your family when you're helping your teen through the emotionally complex waters surrounding identity issues and adoption when you know little or nothing about his or her birth family, or when you can pick up the phone and call his or her birth mother? How are you going to handle the prospect that a birth mother might have days or even weeks before her relinquishment of parental rights is irrevocable and binding? Would it be easier for you to know that the baby someone is handing you has legally been declared an orphan and there isn't a birth family in the picture?
  • Question # 3—Estimated Time to Parenthood: Houston, We Have a Problem: Do you need this to happen yesterday? It isn't going to. This is a long, arduous process, whether you go domestic or international. What you need to look at is whether you have the emotional and physical energy to devote to searching for a domestic newborn in need of a loving home or to traveling, perhaps multiple times, around the world to get your baby. Do you need someone who can handle everything for you? Do you need to know what is going to happen every step of the way and have a definite time line for when you will complete various steps in the adoption process, or can you go with the flow? International adoption follows a specific time line, with specific steps to follow every step of the way. Domestic adoption doesn't offer any definites about anything. You could have a baby in a few months or a few years (a lot depends on what you want and need in an adoptive situation, as we will discuss in chapter 5).
  • Question # 4—Ethnicity Issues: Do you care whether your baby looks like you or are you open to adopting a baby or child that (quite frankly) everyone will know is adopted (and will want to know all the details about his or her "real" family)? Is your immediate and/or extended family going to be receptive to a child of a different race or with different physical characteristics? How is Great-Aunt Agatha going to react to your beautiful Asian toddler, and do you care?
  • Question # 5—Finances: Do you have limited resources to spend on an adoption, or is the sky the limit? Does your employer offer adoption assistance? Do you have friends or family members who can loan you money if you're broke after years of expensive infertility treatment?
  • Question # 6—Medical Background and Health Information: How much information would you like or do you need about your child's medical history? Do you want/need a detailed family history of cancer and heart disease risk, prenatal exposure to toxins and medical care, or are you okay with a physician reviewing a brief medical file and/or a video of your child to help assess physical and developmental issues (if any) that you may be facing?
  • Question # 7—Parents with "Special Needs": Are you one of the many same-sex and/or not-thirtysomething-anymore parents trying to adopt? Are you physically challenged or recovering from a long-term or potentially life-threatening illness? You may have to adopt internationally or go through a public agency or the foster-care system. Are you okay with that? If not, are you prepared to be aggressive and proactive during each stage of the process?

Question # 1 The Baby Age Issue

When we started the adoption process, I knew that I wanted the experience of holding a tiny screaming newborn and being up all night, every night (what was I thinking?). Being in my midthirties at the time, sleep deprivation didn't scare me. Now, being an experienced and profoundly sleep-deprived parent, I know that adopting an older baby or child with established sleep patterns (even if temporarily disrupted by the strangeness and excitement of a new home) may be a good thing!

One of the most common reasons people choose to adopt domestically is because they want to parent from the first days of a baby's life. If you have your heart set on being in the delivery room (not always possible, but sometimes it does happen) and cutting the cord or taking a baby home shortly after birth, you're going to have to stick to the continental United States. I chose domestic adoption because I didn't want to miss any part of my child's life — I wanted to share his life history from day one. I also wanted to breast-feed, which is easier with a newborn adoption than an older infant adoption. Thus, Charlie and I chose a newborn, domestic adoption.

The youngest baby you can adopt internationally is usually about four months old. Indeed, if the age of the baby isn't important to you and you think that adopting a baby who's six or nine months old is just fine, then you have far more options. You can adopt an older infant internationally (Guatemala, however, is one country that regularly places younger infants) through a private domestic adoption, through an agency or through foster care. And if you're open to adopting a toddler, preschooler or child, then you can go just about anywhere in the world, including your hometown!

Now is the time to really think this through. Having the energy to be a good parent is hard, so maybe not


On Sale
Jun 27, 2009
Page Count
368 pages

Elizabeth Swire Falker

About the Author

Elizabeth Swire Falker, Esq. (Liz), is a graduate of Wellesley College and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. After spending eight years establishing herself as a commercial litigator in New York City, Liz took a brief break from the practice of law to focus on her own infertility issues. While undergoing treatment for infertility she wrote and published the bestselling, “cult classic”, The Infertility Survival Handbook. In 2004, after enduring her own difficult journey to become a parent, which included seven IVF cycles, countless miscarriages, and three adoptions, Liz opened her own law practice devoted to educating and supporting others as they face similar challenges building their family. As her private practice began to grow, Liz published her second mass market book, The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Adoption. More than ten years later, after publishing two commercial books to critical and popular acclaim, Liz has represented close to two thousand clients as they have navigated their way through the complex waters of third-party assisted reproduction and adoption law.

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