By Rhonda McClung // Guest Writer
The adoption process can easily be compared to taking a trip in your car. You get in thinking you’re going to take the most direct route to your destination and instead find yourself speeding down a superhighway one minute, then all alone on a country road the next. Your adoption agency is the guy riding shotgun beside you. Having made the trip many times, he is there to help you navigate the roads, but even he can’t be entirely sure what’s ahead at the next turn.
Once you’ve decided to use an adoption agency, determining how to choose an adoption agency is the first real challenge in the adoption process. Google “adoption agencies” and thousands of websites will appear.
When we began the adoption process, we visited two very different adoption agencies, both about three hours from our house in different parts of the state. The first was an agency steeped in history, more than 110 years old. We choose this agency because it was well known statewide and we knew people who had used the agency years before and loved it. It was the “designer label” of adoption agencies in our state.
The agency, housed in a large modern building that could pass for a small convention center, hosted a daylong orientation for about 100 couples and individuals in the early stages of their adoption plans. We were grouped by geography, sitting near people from towns near our hometown as there were people from all over the country at the orientation.
Throughout the day, we traveled from meeting to meeting in large groups, hearing from caseworkers, counselors, adoptive families, and birth mothers. The agency encouraged prospective parents to place ads and tell as many people as they could about their interest in adoption. Placing as many as 200 children a year, the agency was staffed by professionals with a friendly but no-nonsense demeanors. We were impressed with the size of the organization and a little overwhelmed by what lay ahead.
Our second agency visit was the polar opposite. We learned about this agency from a longtime friend who knew the man who owned the agency and served as its attorney. We pulled up outside a small house renovated as office space. Walking in the door, we were greeted by the executive director and realized that we were the only prospective parents there. The first words from the executive director were to ask if our 8-year-old son would be joining us. It never occurred to us to involve him this early in the process, but I was thrilled that they were already thinking of our whole family as we talked about it.
Sitting at a long table in what was the former home’s dining room, I asked the executive director how many prospective families they were working with. She leaned over, looked through an open door into her office at a board on the wall and said, “18. I asked how many birth mothers working with them. She leaned again and said, “17. She talked about the services the agency provided to prospective families and the birth mothers. We spent about two hours talking about the process and what we might expect, then left for home. They gave us the names and numbers of families that they worked with in the past and asked that we call them with questions and to hear their stories.
After talking about it for several days and calling the families for references, we chose the smaller agency. While they worked with fewer birth mothers, they also worked with fewer prospective parents. We felt it would be easier to connect with the staff and reach them with questions, concerns, and fears.
Choosing an adoption agency is a matter of preferences. Are you more comfortable with an agency that is big or one that is small? Close to home or farther away? Does your personal style of dealing with the pressures and emotions of the adoption process match that of the adoption agency staff that will work with you? Do you feel like you can trust them to treat your family and any expectant parents fairly?
Our road trip on the adoption journey was not without problems. I called at least once a week and asked the caseworker if she had any news. She was very gracious, even though I was one of 15 to 20 slightly crazy mothers-in-waiting that she was dealing with at any time.
There were birth mothers who looked at our book who did not choose us. We sat in the hospital for several days with a baby that the birth mother chose to keep. We had friends try to connect us with women who said that they wanted to place their children but refused to work with our adoption agency. One of those asked us to buy her a car and the other, we later learned, was using her pregnancy to scam people for money. It can be a stressful time, and you want someone who will ride it out with you in a way that makes you comfortable while giving you realistic advice.
Would we have had a better or worse experience with a different agency? I have no way of knowing, but I do know that six months after meeting in the little house-turned-office space, I held my daughter in my arms on the day she was born and have loved her every day since.
Rhonda McClung is a professional fundraiser and has previously worked as a legislative aide and newspaper reporter. She loves to tell stories, her own and other people’s. She is the mother of a son and a daughter. One is biological and one is adopted, but she can never remember which one is which.