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How to Adopt a Child - The Domestic Adoption Process

The Steps to Adopt a Newborn to a New Family in the United States

Family is everything, but the way we get there is different. For thousands of hopeful parents, the domestic adoption process is the path to a life of joy and love. For thousands of birth parents, adoption gives opportunities and a new start — for them and for their baby.

Whether you’re a hopeful parent or a prospective birth parent, adoption’s path can be long and winding. It can also be confusing. So, it’s normal to have questions, like:

How do you adopt a child?

How do you place a child for adoption?

What is the adoption process really like?

What are the steps to adopting a child to a new family?

Can adoption be right for me?

This guide aims to answer these questions and more. We want to help you decide whether or not domestic adoption is right for you and your family.

The following will walk you through how to adopt a child domestically and the overall adoption process with American Adoptions, whether you’re a pregnant woman or a hopeful adoptive parent. Remember: You can always call our specialists anytime at 1-800-ADOPTION to receive personalized guidance and support.

How to Adopt a Child

Step 1: Decide that Adoption Is Right for You

This may seem like an obvious step to adopt a baby in the U.S. — so obvious that you could skip right over it. But this decision is too important to blow past. It should be considered carefully and deeply before beginning the adoption process.

Deciding if adoption is right for you and your family is a personal decision and one that is made for a variety of reasons. Everyone has a unique life experience. The journey that has brought you to this decision has likely been full of ups and downs.

Many hopeful parents choose adoption after struggles with infertility. Infertility treatments are available to families, but even in the best-case scenarios, they only have a 35 percent success rate. Some families find that with each failed attempt is another large sum of money that could have been used toward adoption, which can be emotionally draining. After this, they begin wondering how to adopt a baby.

For some families, transitioning from infertility to adoption can be a long process. Talking with an adoption counselor will help you better understand the process of adoption, answer your adoption questions, and ultimately decide if adoption is right for you. Whatever your journey up to this point has been, if you are considering this path, you must fully commit before beginning the adoption process. Only then can you fully embrace adoption and move forward with next steps.

But, what about if you’re on the other side of the equation — considering adoption for an unplanned pregnancy?

Many prospective birth parents eventually plan to raise children, but their unplanned pregnancy comes at a time when doing so would be incredibly difficult. They love their unborn baby very much, but they know that placing their child with a new set of parents will give him or her opportunities they can’t provide at this moment. Many expectant parents feel torn between their pregnancy options before choosing adoption — and that’s perfectly okay. Learning more about the adoption process never obligates you to choose adoption before you’re ready.

Step 2: Select the Type of Adoption

If you are an adoptive parent, you have to decide what type of adoption you are interested in pursuing, which depends on several factors. The child adoption process is different for each type. Do you want to:

The answers to these questions will lead you to the type of adoption that is best for you.

If, however, you are considering placing a baby for adoption, then this decision is simple: you will be pursuing the domestic infant adoption process. American Adoptions serves prospective birth parents and adoptive families through every step of this type of adoption.

Step 3: Choose an Adoption Professional

When researching adoption professionals, some adoptive families and pregnant women inaccurately believe that all adoption agencies provide the same services with the same levels of success. Unfortunately, this is not true. Your experience with the child adoption process can change drastically depending on the agency you work with.

It is essential to thoroughly research multiple adoption professionals and all of their services and benefits before choosing one.

If you’re an adoptive parent, for example, it is a mistake to compare Adoption Professional A’s $20,000 fees to Adoption Professional B’s $30,000 fees and select Adoption Professional A because it seems like a less expensive option. Other than the cost of the adoption, you will also want to investigate other characteristics of an adoption professional, including:

  • Wait times

  • Disruption rates

  • Hidden fees

  • Financial protection

  • Amount of support, education and guidance for all parties

  • And much more

Similarly, if you’re a prospective birth parent, it’s important to choose an agency not just based on the number of services offered. You should pay close attention to how the professionals treat you — do you feel respected, or do you feel like you are being pressured into a decision that you’re not quite ready for?

There are hundreds of national and local adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, adoption law centers and adoption facilitators that can all help you adopt a baby or place a baby for adoption. Read the following to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of adoption professional.

American Adoptions is a national adoption agency that is involved in more than 300 newborn adoptions every year and offers all the services adoptive families and prospective birth parents need for a successful private adoption process. If you’re trying to figure out how to adopt a baby into a new family, we can help.

Step 4: Become an Active Waiting Family or Create an Adoption Plan

If you choose to work with American Adoptions, there are a few steps in the process of adoption you’ll need to complete before you can find an adoption opportunity with a prospective birth mother or adoptive family.

If you’re a hopeful adoptive parent, you must complete the following:

  • Home Study – A home study is required in every type of adoption process and is an in-depth look into your lives to ensure that you are fit to become parents. Your home study social worker will help you complete state and federal criminal background checks, collect financial and medical information, and conduct interviews with you, your spouse and any other family members living in your home, as well as a home inspection.

  • APQ – To fully understand the types of adoption opportunities you are interested in pursuing in the child adoption process, American Adoptions uses the Adoption Planning Questionnaire (APQ), a series of questions that helps us measure which types of situations would be a good fit for your adoption goals. You will be asked confidential questions pertaining to the cultural and health backgrounds of babies you are interested in adopting, the amount of contact you are interested in sharing with the birth parents, the medical conditions you are willing to accept in the birth parents’ background, and many more.

  • Adoption Profiles – All adoptive families at American Adoptions have a print profile, consisting of text and pictures about your family, and a video profile, which allows prospective birth mothers to learn more about what makes your family truly unique. Together, the print profile and video profile complement one another, so prospective birth parents can easily imagine what their child’s life would be like as a member of your family.

If you’re considering placing your child for adoption, you will create an adoption plan at this stage of the process. This will document your preferences and desires for your adoption journey, including:

  • Adoptive family: You can express your preferences for race, age, marital status, location and more. A specialist will help find waiting families who share the same goals, and you will be able to choose which family you want to place your child with.

  • Post-adoption contact: You can stay in contact with your child long after the child adoption process is complete. Through open adoption, you can exchange phone calls, emails, and even in-person visits with the adoptive family and your child in the years to come. What kind of and how much contact you wish to share will always be up to you.

  • Hospital plan: You will get to decide what your labor and delivery process looks like. This includes where you deliver, what kind of medication you want, whether the adoptive parents will be there, and more. Your specialist will help you create this plan by asking you all the “what if” questions they can think of.

Step 5: Find an Adoption Opportunity

Once you have completed these first steps, you will officially be ready to begin searching for an adoption opportunity. This is an exciting step in the baby adoption process, but it can also be challenging for all parties involved.

Here at American Adoptions, adoptive family profiles are shown to prospective birth mothers whose situations line up with the boundaries put in place by her adoption plan and the family’s APQ. Eventually, a birth mother will select the family she feels is the perfect fit to adopt her baby.

If you’re a prospective birth mother, this decision will always be up to you. It may take some time to find the “right” family, and that’s okay. Your specialist will never rush you into a decision you’re uncomfortable making, and we will work hard to find prospective families who meet your expectations and preferences.

This waiting period can be difficult for some adoptive families, so, if you’re a waiting parent, it is important to approach it the right way. In a healthy approach, the adoptive family maintains their normal lifestyle, keeps their adoption private to only close family members and friends, and perhaps takes up new hobbies to help keep their minds occupied, all while being prepared for when they do receive “the call.” Adoptive families that are able to distance themselves from the wait tend to have a much smoother experience in the domestic adoption process. Patience is key during the waiting period.

Keep in mind that while you are waiting, your adoption specialist is doing everything possible to find the right adoption opportunity for you. American Adoptions works hard to minimize wait times for adoptive parents, which average from one to 12 months with our adoptive families. On the other hand, we will never force a prospective birth mother to choose a family before she’s ready.

Step 6: Communicate Before the Adoption

Once a prospective birth mother selects a family based on their profile, they are then involved in what is known as an “adoption opportunity,” in which the adoptive parents and the potential birth parents will then pursue the same adoption plan. This is an exciting step in the process of adopting a child. Adoptive parents and prospective birth parents can make the most of pre-placement contact by approaching it with a positive attitude and open mind.

It is common for prospective birth parents to want to get to know the adoptive family a little better. Today, most adoption professionals, including American Adoptions, encourage this openness in these adoption relationships because of the many benefits open adoption has for birth parents, adoptive parents and, most importantly, adopted children.

With American Adoptions, most adoptive families will participate in one or all of the following forms of contact with the prospective birth parents during the process of adoption:

  • Conference Call – An adoption specialist-mediated conference call between adoptive parents and the birth parents.

  • Ongoing Contact – Depending on everyone’s comfort level, the potential birth parents and adoptive family can choose to have continued email exchanges, phone calls, text message conversations and more prior to placement.

  • Meeting During Placement – The adoptive family will travel to the hospital where the birth takes place and interact with the birth parents upon placement.

An adoption specialist will be ready to facilitate communication at each step. However, many families and birth parents find that they are able to maintain this relationship on their own after the first phone call.

Step 7: Complete the Hospital Stay

The hospital stay is an emotional journey for both adoptive parents and prospective birth parents. This is the moment many adoptive parents dream of. But for pregnant women, this can be the hardest time of all — and requires a great deal of strength and love.

The hospital stay is a different emotional experience for every party, so it will require some emotional preparation. But, there are some logistical elements of this step, too, and it’s important to understand these before you go to the hospital.

When a prospective birth mother chooses adoption, she will create a hospital plan as a part of her overall adoption plan. The adoptive parents will be made aware of this plan before they arrive, and it’s important that they follow the potential birth mother’s wishes. Among other things, this plan will dictate whether or not adoptive parents are present in the delivery room, if they have face-to-face contact and how long the prospective birth mother spends with the baby after birth.

After official consent to adoption has been given and everything is cleared from the doctors, the baby will be placed in the adoptive parents’ arms, and the lifelong journey of adoption will begin for both parties.

Step 8: Finalize the Adoption

Finalization is an exciting time for an adoptive family, because it is when all of the legal proceedings are finished, the adoption is legally completed, and the adopted child is an official member of the family. This is the final step of the legal adoption process.

In general, there are three things adoptive families need to do to reach finalization:

  • Complete ICPC – If the adoption occurs across state lines, the adoptive family must remain in the state until Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) paperwork clears, which usually takes between 7 to 10 business days.

  • Complete Post-Placement Visits – The adoptive family will have a select number of post-placement visits to complete, usually performed by their home study provider, which will show the adoption professional and the court that the baby and the family are adjusting well to one another.

  • Attend Finalization Hearing – A judge’s final review of the adoption ensures the necessary post-placement visits were completed, ICPC was conducted in applicable states, and both birth parents’ parental rights were legally terminated. If you are a birth parent, you will usually not be required to attend this court hearing. Instead, you should focus on healing emotionally after placement with the assistance of your adoption specialist.

Once the finalization hearing is finished, the adoptive family is granted legal custody of the child and awarded the adoption decree, and the legal domestic adoption process is complete.

Step 9: Participate in Post-Placement Contact

After the adoption process ends, nearly all birth parents are interested in receiving ongoing updates about their child, and nearly all adoption professionals encourage this correspondence. At American Adoptions, we feel the same way — and we’re here to support both parties as they continue their open adoption contact in the months and years to come.

Picture and letter updates are generally sent for the first 18 years of the child’s life. And, depending on the level of openness in your adoption, this relationship could also include email exchanges, phone calls, Skype sessions, or in-person visits. It is increasingly common in domestic infant adoptions for adoptive parents and birth parents to have direct interaction — an exciting opportunity to form a meaningful relationship.

The adoption process is a lifelong journey for birth parents, adoptive families and children, and no matter which side of the adoption triad you are on, it will continue to shape your lives and experiences in the years to come.


If you have any more questions about how to adopt a baby to a new family (whether as an adoptive parent or prospective birth parent), contact an adoption specialist at 1-800-ADOPTION or request more free information here.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. America Adoptions, Inc. provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do we need to retain our own attorney?

No, American Adoptions has established relationships with some of the best adoption attorneys in the nation. Because adoption laws vary from state to state and between counties, it is important to utilize the services of an adoption attorney who specializes in the state where the adoption will finalize, which is unknown until you match with an expectant mother. You have the right to retain your own attorney, but doing so may be an additional, unnecessary expense.

Can we choose the gender of our baby?

American Adoptions does not allow gender specificity in adoption. Any family who wishes to be gender-specific in their adoption should contact us at 1-800-ADOPTION and ask about the possibility of an exception waiver before taking any other steps toward adoption with our agency. Any families who do receive an exception to be gender-specific may also incur an additional fee, which helps cover the additional advertising costs of such a request.

Please note that gender specificity will likely increase your wait time significantly.

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