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Adam Pertman on Adopting a Child
Adam Pertman is an adoptive parent of two children and is the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national not-for-profit organization devoted to improving adoption policy and practice. Pertman had been a senior journalist with The Boston Globe for more than two decades and had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his writings on adoption for the newspaper. Pertman, author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America, talks about how parents can begin to prepare themselves for the first 30 days of adopting a child.
What questions should parents ask themselves during the first 30 days of adopting a child?
You need to educate yourself and you have to make some big decisions. Do you want to adopt internationally? Do you want to adopt domestically? The way you can make those decisions is by learning about them and making the decision in a thoughtful way.
There are a whole host of questions to ask. You want to consider adoption just like you would if you were planning to get pregnant. If you’re going to adopt from the foster care system, which means the child may have been abused or neglected, you have to be sure you’re capable of handling the situation. That’s just one way in which you have to think through your own capacities and state of mind. Another, for example, is that you should ask yourself if you have resolved your feelings about your own infertility—if that’s the reason you’re adopting.
Many people think adoption’s unfair—they think, “We don’t have to go through hoops and educate ourselves when we make a baby.” But that’s not altogether true. People going the biological route learn from their doctors, they talk with friends who have been pregnant, they educate themselves by going to Lamaze classes, watching shows on Lifetime about being a good mom, reading books, all sorts of things. We don’t think about it that way because that’s the normal routine for someone who wants to have a biological child.
In the adoption process, people are asked to go through a different education process. The difference isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.
What are some of the feelings people experience during the first 30 days of the adoption process?
They feel all sorts of things, but it depends on the individual. The range of feelings includes elation: They feel like, “Yes, we will be parents! It’s really going to happen.” Then, it’s back to the questions of: “Are we really going to play it out?” and “How are we going to play this out?”
People experience nervousness, real happiness, anticipation and anxiety. Prospective adoptive parents are entering their version of pregnancy. Pregnancy is full of all those emotions. We think about, “Is the baby going to be OK? Am I going to be OK?”
What are the major differences between an adoption agency, adoption attorney and an adoption facilitator, and why would prospective parents choose one over the other during the first 30 days?
I have friends that do all three. But agencies give you more comprehensive services. They supply the training, the classes, consultations and counseling. Attorneys might or might not. If you’re paying a lot of money, you should get services that you’re paying for and you should know exactly what services you’re paying for.
A facilitator is a matchmaker, someone who matches pregnant woman who are thinking of placing a baby up for adoption. They’re the least regulated in a field that’s not well regulated. There are some that are pretty good.
I don’t believe what you should be getting for your money is the fastest process. That’s what a lot of adoptive parents want. They seek out the attorney that can promise them the quickest child. Quickest is not what you should be looking for.
To pick one or the other, it may be just like finding the right doctor. Go online and ask references.
Does an adoption go faster if you choose international over domestic adoption?
Sometimes, no, and sometimes, yes. Some parents decide to go abroad, and there’s a real certainty that they’ll get an infant. These parents are willing to go a few months longer. Some from foster care can be very quick, depending on the child or the situation. If the real parents have already signed away all parental rights, then it can happen very fast.
In domestic adoption, if you’re matched with a mother who’s eight months pregnant, that will be just a six weeks wait. If you’re matched with someone who’s five months pregnant and she changes her mind, you may have to wait awhile. We tend to want it yesterday. But that’s not how the world works.
What are the major differences between an “open” and a “closed” adoption?
The difference is a flow of information and contact between parties. We have 25 years of research that supports that open adoptions are a good thing. But open adoption can mean a wide range of things, such as weekly regular visits from the birth mother. Or it can be as simple as photos sent to the birth mother each year. Only the parties involved in the adoption have the right to make those decisions.
What information should parents know about adoption trends that will help them strategize their adoptions?
The trend is having a more “open nest” adoption. That means that if you’re adopting from abroad, you’re fully informing that child about their race and ethnicity. That’s not like generations before, wherein you didn’t tell your child that they were adopted.
Another trend is to have more contact with that child’s homeland, the orphanage they came from or the birth family. More contact, more information and more honesty are the trends.
Yet another trend is toward the adoption of older children from foster care and abroad. There are fewer infants, especially white infants, being adopted. More and more children of color and with special needs are being adopted.
As an adoptive father, what’s your best advice for prospective parents during the first 30 days?
No matter how you form a family, don’t ever believe you’re settling for second best. It’s not true. And if you ever let yourself think that, it undermines your own parenting and it undermines your own kids. Wrap around the reality that this is wonderful, interesting, rewarding, loving and challenging.
What resources, coping strategies or activities do you suggest for the 30 days after the adoption is finalized?
Our children might need counseling to get through mourning the loss of a family to gain a family. They may have identity issues. Adoptive parents simply need to recognize that there’s ongoing education, support and information everywhere.
Once they’ve signed the last papers for the adoption, some people pretend the adoption didn’t happen. But this is a lifelong journey.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I love change and embrace it. My professional life is about improving adoption for everyone it touches and that involves change. Change is inherent in life.
“The best thing about change is...”
...It can improve lives.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
Becoming a father.
For more information about Adam Pertman, visit www.adoptioninstitute.org.