Archive for August, 2010

Proceed With Caution: 7 Red Flags to Look for When Interviewing Birth Mothers (and 3 You Can Safely Ignore)

There are some warning signs that the birth mother in your adoption could change her mind.

One worry that nearly all adoptive parents share is the fear that the birth mother might change her mind and decide to parent her baby. Although there is no way to completely protect yourself from this possibility, there are some “red flags” to watch out for when interviewing birth mothers. Below are seven risk factors that make it more likely that the birth mother might change her mind, plus three so-called “red flags” that you can safely ignore.

Red Flags

1. The birth mother’s family is not supportive of the adoption plan. Having the support of her family is understandably important to birth mothers. If the birth mother’s family does not support the adoption plan, especially if they are willing to parent the baby themselves, proceed with caution.

2. The birth mother hopes to reconcile with the birth father. If the birth mother has an on again, off again relationship with the baby’s father, she may be hoping that she will reconcile with him and they will raise the baby together.

3. The birth mother refuses counseling. Adoption counseling helps birth mothers to examine their feelings about adoption and make good decisions. If the birth mother has doubts about whether she really wishes to place her baby for adoption, counseling will reveal these doubts early in the process and reduce the chances of later heartbreak on all sides.

4. The birth mother refuses to reveal the birth father’s identity. The birth father’s consent is essential to a successful adoption. If the birth mother refuses to tell who the birth father is, this increases the odds that the birth father will find out late in the process and object to the adoption.

5. The birth mother has not made plans for after the adoption. A birth mother who has not given any thought to what she will do with her life after the adoption might not be serious about her adoption plan. Most birth mothers who have thought carefully about their adoption plans also have a plan for what their lives will look like post-adoption. Plans to move, return to school, or start a new job are all good signs that the birth mother is committed to her adoption plan.

6. The birth mother is evasive or her story changes. If the birth mother tells you a different story every time she talks to you, or tells her attorney a different story than she tells you, beware. This may indicate that she is untruthful or mentally unstable, neither of which bodes well for the success of the adoption.

7. The baby is due at the holidays. Sounds irrelevant, right? But most adoption attorneys and agencies can tell you from their experience that adoptions of babies who are due between Thanksgiving and New Year are much more likely to fall through.

Three “Red Flags” That Aren’t

There are also a few factors that I have heard are “red flags” that I’m not sure I agree with. It’s probably safe to take the following factors with a grain of salt.

Education Level. Some adoption professionals say that more educated birth mothers are more likely to go through with their adoption plans, because they tend to be more focused on career and more confident in their decision making. However, it is just as true to say that birth mothers with less education are less financially prepared to care for a child and more likely to wish to return to school. Level of education is probably not a good way to predict whether a birth mother will follow through with her adoption plan.

Religion. I have heard some adoption professionals say that a birth mother who is not religious may be more likely to decide to parent her baby. The argument goes that mothers who are not religious are less likely to feel that single parenthood is wrong or socially unacceptable. However, I think it is equally likely that a birth mother who is religious might feel pressure to raise her baby herself. I think it’s safe to disregard religion as a risk factor.

Age. Age is another factor that can cut either way in adoption planning. A very young birth mother may be less sure of her decisions and may be more easily influenced by what her parents want. On the other hand, it may be clear to a very young mother that she is unprepared to parent her baby. Similarly, older mothers may be more confident in their decisions, or they may view the pregnancy as their “last chance” to have a baby due to their age. Accordingly, age by itself is probably not a red flag.

As difficult as it may be, it’s always wise to try to psychologically prepare yourself in case the birth mother changes her mind. Remember that adoption is not about taking children away from parents who actually want to keep them, but about finding a “win-win” situation. As devastating as it is when the birth mother decides she wants to parent her baby, it is a sign that that was not the right baby for you. I will blog more about how to deal with the roller coaster of emotions you will feel during the waiting period. In the meantime, I welcome your tips and comments. Write them in the comments section or e-mail me (evaughan at vaughanfirm dot com).

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Staying Organized Through the Adoption Process

I apologize for disappearing on you for a whole month – we’ve been moving! The process of staying on top of client matters while packing up all my files and moving to a new office got me thinking about the importance, for adoptive parents, of staying organized.

There’s a truth behind the joking description of the adoption process as a “paper pregnancy.” Over the course of the months when you are preparing to adopt, you will go through a lot of paperwork. If there were just one commandment for adopting families, it would be:
Thou Shalt Keep Copies of Everything!

Make several folders in your filing cabinet to keep adoption documents easy to find. For example, you might want to put all the documentation you gathered for your home study (birth certificates, marriage licenses, income verification, proof of savings, medical records, etc.) in one folder. In another folder, include correspondence with your attorney and court documents. In another, keep information you receive about your adoptive child. At the front of your adoption file, keep a page with important contact information regarding your adoption, such as telephone numbers for your attorney, social worker, birth mother, agency, etc.

It’s a great idea to back up your documents by scanning them and keeping a copy on the computer, but remember that this is not a replacement for the originals! Computer failures inevitably happen at the worst possible moment, and originals are required in many situations anyway. You may wish to leave a complete set of documents with a friend or family member in case your set is accidentally lost or destroyed. Your attorney should have a complete set, as well.

If, like me, you are moving, keep your adoption files in a separate briefcase so they don’t accidentally get packed away where you can’t find them quickly. Bear in mind that if you move, you don’t have to have that extensive home study done all over again, but you will have to have an “update” study done to keep the court informed of the circumstances. Ask your attorney what the requirements are, particularly if you are moving to another state.

Staying organized through your “paper pregnancy” can be a challenge, but think of it this way: It’s great practice for parenthood! Before you know it, you’ll be filing pediatric records and report cards.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Embryo Adoption?

Back when I first opened my adoption practice and before I was doing Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) law, a new client called and told me that she was interested in adoption. As I usually do in such cases, I asked her whether she had given any thought yet to what age child she would like to adopt. A newborn? Toddler? An older child? I was somewhat surprised when she replied, “we are interested in embryo adoption. Do you have any experience with adopting embryos?” Of course, at that time I had no such experience, and in fact I was completely puzzled by the question. I knew that you can’t adopt a baby before that baby is born, so the idea of an embryo being adopted completely flummoxed me. So, I did what any attorney in the age of the Internet would do: I Googled it.

Here is what I learned. If a family has gone through in vitro fertilization (IVF), they may have frozen embryos left over, stored in the cryobank after they have decided not to have any more children via IVF. They may choose to keep them frozen, destroy them, donate them to medical science, or donate them for a couple who can’t conceive on their own. This last option, embryo donation, is what leads to “embryo adoption.” Certain agencies and fertility clinics allow infertile couples to have a donated embryo implanted either in the “adoptive” mother or in a surrogate.

Why do I keep putting the words “adoption” and “adoptive” in quotation marks? Well, as I mentioned earlier, no child can be legally adopted before he or she is born, so legally speaking, embryo adoption is simply not adoption. It’s simply a contract governing property, in this case an embryo. The parties must draft a contract making it clear that the donating couple claims no parental rights over the embryo, and that the “adopting” family takes full responsibility for that child. However, since most families do not like to think of their future children as property governed by contract (who would?), the agencies have coined the euphemism “embryo adoption,” which sounds much nicer.

Reputable agencies also follow the procedures of domestic private adoptions for these embryo transfers, including requiring a home study for the “adoptive” parents, requiring that both the donating couple and the adoptive parent(s) are represented by attorneys, conducting “matching” to make sure that the two families are a good fit, and ensuring that all parties get counseling. However, since Assisted Reproductive Technology is unregulated or lightly regulated in many states (including my home state of Virginia), they are not required to do this. It is up to the families involved to make sure that the agency is reputable and that all parties are well-informed, prepared, and protected.

Now that I am an ART practitioner myself, I have a much richer understanding of “embryo adoption” and how it works legally. However, the basic premise that I learned on that first day remains sound: Embryo adoption is not adoption, and people who are building their families do well to hire an experienced lawyer who can explain the difference and protect their rights.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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