Today marks the beginning of National Adoption Month, giving families closely involved with adoption a chance to pause and reflect on the journey that brought them to where they are today. For many of these families in Utah Valley, part of their reflection will involve remembering their experience with the Family Services Center through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Many couples start their journey to become parents through LDS Family Services after learning they are unable to conceive. There are currently more than 650 couples waiting to adopt through LDS Family Services, and though it can be a lengthy process, it brings joy to all who are involved.
Here’s what you can expect in a typical LDS Family Services adoption.
Before a couple can be considered as an adoptive family for a newborn, they must meet certain requirements. Because LDS Family Services is owned by the LDS Church, some of these requirements pertain directly to the couple’s Church membership and activity.
To qualify, the adoptive parents must be:
- Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Sealed to each other in the temple
- Current temple recommend holders
- Married at least two years and have a stable marital relationship (special approval is required if either partner has been divorced)
- In good physical and mental health with a reasonable life expectancy Special approval is required if either partner has undergone voluntary sterilization
- Assessed and determined medically infertile
- Financially able to care for the needs of present and future family members
- Emotionally and mentally stable
- Able to clear criminal background and child abuse registry checks
- Able to provide health insurance coverage for adopted children
- Able to maintain appropriate legal status in the country where they apply for adoption
If a couple meets all of the above criteria, the next step is to gather a whole lot of paperwork, including the following:
- Four character references, including one from a relative
- A bishop’s endorsement
- Other paperwork as directed by the case worker
And complete these requirements:
- A home inspection to ensure the home is safe for a child
- A series of interviews, including individual interviews and one as a couple, regarding their marriage relationship
“For the sake of the child, we want to make sure — as much as humanly possible — that they have a marriage that will last,” said Sandy Smith, manager of services for children at Provo LDS Family Services. “We need to know the child will be sealed to them after the adoption is finalized.”
It generally takes about three months to get everything in order and submitted for approval. Once they receive that approval, the couple’s profile is put on the LDS Family Services website.
Then they wait.
The waiting game
“Sometimes it’s immediate, and sometimes it takes longer than expected,” Smith said. “We never know where a couple’s baby is, but we hope we can help them find it as quickly as possible.”
At this point, the best thing a couple can do is get the word out. Many couples create “pass-along” cards, which look like business cards, to give to friends and family who might know a potential birth mother. Some start blogs or create Facebook groups to let people know. They can put it in their Christmas letter. They can tell their ward members, friends, family and co-workers.
“We maintained a blog and made an adoption video,” said Whitney Blake, an adoptive mother who received her son in April 2012. “We had friends and family members who helped us as well. In some ways that made the waiting period more bearable because it felt more like we were being proactive and less like we were just waiting for things to happen.”
Spreading the word can be difficult emotionally — couples don’t usually spread the word when they’re trying to conceive a child, and infertility is just as personal. But many adoptive parents come to accept openness as part of the process.
“It was hard at first to tell people that we are adopting because that’s sharing a personal part of our life — our infertility — with strangers,” said Tiffany Harston, a prospective adoptive mother. “But the more we do it, the more comfortable it becomes. It also helps to realize that we don’t know how we’re going to find our baby’s birthmother, and each time we tell someone we’re adopting, perhaps we’re getting closer to her.”
The more a couple can spread the word, the better. But as important as good marketing is, patience is invaluable. The average wait for an adoption through LDS Family Services is three years.
In the meantime
They say there’s a difference between being patient and being impatient for a really long time. At LDS Family Services, case workers do all they can to support adoptive parents as they patiently wait for their baby.
Families Supporting Adoption, a group associated with LDS Family Services, is made up of both adoptive couples and prospective adoptive couples who support adoption through events and service opportunities. The group holds panels and events with speakers to help enrich adoptive families’ lives and prepare couples for adoption. They had a float in the BYU homecoming parade complete with volunteers pushing strollers. They celebrate Birthmothers Day in May. Many people participate in Adoption Walk With Me, a 5K sponsored by the Utah Adoption Council in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park.
“It is definitely a process, just as infertility is a process,” Harston said. “Sometimes you’re fine and feel like you’re making progress, then other times you feel sad and like it’s never going to happen. One of the hardest parts of infertility and adopting is feeling like you have no control. You can’t control when or how you start your family. However, I just remind myself that Heavenly Father knows what’s best and there are good things that come to those who wait.”
When the wait is over
Whether it takes one month or five years, the end of the waiting period eventually comes and the couple is put in touch with their baby’s birthmother.
“We joke that that first meeting was kind of like a first date combined with a job interview,” Blake said. “You’re getting to know each other. It was really exciting, but we were so nervous. She told us that she was so nervous too. At that first meeting, she let us feel Mason kick in her tummy, and that was really neat for us.”
After the birth mother announces her choice to the couple, there’s a lot more paperwork to do. LDS Family Services helps in every part of this process.
Once the baby is born and goes home with his or her adoptive parents, there is a 60-day supervisory period. During this time, the adoptive parents care for and make all decisions for the baby, but because of a state law technicality, LDS Family Services remains the child’s legal “ultimate guardian.”
There are three home visits during this period in which an LDS Family Services representative makes sure the baby is thriving in the adoptive parents’ care. They offer support as needed. Then they go to court.
Making it legal
Any time after the baby is six months and one day old, the adoptive parents can finalize the adoption in court. LDS Family Services turns over all legal responsibilities and testifies in their behalf. After this step, the parents can go to the temple and have the child sealed to them.
“His sealing was one of the most special experiences of our lives,” Blake said. “I think it’s neat that adoptive couples are able to be sealed to their babies, because I think it’s some compensation for some of the loss of infertility. Our wiggly little baby who never stops was just looking around the room. It was one of those moments where we think he knew what was going on more than we thought he did. It was just really special. There aren’t many times that you get to be in the temple with someone who’s so perfect.”