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Getting Started With Adoption

Starting a family by adopting may be a second choice, but advocates say it isn't a second-best choice. Still, there is a lot to consider after you've made the decision to adopt a child.
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Adam Pertman, a father of two in Boston, adopted because he and his wife couldn't conceive. Kathryn Creedy, a single mom in Vermont, chose adoption because she wanted kids, but didn't want to be pregnant.

Just as there are a multitude of reasons for adopting, there are also many ways to go about it. For those first setting out to adopt, the choices are often bewildering.

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Should you pick an infant from a Beijing orphanage, or an older American kid out of foster care? Would it be best to work with an agency, or retain a private attorney? How open a relationship, if any, do you want to have with the child's birth mother.

"The most simplistic answer at the beginning is, educate yourself," Pertman says.

In addition to having adopted twice, Pertman is the author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America, and he heads up the Evan B. Donaldson Foundation, an adoption policy, education, and research group based in New York.

But he wasn't an adoption expert before he adopted his first child, Zachary, now 9. Like most people are when they first consider adoption, he was in the dark.

Before making a big commitment, like marriage or pregnancy, Pertman says, "We get some sense of the landscape before we jump in." Adoption ought to be no different, but it is. Approaching most of life's milestones, we already have some sense of what's involved. "In adoption, because it's been a whispered secret for so long, we haven't developed those instincts," he says.

Owing to this history of secrecy, you may have negative feelings about adoption, so the first step is to confront that.

Although adoption is "often a second choice," Pertman says, "it's not second best."

"The vast majority of adoptive parents come to adoption through infertility, but there are many of us for whom adoption was our first choice," says Creedy, executive director of the Institute for Adoption Information, in Bennington, Vermont. Like Pertman, she became an adoption expert and advocate as a result of her experiences -- and love for her adopted kids.

"We keep secrets about things we're ashamed of," Pertman says. "I'm not ashamed of how I formed my family. I love the way I did it. I love my kids. We should be proud."

The Right Route

Choosing the right route to adoption means, ultimately, choosing the right child -- not just one that will please you, but one for whom you can provide the best upbringing.

Creedy tells of one couple she counseled on adoption, who were white and living in Louisiana. "They were adamant that they didn't care about the race of the child and that they wanted to go overseas," she says. "A black child did not faze them at all. They were open to any and all possibilities.

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