A quick note about this post before we dive in: Any legal information is my recollection of my best understanding of the information as it was presented to me at the time. Remember, a lot of this information was given to me over 2 years ago when we first started this process. Other bits were given to me in the sleep-deprived haze that is parenting a newborn. I’m not an attorney, and don’t claim to be. Also, laws regarding adoption vary widely between states and types of adoptions as well as with newly introduced legislation, so what I know (or think) to be true only applies to Indiana, and only in March-July of 2017, and only to private, domestic infant adoption (not international, or adoption from the foster care system, or stepparent adoption, or kinship adoption, or…). You get the idea. This is our experience, and it’s not meant to be representative of anyone else’s.
After a child is placed with adoptive parents, the new family enters a sort of legal limbo known as the post-placement period. The birth mother has signed consents revoking her parental rights; the status of the birth father’s rights vary. In our case, birth father was unnamed by birth mother on the birth certificate, so anyone who thought he may be the birth father would have 30 days to register with the Putative Father’s Registry to claim his rights. Meanwhile, the adoptive parents have physical custody of the child, but the placing agency has legal custody. All of this means that at the same time that you’re trying to get to know and bond with your new little one, manage the paperwork of new parenting (hospital bills, adding baby to health insurance plans, employment leave of absence paperwork, etc.), and maintain something resembling a relationship with your spouse and other family members, all on about 2 hours of sleep, you’re also dealing with the paperwork that comes with the post-placement period so that, hopefully, you wind up with legal custody of the child you’re rocking to sleep each night. (Do I sound bitter? I don’t mean to. It’s just that, for me, the post-placement period was the most stressful part of the whole adoption process. They hand you a tiny baby, and you fall completely in love, but there’s this lingering fear that if you don’t fill out all the papers exactly right, someone will take him away from you.)
Our agency does a great job facilitating relationships between adoptive and birth parents. Part of that process is an exercise in empathy on the part of the adoptive parents, helping us understand birth parent grief. We had to read a packet of information about birth parent grief and answer several questions about how we would handle Mama J’s grief. The answers to these questions made up part of our social worker’s post-placement notes that would eventually be filed as evidence in our petition to adopt.
On top of building empathy for birth parents, adoptive parents must stay vigilant about getting their little ones to the pediatrician on time. The two-month shot records are also part of the paperwork that needs to be filed. I guess it’s to show that we’re taking care of baby appropriately.
So, you kind of float along for about 8 weeks, raising this child, but having no legal claim to him. Then things start to happen, and they happen quickly. You go for baby’s 2-month appointment, and he gets 4 shots, and you file those records in your “adoption” file (not the "health records" file like other families might). Your social worker comes back to your house (remember she came once before as part of your home study). The first time, it felt like she was judging you, your home, your spouse, and your ability to parent. This time, it’s much more casual. She’s checking in to make sure that you’re bonding well, that baby is hitting his milestones, that you have access to resources you may need to help you through all this.
The social worker files her report with the courts. You get a call from your attorney that the court has set a date for the finalization hearing. You get several emails from the attorney confirming that all the information in the petition to adopt is correct. You triple check baby’s name in that petition, since that’s what the new birth certificate will say.
And then you wake up on Finalization Day. You get dressed and get baby dressed in a picture-perfect outfit (and pack a second, though not as cute outfit for the inevitable diaper blowout). Here's Aiden in the photogenic outfit...he changed later in the day. Shout out to special friends who understand the emotions of infertility and got the absolute perfect onesie for this day for us!
You and your spouse nervously assure each other that “This’ll be easy. Everyone says it’s anti-climactic. No big deal.” Yet you’re still nervous. Until that judge signs those papers, nothing is certain. You drive to the courthouse and wait in the hall while other families file in and out of the courtroom. Each only takes 5-10 minutes.
Then you go into the courtroom. It’s just you, your spouse, your baby, the attorney, and the judge. (They allow you to bring friends and relatives to celebrate, but we didn’t want anyone driving 4-5 hours for a 7-minute hearing.) You’re sworn in, and then called as a witness in the proceedings. The attorney asks you questions about your home study process, the criminal background checks you did 6 months ago, how your family is bonding with baby. He asks your spouse similar questions. It’s sort of a recap of everything you’ve had to do to get to this point. Then the judge signs the papers, and the baby is yours. Everyone smiles and takes pictures.
And you finally exhale the last sigh of relief, the one you never really let yourself think you were holding in because what if things had gone differently. And then you start the next round of paperwork: getting a birth certificate listing you as parents, getting baby a new social security number, changing baby’s name on your insurance policies (remember, until now he’s had birth mom’s last name).
And you go out to lunch to celebrate because the post-placement period is done, the adoption is final, and you are now officially a family.