couple with their adopted infant

A Couple’s Guide to Private Infant Adoption: The Pre-Placement Stage

By Erin Quick, CEO and Founder, PairTree

January 19, 2024

8m read

Hi! I’m Erin, the Founder and CEO of PairTree. I’ve had the honor of working with thousands of couples on their adoption journey since I started PairTree.

I’d love to share what I’ve learned to be most useful – and hopefully, this can serve as a guide for your family-building journey.

Bonus: Download your copy of the Couple's Guide to Adoption now.

Step One: Is Adoption Right for You?

At 13 years old, I had a plan: I’d be married at 26 and have our first child at 29. Of course, life doesn’t always happen according to plan. At 26, I was single and loving my career in New York City. And at 29, while I was engaged – I was nowhere near ready to become a parent.

It would be years before we started "trying", a year of trying before being diagnosed with unexplained infertility, and then years of IVF heartbreak before deciding to pursue adoption.

For us, the decision to pursue adoption was one we’d been considering for years. We’d always said, “we’ll have one, and adopt one,” without having any idea how complex both of those journeys can be. Even so, deciding to pursue adoption after our battle with infertility required a mental and emotional shift. I had to let go of a dream I’d been picturing since I was 13. My rounding belly, my husband’s adoration, announcing the pregnancy to our family members, staring down at our child in my arms and recognizing my husband’s eyes...the list goes on.

After working with thousands of families that have come to adoption from infertility, we see other families struggling with the same shift. We see families moving straight from IVF into adoption, thinking it’s a direct replacement.

Adoption is so much different than birthing a biological child, and still very different from birthing a donor-conceived child. There’s no set amount of time a family needs to wait, but here are my top two pieces of advice:

  • Give yourself time: No one can tell you home much time is the right amount before you’re ready to pursue adoption (though some adoption agencies and home study providers won’t work with you until a certain amount of time has passed). Grief is a journey that takes time. Give yourself permission to mourn your dream and heal at your own pace. Avoid rushing into adoption before you have had the opportunity to process your grief and make informed decisions.
  • Acknowledge your feelings: Looking back at my own journey, it’s safe to say I was depressed. I refer to those days as The Dark Days. I was sad all the time. Like, really, really sad. Recognize and accept the emotions you're experiencing. It's 100% normal to feel sadness, anger, frustration, guilt, jealousy, or a sense of loss. Allow yourself to fully experience these emotions without judgment.

I highly recommend taking this Creating a Family course for anyone that is coming to adoption from infertility. Also - a quick side note that adopting doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed. Learn more about that here.

Also, I would immerse yourself in some of the adoption language and acronyms to help you get started.

adopted baby at home with his adoptive mother

Step Two: Which Adoption Path is Right for You?

There are a number of adoption paths to consider. When choosing which path to pursue, there are two major decisions to be made such as: public vs. private and  domestic vs. international, that will influence which path is right for you.

Creating a Family does a great job of comparing the implications of the different paths available. Once that decision is made, you’ll need to make decisions on a number of preferences such as age of child, openness to special needs, transracial, etc.

Domestic vs. International Adoption

Both domestic adoption and international adoption have their own set of challenges, rewards, and considerations. Each option requires careful consideration of factors such as cultural readiness, financial capabilities, legal requirements, and personal preferences. Here are the five major considerations when deciding between domestic adoption and international adoption:

  • Geographic Scope and Cultural Diversity: Domestic adoption involves adopting a child within your own country of residence. The child is typically from the same cultural and linguistic background as the adoptive family. In contrast, international adoption involves adopting a child from a different country, often with a different cultural background and potentially a different language.
  • Adoption Process and Legal Requirements: The adoption process and legal requirements differ significantly between domestic and international adoption. Domestic adoption processes are governed by the laws and regulations of the adoptive country, which vary from one jurisdiction to another. International adoption involves navigating the legal systems and requirements of both the adoptive country and the child's country of origin. This can involve additional steps, such as immigration processes and compliance with the adoption laws and policies of the child's birth country, which often means the child will be older when he/she comes home with you. An adopting family needs to first pick the country from which they would like to adopt, as there is no “global adoption agency.” Most international adoption agencies specialize in the legal requirements and process of one or two countries.
  • Availability of Information and Birth Parent Contact: Domestic adoption often provides more comprehensive access to the child's medical history, background information, and ongoing contact with birth parents, depending on the type of adoption arrangement. International adoption may involve limited information about the child's medical history, early life experiences, or birth family background due to cultural, legal, or logistical reasons. Obtaining detailed information about the child's background in international adoption can be more challenging.
  • Travel and Time Commitment: International adoption typically requires travel to the child's birth country to complete the adoption process, including meeting the child, attending court hearings, and fulfilling any necessary legal requirements. The travel involved in international adoption can vary in duration and frequency, depending on the country and the specific circumstances. While domestic adoption also involves travel (if you’re adopting from another state, you’d need to plan to stay in that state for up to two weeks), it’s generally much less travel than international adoption.
  • Cost and Financial Considerations: The costs associated with domestic adoption and international adoption can differ significantly. Domestic adoption expenses often include home study fees, legal fees, agency fees, and counseling services. International adoption costs typically involve a broader range of expenses such as international agency fees, travel expenses, immigration processes, translation and document authentication, and potential in-country costs. International adoption expenses can vary widely depending on the country of origin and the specific adoption program.

Public/Foster Adoption vs. Private Adoption

These two different adoption paths are usually confused. Families often think you can pursue both at the same time. (BTW – PairTree hopes to make that a reality one day too!). For now, the two paths require different procedures, so it’s important to know the difference.

  • Public Adoption refers to adopting through the foster care system. It’s VERY IMPORTANT to note that the goal of foster care is to reunify the child with his/her biological parents, NOT to permanently place the child in your home.
  • Legal Status and Involvement: Foster adoption involves the adoption of a child who is currently in the foster care system. These children have been removed from their birth families due to a crisis in parenting, typically some kind of abuse, neglect, or other issues. Private adoption, on the other hand, involves the adoption of an infant or child who is voluntarily placed for adoption by their birth parents.
  • Age of Children: Foster adoption generally involves adopting older children, sibling groups, or children with special needs who are unable to return to their birth families, and may have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect. Private adoption often focuses on the adoption of infants or younger children, and their backgrounds vary depending on the specific circumstances.
  • Timeframe: The timeline for foster adoption and private adoption can differ significantly. Foster adoption timelines can be unpredictable, as the primary goal is to reunite children with their birth families whenever possible. Fostering a child typically involves ongoing, monitored visits with the child’s biological family. If reunification is not possible, adoption becomes an option. This process can take several months to several years.
    • Private adoption timelines tend to be more controlled and can vary depending on the preferences and circumstances of the adoptive family, the availability of birth parents, and the legal requirements. Though “waiting to be matched” can drive the timeline. (PairTree has had families connect in less than 10 days, but has also seen families wait over a year.)
  • Cost: The cost associated with foster adoption is generally minimal or significantly lower than private adoption. Foster adoption expenses typically involve home study fees, court costs, and legal fees, which may be reimbursed or subsidized by the government or child welfare agency.
    • In contrast, private adoption costs can be substantial and may include agency fees, legal fees, birth parent expenses, counseling, and other services. These costs can vary greatly depending on the adoption professional and the specific circumstances of the adoption. (PairTree is working really hard to ensure private adoption costs are reasonable!)
  • Support and Services: Every adoption path will require support, and families often underestimate the amount of support they will need. Foster care agencies typically provide ongoing support, resources, and training to help adoptive parents navigate the unique challenges that may arise due to the child's background or special needs. Private adoption agencies or professionals may also offer support services, but the extent of these services may vary. PairTree has efforts underway to make private adoption support services available to more families!

Regardless of the path you take, I recommend ensuring you always have the most choice and control over your process.

african american couple with a newborn baby

So…How Much Does Adoption Cost?

In addition to the above, other factors to consider relate to cost and effort. For those pursuing private adoption, PairTree strives to make the total cost of adoption between $15,000-$20,000 while the average cost of private infant adoption in the US is around $45K-65K). International adoption has an even larger range associated with it.

Before you move forward, it’s a good idea to figure out how much you can comfortably afford knowing that your child will ask you the circumstances of the adoption, including how much you spent. In order to feel comfortable with your answer, it’s important to be honest with yourself when weighing the options.

Managing your adoption journey is like taking on a part-time job. So consider how much time you have to invest in this process. And if you plan to adopt with a partner, you may also consider who will be “chef” and who will be “sous chef” in this process – it’s often useful to have one person take the lead. For an adopting couple, there are three major milestones on an adoption journey.

  • Milestone 1: Home Study (where you get approved to adopt).
  • Milestone 2: Outreach (where you connect with expecting moms via online profiles, profile books, agency and attorney connections, word of mouth, social media and more.)
  • Milestone 3: Legal (where you finalize your adoption

If you don’t know what you’re doing, Milestone #2: Outreach can be very expensive. At PairTree, we help families plan and manage their outreach path, and advise families to spend the least amount possible for as long as possible because the longer you wait, the wider you’ll want to go with outreach (and going wider usually has a price associated with it). If you’ve locked yourself into an expensive contract at Milestone #1: Home Study, you’re stuck – and can’t afford to go wider with your outreach.Some other financial considerations:

  • If you have a financial advisor, we recommend getting their input.
  • You can also apply for grants.
  • Some employers offer “infertility benefits” or “family-building benefits” and sometimes adoption costs are included. (If your employer doesn’t offer these, let us know – we'd be happy to talk to your HR team about adding these benefits.)
  • PairTree fees qualify for the Federal Tax Credit, a huge benefit for adopting families. For adoptions finalized in 2023, there is a federal adoption tax credit of up to $15,950 per child! Learn more here.

Tip #1 : At PairTree, you can get home study approved and build your outreach materials for less than $5K.

Tip #2 Identified adoption: Most adoption agencies have lower fees for something called “identified adoption.” That means the adopting family and an expectant mom connected with one another outside of an agency, and are now asking the agency to walk them through the legal milestone. Instead of paying an expensive agency fee, adopting families are typically asked to pay much less.

Tip #3 Legally-free child: In the foster care system, there are children that are referred to as “legally-free children.” While we don’t like the moniker, what it means is that there are children in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated, making them available for private adoption, but often times the fees associated with this type of adoption are very low. The laws around these children vary slightly from state to state – for example, in some states you can have a private adoption home study to adopt a legally free child. In other states, you have to be foster-care licensed.

So…at this point, you’ve done your homework and should have a directional sense of which path to adoption is right for you. Celebrate this accomplishment with a date night out!

Step Three: Get Home Study Approved

It's not a "check-the-box" activity!

Now that you have decided on an approach, it’s time to start working on your home study. Although it is the third step in this guide, it is the first major step toward your adoption. This is the step where PairTree comes in!

We’re an adoption enablement platform that partners with adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, home study providers and other adoption professionals nationwide to help you plan and manage your adoption path in the healthiest way possible. We’ve negotiated fees with home study providers (some of which are also adoption agencies) across the country to make sure you get the most ethical adoption professionals and the most opportunities for the least cost. PairTree also makes it possible for you to connect directly with expectant moms and adoption professionals on your own, granting you more choice and control.

This is where we’d recommend scheduling a free consultation with Laurie (she’s worked in adoption for 25+ years) or reach out to There are adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoption professionals that all work at PairTree and are all ready to share our perspectives.

A home study is meant to be an educational process – preparing you for all the variables involved in private adoption. The home study process varies by state, but all include a comprehensive background check, financial assessment, referrals, education, autobiographical details, and at least one home visit.

We think it’s best to view the home study as a bonding exercise for you and your partner (if relevant). There are so many important questions to discuss and answer (so you really get to learn more about each other), you get to choose a home study provider through PairTree (who will be your mentor and advocate for the entirety of your adoption journey – arguably the important relationship on your team), and you get to feel a strong sense of reward by completing this extensive assessment of your life. It’s not a “check-the-box” activity! It’s really your opportunity to learn and prepare. The process can take anywhere from a couple of  weeks to several months – driven by your pace. 

The home study process is when you answer some very important questions. For example:

  • Am I open to special needs?
  • Am I open to drug/alcohol exposure during pregnancy?
  • What degree of “openness” do I want with the birth family?
  • Am I open to a trans-racial adoption?

As you think about your answers to these questions, strongly consider “why” and “what’s underneath” your view? At PairTree, all of our families get discounted education via our partnership with Creating a Family. This is a great resource to guide your decision-making around the questions above.

For example, countless studies (and our personal experiences at PairTree) continuously show that healthy open adoption relationships are better for adoptees, but we know that idea can be intimidating to adopting families. It’s a phenomenon we call “the 180º shift.” We see it all the time…An adopting family that was nervous about an open adoption makes a 180º shift to wanting their child to have a healthy relationship with their birth family!

Similarly, if you answer “yes” to trans-racial adoption…read this book. There are countless, life-long implications to this decision and it’s best to be fully aware & prepared. In addition to this book, discuss the implications of transracial adoption with transracial adoptees, as well as your team of adoption professionals.

At PairTree, we connect you with a licensed home study provider (that we know and love) who uses our modern/online Home Base platform to complete your home study in the most efficient, transparent, and secure manner possible. Watch our videos – they are really helpful. Any questions, reach out to

Just like agencies, not all home study processes and providers are created equally.

Also, don’t stress about the home visit. (And no need to bake cookies or buy fresh flowers.) In fact, read this article.

adoptive family with newborn baby

Step Four: Build Your Outreach & Legal Team

As you’re going through the home study process, you can also start learning about adoption laws in your state:

  • Some states require that you use a licensed child-placing agency to facilitate an adoption, while other states allow you to work with just an attorney.
  • There is also a federal law called “ICPC,” which stands for “Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children,” which includes all the regulations and requirements for interstate adoption.
  • You don’t need to know all the intricacies of adoption law, but you do need team members on your side to help guide you.

With regard to adoption law, we recommend contacting a AAAA attorney in your state. These attorneys specialize in adoption - plus, you will eventually need an attorney to finalize your adoption so it’s best to start fostering a relationship with an attorney early in the process.

We also recommend meeting with an adoption agency in your state. It’s always a good idea to learn from adoption agencies in your area about:

  • Recent adoption trends
  • How they operate, and the processes they follow
  • How they treat expectant moms and birth families

But fair warning – just like home study providers, not all adoption agencies or adoption attorneys are created equally. Some adoption professionals operate in super shady ways. Here are some questions you should ask to ensure they are working in a way that resonates with you:

  • How do expectant moms find your agency?
  • What support does your agency offer the birth family post-placement?
    • It’s worth noting that expectant moms & birth families are treated borderline negligent in this country. (We’re working hard to fix that!) Learn about the expectant mom journey here.
  • What is the current ratio of expectant moms to waiting adoptive families (and how does that compare)?
  • What is the average wait period for your families?
  • What are the total costs? Agency fees (including application fees, home study fees, matching fees) + legal fees + birth mother expenses

Collect as much information as you can, and let it simmer for a couple weeks. Remember, this is a lifelong decision and your “team” is essential to helping you realize a healthy adoption (which means you’ll receive support for years after the placement).

Note: You’re never alone in this decision. PairTree has relationships with adoption agencies, adoption attorneys and adoption consultants across the country, so we are able to help you pick the right professionals too!

Some families are also able to leverage multiple adoption professionals (PairTree + agency or adoption consultant) in a “hybrid” approach. We can help identify if that’s a good option for you.  We work with everyone (whom we consider ethical - definitely ask us about that), and advise that you spend as little money as possible to get the most opportunity.

Other team members you might consider:

  • A medical professional (who can inform you about the medical implications of drug & alcohol exposure - if relevant, or any other questions you may have)
  • A family therapist who specializes in adoption. Trust me, you will eventually need support from a trained professional, and it’s best to find someone who understands the adoption experience from multiple perspectives.
  • Lock-down your list of “go-to” friends and family members who can serve as your support system while you go through this process – this is a great opportunity to practice leaning on them for support.

Hot tip: Don’t sign any contracts until you’ve completed the home study. You’ll learn so much in the home study process that it might change your mind about which adoption professionals you want to use.

adopting family building their adoption team

Step Five: Build Your Profile & Outreach Materials

Once you have an approved home study, you can build an online profile on PairTree’s Connect platform (which includes promoting you in social media and an optional 22-page profile book), and start connecting with expectant moms. Exciting!

Your profile needs to be the most authentic version of yourself possible.

In our internal research, we found that expectant moms most used filters are personality and open to…(“special needs” or “older children”) – that’s not to say those are the only dimensions that matter, but it’s important to realize that the expectant mom is the one in charge – it’s her choice and her timeline.

All you can do is show up in the most honest and respectful way possible. Your profile is your chance to do that! Here is some guidance that we offer for the profile building process.

In the event an expectant mom contacts you, it’s important to take a few breaths. We provide lots of safe connection tips and you can always touch base with one of us at PairTree or your adoption professional for guidance. If your internal alarms go off (for whatever reason), listen to that and seek guidance. At PairTree, we constantly monitor connections, and notify families immediately if an expectant mom flags one of the three markers we track. Scams occur across the adoption industry and you need to protect yourself.

Step Seven: Practice Patience

One of the hardest aspects of adoption is the time period called “waiting,” and it’s named that for a reason. Patience is absolutely critical. Many families wait months…even years…but you have to trust the process and believe that your baby is going to eventually find you. We don’t mean to sound “woo-woo” about it – we truly believe that. So, during the time of waiting, you can create a profile book, launch an adoption website, send emails to your network asking for their help in finding an expectant mom. Our 6-month plan will help guide you during this period.

Plus, you need to take care of yourselves. Of course you can (and should) read books about adoption, but you should also enjoy trashy beach reads, hit the gym, make healthy meals, and spend quality time with your people.

Waiting is hard. Definitely reach out to your community to support you during this often difficult time period or, come to PairTree and join one of our community groups!

At some point, if you reach a mutually-agreeable “match,” each of you will need separate legal representation. Remember that PairTree can guide you to a AAAA attorney or agency in your State (depending on the laws), and they can help you through finalization.

We hope this is useful! If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact us at I love helping our families on their adoption journey, and are a resource to you anytime you need it!



Erin Quick Erin Quick is the Founder and CEO of PairTree. With more than 20 years of global brand marketing experience, and more importantly, as a two-time adoptive mother, Erin is a leader in the movement to modernize adoption in the U.S. With an expert first-hand understanding of the challenges of the domestic private adoption industry and a drive to increase access and equity for all involved in the adoption process, Erin brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to helping families navigate their unique adoption journeys. Erin is a recipient of Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40-Under-40 award. She was selected to be a member of All Raise’s Visionary Voices panel, a nonprofit on a mission to accelerate the success of female founders and funders. She has been asked to guest lecture on Technology Entrepreneurship at Brown University and the University of Washington. Erin lives on Bainbridge Island with her husband and two children.