Expectant Mom's Guide to Adoption

By Jess Nelson, Community Manager, PairTree

February 12, 2024

You have options. You have rights. You have control.

Facing an unplanned pregnancy is exactly that…unplanned, and not what you had imagined for yourself. If you’re considering adoption, it’s important you know and understand what that process looks like. The decision to make an adoption plan is probably the hardest decision you will ever make.

Our Expectant Mom’s Guide to Adoption gives you all of the information you need to healthily navigate the adoption process with you in control.

Download a complete copy of the Expectant Mom's Guide.

Step One: Understand All of Your Options

Our first and most important piece of advice: You have options.

Our second piece of advice: Don’t make a permanent decision based on temporary circumstances. We can direct you to support and resources to help change your temporary circumstances.

Parenting - If you want to parent, but need help finding parenting resources, this is a great place to find local housing, food, transportation, healthcare and more in addition to community resources and your local Health and Human Services (where you can apply for financial aid called WIC).

Abortion - If you want to explore terminating your pregnancy, here’s a simple, up-to-date, and local source of information, including how to locate a clinic near you. Or, our friends at JustChoice are standing by to help you discuss your pregnancy options. You can call them confidentially and 24/7 at 866-989-1466.

Adoption - If you’re considering adoption, you’re in the right place. This guide will help you understand what that process looks like. We also recommend talking with someone who's been through it like Jess, the Community Manager at PairTree. She’s placed two children for adoption. Ask her anything, and she can connect you to a free, licensed and ethical adoption professional to guide you through the process. Text or call: 206-279-7578.

(If you don’t want to talk, you can read how Jess came to the decision to make an adoption plan for her daughter.)

Step Two: Create an Adoption Plan

The first step in your adoption plan is understanding what adoption is. Private adoption is different from Foster Care. Private adoption is a permanent termination of your parental rights. That might sound scary, but we want you to fully understand the weight and meaning of private adoption. That said, terminating your parental rights doesn’t mean you can’t participate in your child’s life.

Open adoption is now the norm. In fact, over 90% of adoptions are open, which means that there is some level of contact maintained between you, your child and the adoptive family. This can range from annual emails, text messages and phone calls, to in-person visits based on the comfort levels of everyone involved. And it can evolve over time. The key to an open adoption is making sure that you and the adopting family put your plans for continuing contact in writing. This is often called a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, and your adoption professional will help you create one.

As you keep reading and learning more about the adoption process, you’ll see a lot of terms that probably don’t make sense yet. So here are some of the most important phrases you need to know while pursuing adoption:

Home Study: When you’re looking at family profiles, look for the Home Study Approved badge…this badge means the family has been approved to adopt by a licensed professional. To become home study approved, the adopting family went through a rigorous process that includes extensive education, rigorous background checks, interviews, personal and professional references, financial evaluation, medical evaluations, and an evaluation of the family’s home to ensure it’s an environment suitable for a child.

Post-Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA): A Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, or Open Adoption Agreement, will set expectations for future communications and lay the groundwork for your relationship with the adopting family. These agreements set expectations for continued contact and help hold all members of the triad accountable.

Termination: This is the termination of your parental rights. This is sometimes also called relinquishment, consent, or act of surrender. But they all mean the permanent termination of your parental rights. These are the most important documents in the adoption process because they will make the placement of your child with the adopting family official and permanent.

Revocation Period: The revocation period is the time frame you have to change your mind about adoption and regain custody of your child. This period varies greatly depending on what state you are in…some states offer no revocation period (Louisiana) and some states have a 30-day revocation period (California).

So, now what do I do?

If you’ve decided adoption is right for you, what’s the next step?

1. Understand your Rights:
As an expectant mom, you have rights in the adoption process…our Expectant Mom Bill of Rights explains the services and support you should receive while making a safe and healthy adoption plan.

2. Connect with a licensed & ethical adoption professional:
A quick Google search for “adoption” “couples who want to adopt my baby” or “give my baby up for adoption” will show you hundreds of agencies, attorneys, and websites waiting for you to call…Caution: Not all professionals are ethical. There are licensed adoption professionals who use coercive, unethical, pressure you to make decisions, and will not have your best interests in mind.

Just so you know, you’re not “giving your baby up for adoption”...we hate that phrase. In fact, you’re not giving anything up. This is one of the hardest decisions you will ever make, and sometimes it feels like an impossible decision. Placing your baby for adoption takes an incredible amount of courage, love, and strength.

Don’t worry – PairTree has created a nationwide network of free, experienced, licensed and ethical professionals who will help guide you, make sure you have choice and control over your decisions, and that your preferences are honored throughout your journey. Contact Jess, and she’ll connect you to the best one for you: or call/text (206) 279-7578.

If you decide not to use a professional we recommend, be sure to ask a lot of questions before signing anything!

Some of my most important questions to ask are:

  • Will you provide me with my own free attorney?
  • Can I choose my own doctor?
  • Do I get to choose the adopting family?
  • Will you give me free counseling and post-placement support?

Red flags to watch out for:

  • Pushy families or professionals;
  • Being asked to fly to a different state;
  • Being offered money to place your baby (this is highly illegal);
  • Feeling coerced, bullied or pressured.

What are the differences between the adoption professional types?

The professional you choose to work with will vary based on your State, your needs & wants, and more. Here are the three primary types of adoption professionals. (We can help you connect with the right one for you.)

No matter the type of professional you use – their guidance would all be free to you, and you’d be able to receive financial support from the adopting family:

Adoption Agency - Adoption Agencies are licensed by the state they are in, paid for by the adoptive parents, and usually have a waiting list of hopeful adoptive parents. Most adoption agencies will only show you the profiles of families that have paid to be on their waiting list, so you may have limited options in choosing an adoptive family. Adoption agencies will have social workers or caseworkers on staff who will individually work with you during your pregnancy.

Adoption Attorney - Adoption attorneys are also licensed by the state they are in, and paid for by the adoptive parents. Some have a waiting list of hopeful adoptive parents, but if not, they typically have a network of other adoption attorneys working with other hopeful adoptive families. Most adoption attorneys don’t have social workers or case managers on staff to support you, so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and ask for additional support.

Self Navigation (Find a family yourself) - If you don’t have a family in mind, you can use a site like PairTree to explore and connect with home study-approved adopting families who are all working with licensed adoption professionals. There are hundreds of families so you can get very specific about what you’re looking for. Or, if you already have a family you’d like to place your child with, you and that family would work directly with an adoption professional to handle the legal process of adoption. (The type of professional you’d need is different based on the State you’re in, so be sure to reach out to Jess and she can connect you.)

Step Three: Connect With an Adoptive Family

The first step in choosing an adopting family is to decide what’s important to you.

What should I look for in a potential adoptive family?

Personality is the #1 filter used by expectant and birth moms at PairTree. It helps you understand how the adopting families approach life, so you have a better idea of what a future with them would look like.

Choosing a family that lives near you might be important to you. In other cases, you might want a family that is far away.

Finding a family of the same race or ethnicity so your child will grow up with access to racial mirrors, their culture, and heritage might be important.

Other factors in choosing an adopting family might be:
  • Family Structure - Do you want a two-parent family? Do you want a same-sex couple? Should one parent be a stay-at-home parent?
  • Religion - Is religion important to you? Do you want a family that is not religious?
  • Do you want your child to go to a private or religious school?

Once you decide what is important to you, start looking at hopeful adopting family profiles. You have the right to look at as many families as you need to find exactly who you are looking for without pressure from anyone to choose a specific family. Your choice of families should not be limited by the families an adoption professional has. You do not have to settle.

Once you have a few families you’re interested in, you can reach out to learn more. On PairTree, you can send the family a direct message, or contact the families’ adoption professional to learn more about them – whatever you’re comfortable with.

It’s important to know that you can talk to more than one family…set up Zoom calls with them, meet in person if possible, really get to know them before you decide that they’re the right one. Find out what they want future contact to look like. While open adoption is not co-parenting (you won’t be involved in day-to-day decisions or have parenting input), you can use this time to find a family that has the same values and parenting philosophy as you, and wants you to be part of their lives.

This is a big decision…be picky, don’t rush and never settle.

But be honest if you’re talking with more than one family and be sure to never accept financial assistance from more than one family (via an agency or attorney), agency or attorney.

Not sure what to ask? Here are some questions to help break the ice:

  • What is your favorite family tradition?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • What’s your favorite Sunday activity?
  • What is your dream job?

Step Four: Get Support

Making an adoption plan while pregnant can be stressful, overwhelming and emotionally draining. It is essential to make sure you have support on this journey, both emotionally and financially.

How do I get emotional and financial support during the adoption process?

In most states, counseling is required before you can sign any legal documents that would terminate your parental rights. Even if it isn’t legally required by your state, you still have the right to receive counseling at no cost to you, and we highly recommend taking advantage of it. A counselor or social worker will help you understand the permanency of your decision, as well as the grief you may feel after placement.

As an expectant parent, you have the right to financial assistance during your pregnancy and for a limited time post-placement.

Helping an expectant or birth mom with financial assistance is a normal part of the process, and is regulated by state law. Expectant or birth parent expenses vary from state to state - from how much is allowed to how long you can receive assistance. The law allows financial assistance to pay for things like pregnancy-related expenses, living expenses while you’re pregnant, medical needs, and counseling. While it’s OK to tell the adopting family that you need financial assistance, it’s illegal for the adopting family to give you money directly. Instead, the adopting family can put you in touch with their attorney or agency to start the financial assistance process.

Remember, it’s highly unethical to accept financial assistance from more than one family (through their agency or attorney.)

Step 5: Hospital Plan & Post Adoption Contact Agreement

There are two very important plans and documents to develop in your adoption process:

1. Hospital Plan

2. Post-adoption contact agreement

Your caseworker, support person or adoption professional can help guide you through each one of these, and you want to make sure you get everything in writing!

What is a hospital plan?

Part of your adoption plan will be to create a hospital plan. Your time at the hospital will be physically and emotionally exhausting. Taking time to write down what you want your experience to look like – before getting to the hospital – will allow you to focus on your safety and well-being at the hospital.

This plan will outline who you want at the hospital with you, how much time you want to spend with your baby in the hospital, whether you want to breastfeed, who you want in the delivery room with you and even your baby’s name. It is completely up to you to decide who you want in the room with you during delivery and during your hospital stay. You can decide if the adopting parents you have chosen can be at the hospital, or if you want that time for yourself.

Even if you are willing to allow the adopting couple to be at the hospital and spend time with your baby, we still encourage you to take some time for yourself - just you and your baby.

To learn more about a Birth Mother’s perspective on the hospital experience, check out this article.

What do I want to include in the Post-Adoption Contact Agreement?

A Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, or Open Adoption Agreement, will set expectations for future communications and lay the groundwork for your relationship with the adopting family.

You and the adopting family will come to an agreement on the level and type of contact that you are all comfortable with. You’re in the driver’s seat here and know that your relationship will most likely evolve over time and communication preferences can change based on what you want: become more frequent, comfortable, and less formal. (Read how Jess’ open adoption relationship evolved here.)

A Post-Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA) or Open Adoption Agreement should answer three main questions:

1. How much contact do I want?

Open: There are varying degrees of openness and can include in-person visits and almost always includes direct contact between you and the adoptive family.

Semi-open: Similar to open adoption, but there is limited personal information exchanged and all contact will usually go through an intermediary, 3rd party communication platform, or adoption specific email address.

No direct contact: You can still receive updates, it just means all communication goes through your professional.

2. How often do I want contact?

Monthly updates, annual updates, holidays and special occasions, etc.

3. How do I want to receive that contact?

Visits, email, text, social media, letters, etc.

These agreements set reasonable expectations for continued contact and help hold everyone accountable. In some states, PACA’s are legally enforceable…even if they aren’t legally enforceable in your state, it’s still important to put them in writing. (Learn if a PACA is legally enforceable in your state here.)

Step Six: The Legal Process

What does the legal process of adoption look like?

The legal process begins pretty quickly after you give birth…some states allow you to terminate your parental rights 24 hours after you deliver. It’s a very emotional process, so it’s essential to make sure you are mentally, physically, and emotionally ready to sign those papers.

Need to know info before you sign anything:

#1: You have the right to your own adoption attorney, at no cost to you, ensuring that you are able to make an educated, informed decision and receive an adequate explanation of the legal process from a non-biased party. Find an adoption attorney here or ask the hospital’s social worker to help you contact one.

#2: Just because your state laws allow you to sign at a certain time, does not mean that you have to sign then.

Before you sign anything make sure:

You are confident in your decision. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to say you need more time.

You understand the process. Terminating your parental rights is a legal process and you will be signing legal documents that will be filed with the Court.

Make sure you understand what you are signing, and if you don’t, don’t sign them until you do.

It is completely normal for you to have second thoughts about adoption once your baby is born…but if you decide you don’t want to move forward with the adoption process, you need to let your adoption professional know immediately.

Step Seven: Take Care of YOU

Those first few weeks and months post-placement go by in a blur. It almost doesn’t seem real…it doesn’t really sink in that you’re a birth mother now. But six or twelve months later it does, and the grief hits you like a ton of bricks. It is SO important to have a support system in place to help you navigate the first few days, weeks, months and years post-placement.

Leaving the Hospital

After delivery, your body is going to be ready to provide and care for a newborn. Before you leave the hospital, make sure your doctor or nurses help prepare you for the physical changes and healing your body is going to go through.

Ask questions like:

  • What are my after-delivery care instructions?
  • When do I need to make a follow-up appointment?
  • What are my c-section aftercare instructions?
  • How do I stop my milk production? (I wore two sports bras and put bags of frozen vegetables in them)

Your adoption professional or hospital social worker will also discuss with you the hospital discharge process and the paperwork you will need to sign before leaving the hospital.

Lean on Your Support System

Especially in the first weeks after birth, it’s going to be really important to have friends and family to lean on. Not only will you be physically healing from childbirth, but you’ll also be navigating the intense feelings of grief and loss after leaving the hospital with an empty womb and arms. Your body will need time to recover, and adjust to not having a baby to care for. If your family didn’t know or wasn’t supportive of your adoption plan, or you made your adoption plan in secret, you need at least one person to confide in about your journey. You shouldn’t go through this alone.

Take Advantage of Post-Placement Care

As a birth mother, you should have access to free, lifetime post-placement care. Sometimes the agency or attorney you worked with will provide this to you, either with individual counseling sessions or a support group. If it is not provided through them, the Lifetime Healing Foundation offers in-person birth mother support groups across the US. Staying connected to a support system is vital to your healing process…adoption is for life and your healing and post-placement support should be as well.

Healthily Navigate Open Adoption

Over the years, your open adoption is going to change…life happens and like all relationships, there is an ebb and flow. That’s why it is so essential to create a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement and put it in writing. In the beginning, your relationship will probably closely mirror what you and the adopting family agreed upon and put in your PACA.

But over time, as your relationship grows and evolves, it might change. You may talk more, or you might have seasons where it’s really hard to keep your relationship open. And that’s okay. Stay connected and tell them what you need…even if it’s a little space.

Making an adoption plan is a huge decision, and one you shouldn’t take lightly. Hopefully, this guide provides you with some guidance and clarity on the adoption process, what you can expect, and the rights you have in making your adoption plan.

This is A LOT of information, so please reach out and ask a lot of questions…we’re here to help connect you with the licensed, ethical professionals you need to healthily navigate the adoption process. Text or call Jess at (206) 279-7578.

Jess Nelson Jess Nelson is the Community Manager at PairTree, focused on growing the resources, programs and education offered for both expectant and birth families, and adoptive families. Jess has spent the last 5 years working in the field of private adoption, first as a paralegal for an Adoption Attorney in Louisiana and most recently with PairTree. As a birth mom of two through private adoption, her firsthand experience of both agency and attorney adoption led her to becoming an adoption professional and join the fight for reform and post placement care for birth moms.

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