Open Adoption Blog

Taking a Look at Laws on LGBT Adoption

In honor of pride month, you may be thinking a lot about LGBT legal issues. While same-sex marriage is the hot topic that the Supreme Court plans to make a decision about this week, you may be wondering how opinions about LGBT families and adoption will play into this decision, and how such a ruling will affect the rights of the LGBT community. As is true with other issues surrounding LGBT equality, the adoption laws in each state are different.

lgbt-lawWhen looking at the legalities of same-sex couples’ ability to adopt and what is in the state’s statute, we’re asking two questions:

1) Who is allowed to adopt?

2) Are second parent adoptions allowed?

A couple of things to note are first that the laws are constantly changing, and second that there is vague language in many states’ statutes that allow for judges to make rulings on a case-by-case basis. Let’s take a look at the states where there are some barriers in allowing same-sex couples to adopt:

Mississippi is the only state whose law expressly prohibits same-sex couples from adopting.

Same-sex couples used to be unable to adopt in the state of Utah because the statute says, “a child may not be adopted by a person who is cohabitating in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage under the laws of this state.” Same-sex marriage did not become legal in Utah until October of last year when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed marriage bans to be overturned in Wisconsin, Virginia, Indiana, Utah, and Oklahoma. Now, same-sex couples can adopt in Utah as long as they are married.

In other states, marriage may actually be an obstacle to adopting. In Wisconsin, for example, same-sex couples are allowed to marry but only an unmarried adult or a husband and wife can jointly adopt. Wisconsin also does not approve second-parent adoptions. There are several other states in which the statute says that any unmarried adult can adopt, but married persons must petition to adopt jointly. These states include North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Alabama, and Ohio. However, same-sex marriage is not legal in any of these states nor is second-parent adoption meaning that only one parent can legally adopt.

Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Georgia allows for any individual to adopt, but second-parent adoptions are approved only in the lower courts. Approval may depend on the county and the judge. In other words, approval of both parents having legal rights over the adopted child is not guaranteed.

As you can see, same-sex adoption laws are incredibly varied by state. The looming question is, if the court approves same-sex marriage as a federal constitutional right for same-sex couples, how will that affect their ability to adopt? Will certain states, such as Wisconsin, still be able to enforce that only heterosexual married couples be allowed to adopt, and thus deterring same-sex couples from marrying? Will second-parent adoption still need to be a necessary protection in cases where a same-sex married couple is filing to adopt jointly? Will they face other barriers?

Ideally, if the Supreme Court’s decision is to allow same-sex couples to marry, this will be a positive and more inclusive shift toward eliminating all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the adoption world and beyond.


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Top 10 Things To Do While You Wait

After making it through the home study documents, home visits with your social worker, and spending hours on your Adoption Letter, it can feel amazing to finally have it all completed. Your home study is approved and your Adoption Letter is finished. You’re live. Congratulations! Now what?

  1. Take a vacation, read.

    Don’t be afraid to take some time off.

    Review the Client Resource Page & Client Binder: Especially the “Getting Noticed” and “Contact” sections. Even if you do not take on additional networking, it is good to know the resources out there. When a potential birthparent calls or emails you, it might feel nice to know the dos and don’ts of the first contact.

  2. Spend time with friends and family: I cannot say enough that life should NOT be put on hold while you wait for a contact. Keep living your life, and you may just have more fun stories to share with your child when s/he asks about the adoption process. At the very least, it will keep you happy and distracted during the wait. Go out to dinner, attend the summer barbeques, join a bocce league, etc. You cannot think about adoption all of the time!
  3. Plan a vacation: Large or small, having an event/adventure/activity to look forward to can help take your focus off of the wait. Again, your life should not go on hold while you are waiting for a potential birthparent to call or email you. Once you are parenting, your vacations may look a bit different – so choose to take that trip you’ve always wanted to take.
  4. Accept the promotion: This can be a great way to stay busy and save some extra money. When you match, you will figure out the job logistics. Until then, enjoy the rewards of your hard work.
  5. Practice setting boundaries: Clients often express frustration with friends and family asking about the wait. Whether you are dealing with nosy colleagues or with friends that mean well, you may not want to share everything. It is within your right to say, “I appreciate you asking, but I will let you know when I have any updates. Let’s talk about something else.” Boundary setting can be helpful practice for when you are parenting. You will likely get questions about your child – who s/he looks like, who the “real parents” are, what ethnicity he/she is, or a myriad of other (sometimes inappropriate) questions. If you get comfortable setting these boundaries now, you will be more confident doing so in the future.
  6. Attend support group: There is something powerful about sitting in a room with people who know what it feels like to wait. Everyone’s adoption journey will be different, but at least you will not have to explain what “match”, “unmatch”, or “reclaim period” means.
  7. Network: Talk with friends and family about your plans to adopt. You do not need to go into all of the details with everyone. However, it can be helpful to educate your support system about openness and birthparents before you’re parenting. Besides, you never know who may be a good resource for birthparent referrals. Talk with your Adoption Coordinator if you have questions about this.
  8. Take a class: Learn a new language, explore a new culture, brush up on your crafting skills – do something productive! For some, this may also be a good time to take a baby care class. Ask your Adoption Coordinator if s/he has referrals for a local parenting workshop.
  9. Read: There are many wonderful books about adoption, transracial adoption, transracial families, and parenting. Ask your Adoption Coordinator for referrals.
  10. Talk with your Adoption Coordinator: Your Adoption Coordinator will reach out to you, but know that s/he always wants to hear from you! Call us to talk, even if you are not sure what exactly you are calling for. We enjoy being a support to you – and we may help you feel better.

Tips on what NOT to do:

  1. Set up a nursery: Some may disagree with me, but I believe that this can be one of the most painful parts of the wait: Walking past an empty nursery every day, even if you close the door, is a constant reminder of your wait. When the time comes, you will be able to get everything you need immediately. Diapers, formula, onesies and car seats are all available across the country. Do your research now if you’d like, but please – don’t buy it just yet!
  2. Tell your entire circle about a potential contact/match: Remember that with every person you tell about a contact/match, you may need to later tell them about a potential unmatch. It is great to have supportive people in your life, but choose wisely. Contacts are wonderful; just be careful with this information. This is also a wonderful opportunity to process with your Adoption Coordinator and support group members.
  3. Share “intake” details about a potential birthparent contact with everyone you know: If you do not want your child to hear about her birthmother’s substance use at a family party/picnic/holiday 10 years later, perhaps it is best not to tell the chatty cousin about your potential birthparent’s reported alcohol use now.
  4. Stare at your phone all day: It will happen, but you need to continue living your life in the meantime!

For longtime readers of our blog, this is a familiar topic. If you’re interested, you can find more resources on managing your wait here:

Things to Do While Waiting

Surviving the Adoption Wait

Waiting for Adoption

Handling the Wait

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Open Adoption on Raleigh’s CW

IAC Raleigh’s Branch Director, Niketa Frazier, recently appeared on the CW network to explain Open Adoption.

During the segment, she lists some of the ways in which open adoption is different from traditional adoption. Open Adoption:

  • Creates a relationship between birthparents and adoptive parents.
  • Allows birthparents to choose the family to raise their child.
  • Includes some amount of ongoing direct contact after placement.
  • Provides a chance to continue the relationship however they want, ideally in an ‘extended family’ model.

After this brief introduction, host Bill LuMaye asks, who are the women who choose adoption?

Birthparents can be anyone anyone who might face an unplanned pregnancy. They are a diverse group.
Birthparents usually want to parent, but circumstances are such that they can’t.

Next they discuss the importance of counseling. At IAC we do non-directive and non-coercive options counseling, to ensure they’re aware of all options. This means all options (parenting, abortion, adoption) are presented as equal and valid choices.

If a woman chooses adoption, grief and loss counseling then begins to process grief before placement. Mrs. Frazier says that birthparents really choose adoption twice, they choose when they’re pregnant, and they choose again after they give birth and meet the child. Therefore, they need the tools acquired during counseling in order to process the grief.

Finally, IAC’s non-exclusionary policies for adoptive parents is discussed. Mrs. Frazier explains that, at IAC, its birthparents that choose who will be the best parent for their child, not us. At Independent Adoption Center, we recognize that things like age, sexual orientation, marital status, and religion don’t determine whether you’ll be a good parent. We want those options available to birthparents. Additionally, we want the opportunity to adopt available to people who will be great parents, regardless of what their family looks like.

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New Study: Open Adoption is Best!

For almost 30 years, the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project has been studying the effects of openness on adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents. In an article published earlier this year, MTARP lead researcher Dr. Grotevant reports the findings show open adoption to be beneficial for all members of the adoption triad.

MTARP LogoThe MTARP study began in 1987. At that point in time, Independent Adoption Center had already been doing open adoptions for five years, but many experts in the adoption field were hesitant about this new arrangement for families. The most common fears were that open adoption would cause the birth mother to experience increased grief, lead to confusion in adoptees about the nature of their relationships, and that adoptive parents would face more anxiety about the motivations of the birthparents. All of these fears have been shown to have no basis in the lived experiences of the adoption triad members.

On the part of adoptees, an open adoption arrangement does not produce confusion. They remain firm in their understanding that the adoptive parents are their real parents, and they also understand the role of their birthparents. Furthermore, open adoption contact helps adoptees understand their identities more fully. It should not be surprising that adoptees want to know who their birthparents are, and having them be a part of their life allows them to understand who they are in tangible ways. As a result the child does not have to resort to fantasies, overly positive or negative, about their birthparents and why they chose adoption.

For birthparents the expectation in the 80s was that ongoing contact would perpetuate the grieving process. On the contrary, the findings on MTARP show that it is birthparents in closed adoptions who more often have unresolved grief decades later. Birthparents in the study reported being comforted by knowing for sure that their children were safe, happy, and cared for.

In the early years of open adoption, critics claimed that adoptive parents would suffer from increased anxiety, with the fear of “someone looking over their shoulder” often being cited. As it turns out, adoptive parents are less anxious in open adoptions. This is often a result of direct communication with the birthparents about their ongoing feelings about the adoption. For adoptive parents, personally knowing the birthparents helps prevent the formation of negative stereotypes that can cause additional anxiety. They know there is nobody lurking in the shadows, contrary to popular portrayals in movies and television.

Here at Independent Adoption Center, we’ve seen these results firsthand for decades. We are grateful to the researchers at MTARP for providing qualitative, longitudinal data that debunks the negative stereotypes and supports open adoption.

You can learn more at the Child & Family blog, and in this research article.

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When to Prepare the Nursery

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by one of IAC’s waiting adoptive couples, James & Darian Turner.

Us in Nursery 1“When to prepare the nursery?” It’s a question every hopeful adoptive parent must answer during the adoption wait.

For some families, nesting right away feels natural and can even be therapeutic. The adoption process is so full of uncertainty that creating a nursery offers some control and concrete progress on the journey to having a complete family. For others, the thought of having a dedicated nursery sitting empty for the months or years it will take to finally bring a little one home is just too painful.

When my husband and I first went active with our agency, we were firmly, and confidently in the second camp. We knew which sunny bedroom we would eventually turn into a nursery, but that was the beginning and end of our nesting thoughts.

All of that changed when we became eligible for our agency’s “Last Minute Hospital List.” Suddenly, we could at any moment receive a call to come meet our child! This was a very exciting but somewhat intimidating situation for us. Knowing that last-minute placements are a whirlwind of activity and decisions and changes, we decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and prepare our nursery; that way if we do have a last-minute placement there will be slightly fewer things for us to worry about.

Once we made the decision to prepare the nursery, we threw ourselves into it. We meticulously researched everything we could: the perfect crib (must be lower in front so my short little arms can gently lower in baby!), the ideal crib placement (not too close to a window!), the right mattress and bedding (organic cotton and no bumpers!), and the best rocking chair (no pinched little fingers or toes!) – we were definitely nesting in overdrive.

We spent long hours in the nursery making it into a cozy haven. Everything we placed in the nursery – every piece of furniture, every onesie, every toy, and every picture — was chosen with a little vision of its future owner. What would they like; how would they use the space; would this plush octopus or that crinkly panda bear be their favorite toy?

We arranged a little gallery of ethereal, fairytale-like images on one of the walls, imagining the bedtimes ahead when we’d make up stories about the adventures of the characters. We filled the nursery with things we love, things we hope our child will love, too.

We knew ahead of time that having this uninhabited room in our home could be a source of sadness for us. We were a little surprised to find that it’s really not. Along the way we realized it’s not empty at all; it’s full of our hopes, our dreams, and our wishes for our child and our family’s future.

James & Darian Turner live in Northern California. They are hoping to adopt their first child soon. To learn more about James & Darian, visit:

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Mother’s Day Series: A Letter to You

Editors Note: The following is a post for our Mother’s Day series, written by adoptive parent, Sara, to her daughter’s birthmother.

13a772f8-516e-48b7-97ec-ec7fa12639caTo Our Daughter’s Birth Mother,

This was the first Mother’s Day I celebrated, and it is because of you. I know the decision you made to place your daughter with us wasn’t for me. It was because that was the best decision you could make for her out of love. Still, because you made that decision, my dream of becoming a mother came true. Not only did I get to become a mom, but you allowed me to be as much a part of your pregnancy as you could. I got to see our daughter’s ultrasound, I got to feel her kick, I got to be there when she was born, and I got to be by your side. And now, I get to care for her every day, watch her grow and learn, shower her with hugs and kisses (and I give her extra for you), hold her, and just be amazed by her. There are no words that are adequate enough to tell you the depth of my gratitude to you, or to describe the bond I feel to you. All I can do is tell you that I try my hardest to honor you every day. I try my best to be the kind of mother that our daughter deserves, to be the kind of mother that would make you proud. I also want to tell you that on Mother’s Day, I will be thinking of you and celebrating you.

With all of my love,

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Mother’s Day Series: A Letter to You

Editors Note: The following is a post for our Mother’s Day series, written by adoptive parent, Karen Zgonc, to both of her sons’ birthmothers.



To my sons’ birthmothers:

It’s simple – without you, I would not be a mother. The depth of my gratitude for this simple fact makes me speechless. Being able to share mutual love and pride for our boys has been the greatest honor of my life. You brought life to my sons and entrusted us to parent them – you are the most courageous women I know. Without you, our lives would be empty of the joy that surrounds our every day. On this Mother’s Day, I thank you both.

With love,


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Mother’s Day Series: A Letter to You

Editors Note: The following is the first post for our Mother’s Day series, written by adoptive parent, Shannon Johnson to her child’s birthmother.










It is all because of you that we get to experience this.
The joy and the heart wrenching miracle that is parenthood.
Because of you we get to
bathe him.
change his diapers.
calm him down.
make him laugh.
watch him grow.
see the world through his eyes.

It is all because of you that we get to
watch him crawl.
find his voice.
hold his hand.
nurture and nourish him.
encourage him.
cuddle him.

Because of you we get to love him.

Adoption has not been what we thought it would be; we never thought that our child would have siblings. We never thought that we wouldn’t meet. There are so many things that we expected that didn’t happen. We wouldn’t change anything for the world and have never been more humbled and grateful for this perfect gift. It is our promise that we will love him. We will love you. He will always know about you and your love for him. There will be no shame. There will be no guilt. Just love.

So while it is such a simple and inadequate sentiment, thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Thank You,
Shannon Johnson

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What Annie Has Taught Us About Adoption

cover_photo_digitalEditor’s Note: The following is a post by IAC’s hopeful adoptive parent, Joseph Greaves, and how listening to Annie gave him insight into what open adoption means to him.

Last weekend, I decided to roll up my sleeves and do some weeding in the backyard. My husband Benjamin was out performing in a show, The Music Man, so I had the house to myself. I put on some music – the original Broadway cast recording of Annie, because that’s how we roll – and headed out back.

As I got into the “weeding zone,” singing along to “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and belting it out to “Tomorrow,” it occurred to me how much fun it will be to have a kid in the mix. It’s not exactly that we are fixated (at least not yet), but every once in a while, we have visions of our future family that make us really appreciate the choice we have made to become dads, and have a child through open adoption.

But then I had a momentary crisis – “Maybe” came on. It is beautiful, with a lovely, longing melody. However, it occurred to me that in the context of open adoption, it’s heartbreaking: Annie longs to know her birthparents, wants to believe that they made a mistake and feel regret, and wants reassurance that her parents love her.

These can be major issues for adopted children – longing to know birthparents, wanting to know why they were placed for adoption, having feelings of rejection. How could we subject our adopted child to Annie and potentially expose them to all of these difficult issues? Would we need to put Annie on some sort of “no show” list and wait until they are older? What about other musicals with issues about orphans? Oliver!, Les Miserables, and Newsies, to name a few?

At the same time, how could we – as gay dads with a particular fondness for music and theater and the combination thereof – NOT subject our child to Annie and these other classics from our own childhoods? It was unfathomable.

The more I thought about it, the more I recognized that Annie is far from a crisis: it is an opportunity. We are fortunate that adoption has come a long way, and that most domestic adoptions in the U.S. are now open. Indeed, open adoption has evolved in reaction to the secrecy and shame that characterized adoption when we grew up, as embodied in Annie. It will be different for our child. They will know their birthparents, and will hopefully have contact of some kind. They will know that adoption was an act of love by their birthparents, wanting only the best for their child. And they will know the constant, unconditional love of having two doting parents from the very beginning.

Annie will be a teachable moment for us as parents, not something to shy away from. It will also be a learning experience for us, as our child will likely relate to Annie in ways that we never could.

Phew, crisis averted! But I still have a lot of weeding to do…

(BTW: For further reflections on Annie, and why so many of us are obsessed with it, check out this “deconstrution” by musical theatre aficionado Seth Rudetsky. It’s brilliant.)

Joe Greaves and his husband Benjamin Pither live in the SF Bay Area. They are hoping to adopt their first child soon. To learn more about Joe and Benjamin, visit:

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On Transracial Adoption

by Angela Tucker, a Transracial Adoptee

621a3192-1Since the debut of Closure, the film that documents my search for my birthparents, I have had flocks of adoptees – both transracial and not – approach me via email, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and in-person after public events. So many of these adoptees write me, saying that they finally feel validated and free to have conversations about their own identity. Even though I am a complete stranger to them there is a strong desire to connect, a desire that suggests that their fundamental needs were not met earlier in their life. Transracial adoptees don’t always have the opportunity to see their own reflection mirrored within their immediate family, or general community around them, which can lead to a fragmented sense of self. In no way am I suggesting that transracial adoption be abolished, as I see it to be a very necessary solution to an unfortunate need. However, parents who have adopted outside of their race need to make sure that their children have a safe space to articulate these feelings and to be able to have constructive conversations to process these emotions.

After delivering a keynote speech at an adoptee centric event last year a 16-year-old African-American transracial adoptee raced up to me, barely able to contain his thoughts, stating, “I feel like my emotional identity is White, because of the way that I talk and dress. I actually don’t mind that people think of me as an Oreo. I’m kind of lucky that I have the ability to code-switch if needed. I am comfortable with the preppy style.” Another transracial adult adoptee recounted a feeling of being “psychologically erased” every time someone called her an ‘oreo,’ or made a comment denoting that her personality did not fit with her skin color.

In 2011, Social psychologist, Claude Steele published the book, Whistling Vivaldi, How Stereotypes Affect Us, and What We Can Do. Some of the story centers around New York Times writer Brent Staples who would walk the streets of Hyde Park in Chicago, whistling Vivaldi and other classical tunes in an effort to signal to white people that he was educated (and thus nonviolent). This is an example of a phenomenon called code-switching. Individuals partake in this coping strategy in an attempt to appease dominant stereotypes. Language is a proxy for identity, and thus code-switching is an apt and cunning way for a person to handle more than one identity. Code switching is an appropriate way to remain safe within our own skin in a country where pervasive implicit biases are killing people, specifically black men. For transracial adoptees these general American stereotypes can feel messy and difficult to absorb and discern. Continue reading »

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