Marla Ruth Allisan JD, LICSW is the Founder/Director, Full Circle Adoptions.  Her workshop at the 21st Annual Conference is an Overview of Domestic Infant Adoption which will be an exploration of key themes in domestic adoption.  Topics covered include: the home study process, preparation of the adoptive family’s profile, options for outreach & matching, open adoption, trans-racial adoption, adoption education, costs and how to minimize medical and legal risks. 

This year is my 25th year helping families grow through adoption. It has been a blessing and honor, so far, to help place over 250 children with families.  In reflecting on this work, I have noticed that, often, I feel something like a Sherpa — an experienced guide helping families reach their ultimate goal of parenthood. This is a journey we take together which requires expertise and courage, but also faith and hope.

In the mountaineering world, Sherpas help climbers reach the summits of great mountains like Kilimanjaro. Their work has significant physical risks, which is not true for adoption professionals. However, both endeavors involve time-sensitive and delicate strategic thinking, ongoing risk-assessment and careful evaluation of factors relevant to a sound decision. Adoption professionals, having seen family after family reach the summit that is parenthood, can authentically offer encouragement and hope. It is your journey, but, as with the Sherpa, your adoption professional is with you every step of the way. Similar to a Sherpa, an experienced adoption professional has a certain breadth and depth of awareness, will keep an eye to the safest path, knows how best to anticipate and avoid pitfalls, and, ultimately, knows how to help you reach your destination while keeping your shirt on your back. You want your Sherpa to be looking out for you and to be willing to wisely advise you when to take a leap of faith to parenthood.

What might you pack for the journey?

  1. Education Whether or not your agency requires this of you, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about adoption. Some topics might include: positive adoption language; openness; transracial/transcultural adoption; race & class issues; the needs of adopted children over the life span; prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol; mental health conditions and inheritability; post-adoption communication with birth-family and adoption ethics. One place to start might be Tapestry Books which carries books solely on foster care and adoption-related themes. Attending conferences and watching online seminars can provide you with an excellent education at a reasonable cost. See a comprehensive list of resources at:
  2. Maps Know Where You Are: If you live in Massachusetts or Connecticut, you are in an “agency state” and it’s good to understand what this means and what it doesn’t mean for your adoption process. The following link is to an essay that clarifies the legal do’s and don’ts where either the adoptive parents or expectant parents live in Massachusetts: When in doubt (about anything), it’s great to ask.
  3. List of Questions With Which To Evaluate Sherpas and Potential Adoption Cases Adoption should not purely be a matter of courage, though that is involved too. Prospective adopters should be able to ask questions and get detailed factual answers both about the  adoption professionals and potential cases. These questions are necessary if you are to make knowing, intelligent decisions about which risks feel comfortable, and which risks do not feel comfortable, as you proceed on the road to parenthood. It is one thing to look at a map, but, without detailed information, one may not know, strategically, which fork in the road to take. Answers to questions can help.
  4. Support Team Your support team will include professionals, friends and family. Some adoption decisions will benefit from input from experts. Consider contacting and asking for help from medical professionals who can review prenatal and other medical records as needed. You also want to carefully pick individuals who can serve as a close emotional support team for reassurance and encouragement during the ups and downs. Many times, there are people in our lives who want to help, but, don’t know what to do. Break down the process into small steps and ask loved ones if they might be willing to do a particular part (ask Aunt Ruth to make her signature baby afghan with gender neutral colors). Have a specific ‘team’ in mind of folks who are good listeners and who can support you during both ups and downs.

You might want to print this essay, three hole punch it and place it as page one of a notebook you keep about your journey. Consider this the day when you reviewed a brochure for a potential trip. Gather information, study your maps, pull together your gear and interview potential Sherpas. Base camp before nightfall? On behalf of all the Sherpas and agencies in Massachusetts, we’ll be happy to help you fulfill your goal of becoming parents. As the ancient adage goes: Every adoption journey begins with that first step.