Over the course of 25 years as an adoption attorney, I have found myself repeating the following ten commandments of private adoption.

I. You and the birth parents deserve to be treated with respect and compassion.

As a result of the very emotional nature of the adoption process, you and the birth parents are extremely vulnerable. Since you all want to act ethically and humanely, you should treat each other with respect and compassion. It is equally important to demand that attorneys, doctors, agencies, and social workers involved in your adoption treat you with respect and compassion as well.

II. Keep it safe. Keep it legal.

Almost all of the practical aspects of your adoption have legal importance. Before you take any action, choose an experienced adoption attorney so that you will be able to finalize your adoption safely and legally in your state court. The best resource for locating an attorney is the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (www.adoptionattorneys.org).

III. Come out of the closet and broadcast your decision to adopt.

Once you decide to adopt, make the adoption your central focus and be proactive. Inform as many people as possible about your desire to adopt – friends, family, acquaintances, business associates, doctors, dentists, teachers, clergy, congregants, nurses, social workers, counselors, college roommates. And ask anyone you contact to spread the word of your adoption crusade. The laws of most states, including New Jersey and New York, permit you to create an adoption website and advertise online. Check with your attorney about the adoption advertising laws in your state.

IV. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, but once it’s over, it’s over.

One of the most pressing concerns for adoptive parents is ending birth parents’ rights once the adoptive parents have custody of a child. Generally in a private adoption, adoptive parents connect with a pregnant woman and make an adoption plan with her during the pregnancy. However, termination of birth parents’ rights is governed by the law of the state where the child is born or the adoptive parents reside, and birth parents’ rights are not terminated until after the baby is born. Both New York and New Jersey adoption laws provide for quick, informed ending of birth parents’ rights. You should proceed with optimism, but with a realistic understanding that the birth parent may choose not to place the baby for adoption. Once the birth parents’ rights are ended (generally within a couple of weeks after the baby’s birth), the birth parents cannot come back to reclaim the child.

V. The first healthy baby is the best baby for you.

Don’t second guess yourself. If you have the opportunity to adopt a healthy baby, act immediately and do not pass up the chance for an adoption because you have heard about another situation that might appear more attractive.

VI. You have to connect the dots.

Remember connect-the-dots coloring books from childhood? As you began connecting the numbered dots, the picture emerged, but you usually recognized what the image would be even before you were finished. To spot an adoption scam, you need to connect the dots, the clues that let you know whether a birth parent or agency is legitimate. Once you retain an experienced adoption attorney in your state, he or she will help you screen birth parents and resources.

VII. Expenses are a legal issue.

The goal is that you succeed in your adoption with a minimum of risk, both financial and emotional. Payment of expenses in an adoption is governed by the law where the child is born or the adoptive parents reside. You should never give money to a birth mother. Your attorney will approve and monitor all expenses, which will be paid through an attorney trust account. Under New York and New Jersey law, you can pay for the birth mother’s medical expenses (which are usually covered by Medicaid or insurance), counseling, reasonable living expenses during the pregnancy and recovery, and legal expenses.

VIII. Objective information is key.

Your attorney will help you evaluate whether a potential birth mother is pregnant and committed to an adoption by speaking with her and sending her social and medical history questionnaires and an authorization for release of her prenatal medical records. Once your attorney receives the completed questionnaires and signed medical release, he or she will obtain the birth mother’s prenatal medical records and forward them to you with the social and medical history. You will have your doctor will review the medical information and advise you about the baby’s health.

IX. Establish a relationship with the birth mother.

The best way to ensure that a birth mother is committed to the adoption plan is to establish a caring relationship with her. Adoptive parents usually stay in close contact with the birth mother during the pregnancy and meet with her before she places the child for adoption. Connecting with the birth mother is the best way to obtain background information for your child. After the baby is placed for adoption, adoptive parents generally exchange letters and photos with birth parents by email or text.

X. Never give up hope.

Do not allow yourself to be discouraged by setbacks. Remember that you are one lucky email, text, or phone call away from your dream. Everyone who continues to work toward an adoption will succeed. Persist and follow these Ten Commandments of Private Adoption.