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This is what adoption feels like

Welcome home

It seems so simple, and in a very basic way, it is: There are children out there who need a warm and loving home, and there are families yearning to provide all that and more. But making it all come together -- well, that part can get complex. Here's how five families found their way along that unforgettable journey, and how one woman made the wrenching decision to give up her child -- plus, everything you'll need to know if you decide to make adoption a part of your family story.

Courtesy of Lydia and Mike Kirkham/Photo illustration by Clifford Alejandro

Domestic adoption

Laws vary depending on where you live — for instance, some states allow attorney-mediated adoption; others require you to use a licensed agency. Make sure that you understand the rules in your state as well as in the state where the child lives or will be born. You can look up state laws at laws.adoption.com, but attempting a completely do-it-yourself education on adoption law may leave you baffled. So seek a licensed adoption attorney through the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (adoptionattorneys.org) for more advice.

Most domestic adoptions are at least "semi-open," meaning that at a minimum, letters, photos, and other information are exchanged periodically through an intermediary such as an agency. Adoptions that are more open involve direct contact through letters, phone calls, and e-mails. And in fully open adoptions, ongoing visits are common.

Costs for domestic adoption run the gamut. Some agency adoptions add up to well over $30,000, while an "identified adoption" — in which the prospective adoptive parents themselves locate the birth parents through advertising and other outreach — can cost less than $10,000.

PROS: Domestic adoption gives you the greatest likelihood of bringing home a newborn, an experience many families yearn for. You are also more likely than with an international adoption to find out the birth family's medical history — and to have a more open adoption.

CONS: Your wait for a placement can be anywhere from less than a month to two years or more. Because the expectant parents usually choose the adopting parents — a situation known as a "match" — there's no way to know when you'll be selected. A survey found that 31 percent of families experience at least one failed match because the mother or father decides to parent the child; some agencies report that the rate of failed matches may be higher. It's vital to remember that they have this right, and to be prepared for the emotional upheaval of this possibility.

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