There are a variety of good reasons why people may choose to adopt, such as being single and wanting to give a child a home, being in a same-sex couple, or choosing to adopt a sibling for an existing biological child instead of giving birth again.
Many couples come to adoption because they have been unable to conceive a baby. Trying to conceive a child over a long period of time, unsuccessfully, has a big emotional impact. In this situation, it's important for you to come to terms with the fact that you cannot conceive before starting the adoption process.
Everyone is different, but the process of accepting that you cannot conceive can contain its own period of grieving and loss. Although adoption is a good way of building a family, it is a very different kind of parenting.
Infertility and adoption
If you have been having infertility treatment, such as IVF, most adoption agencies will normally expect this to have ended before you apply to adopt. Most agencies prefer you to wait several months between your treatment ending and formally applying to be approved as adopters. You can check with individual agencies what their policies are.
Although this delay can feel frustrating, you can use this time to prepare. For example, you can read up on adoption issues and hear from other adopters in different stages of the process. You can also attend local adoption information evenings and ask friends and family if you can spend time with their children.
Talk to your partner, close friends and family about your thoughts and feelings. This is good practice, both for the adoption process itself and also for coping better when you have children placed with you.
You may want to subscribe to Adoption UK's Children Who Wait, which features children who are waiting to be adopted, and start considering how you would parent children with various needs.
The Infertility Network has a page of factsheets to support families dealing with infertility and looking for other ways to have children, including IVF, surrogacy and adoption.
Your adoption health assessment
As part of the adoption assessment process, potential adopters are required to have a comprehensive health assessment. Adoption agencies need to check whether there are any physical or mental health issues that might affect your ability to provide a safe, stable and loving home until a child reaches adulthood and, ideally, beyond.
Your medical report will be carried out by your GP, who will usually charge for this. The recommended fee is £73.86 per carer, but this can vary between GP practices. In some cases your adoption agency will cover the cost of the fee, but in others you may be expected to pay.
Your medical will take up to one hour and will include the following areas:
- your health history
- a review of your lifestyle
- your family medical history
- a complete physical examination including your height, weight and blood pressure
Women may also have their breasts checked, while men may have their genitals checked for any early signs of cancer or other serious conditions. Whether this happens or not may depend on your family history. Many GPs no longer examine breasts but discuss "breast awareness" with women instead.
The adoption agency's medical adviser will review all the information in your medical report, and may contact other medical professionals for further information or opinions, with your consent. The medical adviser will make recommendations to the agency about any possible risk to your current or future health, and what the agency could do to support you, having considered:
- Your lifestyle. This will include your diet, weight, how much you exercise, how much alcohol you drink and whether you smoke. Current guidance says, for example, that no children aged under ﬁve, or children of any age with a respiratory problem such as asthma, should be placed within a smoking household.
- Whether you have a disability. Being disabled is not necessarily a barrier to adopting. Agencies can recognise that adults with disabilities can have a unique insight into the challenges faced by children in care, who may feel they are "different" or who may also have a disability. Adoption UK has a forum for disabled adopters.
- Any mental health issues. Mental health issues are given careful consideration and, like physical health issues, do not necessarily make someone unsuitable to adopt.
Being an adoptive parent
While being an adoptive parent brings many rewards, the difficulties involved in parenting children with complex needs can also take its toll on you and your relationships. The first few months after the placement can be a time of joy, but you may also have feelings of guilt, fear and depression. Remember that you are a new parent – or new to parenting this child – and have taken on an enormous challenge.
Professor Peter Fonagy, chief executive of the Anna Freud Centre, says: "It's important to manage your expectations when it comes to your relationship with your adopted child, and to be a bit patient, because adopted children are particularly vulnerable to their environment. They will notice when you start feeling impatience, frustration, stress or disappointment.
"Get to know your child, be very realistic, be really honest about your feelings and write a diary," he advises.
Support networks for adoptive parents
You may find it helpful to share your true feelings with others – family, close friends and other adoptive parents. It's also important to give yourself some time away from your child in order to rest and be re-energised.
The Adoption UK forum allows prospective adopters and adoptive parents to share knowledge and support each other. The charity also runs support groups across the UK for all members, offering opportunities to meet, share support and build friendships with other adopters in your area, through events such as evening discussion meetings, coffee mornings, social events and family fun days.
Adoption UK also provides a "buddy" scheme, which gives new adopters the opportunity to talk one-to-one with an experienced adopter.
Read Sally and Andrew's experiences of adopting children from care, and their tips for other adopters.
Download these Adoption UK factsheets for you and your family and friends:
Visit the NHS Choices Moodzone for support if you are feeling down, including free mental wellbeing audio guides.