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Weighing the Options Between Adoption and Surrogacy

A bouncing baby boy or giggling toddler girl can bring love and life to a household. For childless couples hoping to have a family, adoption or surrogacy can be their best options. The process of starting a family this way can be immensely rewarding, but there are also many challenges.

"One of the biggest things prospective parents should consider when seeking a child through adoption or surrogacy is that it's usually a very, very long process from start to finish," says Christina Steinorth, a California-based psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life. "It could be 18 months before you have a child, but often it's much longer—sometimes two years or more—before you'll be able to bring your child home with you."

It is best to prepare yourself for a long waiting period, as well as for the costs that each option entails. Make an honest evaluation of your family's needs. Once you determine that adoption or surrogacy is indeed the right course of action for everyone involved, prepare for the life-changing journey to come. The process can be lengthy and challenging, but Steinworth says it’s ultimately "worth the wait."

“One of the biggest things prospective parents should consider when seeking a child through adoption or surrogacy is that it's usually a very, very long process from start to finish.” –Christina Steinorth, California-based psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life

The Surrogacy Option

While the ultimate objective for anyone considering adoption or surrogacy is to bring a child into the family, some parents agree that surrogacy is the better option for them.

"Some individuals feel very strongly about having a child that is genetically [a] part of them," says Steinorth. "When this is the case, surrogacy is a good choice because, when it's possible, either the mother or father can be genetically linked to the child." Or, in some cases, both.

But a desire for a genetic link isn't the only reason more parents are choosing surrogacy. The increase in demand can also be attributed to the desire prospective parents have to monitor the child's prenatal care and medical history, says Durand Cook, a California-based attorney who specializes in adoption and surrogacy.

"Parents not only want a healthy newborn infant, but [they also] want an infant that is carried by a woman with an exceptionally clean health history, who has had prenatal care from day one, with no substance abuse herself or in her family,” Cook says. “And of course, with no mental health challenges,"

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The beginning steps in pursuing the surrogacy option are threefold. The first step is to hire an agency to assist in locating, screening and working with an appropriate surrogate mother. The second step involves getting the surrogate mother cleared medically and psychologically, while simultaneously establishing a legal contract, Cook says. The final step involves transferring embryos to the surrogate's uterus and confirming the pregnancy.

One factor to consider regarding surrogacy is the cost. "The cost of surrogacy arrangements vary greatly, depending on the component parts needed and the amount of time and medical attention needed to achieve a pregnancy," Cook says, estimating that the costs for surrogacy range from $40,000 to $140,000.

Private or Public Adoption

For those parents who simply yearn for a child—genetically related or not—private or public adoption can be both a compassionate and enriching experience. In fact, many parents choose adoption precisely so that they might provide a better family life not only for themselves, but also for the adopted child whose need, after all, is apparent.

But as with surrogacy, researching the different possibilities and evaluating the best fit for your family are both good places to begin.

"Parents need to fully research their options and their beliefs about key issues before they start the process," Steinorth says. "The more fully prepared they are and the better educated they are about the different types of adoptions available to them, the better they'll be able to make the choice that works for them."

Both public and private adoptions have their own processes. A public adoption involves working with a state or county government agency to acquire legal custody of a child in foster care, while a private adoption will have a licensed, private agency working with you to facilitate a domestic or international adoption.

Depending on the agency, parents seeking adoption may need to work with a social worker to complete background checks and a home-study; that is, an assessment of your home's quality and safety in regard to a child. In many cases, you may also be required to attend an adoption preparation class.

RELATED: Tips on Adoption From an Adoptive Mother

Something else to think about is the idea of open adoption. Many times, in both public and private adoptions, parents can choose to stay in contact with the biological parents or provide updates about the adopted child, says Steinorth. It is a good idea to meet with an attorney who can draw up a contract that all parties can agree on.

In many cases, the costs of both public and private adoptions are considerably lower than those of surrogacy. While private adoption costs range between $10,000 and $35,000, couples interested in public or foster care adoption may experience lower fees, ranging from nothing to $2,500, according to Anthony Rodriguez, communications manager at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, based in Columbus, Ohio.

You can also apply for federal grants, loans, employee benefits and military reimbursements to cut some or all of the costs associated with adoption.

Personal Considerations

One of the biggest issues facing parents in both adoption and surrogacy is the possibility of the process falling through and leaving them without the child they had hoped for, Steinorth says. "This could be emotionally devastating, because after months—and sometimes years—of hoping, trying and in many cases spending quite a hefty sum of money, parents may not end up with a child after all."

Steinorth recommends regular family discussions to ensure everyone feels supported and that you remember to take those important "me" moments to refresh your mind and body. Support and personal breaks are important because the uncertainty and waiting can take a toll on prospective parents.

Communication is also essential when it comes to important decisions, like how parents plan to address the topic of surrogacy or adoption with their child. This is something that needs to be determined ahead of time, Steinorth says. When a child doesn't look like his parents, eventually the question of why is likely to arise. It's best, therefore, for the parents to have already talked about this and reached an agreement on how to answer.

RELATED: Bonding With an Adopted Child

Parents who are adopting a child from another country should also discuss the possibility of culture clash. A child taken from one culture and dropped into a new one can be overwhelmed and confused. He may find it difficult to adjust at first and want to bring in aspects of his own culture for comfort.

"Adoptive parents should explore their own feelings about how they want to handle this type of circumstance when and if it arises," Steinorth says.

In the end, your best approach to the process of adoption or surrogacy is to enter into it with an open mind and a realistic attitude, thoroughly weighing all aspects of each option.

One Quick Note on Foreign Adoption

When choosing to adopt internationally, it's crucial to work with a reputable agency and investigate the requirements, says Steinorth.

China, for example, restricts obese parents from adopting a child from its country, while Ukraine has age limits on parents wishing to adopt, disallowing those who are 48 and up, Steinorth says.

MORE: The Best Countries for Adoptions

Prepare for the home-study to slow the process a little as well. Most foreign adoptions require that prospective parents provide evaluations from personal references, undergo a background check and an inspection of their home, and meet with a licensed mental health professional who will interview them about their parenting styles and attitudes.

"Every country is different," Steinorth says, "so it's important to do your homework up front and learn what will work for you."

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