Meet Ellie and Steve Heintz, a Medina couple who met in elementary school and have decided to adopt after 8 years of marriage, 6 of which have been spent raising their biological son, Hudson. They officially started the adoption process in September of 2017 though they had talked about it before given the first hand experience Ellie had of being adopted from Seoul, South Korea when she was a baby. Yet aside from Ellie being adopted, their experience with adoption was limited so when they learned in September that the timeline could be somewhere between one and a half to two years before the process was complete, it was a bit of a shock. Ellie recalls thinking at first, “Wow, so I’m going to be 2 years older by the time, we get another baby”. However, that feeling quickly subsided and they began focusing on the next steps, such as if they would find more success searching on their own through friends and family or going through an agency. In the end, they’ve chosen to go both routes and they have been kind enough to share their experience so far.
The Adoption Agency
Though he had his reservations, Steve was pleasantly surprised by how helpful the agency was from the beginning. “We’re actually going through the same agency that Ellie was adopted through, but I didn’t know much about them; only that I had heard Ellie’s mom talk quite passionately about it before”. Ellie’s face beamed with delight as Steve recalls this particular memory.
“They’ve been really helpful with the resources they offer”, Steve says. “We’ve gone to 2 full day trainings so far. At times they were frustrating and parts seemed unnecessary but there were many helpful pieces, especially getting to meet about 10 other couples. In talking with them and bouncing ideas off them, it was nice to just be able to share a journey with other people who were going through something similar.”
Ellie then noted the substantial amount of forms that needed to be filled out. “A lot of the forms had to go to specific other people to complete so it wasn’t just me filling them out. A lot of in depth questions that needed to be answered. Background checks. Medical history.” When I asked them what was one of the most uncomfortable questions the agency asked, they both laughed, “we haven’t got there yet but ask us in a few months.”
They initially expected to spend about $20,000 but after additional research came to find it would likely be more than double that. Ellie recalled a recent post on the adoption agency’s Facebook page that the average adoption process is around $44,000 at the moment. They take care to point out that the cost can vary given each case is different. Variables such as whether one finds their child through the agency or on their own as well as potential legal costs and unforeseen costs related to the pregnancy of the birth mother are some of them.
When I asked them if they had any concerns, Steve says that his have changed over time. Initially his greatest concern was the relationship piece with the birth mother (and potentially birth father) going forward. Steve admits that, “At first, I was definitely not very open the idea of having an open relationship with the birth parents.” Ellie continues by informing me that ‘open adoptions’ are very common. An open adoption basically means the birth mom is still in the picture and will have some sort of contact or communication throughout the child’s life. Yet, how much the birth parent(s) is in the picture can vary greatly, from sending pictures once a year, to seeing them monthly to attending birthday parties or other events. In the adoption world this is called a “birth plan” or “adoption plan” which is talked about and decided in advance of the birth with the birth mother.
Though Steve was not thrilled at first about the idea of an open adoption, he said after seeing a panel of birth parents speak at a training session they attended, it helped ease his mind. “Seeing some of these birth parents and hearing their reasons why they were in the situation to not parent a child, you quickly realize these are just regular human beings that for whatever reason at the time thought it was in their best interest to have their child be placed for adoption.”
Having that concern alleviated, Steve says one his main concern left is if the birth mother would have a change of heart after the child was born. Ellie goes on to explain that after a birth mother picks a family and a match is made, that family is then taken off the adoption list. However, the birth mother can still legally change her mind via a ‘revocation of consent’, and request the child be returned to the birth parent’s custody. The laws can vary by State but in Minnesota they have up to 72 hours to sign a contract to relinquish their rights to the adoptive family and then another 10 days after that contract is signed to still change their mind. There are also laws regarding the father’s rights which take into account things such if the father was aware of the child’s existence when the adoption plans were being made.
Current Progress and What Lies Ahead
As of mid-March, Ellie and Steve were filling out the paperwork for a home study. By mid-April they’ll have been assigned a social worker to start the home study process. This involves three meetings, two of which are at the agency and the third in their home with the social worker. This is where the more uncomfortable questions are asked and more intimate details such as sex life and personal finances are addressed. Nonetheless, they are excited to complete the home study as once that’s complete, they’ll officially be eligible to adopt through the agency as well as outside of it through help from their network of friends, family and the local community.
Yet even with the eligibility milestone passed, an uncertain timeline still looms as they are put on a new waiting list at the agency along with other eligible families. Ellie says, “I feel like when our friends and family ask about it, it kind of builds you back up to get you excited.” Steve agrees and continues, “because you know it’s not like being pregnant where you have a daily reminder of it and so talking about the adoption with others helps a lot.”
Steve highlights the type of support people are giving noting that it’s not so much that they are getting the word out, but rather that they are keeping their ears open. For example, “One of Ellie’s mom’s good friends knows someone at her church who is currently pregnant but had her first child placed for adoption so there may be something there.” Ellie further emphasizes that “We didn’t know people that have physically adopted (besides my parents) but a lot of our friends do and many were so kind to put us in touch with others and talking through their experiences has been really helpful.”
When I asked them if there was anything our community could do to help, Steve reiterated the idea of people keeping their ears open. “I like to think that we have a good family and that we could provide a good home for a child. The agency always talked about ‘a match’ and I’ve learned that it’s really like that. That the birth mother wants to feel comfortable with who they’re giving this baby to just as much as the adoptive family wants to feel comfortable with the woman who is giving birth to this child.” Ellie nods, “It really has to be a match on both sides. “
“We haven’t lived in Medina for long time but it really feels like a small town community in the closeness of people and those 2nd and 3rd generation families still living here or coming back. It’s not like Minneapolis where many barely even know their neighbors. Our neighborhood for one is very close.”
The Excitement to Come
When asked what they were excited most for at the end of this process, Ellie responded immediately, “Once our child is in our home, it will complete us as a family.” Her response to this question- though instant and brief- was delivered with a level of calm, genuine confidence that seemed to originate from a place far more personal and with a depth of meaning that only Ellie could fully appreciate and understand.
Steve fully agreed that it would complete their family further saying, “I think we’re both excited about raising another child, but I’m also excited to see Hudson interact with the child and have a little brother or sister to be a part of his life….and of course vice versa; having our new child grow up around Hudson and our close friends and families.”
So what does Hudson think of all this, I ask Steve. “I actually thinks he talks about it more than we do”, Steve jests back. “He apparently talks to his teacher, his friends and his grandparents a lot about it, but not as much us. We just hear about it from them.” “Hudson calls it ‘when we get the baby'”, Ellie says with a laugh. Steve notes how clearly Hudson recognizes that it is different than being pregnant and how very excited he is for the baby to come. Hudson recently told his teacher that he thinks they’ll get a baby this summer. “Hopefully he’s right about this summer”, Steve says as he and Ellie both give a half smirk knowing the odds. We hope so too guys!
As their neighbor and friend, perhaps I am biased, but I can say for certain that whatever child does find their way into the Heintz home will be a lucky one with a life full of family love living among a community that will look after that child as if it were their own.