Domestic Adoption Travel 101

If you're adopting domestically, the call that says your baby is on the way often comes on a moment's notice. Will you be ready?

Domestic adoptive parents can travel all over to get to their child

Your bags are packed and you’re ready to go, right? More likely, you just got the call that your child is being born on the other side of the country, so you’re frantically tossing clothes in a suitcase while you book your flights and try not to burst with excitement and nervousness.

For domestic adoptive parents, the call to travel to meet their child doesn’t often come with much warning. In a recent AF poll of domestic adoptive families, 18 percent of you said you had less than one week to prepare, and 28 percent had to travel at a moment’s notice, because the call came after your child was born. But last-minute travel logistics aside, it is an overwhelmingly emotional time. Will this match work out? Will we really be parents in a few days? How do we care for a newborn? Prospective parents often admit to being reluctant to prepare for the trip, for fear of jinxing the situation or getting their hopes too high.

“We were very nervous when we got the call, because we had made previous attempts for a newborn,” says an AF reader. “In fact, we were ready to give up when we got the call that a boy had been born that day and the birth mother had chosen us. So we drove as fast as we could to the hospital to meet her and our new son.”

When you do get that call, you’ll be in emotional overdrive. As Julie, of Littleton, Colorado, recalls, “It was frightening, exhausting, and magical.” We asked parents who have been through the process to share their best tips for traveling and caring for a new baby during that exciting, nerve-wracking time.

Packing List

You’ll probably have at least a few days before the birth to buy the essentials — more than half of AF survey respondents said they were matched before the baby’s birth. Parents say it’s easier to have basic baby gear on hand than to shop while you travel. But if you’re traveling on the spur of the moment, or don’t want to buy in advance, they share their back-up plans, too.

• Car Seat
Most hospitals won’t release a newborn to you if you don’t have a car seat, so you’ll have to bring one with you.

Infant car seats can be tricky to install, so, if you’re driving, it’s a good idea to have the seat installed before you leave home, suggests Jamie Hibbs, of Winfield, Kansas. “There’s nothing worse than trying to figure out how to put it in the car right before you leave the hospital. My husband had to go to a nearby fire station for help,” she says. If you’re flying, most airlines will let you gate-check the car seat on the way out. It’s also the safest way to transport the baby on the flight home.

No Time? If you’re renting a car, you can rent a car seat, too. But rental companies don’t always guarantee car seats, so be prepared for the chance that they’ll run out and you’ll need to buy one at your destination. Sally Claffey, of Glenview, Illinois, didn’t want to tote a car seat on the plane to California, so she researched her options in advance and bought a car seat/stroller combo when she arrived.

• Portable Crib or Pack and Play
Annie Simpson, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is glad she bought a portable crib before she and her husband adopted daughter Eden. They tossed it in the car, and “didn’t have to worry about getting one at the hotel,” she says.

No Time? Many hotels have cribs available to rent. Call the one you book to ask.

• Outfits, Burp Cloths, and Bottles
Most domestic adopters recommend booking a hotel with on-site laundry facilities, but they agree it’s better to pack extras than to spend time away from the baby doing laundry. Elizabeth Swire Falker, domestic adoptive mom, adoption attorney, and author of The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Adoption, recommends bringing at least two outfits for each day you expect to be away, in a variety of sizes. “You may have a teeny baby, so make sure you’ve got at least one preemie outfit, just in case,” she says. Bring extra bottles, as well, so you don’t find yourself constantly washing bottles in the hotel sink (not an easy feat).

No Time? Parents relied on Target, Walmart, and similar stores to stock up on basics, like dishwashing soap and mild laundry detergent. One reader found a way to simplify hotel bottle-prep: “I bought microwavable sterilizer bags from Target — they cost about $5 for a pack of 10, so you can throw them away when you’re ready to head back home.”

• Camera and Laptop Computer
“I took pictures of everything — the hotel that we stayed at, the room we were in, the places where we ate or visited,” says Lisa Smith, of Belmont, North Carolina. “They help me remember what the baby did in those first few days.” If you can, book a hotel room with free Internet access, and bring a laptop to send pictures and keep in touch with family.

No Time? While it’s worth dusting off the “real” camera to take quality shots during your first days with a new little one, most cell phones’ cameras these days take perfectly respectable photos. Be sure to set it to the highest size/quality setting or turn on the HDR (high dynamic range) option.

Before You Bring Your Baby Home

As much as we’d like to head home with our baby immediately, parents adopting across state lines must wait until Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) clears. “The ICPC is a law that is invoked whenever a baby or child is adopted between two different states, and it ensures that the adoption is legal in each of the states involved,” says Swire Falker. It can take a few days to a few weeks for both states to “sign off” on the adoption. “Some states have slow ICPC offices, so check with your adoption professional as to how long you will need to reside out of state,” adds Swire Falker.

In addition to waiting for ICPC clearance, “Each state has its policy on what is an appropriate period of time to give a birth parent to consider or reconsider their decision to make an adoption plan,” says Swire Falker. “Some states provide a very short window of time for a birth parent to both consent to the adoption and to revoke that consent. Others feel that birth parents should be given a longer time, to ensure that they have made the right decision.”

You may be permitted to travel home during the relinquishment waiting period. In that situation, your adoption professional will file a document stating that you are accepting a “legal risk” placement, meaning that you understand that the birth parent could still choose to parent.

The Sibling Situation

Parents often wonder whether to bring older children on an adoption trip. Common concerns include the extra expense, the feeling that they’ll do better at home than in an unfamiliar place, and wanting to focus on the newest member of the family. But it’s hard to disagree with the AF reader who said, “It’s not just my husband and I who are bringing a baby into the family.”

Ginger, of Austin, Texas, brought along her three-year-old when she and her husband traveled to adopt their newborn. She says their preparation made all the difference. “Make sure that the child is comfortable meeting new people, and has fun things to do during the long hours at the hospital and hotel.” Parents suggest looking for a hotel with on-site entertainment, like a pool, and staying in a suite with a room where the older child can play or watch movies while the baby is sleeping.

Home Away from Home

You’ll be living in a hotel for a while — most domestic adopters who took our survey said they had to stay in their child’s birthplace for one to two weeks — so you might as well get comfy. Parents recommend booking an extended-stay, suite-style room, with a kitchenette. Hotels designed for business travelers often have free Internet access, on-site laundry facilities, and free coffee (critical for sleep-deprived parents!). If you know you’ll be staying for several days, consider booking a larger suite, with a separate bedroom and living area, suggests Michelle Ostler, of Yakima, Washington. “We should have booked a bigger room. The room feels smaller each day you wait for the interstate travel clearance,” she says.

While it’s not easy to live in a hotel for weeks, new parents say the stay has an unexpected bonus: a honeymoon with your new baby. “Since we couldn’t go anywhere with a newborn, we bonded with our daughter by spending 24/7 with her in the hotel room,” says Ann Hannah, of Morganville, New Jersey. “My husband and I took turns holding and feeding her, and we let her sleep next to us on the bed, swaddled up.” Domestic adoptive parents enjoy the laid-back time, relaxing in the hotel room together. “Plan on hanging out and cuddling,” says Michelle Oxman, of Evanston, Illinois. “We spent a lot of time on the couch, reading while the baby slept on my chest. It’s a sweet memory.”

Some parents will have family or friends in the area to stay with, which can cut costs significantly. Liz Como, of Lovell, Maine, found friends of friends, who were happy to share their guest house. “They were excited to welcome us into their home. It was Thanksgiving and we had dinner with the family — a fantastic celebration!”

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