If you know you would make a wonderful mom to some child who desperately needs one, but you can’t have a baby of your own, adoption could make a great deal of sense. But what are the choices, processes and potential frustrations you may encounter along the way? Let’s take a look at what women want to know about this important but complex topic:

What is closed adoption?

Closed or “secret” adoption is the traditional form in which the birthmother remains anonymous both to the adoptive mother and to the baby — the agency does all the matching. This type of adoption has the advantage of reducing the perceived ambiguity of the child’s (and parent’s) status, and it can also protect the child in cases where the previous environment was dangerous or unstable.

What is open adoption?

Open adoption allows for interaction between the birthmother and the adoptive family. The degree of openness is up to both parties and may include regular correspondence, phone calls, visits, or it may be limited to the birthmother choosing the adoptive family. This can open the door to ambiguous emotions and possible drama down the line, but it also helps everyone involved feel more at ease with the process. In addition, open adoption makes it easier for adopted children to grasp what has happened and why they may look different from the rest of the family.

How do I apply to become an adoptive mother?

Once you know which type of adoption you want to pursue, shop around for an agency that makes you feel confident, meets your financial needs and offers a philosophy toward the process that agrees with you. As you go through these initial consultations, collect application forms from each. Fill out the form for the agency you’ve finally decided on and return it along with any required fees to start the process.

My application for adoption was accepted. What comes next?

Next comes the home study. This is a series of steps, varying somewhat from agency to agency, that help to satisfy the agency (and the state) that you and your home environment are up to the task of welcoming a new family member. You may receive visits from a social worker and/or take classes or orientation sessions alongside other hopefuls. You’ll also undergo background checks, fingerprinting and a physical evaluation. As involved as it may seem, the home study helps ensure that your family life will be healthy and happy — and who doesn’t want that for their little ones?

How long is the waiting period?

Adoption agency waiting periods can easily be three years or longer, especially when you are using a larger agency processing scores of adoptions at a time. However, this process can be shortened significantly by choosing a smaller “boutique” firm that works closely with a small number of adoptive parents and birthmothers. You may also be able to shorten the waiting period, even at a larger agency, if you are open-minded about the child’s race and nationality, since it gives you that many more prospective matches. All the interviewing, checking, testing and waiting can cause frustration and stress, but when you finally welcome that new face to your home, you’ll doubtless find that it was all more than worthwhile. So have patience with the process — and congratulations in advance