So you’ve decided to place your baby for adoption. Now what–do you simply give him to the first family you find?

Open adoption is a legal and social process that involves more than finding a family for your baby. (Although let’s face it, that is one of the most challenging parts). And while you can start it at any time, the actual approval can’t take place until after your child is born.

Open adoption laws vary from state to state. Interstate adoptions are allowed in many jurisdictions, but are more complicated because they’re governed by the laws of your state and those of the adoptive parents’.

In a nutshell, here are the steps of the open adoption process:

1. Do your research. Find out everything you can about the process and what it means. Speak to adoption professionals. Meet birth parents. Get a sense of what your role and responsibilities are.

2. Receive pre-placement counselling. Even if you don’t think you need it, getting counselling is one of the most important parts of the adoption process. And remember, it doesn’t cost you a penny, whether or not you decide to parent your baby.

3. Fill out your medical and family history. This will help your child’s adoptive family learn about you. And it could be useful in dealing with any predisposed medical conditions your child may have in the years to come.

4. Create an adoption plan. A plan will guide you through the process before and after you baby is born. Among the issues you’ll need to work out is how much contact you want to have with the adoptive family after the adoption takes place.

5. Find a family. On your own or with an professional, come up with a list of things you’re looking for in your baby’s adoptive parents. Once you find an adopting family that meets your needs, be sure to meet them face-to-face and create a plan in the best interests of your child.

6. Give birth. Because this will be a stressful time for you, try to make as many arrangements as you can beforehand. Things to consider: Do you want the adoptive parents to be in the delivery room with you and how much time do you want to spend with your baby?

7. Place your baby with the adoptive parents. In open adoption, this happens directly at the hospital, shortly after the baby’s birth. Once again, be sure to have a plan in place to help you deal with the emotional and physical aftermath of your delivery and the placement.

8. Give your consent to your child’s adoption. Depending on the laws in your state, you have anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to relinquish your rights. Be comfortable with your decision because once it’s made there is no turning back.

9. Receive post-placement counselling. As an expectant parent, you have the option of seeing a licensed professional before the placement — and afterwards. Make sure you take advantage of it, even if you’re at peace with your decision.

10. Keep in touch with your baby and the adoptive family. Prior to the placement, put together a plan about what kind of contact you want to have with your baby’s adoptive family. Are you interested in visits? Emails? Photos? This may change over time, but try to set some boundaries early on.

Remember, these are guidelines. There’s nothing that says you can’t change them around. For instance, some expectant parents say finding a family at the outset helped put their mind to rest. As with so much about the adoption process, many of the decisions about what to do and when to do it are completely up to you.