Did you know that over 85% of adoptions in the United States are semi or completely open? This means that in all likelihood at some point during your adoption journey, you will be communicating directly with an expectant mother. It may be a single meeting as you both confirm your desire to move forward with the adoption plan. Or it may be the beginning of a lifetime relationship for your families. This can be a daunting and even threatening concept for many adoptive parents. In this article, we’ll describe the ins and outs of open adoption so that you can turn your hesitation and fear into a positive, healthy understanding and acceptance.
What Exactly is Open Adoption?
Open adoption refers to communication between birthparents and adoptive parents. If you aren’t already aware, there has been a seismic shift in the adoption world towards openness. Why the shift? So that children know where they came from, why they look like they do, and that they were not rejected but rather adopted out of a selfless and well-intentioned decision by their birthmother. An increase in trans-racial adoptions has also contributed to more openness. As the number of trans-racial adoptions increases, adoption has become more obvious and less secretive.
Openness to any degree helps minimize the struggles of identity and origin that so often mark the lives of children in closed adoptions.
You might feel threatened by the mere thought of open adoption. But keep in mind this does not indicate a desire on behalf of the birthmother to co-parent. Instead this openness will help her find peace and confidence about her decision so that she can move forward with her life. It will open the door for her to love the child that she places for adoption, even if she will not be a part of the child’s forever family. Other benefits include the sharing of critical medical history (where it is available) and the potential for a larger, extended family for the adopted child.
Three Levels of Openness
There are three common scenarios that define adoption relationships – open, semi- open, and closed.
In an open adoption, the birth family typically selects the adoptive family and they exchange identifying information. They often meet prior to placement and agree on minimal levels of post-placement communication. In open adoption arrangements, communication usually occurs directly between the two families.
Families may still meet pre-placement, making initial agreements for post-placement communications. But only non-identifying information is exchanged. For example, only first names and states of residence. No last names, phone numbers, or addresses. Additionally, initial communication takes place through a third party, such as an attorney or agency.
Families do not meet each other and there is no initial communication between them and no plan to communicate with the child in the future.
For any type of adoption communication plan, agreements may or may not be in writing and, depending upon which state laws apply, may or may not be enforceable.
Choosing the Right Type of Adoption
Each adoption situation presents a unique set of circumstances that will help determine if you prefer a closed, semi-open, or open relationship. Likewise, birthmothers have different reasons for deciding which type of relationship will be best for them. For example, a birthmother may want the ability to select the adoptive parents of her baby so that she has a part in her child’s destiny. But she may not want to continue contact after placement. Adoptive parents also have the ability to determine what will work best for them and their child. For example, if you want to know the child’s birthmother and receive ongoing information about the child’s birth family but do not wish to share personal details about your life, you would opt for a semi-open relationship.
Most adoptions land somewhere in the open range in the beginning. But adoption relationships, like other relationships in your life, evolve. Your initial communication agreement may be just that - a starting point.
It is important to know that for many birth parents, they choose open adoption so they can have a sense of control of their child’s destiny by selecting the parents. But not all birth parents desire ongoing communication. No two adoptions are alike. So you will only know the specific desires of your child’s birth mother once you are presented with a potential situation.
Openness tends to evolve or devolve over the course of the child’s life. Be prepared to start your relationship slowly and give each other time to build trust and caring over time.