Open adoption generally refers to a relationship between an adoptive family and birth parents in which identifying information is shared and an adoption professional isn’t needed to facilitate contact.
Open adoption is the second most common type of adoption relationship, behind mediated adoption. This type of adoption relationship is recommended for birth parents and adoptive families who want to get to know each other personally before the adoption and continue their relationship after the adoption.
How Does Open Adoption Work?
All infant adoptions begin with a woman who chooses to place her child for adoption. However, for many women to reach this decision, they have to know that they will be able to maintain a relationship with the family and her child.
This is why open adoptions have become increasingly popular over the past several decades.
Here is how open adoption works:
1. Finding an Open Adoption Opportunity
A birth mother begins thinking about her “adoption plan,” usually with the assistance of an adoption professional and sometimes a friend or family member, and decides she wants to pursue an open adoption with the adoptive family she ultimately chooses.
An adoptive family decides they too want to pursue an open adoption with the birth parents because of the many benefits of open adoption.
The two parties then find each other either independently or through an adoption professional and decide to pursue the same open adoption plan together, including the types and amount of contact they are interested in sharing.
2. Sharing Pre-Placement Contact in an Open Adoption
If the birth mother and adoptive family were matched through an adoption professional, a social worker will likely introduce both parties to one another and set up a conference call or meeting, depending on how quickly both parties want the openness in their relationship to occur.
If they find each other independently, they will likely begin meetings or phone calls with each other immediately. Emails, phone calls and even pre-placement visits are all common during this stage of the open adoption process. As the birth mother’s due date draws closer, contact may increase or decrease – it all depends on how much contact she wants to engage in during this time.
3. Interacting at the Hospital in an Open Adoption
The birth mother will likely have formed an “adoption hospital plan” with the help of her social worker that tells the family and the hospital staff her wishes during labor and delivery.
In an open adoption, it is likely the birth mother will want the adoptive family to be a part of most of the events at the hospital. This may include being in the delivery room, being the first person to hold the baby, and more. Again, it all depends on what the birth mother feels is right in her situation.
4. Sharing Post-Placement Contact in an Open Adoption
Once placement of the baby occurs, it is common for the first couple of weeks or months to be limited on contact. It is an emotional time for everyone involved, and sometimes both parties need a little time before they reengage. This is one reason why emails are so popular, as they are a simple and convenient way of checking in with one another.
Over the following months, contact will begin to increase, including more emails, pictures and perhaps even phone calls. Then at some point their first post-placement visit will occur, perhaps around a holiday or the child’s first birthday.
The open adoption process is never truly complete, just as relationships also grow and change over time. While fully open adoptions like this one are not usually the norm, the ones who do participate in these relationships receive many invaluable benefits, as well as more family members!
However, open adoptions are not for everyone. Both prospective birth parents and adoptive families should understand how open adoption works before committing to one. Continue reading the following to learn more about the pros and cons of open adoption:
Open Adoption Pros and Cons
Nearly all adoption professionals agree that the more openness present in an adoption, the better for all parties involved.
While fully open adoptions are not for everyone, these relationships do offer both birth parents and adoptive families the most benefits. However, there are also some disadvantages than keep people away from pursuing open adoption. Here are the pros and cons of open adoptions for all parties involved:
Pros of Open Adoption
For some birth mothers, they are only able to pursue an adoption plan if they can maintain a relationship with their child. Open adoption allows them this opportunity. However they envision their future relationship with their child can become a reality simply by selecting a family open to that amount of contact.
By choosing a fully open adoption, a birth mother can have a relationship with her child, without the mediation of an adoption professional, but still under the guidelines agreed to before the match with the family was made. Her relationship with the adoptive family can also grow naturally, and can increase or decrease in contact over the years, based on her comfort level.
Some adoptive families believe that open adoption is much more of an advantage for the birth parents and wonder, “What benefits do we get out of open adoption?” Well, a lot actually!
Families accepting of open adoption usually will have an easier time finding an adoption situation because they will be eligible for women seeking an open adoption. Conversely, families only interested in a closed adoption will only be matched with birth mothers who are also seeking a closed adoption.
Many adoption professionals have seen a trend that open adoption relationships have a better chance of ending in a successful adoption than those in a closed adoption. The reason for this could be because a birth mother who chooses a closed adoption never truly gets to know the adoptive family, cannot envision what life would be like being raised in their family, and then decides not to go through with it. Instead, a birth mother that gets to know the adoptive family, can see her child growing up in their home, and can maintain a relationship with them, has a greater chance of committing to her adoption plan.
Finally, something that is commonly overlooked is the fact that open adoption allows the adoptive family to stay current on the birth mother’s and her family’s medical histories. For example, after the adoption the birth mother finds out she has a heart condition – the same heart condition her mother has. This is valuable information for the family to know about their daughter, who may also be susceptible to the same heart condition, and they can prepare accordingly.
In the past, adopted children who didn’t know their birth parents felt a huge piece of themselves missing, especially when they got older. They would often wonder what their birth parents looked like, what their laughs sounded like, what things they were good at, and more.
As open adoption has become more prevalent over the years, more and more children either have some sort of relationship with their birth parents or know enough about them to fill that missing void in their lives. However, in closed adoptions, these voids remain.
So this is one of the biggest benefits of all of open adoption, as it gives adopted children answers to some of the tough questions they otherwise would never have known, such as “Why was I placed for adoption?” and “Do my birth parents love me?”
Open adoption allows a child to understand his or her adoption story, birth parents’ reasons for choosing adoption, cultural background, and much more than only an adopted child can truly explain.
Cons of Open Adoption
Some women decide to pursue an open adoption because they believe having this amount of contact will make dealing with the grief and loss easier. Sometimes, this isn’t always the case, as having contact with the child can actually make moving on more difficult.
Furthermore, in most states, post-adoption contact is not legally guaranteed, as most states have not passed post-adoption agreement laws for newborn adoptions. It is up to the birth mother to pursue an adoption with a family she feels will uphold their end of the contact promised to her, and it is up to the adoption professional to ensure the family keeps agreement.
Most adoptive families are aware at how an open adoption can improve their wait times, their likelihood of the adoption being successful, and more. However, at the end of the day, some adoptive families are just not comfortable with any feeling of “co-parenting.”
While open adoption is never co-parenting, those feelings can still occur during the periodic phone calls or visits while watching their child interact with his or her birth parents.
Also, while rare, some birth mothers may request more contact than what was originally agreed upon. If the adoptive parents are not ready to participate in more contact, they may be put in the uncomfortable position of denying her request.
Without properly explaining adoption to the child at an early age, and making sure he or she understands the situation, the appearance of his or her birth mother could result in confusion of who his or her “real” parents are.
For an open adoption to work, the adoptive family must educate themselves on how best to teach their child about his or her adoption.
Furthermore, at some age, a child may decide he isn’t interested in seeing his birth parents any more, again putting the adoptive family in an uncomfortable position. In these scenarios, moving their relationship toward a semi-open adoption would be recommended.
Final Thoughts on Open Adoption
Open adoption is a unique adoption relationship that truly has countless benefits; however, not everyone is comfortable with an open adoption. Before deciding whether open adoption is right for you, speak with your adoption professional to learn more about what open adoption looks like and whether it is right for you and your family or baby.