The words “open adoption” can often strike fear in the hearts of prospective adoptive parents who are just beginning the adoption process. Since the mid-1970s, open adoptions have been widely accepted as more beneficial for all those in the adoption triad than the secret adoptions of the previous generation. According to recent research, openness appears to help adoptees understand adoption and answer their question; relieve the uncertainty of adoptive parents and help birthmothers resolve their grief.
There are several basic types of adoption in regards to communication: closed, semi-open, and open.
• A closed adoption is one where no identifying information is shared between the birth and adoptive families and there is no communication. Occasionally, the birthmother selects the adoptive family, but the two do not meet and there is no agreement for any form of ongoing communication over the course of the child’s life.
• A semi-open adoption is one where two families usually meet and agree to communicate going forward. All communication takes place through an agency or attorney and is on first name basis only. Typically adoptive parents send letters and photos the first few months after the child’s placement and then annually around the child’s birthday.
• An open adoption is one where there is a more open sharing of information and a desire by both families to maintain communication and a relationship. Names and identifying information are often exchanged and there is an initial mutual desire to have ongoing and direct communication between the families and the child over the course of the child’s life.
Most open adoptions lie somewhere in the middle of spectrum, exchanging letters, pictures, phone calls, and having face-to-face meetings once or twice a year. Communication in adoption, as in all relationships, may change over time, for example a birth mother who initially wanted a closed relationship may change her mind later and ask the adoptive family for communication or an adoptive family that starts out with a semi-open relationship may want to open it further.
Here are some important things to remember as you embark on your open adoption journey:
• Open adoption eliminates the factors that may have caused adoptees to focus on a lack of answers surrounding their life. Since the open lines of communication are already established, there is no need to search for clues or answers to their questions.
• Being open about your child’s adoption and keeping connected with their birth family sends a powerful message to your child about how you view their adoption and the way they came to be part of your family.
• Birth families do not want to co-parent your child. They cannot reclaim your child after adoption. Openness helps them to be able to move forward with their lives and provides the extra blessing of knowing the child they brought into the world is loved, happy and safe.
• The continued communication with your child’s birth family is you responsibility when your child is young however as your child grows up, they will be able to become more active in the communication process and developing their own relationship with their birthparents.
• Maintaining honesty in your open adoption is also very important. You don’t want to set a level of open adoption that you aren’t comfortable with and promise things that you cannot follow through with.
Most importantly, biological and adoptive parents must remember that open adoption is about meeting the needs of children, not adults. Open adoption has proven to have amazing benefits for adoptees as well as for adoptive parents and birth parents too. Many adoptive parents say they were able to work through their fear of openness through education about its benefits. We would love to hear your open adoption fears, experiences and/or advice!