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Your Complete Guide to Open Adoption

Open adoption is a very common option for birth mothers, as it allows them to make decisions regarding the adoptive family and future involvement in their child’s life.

Open adoption plans are very flexible and can be designed for the level of relationship that makes the birth mother most comfortable. In this guide, we will cover many aspects of open adoption that birth mothers and adoptive families will consider during adoption planning.


Your Complete Guide to Open Adoption

In adoption, every decision should be made thoughtfully after considering several possibilities. This includes decisions about pre- and post-adoption relationships. Birth mothers will determine the level of relationship they want with the adoptive family when they create their adoption plan.

The types of adoption birth mothers will explore include closed adoption, semi-closed or mediated adoption, and open adoption. Within each of these categories, there is room for customization. There are a few basic distinctions between each type of adoption:

  • Closed adoption – the birth mother and adoptive parents do not receive any identifying information about each other, and there is no contact between the parties.
  • Semi-closed or mediated adoption – the birth mother and adoptive parents do not exchange any identifying information, but they may have contact prior to the adoption. Following the placement, pictures and information about the child or the birth parents can be shared through the adoption service.
  • Open adoption – the birth parents and adoptive parents will meet during pregnancy, and the parties will have each other’s identifying information. The relationship will continue in some form after placement.

Open adoption is the second most common type of adoption, and it is still growing in popularity. Open adoption allows the child to grow up with a stronger sense of identity, and the ongoing relationship may provide a sense of peace for the birth mother. Adoptive parents often choose open adoption out of a sense of gratitude towards the birth mother, and they appreciate the opportunity it affords for having open conversations with their child about his or her adoption story.


How Does Open Adoption Work?

In an open adoption, the initial relationship is outlined in the birth mother’s adoption plan. She and her caseworker will review the different ways an open adoption can look based on the mother’s desire for boundaries, communication, and privacy. When prospective families begin pursuing adoption, they will consider the same issues. Our goal is to match birth mothers with adoptive families who are seeking a similar level of openness.

While individual adoption processes will vary, most open adoptions follow the same general steps:

  1. Both the birth mother and adoptive parents establish the kind of relationship they are seeking in an open adoption. The caseworker will help everyone understand that the relationship will change over time, but these initial guidelines will get everyone started on the same page.
  2. The birth mother will be presented with potential adoptive families whose desire for an open adoption is in alignment with her wishes. The caseworker will review any discrepancies with both parties to find areas of compromise.
  3. The birth mother and adoptive parents will be introduced over the phone or online to begin getting to know one another. Everyone will know each other’s names and some other identifiable information.
  4. The birth mother and adoptive parents will meet in person and may continue meeting throughout the pregnancy. The frequency of meetings will be at the birth mother’s discretion, and she will decide whether to involve the adoptive parents in the birth and postpartum time at the hospital.
  5. The birth mother and adoptive family will continue the relationship as outlined in the adoption plan. This relationship will evolve as both parties move forward and develop their own sense of comfort.

Most of the relationship before the baby’s birth is determined by the birth mother’s decisions. After the custody transfer to the adoptive parents, they will have more discretion in the ongoing relationship. With the right support systems and a healthy focus on what is truly best for the child, open adoption relationships are beneficial for everyone involved.


Different Levels of Openness

As previously mentioned, the level of contact in the adoption relationship will be based on the birth mother’s desires. Her caseworker will be careful to match her with a family who feels similarly about how much interaction should take place as the child grows up.

Just because an adoption is considered open does not mean that the parties will remain permanently within each other’s lives. There are different ways to have an open adoption. Some of the most common choices birth mothers make in their adoption plan include:

  • Fully open – the birth mother and adoptive parents agree to an ongoing relationship. Boundaries will be set to affirm that the birth mother is not a co-parent with the adoptive parents so that there is no confusion about who makes decisions or has authority. The birth mother may have regular visits with the child, be invited to milestone celebrations, and exchange gifts.
  • Open with limited contact – the birth mother and adoptive parents establish a relationship before birth, and they agree to stay in touch regarding the child, but the personal relationship functionally ends soon after the baby is born. The birth mother and adoptive parents will communicate directly to send letters or share pictures, but the mother does not have in-person contact with the child.
  • Semi-open or mediated – the birth mother actively participates in choosing the adoptive parents based on the criteria that is important to her. She and the adoptive parents may talk on the phone or meet in person so that she can interview them and get a sense of who will be adopting her child. No identifiable information is exchanged, and the adoptive parents will not participate in the pregnancy or birth. Once the baby is placed with the adoptive family, any future information and updates about the child will be passed through a third-party, like the agency.
  • Closed – the birth mother may choose the adoptive family based on a general set of criteria, but the two parties do not meet. Any information about any of the parties will be managed by a third party, but even that relationship typically ends once the baby is placed with the adoptive family. Closed adoption plans are created at the discretion of the birth mother – it is ultimately her choice and her boundaries are respected by all parties involved.

Children tend to do best in an adoption that offers some level of contact with their birth mother. They may be able to process what it means to be adopted and develop their own sense of identity when they see themselves in the full context of their birth and adoptive families. But there may be valid reasons to minimize contact between the parties. When those reasons exist prior to the birth, it is understandable why a birth mother might choose a closed adoption. The confidential nature of the process may be the safest option for her, her child, and the adoptive family.

Even in a closed adoption, modern record keeping provides potential for reconnection in the future. Any of the parties wishing to establish contact can get in touch with the adoption service to initiate a request for contact. There is no guarantee that the other parties will agree, but it is comforting to many birth mothers that a future connection may be possible.


Potential Benefits of Open Adoption for Children, Birth Mother, and Adoptive Parents

The multitude of adopted adults today who have never been able to find their biological parents or learn anything about the circumstances of their birth is heartbreaking. In the past, adoption was often very secretive and stigmatized. Thankfully, society has become far more practical and accepting of adoption. Today, both birth mothers and adoptive families are more likely to openly discuss their choices surrounding adoption. We believe that this healthier approach to creating families is much better for birth mothers, adoptive parents, and children.

The social acceptance of adoption in general has led to an increase in open adoption with benefits for everyone involved: 

  • Benefits to the child – Adopted children will process their adoption story many times over the course of their lives. The benefit of open adoption to children is that they will learn about their adoption at a very young age, and they will get to hear directly from all the adults who were part of the decision. Children of an open adoption often have a more secure sense of identity because they have information about who they are, where they came from, and that they have always been loved.
  • Benefits to the birth mother – Birth mothers tend to be more comfortable placing their baby for adoption when they are empowered to keep the relationship open. Whether the birth mother simply wants to have discretion in her child’s adoptive parents, or she wants continual contact, she maintains a sense of control at a very sensitive time in her life. This control can give her the confidence and peace she needs to move forward with the placement. Being able to remain in the child’s life also helps many birth mothers recover from their grief.
  • Benefits to the adoptive parents – Adoptive parents in an open adoption appreciate that the birth mother chose them for their unique qualities. Having been carefully selected, they understand that they are being entrusted with a child who is deeply loved by his or her mother. The open nature of the adoption also eases the adoptive parents’ minds in sharing the child’s birth story. They feel better prepared to answer questions and reassure their child through the uncertainties of being an adoptee.

As time goes on, the families will find the right rhythm of their relationship. They will adjust based on everyone’s needs but hopefully maintain positive contact throughout the child’s life. The benefits will vary based on individual dynamics and level of openness, but most adoption professionals believe that open adoption generally leads to the best long-term outcomes for everyone involved.


Potential Drawbacks of Open Adoption for Children, Birth Mother, and Adoptive Parents

Even the very best intentions and plans cannot always materialize into the best reality. The entire adoption process is carefully monitored by the adoption service to promote the optimal outcome, but open adoption does carry the risk of a few drawbacks.

Honest and thoughtful communication will minimize the drawbacks, but they may affect anyone in the adoptive relationship:

  • Drawbacks for the child – Despite everyone’s efforts to instill a sense of security and identity in the child, he or she may experience confusion or resentment about the adoption or the mother’s level of communication or involvement. The adoptive parents should monitor their child’s emotional well-being and make sure his or her needs are the priority in the relationship.
  • Drawbacks for the birth mother – Some birth mothers find it more difficult to reconcile their grief by remaining in contact with the adoptive family. Sometimes, the birth mother does not agree with how the adoptive family functions, or she may simply feel frustrated about how she fits into her child’s life. Birth mothers who participate in post-adoption counseling and support groups have a much easier time moving forward after adoption. When birth mothers are unable to resolve their feelings, they sometimes decide to back away from ongoing contact to concentrate on their own well-being.
  • Drawbacks for the adoptive parents – Adoptive parents may feel insecure about the relationship between their child and his or her birth mother. These feelings are natural, but they can be uncomfortable and lead to a desire to reduce contact between the parties. Sometimes, the adoptive parents recognize that the birth mother’s involvement or communication is unhealthy or confusing for the child. It is very difficult for the adoptive parents to navigate the need to limit contact between their child and the birth mother, but there are times that this is the best approach.

Adoption is beautiful, but it is never perfect. While the drawbacks to an open adoption arrangement do exist, they can be mitigated by upfront communication and a thorough education about open adoption.


Exploring Open Adoption

When birth mothers and adoptive parents begin exploring open adoption, it is a sign that they are truly looking out for the best interests of all the people involved, especially the baby. There are many decisions to be made within the open adoption plan, but the goal is to arrive at an arrangement that fosters a positive attitude towards the adoption process itself and the ongoing relationships. Reach out to Haven Adoptions to learn more about open adoptions and initiating a plan.

About the Author

Kelly Weidner is a co-founder of Haven Adoptions, Inc., and is a a well respected advocate in the adoption community. In that time, she has lead Haven Adoptions in connecting countless children with loving homes. Kelly is a member of the National Association for Professional Women, on the Executive Committee of the Our Lady of Mercy Board of Jurisdiction and lives in Ambler, PA with her three children.
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