Early in the adoption process, both birth and adoptive parents need to ask themselves: What level of openness do I want for my adoption? This can be a difficult answer to come to since it involves factors that are still unknown. You know little about the relationship you’re agreeing to. You don’t yet know the names, faces, challenges and blessings that could come along with this connection. Learning more about open adoptions is a great first step.
What is openness in an adoption?
Openness in adoption can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Generally speaking, there are closed, semi-open and open adoptions. Closed adoptions are ones where no information is known or exchanged between the adoptive and birth families. Semi-open means some information is known and the birth parents may select the adoptive parents. They may meet once or a couple of times. Updates on the adopted child may be shared in a non-identifying manner – through services like Child Connect, via adoption agency or a non-identifying email address. Open adoptions are when more information is exchanged, visits might occur after placement, phone calls, texting, social media connections – just how it sounds, an open relationship.
Benefits of an open adoption
There’s a reason why adoptions have become more and more open in recent adoption history. Open adoptions benefit the adoptee who may wonder about their biological identity. Openness offers additional information about health history and understanding regarding the reasons birth parents chose adoption. Birth parents are able to have the comfort of seeing their child grow and thrive. Adoptive parents have an additional resource to support their child with questions they might have about their identity and birth story. Overall, open adoption offers less uncertainty for all members of the adoption triad.
There’s an important consideration to be made about the openness label you choose. You may not fit perfectly into a box. We’ve worked with birth mothers who were adamant that they choose a family and even meet them, but did not want to make any further commitment to receive updates or have further contact. That’s OK! Some adoptive parents are completely fine texting, e-mailing and having phone calls but are not comfortable having visits after placement. Guess what? That’s OK, too.
This is where communication with your agency is so important. Your expectations should be clearly communicated so the right match can be made between birth and adoptive parents. It’s even ok to say: “I might be OK with visits, but I’d like to discuss circumstances before a commitment is made.” Or as a birth parent: “I think I want visits but I have no idea how I will feel when the time comes. I want to take things a step at a time.” This honest communication with your agency and other members of the adoption triad is paramount in a healthy adoption.
We all set boundaries in our relationships. You may have told your sister that she can’t call you before 9am on Saturdays. Or, your partner may know not to comment on your unique affinity for crazy patterned socks. We all need to have limits in our life. Although open adoption deals with bigger, more emotional issues – the concept of making boundaries is the same.
We were working with a birth mother recently who loved the adoptive parents she chose. She met them prior to birth and it was a love fest. She loved that the adoptive father was in the military just like her dad. She loved that the adoptive mother loved to scrapbook just like her. She felt the connection was meant to be and they planned to have contact after delivery. The hospital experience was difficult and beautiful for both the birth mother and the adoptive parents. When the birth mother was home, as planned she received frequent contact from adoptive parents. Through processing in counseling, she felt like the frequent contact wasn’t helping her process her grief. She asked the adoptive parents to limit contact to monthly for a while, as she healed. This was an important boundary that had to be made for her wellbeing and for the relationship to be healthy for all.
All relationships need time to grow. This is especially true in adoption, even when the most open adoption is desired. Be honest about how you hope the relationship will grow, so that all have appropriate expectations but be open to what will naturally occur. Your adoption might end up being more open than you initially thought you’d be comfortable with. Or, you might find less openness is healthiest for all. Birth and adoptive parents are unique people who come together to bring and nurture life in this world. Isn’t that who is the most important in this triad? The adoptee needs to see healthy relationships, whatever that looks like in your adoption story.