When making the decision to adopt, one factor to consider is open adoption vs. closed adoption. This is especially true when pursuing domestic adoption. So, what exactly is the difference and how do you decide what’s right for you and your family?
An open adoption involves some degree of a relationship between the adoptive family and birth family. This may just be with the birth mom or could include birth dad or, even extended family. Some identifiable information such as names may be shared. It’s up to you or the agency you work with to help establish these boundaries in the beginning based on everyone’s preferences. Many times what is decided upon will be put into writing.
Identifiable information may include first and last names, address, phone number, email address and more. Or, it could be as simple as first names and a private email address you set up just for you and the birth parents. Contact may include emails, text messaging, visits, etc.
Some adoptions are more open than others or become more open as the relationship builds. This can include visits either at the agency office (if using an agency), a neutral location such as a park or even your home.
Prior to the 1980s, open adoption was much less common. It may be that this was before the impact to birthparents and adoptees was really understood. In addition, there was a fear that many associated with open adoption. However over the last couple of decades, open adoption has become much more popular, and birth mothers overall are more interested in this option. They will often request an adoptive family that is comfortable with that dynamic. The type of contact might be limited, but often some level of contact is desired. It is very important to know that things may change. A birth parent may decide it’s too hard and stop communicating, or other factors may come into play. It’s a very hard decision that she is making and people cope in different ways.
In a closed adoption, little or no identifying information is exchanged. Some birth parents may not even want to meet the adoptive parents. Many times, adopted children want to learn about their birth family later on and a closed adoption can make that more difficult.
It seems to be, in general, that closed adoptions present more negatives. A good agency should encourage the birth mother to request the amount of contact she truly desires. As an advocate for her, they must consider her best interest as well as the child’s. Once these preferences have been defined, the agency works to match adoptive families and birth parents that desire the same level of communication. This is often accomplished by allowing the birth mother/parents to look through hopeful adoptive parents profile books who have agreed to the level of communication she hopes to have.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Open and Closed Adoption.
Advantages of Open Adoption
- Increased ability to deal with grief and loss.
- Comfort in knowing how the child is doing.
- A sense of control over decision-making in placement since they get to meet and ultimately decide ob adoptive parents.
- Potential for more involvement in the child’s life.
- Potential to develop a healthy relationship with the child as they grow.
- May make the decision to place the child for adoption easier.
- Ability to pray for birth parents by name with your children.
- Potential for relationship with the birth family.
- More understanding of your child’s history.
- Increased empathy for birth parents.
- Easier access to medical information/records.
- Direct access to birth parents and history.
- The need to search for birth parents is eliminated.
- Identity questions are more easily answered such as who do I look like? Or, why was I placed?
- May ease feelings of abandonment since the birth parent is still reachable.
- Lessening of fantasies: birth parents are “real.”
- Increased circle of supportive adults.
- Increased likelihood of biological family relationships.
- In transracial adoption, exposure to racial and ethnic heritage.
Disadvantages of Open Adoption
- Potential disappointment if adoptive family cannot meet all expectations or needs.
- Potential pressure: accept openness or no child.
- Potential difficulty with emotionally disturbed birth parents.
- Potential feelings of rejection if contact stops.
- Difficulty explaining the relationship to peers.
- Potential for playing families against each other.
Advantages of Closed Adoption
- Some feel this provides a sense of closure and ability to move on with life.
- No danger of birth parent interference.
- Protection from unstable or emotionally disturbed birth parents.
Disadvantages of Closed Adoption
- Less grief resolution due to lack of information about the child’s well-being.
- Less empathy for birth parents.
- No access to additional medical information about birth family.
- Less control: agency may control information.
- Possible adolescent identity confusion (unable to compare physical and emotional traits to their birth families).
- Limited access to information that others take for granted.
- Potential preoccupation with adoption issues because so much is unknown.
Open and closed adoptions are very different. Although there are some advantages and disadvantages to each type, open adoption has gained a lot of momentum in recent years and it seems to be the healthier option when given the choice. However, it’s important that you decide what your comfort level of contact is. This may grow over time, but the level of openness can vary greatly.
A peek into our open adoption arrangement.
When we first started pursuing adoption, we thought we were only interested in closed adoption. Honestly, the idea of an open adoption was extremely uncomfortable and scary to us at the time. However, our agency informed us that more and more adoptions were at least “semi-open” and that many birth parents specifically request adoptive parents that are open to some level of contact.
Many times, birth parents just want to know the child is doing well and will want the reassurance of that throughout the child’s life. When you really think about the fact that a birth parent who chooses to place their child for adoption is making the hardest decision they will probably ever make, you can understand that they want this small return.
After we gave it a lot of thought, we decided it might not be a bad idea to change our preferences to open if we could help decide how much openness we were OK with. We defined aspects we were comfortable with such as exchanging first names and setting up a private email account where we could send updates regularly. Some things we were not comfortable with included exchanging personal information such as last names and addresses. (Although now with our second (non-agency) adoption, that information was shared, and it no longer bothers us.)
Abigail will be 2 years old in a few months and Bennett is 3 months old. Now that we have the relationship with the birth mom that we do, we really can’t imagine it being any other way. It’s proven to be a great comfort and advantage. In addition, she would never have reached out to us and asked us to adopt again if she hadn’t been comfortable with us and had a way to contact us directly. I truly believe that because of our willingness to have an open adoption, we have our son.
We can’t predict what the future will bring and whether the contact will remain steady. Much of that depends on her. Many times, birthparents may end up distancing themselves if it gets too hard or life gets in the way. But, we want our children to know their whole story. At this time, we have an open invitation for her to let us know if she’d like to get together at least twice a year. In addition, we send regular updates to her via email that include pictures.
We believe the healthiest decision for our children is that they know their whole story as much as possible. This will help them to be able to put the puzzle pieces together. We will do what we can to make that possible. As they get older, it will ultimately be up to them to decide if they want to have a relationship with their biological family, assuming the family is then open to that. In the meantime, we will speak to our children about her in love, have occasional visits if she wants, and make sure they know she made the hardest decision of her life out of love.
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For some great information on open adoption, check out these books.