What is open adoption?
In researching modern-day adoptions, the terms you will likely hear often are open and closed adoptions but what are the facts of open adoption? Closed adoptions are less common these days, but some women choose this option based on the time in their life, for the safety of themselves or their child, or based on the way the baby may have been conceived. Other times, a woman might feel that a closed adoption is best for her in the healing process or future. An open or semi-open adoption happens when a woman placing her child for adoption wants an active role in the life of her child and the adoptive family. As we will discuss, there are various ways a birth mother and adoptive family can create a beautiful and beneficial open adoption.
The history of open adoption has evolved.
You may hear individuals adopted in the 1940s-1970s say that they had no idea who their birth family was. They can be surprised to hear about how open adoptions work today. This might be because adoptions have not always been as open as they are today. The idea of having an open adoption was not one people were comfortable with decades ago. Starting in the 1930s, adoption was seen as something that should be kept secret from friends and family. Birth mothers were often sent to stay elsewhere so that family and friends did not know about the pregnancy.
More times than not in adoption, the baby was ushered out of the room immediately following delivery so that the baby did not spend any time with his or her mother at the hospital. By the 1980s, experts in adoption and women’s studies realized that women experienced depression and guilt over placing a baby for adoption because they were led to believe it was something to be embarrassed about. Women who placed babies for adoption began sharing their stories with others. They started celebrating that they were able to help those who could not have children start their own family.
Birth mothers in an open adoption can select their adoptive family.
Regardless of if you are working with an agency, attorney, or using social media to help you with your adoption plan, you can select an adoptive family for your child. Families post online profiles and agencies or attorneys have profile books that families provide to help you find the perfect adoptive family. Within these profiles, whether online or in physical books, families open up their homes and hearts to prospective birth mothers by sharing what is important to them. Most profiles show pictures of the couple and any children they might have as well as other family members and close friends. Inside a profile, you will find photos of homes, pets, trips, and things the couple or family do together. Often couples will make lists of their favorite things about one another or simply list their favorite movies, foods, and activities.
With each profile, find things that you have in common with these families. See if you could picture your child growing up in this home with this adoptive couple. Often you will find yourself making a list of things you think you want in an adoptive family and a profile you look at will match it perfectly. At other times you might feel drawn to a family profile you did not expect. You may fall in love with the first profile you look at, but take the time to look at each family you are presented with. Oftentimes, you will return to the one that first caught your eye, but you could find yourself drawn toward another family that did not check all the boxes you initially thought were exactly what you were looking for.
Once you select a profile you connect with, you will most likely set up a phone call or meeting with the family to get to know them better. Before your first official phone call or visit, make a list of questions you want to ask the family and other details you want to know; if they’re not written down, you may forget them in the excitement of the meeting. Remember, you may connect with a family through a book and then meet them and realize they’re not the perfect fit.
It is okay to let your adoption professional know that you would like to meet another family, if possible. Most women share that they got that feeling when they found the right adoptive family. An adoptive family will feel right when it is the perfect match for you and your situation.
Your child’s adoption story is a gift.
As previously mentioned, years ago, adoptions were not as open as they are today. Often, you will speak with people who were adopted thirty to forty years ago and they do not know much, if anything, about their birth parents and even fewer details about where they came from. One of the best things you can do for your child is to keep a journal of your pregnancy that can be passed on to the adoptive family. Your words will mean the world to your child as they grow up. Know that every detail you share will help him or her feel more secure in how they came to be.
In the journal, handwritten or otherwise, feel free to share what you want your child to know: stories of your childhood and family, your favorite things, pregnancy milestones, and also your hopes and dreams for them. You might want to share about how you met his or her birth father, whether he is a part of the open adoption process or not. You may not want to share about your relationship with the birth father if it’s too painful and that’s okay.
In this situation, you can share your words in a way that a child can understand so that they know that although a birth father was not involved in the story you are telling them, your road to adoption was one you want them to remember. As your child grows, they will most likely have questions for you, whether it is about medical issues, quirks they have, foods they do not like, or simply the way their hair does not cooperate with them sometimes.
The best part about open adoption is that if you have some kind of relationship with your adoptive family, your child will be able to ask those questions, no matter how big or small, and will not grow up wondering who they are or where they came from. Some things you want to put in the journal might sound silly or unimportant to you but to your child, every word written fills in their story’s gaps.
Memories are made in the hospital.
When discussing different open adoption facts, one of the biggest and most important steps involves those taken at the hospital. If you do not have a scheduled c-section, you may be at the hospital in labor for several days. During this time, you may have decided that you want a friend or family member with you at the hospital. Some women decide that they would like for the adoptive parents to have a front-row seat in the delivery. Many women choose to have the adoptive family somewhere in the hospital, whether in the waiting room in the women’s center or your room keeping you company during labor.
Like other decisions during your pregnancy, this decision is completely up to you and may be altered at any point. Most women come up with a hospital adoption plan that is shared with the family and the hospital where she will deliver the baby. This plan is simply a roadmap of what you think will work best for your delivery.
In this plan, women share how much and how they want to spend time with the baby and adoptive family at the hospital. Everyone involved must remember that these plans can change at any point, but only at the birth mother’s request. For example, you may have decided that you do not want to have the baby in the room with you overnight. However, after the baby is born you realize that you need that time before you leave the hospital.
If you have a comfortable relationship with the adoptive family, letting them know that this is something you need will allow them to understand the emotions you are dealing with. It will help them facilitate the steps you need to take to help you with your grief. During the hospital time, although emotional and the biggest step in the process, adoptive families and birth parents can get to know one another better through the labor process. While there, you can play cards or watch television together, share a meal after delivery or stories during downtime, and watch the other spend time with the baby. Families and birth mothers often share that they learned more about one another at the hospital than they could have imagined. They tend to enjoy those quiet moments together.
Having an open adoption does not mean you will not experience grief.
While discussing open adoption facts, you will learn that there are so many amazing benefits to guide you through your healing process as well as help your child feel secure in their adoption story. Having a strong relationship with the adoptive family will reassure you that who you are placing your child with is the best one for you at this time in your life. However, all women will deal with some type of grief and loss, regardless of how open their adoption is. It is important that you receive proper counseling and guidance before and after placing your child for adoption. Stay on top of your emotions as you get closer to the hospital experience.
Some women may find that they do not connect with their pregnancy as a way of dealing with the process of adoption. However, in doing this, she may be hit with a wave of grief at a time she is not expecting, sometimes months and even years after the placement occurs. She may be getting updates about her child and even celebrating milestones with her child when the grief hits.
Always remember that there is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed about placing your baby for adoption even if you are in the best open adoption situation you could imagine. When those moments hit, process them, take time to understand them, and seek help if needed. It is okay to share with an adoptive family if you need to take time to yourself following placement. The family you have built a relationship with will understand and respect you for letting them know how you are feeling and will be there to support you through those emotions.
Future contact can evolve but should be something all are comfortable with.
Before your child is born, it is important to decide what type of future contact you would like to have with the adoptive family you have chosen to take the adoption journey with. If you look at past adoptions, there were limited ways to communicate, but in our current world, ways to keep in touch are expanding daily. Some options include text messages, phone calls, video chats, emails, letters, social media sites, and in-person visits. Make sure that you talk with an adoptive family about the type of contact you want to have at one of the first meetings so that you know you are all on the same page.
If you want in-person visits around special days and the family you are talking to is not comfortable with this, they are not the family for you. If you think you want regular updates, it is good to put that in writing. In most states, continuing contact is not legally binding, but rather a moral agreement. Making a moral agreement with a family in writing is always a good idea; you can make sure you all see the future relationship in the same manner.
In saying this, it is important to remember that visits with an adoptive family should only be made if things are safe and a positive experience for the child. If for some reason a birth mother is not in a good space mentally or using drugs or alcohol to a point that a family is not comfortable with a visit, they have every right to say no. Always remember that you want to present your best self to your child. This does not mean that you have to have every hair in place or wear the most expensive clothes. This just means that you want to be mentally and physically available to make every visit a positive one for everyone involved in the adoption process.
One birth mother’s journey:
Audrey was a 20-year-old college student when she discovered she was pregnant. After working with an adoption specialist, Audrey began her journey with an adoptive family through in-person visits and many text messages and phone calls over the months leading up to the birth of her son. Audrey’s adoptive family was at the hospital with her when she gave birth. She was able to hand her son from her own hands into the hands of his adoptive mother following delivery.
Through open adoption, Audrey has continued a relationship with her son’s adoptive family. She recently celebrated with him at his first birthday party. In asking Audrey about her experience with adoption, she shared, “God gave me a life inside of me which gave me my life back. Some days are hard, but I do not regret my decision . . . This journey has taught me about strength and sacrifice. Love makes a family and it’s the truest thing I know.”