When going through the adoption process, deciding what type of adoption you want to have can be a crucial part of it. Choosing between an open, closed, or semi-open adoption will probably have an impact on how you communicate as a parent with the respective family. It may also determine the level of interaction a child will have with their biological parents and other members of their family.
Every adoption situation can be different; hence, no type will probably be the same either. It can be important to keep this in mind, especially if you know other people who have been through the adoption process. Whether you are a potential adoptive parent or an expectant parent, recognizing the diversity of the adoption experience is a necessary thing to do.
Let’s go through a few important things that you’ll probably need to know about considering a semi-open adoption for your family.
What is a Semi-Open Adoption?
Semi-open adoptions can be one of the most common types of adoption. Traditional definitions claim that they are a “combination between a traditional closed adoption and an open adoption.” It can be very close to an open adoption, but usually without visitations. The communication between families can take place in a variety of different ways. Some examples are through social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, email, phone, or old-fashioned letter writing/mail. The consistency of the communication may vary and usually takes place through an adoption agency. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, only minimal contact occurs and things such as last names, addresses, or other identifying information may not be shared.
If you are an expectant parent thinking about choosing this type of adoption, consulting with the adoption agency you are working with may need to be the first step. A large reason why many expectant parents choose a semi-open adoption is to stay in contact with the adoptive family and their child as they grow. They want their child to know about them and to be able to create a bond with them, even if they can’t see them in person. There is, however, an emphasis placed on privacy and retaining control over what information is shared with who and when.
Because of this, seeking out help when making the decision of whether to choose this type of adoption is highly recommended. Adoption professionals at adoption agencies, adoption lawyers, social workers, and mental health professionals are people who are usually specifically trained to help expectant and potential adoptive parents decide what is best for the child and their family.
Overall, a semi-open adoption can be a good blend maintaining privacy on both sides of the family, as well as opening the door for communication between the parents.
The Future of a Semi-Open Adoption
An important thing to remember is that although a semi-open adoption does not incorporate visitation, it usually does not mean that the birth family and adoptee cannot meet in the future. Most times, when the adoptee is of age or expresses a desire to meet their birth family, they can seek them out and attempt to initiate a reunion.
Reunions, regardless of when they occur during an adoptee’s life, can be a complex thing. Fear of rejection, not fitting in, or simply seeing someone who looks like you for the first time are all natural feelings that can be present; these are also feelings that can happen in a semi-open adoption. As a child grows, it can be normal for them to become curious about their biological family. The more information they are provided with at a time when they can understand the gravity of their life situation, the less room their brain has for things that could negatively affect them during their childhood.
Additionally, if the families were to decide that at any point they want more or less communication, this is possible in most circumstances. The flexibility that this type of adoption allows can be a benefit to most families. This, however, is something that may need to be thought out while making an adoption plan. It can be important to keep in mind that every adoption experience looks different for every family, so there is no “cookie-cutter” version of a semi-open adoption.
Other Types of Adoptions and the History Behind Them
There are two other types of adoptions that you can have: closed or open.
In a closed adoption, the biological family does not have any contact with the child or adoptive family (and vice versa) once the adoption is finalized. The records from all the adoption proceedings are sealed and cannot be accessed unless a court unseals them. When the adoptee is of age (18 years old in the U.S.), contact can happen if any party wants to initiate that. There are registries sponsored by local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as adoption agencies and nonprofits, that birth family members and adoptees can put their information into in hopes of finding one another.
Traditionally, most adoptions were closed in order to protect the privacy of the birth mother. From the early 20th century up until very recently, there has been a stigma against placing a child for adoption – especially for young, single, or unwed mothers. It was extremely uncommon for mothers or families to have contact with their child once the adoption was finalized. In some cases, especially during the Baby Scoop Era, many women were coerced into placing their child for adoption or sent to “pregnancy homes” until they gave birth. It was an era shrouded in secrecy and shame. While this practice is mostly absent in today’s society, there are some cases of closed adoption where the expectant parent will not have a part in the selection process of the adoptive family, or vice versa; this practice can be quite uncommon now. Most closed adoptions are in the case of a child being adopted internationally or in extreme circumstances. Or, a birth parent might choose a closed adoption for a variety of different reasons.
The alternative, an open adoption, is virtually the opposite. Here, there is usually regular communication between the birth and adoptive families. Birth parents, and sometimes other family members, can have regular communication and potentially visits with each other and the child. Terms on the type of contact and the frequency of such is usually negotiated and decided prior to the finalization of the adoption, as this can be an important factor for families during the selection process. This type of adoption can be much more common now than in the past and is usually requested by most parties involved in the adoption process.
While the concept of an open adoption (or a semi-open one) can seem intimidating, doing as much research as possible can help you make an informed decision about what you want your adoption experience to look like.
In addition to an adoption being closed or open, they can also be nuanced in other ways:
- Transracial/transcultural adoption is where an individual of one ethnicity or culture adopts a child from another ethnicity of culture. For example, I am biracial (Black and white) and was adopted by a white family. Therefore, I am a transracial adoptee.
- International adoption is where a child from one country is adopted by a family in another country. This type of adoption used to be more common in the United States.
- Foster care adoption is where a child is adopted out of the foster care system. While many private adoptions are of children who are very young or newborn, children of all ages are adopted through the foster care system.
Now that we’ve gone through the different types of adoptions you can choose, let’s look at some of the benefits to choosing a semi-open adoption.
Benefits of Choosing a Semi-Open Adoption
Choosing a semi-open adoption means that the adoption experience is just that — open. When thinking about the open nature of this type of adoption, the benefits for the adoptee should probably be considered first. Everything in the adoption process should probably go back to how it will affect the child as they grow and even into adulthood. A semi-open adoption can give the adoptee the chance to learn about their own history and story in a way that may not be overwhelming for them as a child.
By having this level of openness, it can allow the adoptee to have a special bond with all members of their family. It may also create less tension for everyone involved in the adoption process. The absence of knowledge that comes without having a semi-open or open adoption can sometimes have a psychological effect on both the adoptee and the birth parent.
Another unthought-of benefit to having a semi-open adoption could be to be able to contact the birth parent about any family medical history that might be relevant. While some medical information might be provided with the paperwork, many adoptees do not have a complete family medical history; potentially causing complications with healthcare later in life. Julia Porter, a writer and mother, reflects on the benefit of this, especially about being able to ask questions throughout the child’s life or if a serious medical emergency might arise.
Porter also speaks about her own experience of having a semi-open adoption, which was chosen by the birth mother. Porter saved all the messages between her and her child’s birth mother for whenever her daughter would want to see them, along with any important information. As an adoptee, I can’t speak enough to how important this can be. The more information that an adoptee can have about their adoption story, the better.
Another adoptive mother and writer, Crystal Perkins, shares how her story of being both a mother and a lawyer specializing in adoption helped her to see the importance of having openness in adoption. In her experience, iIt helped minimize the confusion or negative psychological effect that closed adoptions can have on an adoptee, as well as the rest of their families. She explains how the arranging visits and keeping consistent communication with their birth families caused a positive change in their lives; it helped to decrease the amount of trauma and things they already have to grieve about as adopted children.
She then goes on to explain how her perception of family was changed through adopting children and learning about other members of the adoption triads’ experiences: “Our adoption of [child] did not replace his birth family; it simply extended our definition of family.” This can perfectly encapsulate how having a semi-open adoption can benefit really everyone in an adoption story. Having an inclusive and holistic approach to a semi-open adoption can be one of the most important things families can do, especially keeping in mind that the benefit this may have for the child.
Looking back, I wonder if having contact with the appropriate members of my biological family would have made an impact on my childhood. Knowing what I know now about my adoption story, I believe it could have. As an adoptee from a closed adoption, I always felt a large gap in the knowledge that I knew was out there but was unavailable to me. I believe that having access to a person’s biological history and the truth behind one’s existence is something that should be prioritized in the adoption process, rather than thought of as an aftereffect.
And, as I’ve learned through writing about adoption and being adopted myself, it’s not something that has to be completely negative. There can naturally be loss, grief, trauma, and/or confusion in adoption; however, the degree to which this has an impact on an adoptee – or adoptive parent, expectant parent, birth parent, etc. – can vary. Adoption can and does have beauty in it; a semi-open adoption can provide families with just that, a beautiful experience to join two families together over their love for one child.
If you are debating on whether or not to choose a semi-open adoption, or have any questions about the adoption process in general, visit any other page on this site or our sister sites: Adoption.org and Adopting.org. The Gladney Center for Adoption Services can also offer many different types of avenues for anyone seeking to learn more about adoption.