When developing an adoption plan, many people want to know more about open adoption. But what exactly is it? Open adoption is the level of.

What If I Want An Open Adoption?

If you have chosen to create an adoption plan for your baby, you probably have a number of questions, hopes, and even concerns as you begin to decide on details.

One of the first decisions you have to make is the level of communication you want to have with your child and the adoptive family. You will hear these levels of communication referred to as “closed adoption,” “open adoption,” or “semi-open adoption.”

You may feel strongly that you don’t want to have communication with your child or their adoptive family after the adoption is finalized. On the flip side, you may feel strongly that you want to have an open adoption. You may hope to be involved in your child’s life as they grow up and go through milestones, and to be around their adoptive family as well.

As you begin to create your adoption plan, make your desired level of communication clear. For the sake of this article, we will be discussing the process if you decide that you want an open adoption. 

If you are working with an agency to place your baby, it is important to make your desires clear and known. If you are wanting to have an open adoption, make sure that you express that to the people you are working with. 

As you begin reading through profiles of hopeful adoptive parents, keep your eye out for language that implies the intention to uphold an open adoption relationship. When reading through profiles, keep in mind that if you don’t feel a family isn’t right for you for any reason, you can set it aside and move on to the next one.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a birth mom about things she wishes she would have known when she created an adoption plan for her birth child. In reflection, there was certain wording and phrases used commonly in profiles that she now would consider red flags. Personally, she didn’t prefer the hopeful adoptive parents who referred to the expectant parents as “birth parents” before an official adoption plan was made. She didn’t enjoy being made to feel like she had an obligation to people that she didn’t owe anything to, and that she didn’t yet know.

She wishes now that she would have thought more about how important communication was to her. She recognizes now that the adoptive family she chose never intended to let her be involved in their lives. 

At the time, she was misled about her ability to have contact, and now communication is used as leverage. She regrets not being diligent in expressing her wishes for an open adoption and for choosing one of the first profiles that she read through.

As you read through profiles, there is a lot to consider. You may want to find a family for your child that has similar hobbies and interests, so you have things to connect on and to talk about with them. That can help springboard your relationship.

If a profile doesn’t talk about the expectations of your relationship, that is rarely an oversight. If you think the family forgot to add it, you may want to ask directly what their expectations are regarding communications.

Some birth parents that I have talked to have expressed that all too often, adoptive families only want a baby; they have no intention of maintaining a relationship with the birth family. You may be able to anticipate this if the adoptive family isn’t interested in meeting you, or if the communication before placement is limited and strictly about the baby and never about you.

There have been instances where adoptive parents will say what they feel they need to say to get an adoption plan set. They may agree to everything the birth parents ask, out of fear that they will change their minds. They may say that they want an open adoption, but then don’t discuss what that looks like. It is possible that they are simply saying what they think the expectant parents want to hear to ensure a false sense of comfort. 

In some cases, the hopeful adoptive parents act the way they do because they have had adoption plans fall through, failed matches, and so on. If hopeful adoptive parents have been trying to add to their family for a while, they may be anxious and frantic, and may not display their full truth until after the adoption is finalized. 

With this in mind, don’t hesitate to follow your gut. If you fear that the hopeful adoptive parents you are interested in are not being truthful with you and that they are just saying the things you want to hear, open the dialogue. Have them explain their intentions, and explain the expectations you have.

It is generally a good sign if the adoptive parents express the boundaries they would like to set up. If they discuss how often visits, calls, etc., occur, that shows a desire to continue contact. It is natural for the adoptive parents to have their own boundaries, so as long as what they hope for is something that you can live with and be comfortable with. A family that is willing to talk to you about expectations is likely a better option than the family that says an emphatic “yes!” to your every whim.

Hopefully, you are in a place that you can give yourself plenty of time to make this monumental decision. If you are, please don’t let yourself feel rushed to find a family, a family where you will feel like you settled instead of fulfilling your heart’s desires. 

If you and the adoptive family agree that you want an open adoption, that is a post-adoption contact agreement. These are not considered true, legal documents. If your adoption plan is carried out through an agency, they may require that both the adoptive and birth families sign contracts to reiterate agreements made regarding communication. This kind of contract can be legally enforceable, and if there is a breach in contract, the party in breach may face a court case.

Some states allow birth parents to create legally binding open adoption. If there is a breach in contract, a judge may order contact to continue as agreed upon initially. There also may be reconsiderations if the circumstances of the birth parent have changed or if there are reasons that the adoptive parents don’t think contact would be healthy for the child at that time.

In an ideal situation, an open adoption plan is made when all the parties believe that it would be the most beneficial route for everyone involved, but especially for the child. When creating an adoption plan, the well-being of the child should always the top priority for everybody.

There may be times where an open adoption would not be the best route for the child. If the birth parent is going through trauma and is unable to separate emotions, it may not be good for the well-being of the child to have close communication. There also may be unrealistic expectations on the part of either the birth family or the adoptive family. Again, this is an example of how vital communicating expectations is. Express your intentions and desires before a plan is made so no one is surprised by undivulged assumptions.

There are benefits to open adoption too, outside of the opportunity the birth parents have to watch their child grow. As children grow up, they may have questions about where they came from. There may be questions and concerns about medical health history. And adoptees may be able to have relationships with even more family. There could be a possibility of having relationships with biological grandparents, cousins, siblings, and other family members.

If you choose an adoptive family a while before your baby is born, you may choose the spend time building a relationship with them. In many cases, birth parents and adoptive parents have both expressed that the time spent together before the baby was born was monumental in building a lasting foundation.

Adoptive parents and birth families ideally will be able to establish their own relationship on top of the relationship surrounding the child. In these cases, having regular open communication can feel more natural than if communication between adoptive parents and birth parents is limited strictly to discussing things about the child.

When birth parents are involved in the lives of their children, there is often a sense of closure. As they see how their child is turning out while being raised by the chosen family, they can find peace knowing there is happiness and health for their child.

As you develop your adoption plan, you and the adoptive family will be able to determine a lot of details together. Is your idea of open adoption exchanging letters and pictures? Or are you anticipating sharing holidays together?

You need to be able to discuss boundaries with the adoptive family. Boundaries go both ways. One party may have expectations to see each other frequently, while that may not be reasonable or feasible for the other. Distance is important to remember, too. You can’t expect to see your child every weekend if you have several states separating you.

It’s also important to remember that a lot can change as years go by. As your child grows up, you may have more children of your own, or change jobs, or move farther away from your birth child. If keeping contact the way you initially discussed is no longer possible, you will need to open the dialogue with the adoptive family to reevaluate what would work best for those involved, and as always, what is best for the child. 

There is also more to consider if the adoptive family adopts again after your child and if that adoption is set up differently. I had a friend who placed two babies two years apart with the same family. She initially had a very open relationship with the adoptive family. About three years before her birth children were placed, the adoptive family had adopted a daughter. 

The birth mother of the older daughter had no contact, and had made it clear that she wanted no contact. As the children aged, the older daughter started to understand that her birth mom didn’t want a relationship, while the birth mom of her younger siblings was very involved. That was difficult for the then 9-year-old. The adoptive parents sat down with my friend to discuss that they needed to limit contact for the time being. 

While she was devastated, she also appreciates the honesty of the adoptive parents. She expressed that she was grateful for how considerate they were to their eldest daughter. They didn’t want to lose the relationship with the birth mom of their younger children, but for the well-being of their oldest daughter, they thought that limiting their original arrangement was best. 

I would also recommend talking about the way things change while you are creating an adoption plan. Though the plan you have written out right now may seem perfect and airtight, so much of life is subject to change. You may want to consider discussing the protocol for reevaluation. 

You may not be able to have regular in-person visits if you move away, but maybe you are able to supplement that with regular video calls. If at the time of placement, you don’t feel quite ready to have open communication but hope that you can leave the door open for more communication in the future, express that to the adoptive family.

Hopefully, you can work together as a team. Communication and dialogue are so incredibly vital. You may find that including an adoption specialist may be helpful. They can give additional insight and hopefully provide an unbiased opinion to consider.

In a lot of cases, the first year post-placement is the hardest for those involved, especially the birth parents. It may be painful to see the adoptive family and the child, and it may take a while for that pain to subside. That reaction isn’t always anticipated, and may take time for those involved to process their emotions. But if this is the case for you, it is important to discuss what you are feeling, so there is no misinterpretation of actions.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.

Hannah Jennings

Hannah Jennings lives in Idaho with her husband, Nick, and her tabby cat, Charlie. Hannah is a singer/songwriter, and loves to perform. She is also a photographer and enjoys taking family photos. She has been an adoption advocate for more than five years and loves sharing her story as an adoptee.