When navigating the adoption process, the most common form discussed is “closed adoption.” The term itself leaves no room for confusion or further explanation. Agreeing to a closed adoption means that there is no contact between the adoptive family, adoptee and birth family until the child becomes a legal-aged adult. It is then that they have the choice of contacting their birth family or not. On the outside, it seems to be pretty cut and dry regarding the expectations and widely understood.
But, in the last twenty years, a newer term has surfaced and sparked a certain degree of controversy and confusion: Open Adoption. Its definition largely varies, as it seemingly means different things to different individuals – even among adoption experts. The origin of open adoption itself is shrouded in mystery. When and how it became socially accepted is also up to interpretation.
The adoption process is already a confusing and emotional one. Vague explanations and gray boundary lines aren’t things that assure confidence. So, let’s unpack the history and what is known about open adoptions.
The Origin of Open Adoption
In the late 19th century, closed adoptions were seen as the social norm, and the typical way to handle adoptions. Everything was processed and streamlined very officially by adoption agencies, and there was no communication between the birth mother and adoptive family. Once a family was found, the adoptive parents were not given any information about the birth mother or any medical history for their child. The adoption file was then sealed, and the adoptive family raised the child as their own. Once the adoptee became of age, they had the choice of finding out more about themselves and their birth family, or remaining as they always had been.
Open adoptions first became popular around the 1960s or 1970s. All the unanswered questions on all involved – the birth mother, the adoptive parents and the adoptee – became an insurmountable issue. Birth mothers required more involvement in the adoption process, adoptive parents wanted more questions answered and information regarding their child, and adoptees craved access to their adoption origin, medical history and heritage. While there is no universal definition as of yet, and laws are being changed to accommodate everyone’s voices, open adoptions are now said to be a more comprehensive and healthier method of adoption as it better addresses the needs of the birth mother, birth parents and adoptee.
Defining the Terminology
So, with this in mind, how is “open adoption” defined? Put simply, open adoption allows the birth and adoptive parents the opportunity to speak before and after the child is born. This can include phone calls or meeting face to face, whichever is agreed upon. If each party is comfortable, open adoption also allows the birth parents to periodic visits as the child grows up. Exchanging contact information, and mailing letters and pictures back and forth is another common occurrence.
Of course, setting reasonable expectations in the best interest of the child is never a bad idea. There are no established rules or regulations to follow. It is all up to the adoption plan of the birth and adoptive parents. Every strong and healthy relationship has boundaries. Forming them in the very beginning helps diminish any future issues that arise as the child grows older.
The biggest benefit of open adoptions is, of course, open communication for the adoptee. They get a direct line of communication that allows them to learn where they came from, and why their birth parents placed them for adoption. There will be no confusion or mystery surrounding their origin, and any age-old adoption struggle regarding whether or not they were unwanted will be completely eliminated. They will also have access to any background or medical history they need.
Another benefit is that birth mothers don’t have to question whether or not they made the right choice and picked the right family. They will be able to watch their child grow, learn their likes and dislikes, and develop a relationship with them. Having baby pictures and communication with both the child and adoptive parents will provide extra comfort while she is grieving as well. It will help her move forward easier.
As the old saying goes, “There are two sides to every coin.” Just as there are benefits to open adoption, there are also concerns that may arise. Because no two adoption experiences are the same, the potential challenges will vary greatly.
Despite having open communicate with their birth parents, adoptees may still face a sense of identity confusion and rejection. They may struggle with how to define themselves in the midst of two families, and they may prefer to interact more with one over the other.
Along those same lines, adoptive parents may experience feelings of confusion, frustration and jealousy if their child comes home in tears after a visit with their birth family. This, in turn, may lead them to restrict contact, unintentionally injuring all three parties.
Another potential challenge may include the birth mother refusing communication in the beginning because she needs space to grieve. Or, on the flip side, she may want more, putting enormous pressure on the adoptive parents. This could lead to a strained relationship.
There is no “right” way to do adoption. However, always remember: communication is the most important aspect of any relationship. It will ensure success.
Both open and closed adoptions come with their own pros and cons. What’s important to note are the needs of your adoptee, and what is best for them. After all, adoption is all about putting your child’s needs above your own.