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Openness in Adoption

family livingroom photo

a blog by Ellen Glazer, June 8, 2013

“I’m afraid to adopt because I don’t like the idea of open adoption.” “Adoption scares me because it seems like it will feel like we are co-parenting with the birthparents.” “I don’t want to meet or know the child’s birthparents.”

These are all comments that I hear when people are beginning to think about adoption. They’ve heard the term “open adoption” and fear that it means they will be sharing Thanksgiving dinners and the Senior Prom with their child’s birthparents. I want to use this blog entry to clear up some common mis-understandings about openness in adoption.

First, what does “open adoption” mean? To me, the term “open adoption” refers to the relatively few adoptions in which the birthparents and the adoptive parents are in regular, on-going, open contact seeing each other once a year or more often. Of the several hundred adoptions I’ve been involved in, perhaps 10—at most—have had this level of openness. In other words, in my experience it is rare.

Much more common is what has been referred to as “semi-open.” This odd term represents the vast majority of adoptions—at least the ones I am seeing. In a “semi-open” adoption, birth and adoptive parents meet some time before the birth of the baby or soon after birth and talk together about their hopes and dreams for the baby. They share information about their lives but usually on a first name basis without identifying contact information. Adoptive parents agree to send photos and letters yearly (more often during the first year) to the placement agency with the birthparents knowing they can opt to receive these mailings or not. Some adoptive parents opt, instead, to provide photos and text on a secure internet site where the birthparents can view them.

So when and why does “open” adoption occur? In my experience, it is an organic process, something that occurs when two families meet and discover that they really like each other and want to have visits, phone calls and other personal, non-agency mediated contact. Although there are some agencies that recommend open adoption to everyone and some birth or adoptive parents who enter adoption requesting that it be open, I have found that openness works best when it is the mutual choice of those involved. In most instances, this is not something that people “know” at the start of the adoption, but rather something that unfolds after they meet and spend time together. In some instances, the adoptive parents would like an open relationship with the birthparents but find that the birthparents need some time and space to grieve and move on following placement.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at why adoption has moved from an entirely “closed” process, to one in which birth and adoptive parents usually meet and most often know about each other. Openness in adoption was born out of adoptees longing to know where they came from, birthparents need to know where their child was going and adoptive parents to feel the authenticity that comes from knowing that the birthparents chose them to be parents. Having some degree of openness –even one brief meeting—removes much of the mystery that tormented people in years gone by. I have found that as they make their way through the adoption process, even those who were initially frightened of meeting the birthparents, come to recognize all that can be gained from this meeting. Those who choose to take it further and have an open and ongoing relationship, usually do so because they feel confident that they are making decisions that are in the best interests of their child.


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