What to Expect in an Open or Semi-Open Adoption

So, you are considering open adoption.

Whether you are pregnant and interested in finding a loving home for your baby or are hoping to grow your family through adoption, semi-open adoption and open adoption offer a number of unique benefits for all parties involved.

What Is Open Adoption?

An open adoption agreement generally refers to an adoption in which identifying information is available for both adopted children and birth parents without first needing an adoption official to facilitate contact. Simply put, it is openness in adoption between the biological parents, the adoptee parents and baby or child for adoption.

Through open adoption, adoptive and biological families can be in contact and develop relationships even before the birth of the adopted baby. Behind semi-open adoption or mediated adoption, open adoption is the second most common adoption process.

Myths about Open Adoption

Although there are both challenges and benefits associated with open adoption, there are also many myths circulating about the process. It can be hard to understand open adoptions, especially when media portrayals of adoption often show children who are unaware of being adopted, and family tension and turmoil being caused by the process.

One common myth is that children knowing who their birth parents are can cause a child to be confused or unhappy with their family structure or struggle to form an attachment with their adoptive parents. Similarly, a myth persists where adoptive parents are envious or resentful should a child have a positive relationship with their birth parents.

In reality, there is no one correct emotional response when it comes to adoption, open or otherwise. Although some may experience emotional issues that they need support to overcome, the reality is that open adoptions are highly recommended for the well-being of children, their adoptive families and birth parents.

Another myth about open adoption is that there needs to be a certain level of contact between adoptive and birth parents. This is not true, either. There are open adoptions in which contact is minimal and open adoptions in which birth parents are very active in the lives of their birth children. In some cases, an open adoption may exist simply so adoptive parents can be in contact during a birth mother’s pregnancy and ensure everything is going smoothly, or that a child already has access to identifying information should they want to initiate contact later in life.

The amount of contact is not written in stone and can change as the years occur. For example, a birth mother may need time to adjust to the situation after giving birth, and increase contact as the child grows older.

Is Open Adoption Right for Me?

There are many advantages to open adoption. Not only do these adoptions often lead to better outcomes for all involved, but they are also incredibly flexible. Birth parents and adoptive families are also able to decide together on what they want out of the adoption process. If certain factors, like the amount of contact before and after placement, creates tension, parties are able to continue looking for someone better suited for their individual needs.

There are a few reasons why adoptive parents may choose not to pursue open adoption. One reason is that if they are adopting older children, it may not be possible to have an open adoption.

Birth mothers interested in adoption might feel as though contact with their birth child may cause emotional distress, and will instead choose a closed adoption, in which identifying information is not released to either birth parents or children.

However, through the aid of court systems and voluntary registries, it is possible to change a closed adoption to an open one. In the case of voluntary registries, both a birth parent and adopted child must consent to releasing information to one another, and in the state of Texas, adoptees must be adults when they apply for a registry.

The Steps Toward Open Adoption

The first step toward open adoption is finding the right match between birth parents and adoptive parents. There are two main ways in which this can happen: independently or through an adoption agency.

Adoption agencies can be especially useful resources for both birth parents and families looking to adopt, as they can assist with legal services, emotional support before and after adoption and, in some cases, financial aid.

After adoptive and birth parents find one other, there is often a certain degree of pre-placement contact during the pregnancy. In some circumstances, adoptive parents may play very active roles in the lives of birth parents and, in other cases, the contact may be more minimal. In cases where adoption agencies are involved, an agency professional is often the one to initially set up contact between parties.

In the hospital or birthing center during childbirth, it will be up to the birth mother how present adoptive parents will be. In some cases, adoptive parents may be in the delivery room and among the first to hold the baby. This, of course, varies based on the comfort of the birth mother.

After placement, the amount of contact will vary greatly depending on what all parties involved want. It is fairly common after birth for there to be minimal contact between birth parents and adoptive families.

Adoption is a very emotional process for everyone involved and minimizing contact can help everyone adjust to their new situations. However, some families may choose for contact to continue during this period as well.

Some families might be so open that birth parents will frequently visit and have ongoing contact with their biological children. However, many relationships may be primarily based around phone calls and emails.

What you can expect in general is for some level of contact between birth parents and adopted children, as well as contact during pregnancy. Unlike certain closed adoptions, children in open adoptions will benefit from knowing that they are adopted and who their birth parents are, for their entire lives.

The adoption process never truly ends and what you can expect from the agreement will change as time goes on. All relationships will grow and change in time, including the relationship between children, their birth parents and their adoptive parents.

Ultimately, open adoption is unique for every family, and it’s important to remember there is no single way to be “normal.”

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