Before we adopted our son, the thought of an open adoption was slightly terrifying. I had many insecurities and concerns regarding what an open adoption would look like and the impact that it would have on my family and any child that we would potentially adopt. The fears and concerns that I had were based on my own insecurities in being an adoptive parent. Would having an open adoption mean that I consulted with the birth parents on every parenting decision? Would they question the way that I parent and maybe even think that I am a bad mom? Will they regret their decision in placing their child with me? There are so many misconceptions regarding adoption in general and specifically open adoption, and the great thing is just like people, no two are alike. The boundaries and decisions are made by both parties and the amount of “openness” is decided by the adoptive family and the expectant parents.
We were introduced to our son’s birth mother and father in December 2017. An aunt of mine that lives close to them introduced us. We corresponded via email, getting to know each other and to see if the situation would be a good match for all of us. After sending dozens of emails back and forth we decided it was time to meet.
After meeting our son’s birth mother and father we all decided that we wanted to move forward with the adoption. My son’s birth mother has another child from a previous relationship, and we met him as well. During that time, we were also able to attend an ultrasound appointment to see the baby. It was incredible for all of us to be there together. Our son’s birth mother decided that she wanted us in the hospital room during her delivery, despite us living in a different state. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it in time for the delivery, but when we arrived at the hospital, we were able to visit with our son’s birth mother, her friends, and family, and knowing that we had all chosen each other was an indescribable feeling.
Since then we’ve exchanged tons of emails and letters, are friends on social media, and even got to visit last summer (2019). Not everyone has this type of relationship with their birth families, however. I think if the situation allows, it can be a huge benefit to the birth family, the adoptive family, and most importantly, the child. There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding if you want an open adoption. Just because our adoption is fully open, doesn’t mean that all open adoptions are like ours. There are so many factors to consider when thinking about an open adoption. As an adoptive parent here are a few benefits that I have seen come from our experience.
1. Understanding Circumstances Surrounding An Open Adoption
I know one of the conversations that I am most nervous about as an adoptive mom is the question of why our son is being raised by us and not his birth family. While I know the majority of the answer to this question, the person most qualified to answer is his birth mother and father. I love that when the time comes, his birth mother is willing to have that conversation with him. Not every birth family wants to have that conversation and it’s not required, but for us, I love that our son can go straight to the source for certain questions and won’t have to wonder why certain things were or weren’t done. As an expectant parent there are so many considerations that go into whether adoption is right or not, and when the time is right, being able to explain that to a child is priceless.
2. Sibling Relationships in an Open Adoption
As I mentioned, our son has a half-brother and I love that he will be able to see him and have a relationship with him throughout his life. My husband and I will most likely not have other children and I love that he has a brother to communicate with as he grows. His brother was old enough to remember his mom being pregnant. It was hard for him to process why his brother wasn’t coming home with them. Being able to see him a few days after our son was born, and now, see him on vacations, through social media, and zoom has been helpful in processing his feelings surrounding the adoption.
3. Family Relationships in an Open Adoption
I love that our son’s birth family can see him grow up and develop. We went to visit last summer, and now through social media, zoom, and cards we can keep in touch and see each other. His birth family can see what he’s learning at school, what presents her received at his birthdays, and that he is a happy, healthy, and very active 2 ½-year-old. I think it’s important for our son to know that he is loved by so many people and that as he gets older, he can develop his own relationships with his birth family.
4. Access to Medical Information
Before our adoption was completed our son’s birth parents were able to fill out a questionnaire regarding their medical history. It’s reassuring to know that our son won’t have to guess what his medical history might include. If he has questions or concerns, he has information that he can refer to as he gets older, if concerns arise. When our son was around a year old, I had to take him to the doctor because he was having some breathing issues related to a cold. It was winter, and as a new mom, I was concerned about what was going on. The doctor asked if our family had a history of asthma. I answered that we didn’t, and then realized that it didn’t matter because our son had a different medical background than our family. I was able to quickly text our son’s birth mother and she answered back that there was no asthma from her side of the family. Before our son was born, we were also able to get medical histories from both sides of the family. It’s a relief to know that if we have questions in the future, we have access to that information.
5. Adoptive Parents are Chosen
Our son’s birth parents met us and got to know us before, and throughout, the adoption process. They specifically selected us to raise their son. At any time, any one of us could have changed our minds and decided that we didn’t want to move forward with the adoption. Our son’s birth parents could have decided that they wanted a different family or that adoption wasn’t the right decision. There are a lot of powers expectant parents wield in that decision; being able to choose and get to know the adoptive family throughout the process. As an adoptive parent, it also gives me a tremendous amount of confidence that I was chosen, and that trust was placed in us to raise our son.
6. Mutual Decisions Regarding an Open Adoption
When we were going through the adoption process, we were able to work together with our son’s birth parents on what they wanted out of the adoption. In our agreement that was drafted with our lawyer, we were able to decide the level of “openness” that would occur with our adoption. There are so many options regarding adoption and the level of contact that adoptive and birth parents desire to have. With our adoption, we decided that we wanted visits at least once a year, and that we would email and check in with each other via social media and text messaging. There is a level of trust that goes into the adoption process and that’s the amazing thing about developing a relationship before the baby is born, the expectant parents and adoptive parents can decide if it’s a right fit for everyone. Just like when a person is deciding on dating someone or contemplating a long commitment, it must be a good fit for all parties.
7. Overall Adoption Satisfaction
I think the greatest gift that has come from having an open adoption is the overall satisfaction from the adoptive process. When we were first introduced to our son’s birth mom, the feelings of love and gratitude were overwhelming. She was giving us an irreplaceable gift that we couldn’t possibly repay or express to her. The difficult and heart-wrenching choice that she was making wasn’t lost on any of us. At the end of the day, we all wanted what was best for each other, and ultimately, our son. Even if she had decided to go with another family or not move forward with the adoption, I wanted what was best and right for her. Having those memories and experiences has made the overall adoption journey life-changing, for all of us. Our son’s birth mother has gone back to school to finish her degree, her son is happy and healthy, and our son is a happy, healthy, and active 2 ½-year-old. The time that we got to visit with them last year was incredible and I look forward to the day that we can visit again. I feel that our son knows that he is loved by so many people. He will never have to wonder about his adoption experience; we can all share with him how he came to be a part of our family. I love that, at the end of the night, before he crawls into bed, he says, “I am smart, I am kind, I am loved, I am adopted.” I can’t think of a better gift to give a child than to empower them and let them know that they were “chosen.”
Open adoption isn’t for everyone and while our story isn’t unique, it is ours. There can be disadvantages to an open adoption; fortunately, in our case, we haven’t seen them. As our son gets older, I am sure that there will be challenges that we haven’t yet experienced in his 2 ½ years of life. I must admit that the fears that I had about having an open adoption were just that: fears. Having an open adoption has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
One other point I failed to mention is that while open adoption has had huge benefits for our son, I think I have walked away with just as many perks. I am real life friends with my son’s birth mother. We talk on a consistent basis and I genuinely care about her, as well as what’s going on in her life. We talk about school, work, family, kids, funny things that happen, sad things that happen, and are a part of each other’s lives.
While this type of relationship isn’t what I was expecting when we were introduced, it’s exactly what we all needed and more perfect than I could have imagined. I look forward to the day that I can explain to my son how he came to be a part of our family.
In his room are pictures of his birth mom holding him with me and my husband next to her. His birth mother is just as much a part of our life as our son is. We have a photo album of when his birth mom was pregnant with him that we show him, including ultrasound pictures and pictures from when we went to visit his birth mom and brother, before he was born. There are pictures of his half-brother, his birth father, and letters and cards sent from their family. All the emails that we have exchanged throughout the process are stored in a book for him to have when he gets older, so he can see how everything transpired. Open adoption has been the most unexpected blessing I could have ever imagined, and I honestly couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Brittany Lemon is an adoptive mom, full-time fire inspector, and wife to a firefighter. When she’s not working or chasing around her 2-year-old son, Brittany can be found gardening, reading a book, or sitting in her backyard enjoying the sunset.