Are there benefits to a closed adoption? The answer is yes, there are some benefits to a closed adoption. However, when it comes to closed adoptions, the cons outweigh the pros more often than not. In order to understand what a closed adoption is one must have an understanding of definitions of the forms of adoption. There are three basic forms of adoption relationships, with a myriad of variances within any of the forms. The options are open adoption, semi-open adoption, and closed adoption. Open adoptions are adoptions that allow full disclosure of contact information and exchange of all information. The relationship between adoptee and birth family is typically fluid and can include invitations to birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Semi-closed adoptions allow for some exchange of information, usually through an agency or adoption lawyer. These may look like scheduled visits in neutral locations or the exchange of annual update letters with pictures. A closed adoption refers to the level of contact that the adopted child and adoptive family have with the child’s biological mother or family. In this level of contact, there is very little information exchanged and no identifying features known by either party; however, in many instances, medical and social histories of the birth family are given to the adoptive family. Any contact that needs to be made will be done through an intermediary like an adoption lawyer or social worker.
Closed adoption is not something that you will typically hear adoption providers and professionals encourage. For the most part, professionals actually encourage openness in adoption, with only 5 percent of modern adoptions being completely closed with no contact whatsoever. However, there is a myriad of reasons for an adoption to be closed. While there is a huge movement for complete openness today, ultimately, the decision regarding openness in adoption is usually made by the birth mother. The reasons surrounding these choices are personal. There is no right or wrong choice, and there are plenty of pros and cons of each. Even though it is often a difficult decision, adoptions are rarely made closed without a very good reason. The emotional toll of a closed adoption may be great, but there are some benefits to a closed adoption for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees.
Benefits of a Closed Adoption for Birth Parents
The closed adoption experience can vary from birth parent to birth parent and depends largely on individual circumstances. Traditionally, closed adoptions were a way for unwed mothers to “hide” the child they bore and avoid the stigma attached to giving birth out of wedlock, even if the child was created via attack. The pregnant women would typically go out of town for nine months, give birth, place the baby for adoption, and return home without anyone being aware that she was even pregnant. In those situations, the pregnancy, and therefore the child, was one of shame, and the whole closed adoption created so much stigma and secrecy. Closed adoptions today do not have as many negative stigmas. In fact, depending on the situation, a closed adoption can have its benefits. For instance, if a child was conceived through rape or incest, the birth mother may choose to place the child in a closed adoption, giving her a sense of closure and allowing her to move on from the trauma of her child’s conception. If the birth mother was very young, career-minded, or just not in a place of life to parent a child, she may choose a closed adoption so that her pregnancy and placement choice remains private. Placing a child for adoption can be a very emotional time no matter how the child was conceived, and, no doubt, it is hard to watch another family raise the child to whom you gave birth; however, a closed adoption can allow a definite break so that the birth mother can heal from that part of her life and try to heal.
Benefits of a Closed Adoption for the Adoptive Family
Of the three members of the adoption triad, the adoptive family benefits the most. In addition to not having to remember to write annual or quarterly letters or schedule visits, Womendeservebetter.com gives the opinion that for some families, “closed adoption provides the opportunity for the family to become truly cohesive, without the chance of confusing a child who interacts with multiple families in an open or semi-open adoption. Closed adoptions also give parents a choice on whether they would like to tell the child of the adoption.” Potential benefits of a closed adoption for adoptive families can include a greater family freedom so they can “enjoy their family time without the potential complications associated with outside intrusion…[and the] absence of fuzzy boundaries…[eliminates] the risk of complications that can arise from birth parent interference or co-parenting concerns.” Another added benefit is the level of privacy afforded to all parties, because in a closed adoption, “the adoptive family will not have any identifying information about you and will be unable to locate you without your consent….The birth mother and adoptive family will not have any direct interaction with one another, but in an agency adoption, their adoption specialists will still remain very involved. Each party’s adoption specialist will keep them up to date and current on anything happening in the other’s lives. Even in closed adoptions, it is still important for birth parents and adoptive families to have access to one another. For example, if a birth mother finds out she has a medical condition later in life, she can contact the adoption agency, which will then forward this information to the adoptive family for the child’s wellbeing.”
Benefits of a Closed Adoption for the Adoptee
Perhaps the one who benefits from a closed adoption the least is the adoptee. Unless the birth mother made a video or wrote a letter prior to making an adoption plan, the adopted child will always have questions that will never have answers. This website says that they may ask questions like, “‘What did she look like?’ ‘Why did she choose adoption for me?’ ‘Did she not love me?’ In a closed adoption, the child may never find the answers to those questions and may feel a large piece missing in his or her life. To answer these questions, the child will have to wait until he or she is old enough to search for…[their birth mother]. And even then, there are no guarantees the child will find the answers to the questions he or she is looking for.” Another disadvantage to the adoptee is the incomplete record of their medical history. “The information received during the adoption is just a snapshot into the birth parents’ and families’ medical histories, which is why having some contact to receive updates on newly discovered medical conditions is so important to the adopted child.” As a result, adopted children may struggle with identity or feel a sense of disconnect during their later child and teen years. These unresolved feelings may cause them to act out, but it would be foolish to believe that every adopted child will react that way, or if the feelings will remain permanently. Womendeservebetter.com states, “According to [one] study…, adopted children are often equal to their non-adopted peers in terms of social skills, connectedness, and overall happiness. They are often highly empathetic and enjoy strong support from their families and friends. These children are also distanced from possible issues and unstable situations in the family of their birthparents. Though no life is free from struggles and difficulties, [a] closed adoption gives children the chance to grow up in an environment that pushes them forward, with nothing to hold them back.”
In my opinion, the greatest benefit, and maybe the only benefit, of a closed adoption for an adoptee is the protection that is afforded them. Sometimes, a birth mother may choose a closed adoption out of pure love because she doesn’t want to expose her baby or child to a negative or unstable environment. An article on Adoption.org states that a “closed adoption may be beneficial in allowing a child to live a life without fear that he or she will be found by anyone who has caused harm in the past. Especially in cases where a child has been placed with a family through the foster care system, it may be necessary and provide the benefit of safety and security for the child. If the child was placed because of abuse, a closed adoption would allow for the adoptive family to feel safe and for their child to not worry about his or her well-being….If birth parents have chosen to keep the adoption closed, the benefits will also be tied to the reasons for this choice. The placement may be due to wanting the child out of a bad situation, and the closed adoption allows for security. If the child is a product of sexual assault, closed adoption may benefit the privacy and emotions of both the birth parent and child.”
The Changing of an Adoption Status
It would be quite negligent to write an entire article on the benefits of a closed adoption without mentioning that many times the adoption status can be changed. The world in which we live is very digital and highly connected, with information literally right at everyone’s fingertips. It is becoming easier for adoptees to go in search of their birth mother and actually find her. Laws that once kept adoption records sealed are being repealed. DNA and ancestry registries are becoming popular ways to find a person’s biologicals roots, and social media has become a tool to further searches to find “missing” people. It is truly a wondrous world in which we live. It is important for any party seeking information on their biological relations to remember that, if their adoption was closed, it was probably closed for a reason. In many instances, the woman on the other end may not have told her current family about her past; therefore, the current family may not know that she even placed a child for adoption. Having an adoptee or a biological mom randomly show up on the doorstep of the other is incredibly rare, contrary to movies coming from Hollywood; however, in this digital age of Google and social media, it is becoming easier for members of a closed adoption to locate each other and change their adoption status. In many cases, the reconnect goes well, but sometimes it does not. Treading cautiously is prudent.
It is also possible for an adoption status to change because the birth mother or birth family has entered into a place where they are able to be a good influence on the life of the adoptee where they were unstable before. Or maybe the wounds of the past have healed enough for the birth mother to want a relationship with her biological child. The reasons for change are numerous. Thank God for second chances. The adoption relationship at this point becomes more fluid, as the adoptee, adoptive mother, and the birth mother begin to have contact and start to build a relationship. An adoption that can go from closed to semi-open or even to open is truly a wonderful thing.
Whether an adoption is open or closed usually comes down to what the birth mother wants for her future and for her relationship with her child. This article reminds us that “while open adoption is becoming more common as we learn about healthier adoption practices and the importance of open adoption for adoptees, many recognize that open adoption is not always possible. This may be because of security issues or simply at the request of the birth parents. It may be too risky or harmful to the child to allow for any openness in adoption. There may also be situations where an open adoption is simply not possible for the time being or cases where adoptive parents would prefer a closed adoption for varying reasons. The benefits of such a decision will likely depend on the reasons for it.” Adoption does not just affect one moment in time for one individual. Adoption affects all members of the adoption triad for a lifetime. Adoption professionals agree that the benefits of a closed adoption are definitely outweighed by the cons, and since about 95 percent of all adoptions are either open or semi-open, it would seem that the adoption community as a whole agrees.
Virginia Spence and her husband Eric are parents to two awesome little boys who joined their family via domestic infant adoption. When she is not playing referee or engaged in tickle wars, Virginia can be found cleaning, reading, or drinking giant mugs of coffee. Virginia is passionate about advocating for life at all ages/stages and educating about adoption.