To those who have not experienced it, open adoption can sound like an incredible challenge. It can also sound quite intimidating. However, while it does not come without its challenges, more and more adoptive parents and birth parents are moving toward the acceptance of open adoption. Adoption professionals and advocates are also educating on the benefits of open adoption more and more as we learn the value of open adoption and continue to grow in knowledge as a society.
Adoption has historically been thought of as warranting a closed situation. People still use the term “giving up a child” largely because that is essentially what would happen. People would place their child for adoption and never see them again. They would have only a small hope that the child might reunite after the age of 18. However, it is only with the surge of social media and the internet that much of that is even possible. With closed adoption and closed adoption records, people could go their whole life not knowing what happened to their child and the child their whole life never knowing who their biological family was.
It is strange to think about how far we have come and what we have learned as a society. There are many reasons why open adoption is becoming more popular. The largest of these reasons being that we have learned that open adoption is healthiest when it can be achieved. While there are exceptions to every rule and situations where closed adoption is the best option, open adoption has come to be incredibly beneficial for both the birth family and the adoptee.
There are a lot of open adoption benefits that talk more about the psychology of open adoption and how that can be beneficial to all involved. However, there are also some very common-sense reasons to maintain some sort of open adoption. When children are adopted, especially from birth, adoptive parents may not be given all of the health history necessary to know what they might inherit. Also, there is a possibility that someone in their birth family will develop a genetic condition later in life that adoptive parents would never know about without some sort of openness. With an open adoption, it provides the option of this vital contact.
With this contact in open communication, the birth family can let the adoptive family know if anything arises in their health that might affect their child. It also allows for the opportunity to have biological donors if ever necessary in the future in cases where a child needs blood or organ donation. There may also just generally be small health issues and allergies that develop that adoptive parents would need to know. My husband and I knew to look out for a strawberry allergy with my son because his birth mother was able to inform us that his birth father had this allergy. She only remembered quite a few months after the adoption, but, luckily, before he started solid foods. Thankfully, with this information, we were able to avoid strawberries and many fruits and introduce some slowly. Sure enough, he ended up being allergic to strawberries and many citrus fruits. We were incredibly thankful for this information and a heads-up that helped us avoid a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. There is a lot of value in maintaining some sort of contact to have access to health information and a pool of potential familial donors in case that need arises.
My two youngest children were adopted as infants. For them, thanks to open adoption, adoption will be their normal. There will be very little mystery surrounding their identity because of the fact that they will know from the very beginning that their story began with adoption and two families of people who have an incredible love for them. They will have access to their birth family and know that there will be someone there to answer questions truthfully. As there will be less mystery, it allows my children to have an opportunity to not have to wonder about that part of their identity. While adoption legally changes everything for a child, it cannot change their biological identity.
If you are an adoptive or prospective adoptive parent, you will soon realize that there are things about your child that come from their birth family. There are things that my daughter does, above and beyond physical characteristics, that I know are directly from both her birth mom and birth dad. As my children grow, they will put much of their identity into their biology and traits and characteristics inherited through their birth family. Especially as my children are part of transracial adoption, there will be that much more of themselves that cannot be related back to us. They will experience the world based on their biology and ethnicity inherited from their birth parents; one that we, as white adults, could not begin to understand or guide them through. For our children, racial mirrors are incredibly important. If these racial mirrors can also be members of their birth family, it provides them with more than just racial, but biological identity and that innate curiosity that will follow.
When my children have to do the infamous family tree project for school, they will have all the information that they need to create trees for both their adoptive and birth family. They will have people to ask and pictures to share from both families. They will be able to tell the story of both their families and not just the part of their story that began after adoption. They will not have to worry about not understanding their genetics. If they have questions about their birth family and their family’s history, they have the option and the ability to ask. If there is any piece of information they want to know about their family’s history, they do not have to search far to find someone to ask. They will not have to live in a state of doubt, wonder, or fear about where they came from or what their ancestors were all about. Open adoption allows for the child’s history to be less of a mystery and provides them with their full life story.
One of the largest benefits of having an open adoption is the fact that my children are not kept from their other biological siblings. They know that they have siblings who are part of their family through us and part of their family through their birth parents. While they do not look at these siblings differently based on those facts, it is wonderful for them to know and not wonder if maybe there are people out there who look like them or act like them. They don’t have to wonder if someone is out there thinking about them. When they get old enough to want to know why they were placed for adoption, they can simply ask their birth parents. The mystery has been removed with open adoption and it creates a healthier path for children as they grow in their identity.
Have you ever seen the TLC show, Long Lost Family? This show profiles both adoptees and birth families as they search for their long-lost family. In their cases, this would be their birth family or birth child. Time and time again stories are profiled about adoptees who have very little information about their birth families. There are countless stories of birth parents who have no idea where their children ended up or if they are even still alive. There are heartbreaking stories about birth parents who were forced to place their children for adoption by their own parents or other authority figures in their life.
Can you imagine that kind of pain? Imagine the pain of not knowing whether your flesh and blood is alive. Imagine the pain of being forced to place your child with a stranger when all you wanted to do was raise that child. Many of these stories took place in a time when open adoption simply was not an option or not well-known. There was no other choice but to place children with strangers and not have the option of any future together. Now that open adoption is an option, many are realizing that it is often the healthier option. Open adoption is life-giving in many ways to both birth and adoptive families. Instead of destroying one family, it is bringing two families together based on the love of a child. There does not have to be the end of one story to allow for a new beginning.
While this is not every story, these kinds of stories give a good reason for open adoption. There are still situations where a closed adoption is necessary, most of these due to safety issues and issues of abuse. However, open adoption is becoming popular as it allows for one story to continue and for loss to be minimized. Some are choosing open adoption because they believe that open adoption is the more ethical option. These people often believe that adoption should not be a punishment for birth parents or children.
Adoption has so much loss. If there is a safe enough environment that we can minimize that loss through open adoption, some argue that it is only ethical to do so. Why strip a child of their identity for no reason other than pride? Why punish a birth family for making the best decision for their child? To some, it seems senseless to punish biological siblings or grandparents or other birth family members who were not the ones who chose adoption. Closed adoption is seen as a way of shutting out the child’s past and a huge part of who they are. Open adoption allows for the continuation of the child’s story while integrating the child’s new family through adoption.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “when you know better, you do better”? This phrase very much applies in the choice of open adoption vs. closed adoption. For decades, people believed that a closed adoption was “less confusing” for a child. Many help the belief that closed adoption was “best” for everyone involved. However, as we grow as a society, many are realizing the value of open adoption. They are realizing the need for ethical adoption and the reality of a system that is often very broken.
Open adoption allows for the loss in adoption to minimize as much as possible. As there are many different types and degrees of openness available in open adoption, so many situations and families can be accommodated. This allows for agreements that can be more comfortable for all parties involved. In the case of adoption from foster care, many of these children are being adopted when they have been with our biological families for countless years. This is not just about birth parents or reasoning behind why the placement or foster care took place. This is also about siblings and grandparents and other extended family. Open adoption allows for these children who have known their biological family for years to still keep that connection. It doesn’t cause them to lose all that they have ever known based on the choices of their parents.
Open adoption allows for the family unit to remain connected even in the midst of transition. Open adoption has become popular as it is seen as a solution. That prevents entire families from being torn apart based on one choice. It allows children to maintain connection with their identity, have resources for which to turn to for biological parts of their identity, and provide a connection for any health concerns that may arise. Open adoption is popular because adoption professionals are finally realizing that adoption can be so much more. There is so much to be said about the ethics of allowing a child to maintain their biological identity while integrating into a new family based on whatever need caused the placement. If open adoption allows for the adoptee to have more love and less loss, there is no doubt about the reason for the popularity and rise of open adoption.
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Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five. She has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on www.facebook.com/halfemptymom/.