Types of adoption, including semi-open adoption, need to be considered for all situations. If you are considering making an adoption plan or are adopting, you likely have a lot of questions about how adoption will work once a placement is made. As a birth parent, a lot of that decision is up to you. You will speak with professionals and decide what amount of contact you’d like to have followed in the adoption placement. If you’re adopting, you need to be aware of the various types of adoption and understand what you’ll need to do to ensure that the needs of everyone are met.
Though you may have an idea about how you hope this will go, it’s important to realize that there is a child who will benefit most from people who can work together and, in most cases, some type of ability to reach out to birth families.
What Are the Types of Adoption?
There are three types of adoption. They are open adoption, semi-open adoption, and closed adoption. Keep in mind that though closed adoptions were typically the only types of adoption in the past, they’re now discouraged due to the well-being of all parties. This is more antiquated, but something that sometimes is still practiced.
What Is an Open Adoption?
Open adoption is when both birth parents and biological parents work together so that there is ongoing contact with the birth parents and the child. Though this is sometimes regular meetings, it will be different depending on your situation.
Becky Fawcett, the co-founder of helpusadopt.org, who has adopted two children, shared her story of open adoption and has always been candid about this. “I was worried about everything and I’ll admit that I was scared of the relationship—for me, for my family, and for my son,” she says of considering this when she first adopted 15 years ago. “It took commitment on my part, to keep both of these adoptions open, but it’s something I was really committed to. I made a promise to do so.”
Becky is quick to share how much this has benefited her family. “My son is now 14 years old and when his birth mother and I talk, we laugh about it all because we just didn’t know. Last year she asked me if I thought it would work out this way. Had I thought we’d still be talking 14 years later, and did I ever imagine we’d be friends? We both agreed that our open adoption was a happy surprise in both of our lives.”
Becky also has an open adoption with her 10-year-old daughter’s birth family. “We have an open adoption with our daughter’s birth family too. The openness has been a blessing for all of us, and especially for my kids. We share pictures; we share stories, and we share a love for each other.” Becky also notes that they all share a love for her children.
Though not every situation will look exactly like Becky’s, her story is reflective of how many open adoptions work. Families come together to love children, which is the goal.
Open adoption was not typical not that long ago but is growing as a more standard way of having an adoption. I just read a story about a young girl who was a flower girl in her birth mother’s wedding.
Though this may cause some concern initially, it’s good to talk this out with a professional as it has real benefits for the children and adults involved.
If you’re still looking for more stories about open adoption, click here for one of my favorites.
What Is a Semi-Open Adoption?
When we adopted, we were ready to have an open adoption. It’s something that agencies discuss more typically today. However, our daughter’s birth mother chose a semi-open adoption, which is something to which we hadn’t previously given much thought.
In a semi-open adoption, there is a line of communication, but typically, not visits. Additionally, each semi-open adoption is different, depending on what was decided at the time of placement and what works best for all parties.
In our situation, we send letters and photos to our daughter’s birth mother through our agency. I know many people in this situation who have exchanged phone numbers and email addresses for this communication, but again, this was at the comfort of our daughter’s birth mother to do things this way.
Though communication on her part isn’t always regular, we do our best to ensure that the agency has updated photos and updates should she reach out to them for some information. It is always my goal that it will be available to her should she need it. Of course, if she reaches out to the agency with questions, we are always quick to follow-up that day.
I have printed out any email correspondence for our daughter to have as she gets older. Though some of the other children she knows have open adoptions, she will still be able to see the love that her birth mother has for her in this communication. In addition, it’s something that I, personally, treasure.
We have several friends who are in semi-open adoption situations. Many of them have created Facebook pages where the birth families have access to communicate and see photos of the children.
Semi-open adoptions are likely still very common because they’re a little more comfortable for people. When you adopt, birth parents and adoptive parents are often strangers, so I can definitely see where a birth parent would feel better with this situation.
Semi-open adoptions leave room for various situations and communication opportunities. I’m often asked if I would be willing to have a more open adoption should that situation arise. My answer is always yes because I love my daughter and can see that this would be beneficial for her.
Are you still confused about the differences between semi-open and open adoption? The following article can help you understand the key differences when making a choice: “What is the Difference Between Semi-Open and Open Adoption?”
What Is a Closed Adoption?
As I mentioned before, closed adoptions more often a thing of the past. In past years, this was the only way adoptions were conducted, which has led to many people searching for their birth families or biological children when they’re adults. I’ve done extensive research on this. You can learn more about DNA testing and adoption here. I also always love to share Kathy’s story about finding her birth family.
In some instances, however, closed adoptions are still practiced. It literally means that the files are closed, and no information is shared between parties. This is sometimes done in situations where there are little to no other options. It is a choice that is still available to a birth parent in most cases.
Learn more about closed adoption here.
If you’re still wondering about closed adoption, I encourage you to read this article about the ethics of closed adoption before making this choice.
What Are the Benefits of a Semi-Open Adoption?
The benefits of a semi-open adoption are plentiful for both a birth family and the children involved.
Not only is there an added bonus of contact with each other, but it’s also good for adoptive families to be able to contact the birth family when there are medical issues.
This is something that is very difficult when you’re a parent—going to the doctor and not having a concise medical background to give to a physician. (One of the things I realized that I didn’t know was if anyone in the family had ill reactions to anesthesia when our daughter had a tonsillectomy).
Additionally, having this contact information can make it easier for both parties as the children grow up. I have spoken to both birth parents and adult adoptees who have gone to great lengths to be reconnected later in life. Sometimes, it works out. Sometimes, all leads are exhausted without learning more. If anything, it’s a good way to ensure that you have the ability to make contact should the desire arise for either party.
How Do You Make the Decision?
Making this decision is often not easy for a birth parent. This is when I highly suggest you reach out to an adoption professional for support. It’s a great time to also decide what you want. Do you hope to be able to meet with the child once a year? Are you content to stay in touch through email and the phone?
What will be in your best interest and work for you? Consider listing pros and cons before you meet with a social worker or adoption professional to help you with this journey.
If you’re not sure as to how to best start making an adoption plan, read this article for support and information.
Who Can You Talk to for Help with Your Decision?
In speaking with birth mothers, it seems that many rely heavily on support from their family and friends. Though I strongly believe that these individuals should be there to support you, remember that this is a personal decision. Others’ opinions, though valuable, may not work for you. You know yourself, your needs, and overall, your hopes and dreams for this child. I strongly suggest also getting advice from an adoption professional. Below are two possibilities of adoption professional options:
Social Workers or other professionals at an adoption agency. They understand what semi-open adoptions look like and how they have worked for other clients. They can help you understand fully what you’re committing to and help you make a plan.
Counselors. This is a time that you may want to talk things out with someone who doesn’t know you personally in order to fully understand what you’re doing and why you’re choosing to make the plan that you’ve set upon.
This additional article also explains fully why you might consider meeting with a counselor: The Importance of Counseling for Birth Mothers.
Still not sure where you can get the support that you need? Learn more about support groups for birth parents here.
Can You Change Your Mind Later On?
If you’ve opted for a semi-open adoption, can you open it up to an open adoption? The answer may vary. It depends on many factors, including the relationship you’ve had up until that point, contact, if your agency can reach the family, etc. This is something to consider when you’re making your adoption plan. What you’re choosing may be permanent until the child is an adult depending on the situation, so be sure it’s the situation you’re most comfortable with.
Usually, if the adoption is closed and, in some instances, if the contact has been lost in other adoptions, search and reunion is something that typically happens when the child in question is an adult. You can learn more about search and reunion here.
What Else Do You Need To know?
You need to be aware of how adoption works in your state. You also need to, as aforementioned, meet with an adoption professional to understand more clearly how things will work for you, in your particular situation, in your location, with your agency or lawyer.
I often get asked if I think these situations are complicated. I think they most definitely can be because you’re dealing with your emotions and the emotions of others. That being said, I think that if you’re clear in what you want and communicate it well, the situation can be just what you imagined it would be. First and foremost, remember that you being a part of a child’s life, in any capacity that you’re able, will help your child to better understand who he or she is. We all know that adoption plans are created out of love, and it’s something adoptive parents teach their children. Being able to illustrate this to our children as they grow and grapple with their emotions is helpful.
Above all, do what you are comfortable with and what you feel you can commit to.
Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.