Open adoptions can be pretty rough. Without fail, there are miscommunications, hurt feelings, and all kinds of awkward moments. It’s a lot of effort to have to stick to a regular schedule of visits and updates. At some point, there will be disagreements between birth and adoptive parents about various issues—parenting decisions, the frequency of visits, etc. Trying to explain to a young child who his or her birth mother is can be difficult and confusing. Isn’t one set of parents enough? Open adoption can be such a headache, so why even bother? It’s not required. I think it’s worth it for a lot of reasons. Here are just a few of them.
One of the greatest issues that adoptees face is being left with so many questions. Did you know that in many states, adoptees don’t even have access to their own original birth certificates? It’s as if their birth parents never existed. But they did, and adoptees should know about them. Who are my birth parents? What are they like? Why did they decide to place me? Do I have any biological siblings? What is my medical history? Some adoptees don’t even know for sure what their own race is.
In an open adoption, adoptees don’t have these questions. They don’t have to check “don’t know” on every questionnaire at the doctor’s office. They don’t have to go through life wondering what their story is because they will have their birth parents available to answer any questions and provide reassurance. Open adoption can create healing and closure that so many adoptees never get.
In my opinion, every effort should be made to give children who were adopted access to their birth parents, and it should be their right to choose what that openness looks like as they grow up. It is doing a disservice to both the birth parent and adoptee if they are denied contact with one another because it makes anyone else uncomfortable. Open adoption helps ease the burden of so many issues that come with being adopted—so why wouldn’t you do it? The wants and needs of the adoptee should come first, always.
There are some situations where a very open adoption is not in the best interest of the adoptee. In some cases, birth parents make choices that could be dangerous to the physical or emotional health of the adoptee. If visitation isn’t healthy for the child, it shouldn’t happen. However, there are very few instances where it’s absolutely necessary for all contact to be cut off. Even if a birth parent isn’t making healthy choices, a few messages a year from a non-identifying email address is better than nothing.
For a birth parent in a closed adoption, one of the most difficult things to deal with is facing the unknown. How can you heal from such a huge loss if you don’t know where your child is or if she’s even alive? Being able to have contact with your birth child and her adoptive family can give so much comfort. As a birth mother myself, I know that it is so much easier for me to sleep at night knowing that my birth daughter is safe and happy with her parents.
Being a part of a birth child’s life has provided so much healing to me and so many other birth moms. We couldn’t give them the life we wanted for them, but we can still give them our love. A birth mother isn’t any more a ‘real’ mother than an adoptive mother. Being a birth mom in an open adoption means that we get to be around to love on our birth children and help answer their questions—not take over the role of the mother who cares for them every day.
I don’t know how I would have handled a closed adoption, but I can say that I’ve never met a birth mother, myself included, who hasn’t found healing in open adoption. Some birth mothers desire less contact than others, and that’s normal. But it never hurt a birth mom to know that her birth child was okay.
Even adoptive parents have questions. Raising a child with no idea of his medical history or what the pregnancy was like is scary. Trying to explain your child’s adoption story to him without any specific details can be confusing—for you and for him. It is so much easier to raise an adoptee if you have his birth parents around to help answer the questions of both you and your child.
There is no harm in having more people around to love an adoptee. Open adoption isn’t about co-parenting or ‘sharing.’ It’s about coming together to help raise this tiny human into a healthy, happy adult.
Recently, I got to experience this first hand: my birth daughter was the flower girl at my wedding, and her brother was my ring bearer. They walked down the aisle in front of my husband and me with smiles on their faces, enjoying the adoration of the crowd of guests. Their parents and grandparents were in the audience, cameras ready. After the ceremony, they were right there to embrace me and tell me how much they loved me and how happy they were for me. They stood in all the family photos because that’s what they are. Little R and I danced together, twirling in our dresses on the dance floor until we got dizzy. We played hide and seek and shared dessert and loved being together. That’s what open adoption is all about: love and bringing people together to create families.
All families have conflict, and families formed by open adoptions are no different. But just like any other relationship, if both parties are willing to work together and communicate, they can get through almost anything. The relationship is more important than any argument.
There are so many benefits to open adoptions, and I believe that they should be the norm for all adoptions. Except in very few instances, open adoption is so much better for the emotional health of everyone involved. Even when they are difficult, it is so much better to have openness than for anyone to be left in the dark.
Annaleece Fairbanks is a birth mother to the cutest little girl on earth. She loves being an advocate for open adoption by writing, mentoring, and speaking at adoption panels. She attends Utah State University in Logan, Utah.