Open Adoption is Far More Common than Closed Adoption

Adoption has changed a lot over the years, and we have come a long way since the orphan train movement of 1854 to 1929. When I was adopted back in 1988, closed adoptions were the common adoption plans for adoptees. This meant that there was no connection between the adopted child and the biological family, and their records were sealed. Luckily, adoption has changed over the years.  According to The Washington Times, 95% of adoptions are open so it has become the norm in the adoption post-placement world. More women considering placing a child for adoption, want some kind of openness. 

Open Adoption’s Meaning is Fluid

The best thing about open adoption, in my opinion, is that it is extremely customizable. Most adoption agencies state that open adoption plans are agreements of the heart, which means that both parties have to be intentional in honoring their commitments to one another and putting in the effort to upkeep a relationship. If things need to start out slow and then over the years as you grow and know one another better, you can add more to your dynamic. The great thing about the flexibility of open adoption is that it’s easy to do. Especially since this is not a legal agreement, so the structure doesn’t have to look a certain way. 

Unfortunately, the downfall of open adoption agreements is that oftentimes, when expectations are not met, the agreement can become difficult on the birth mother or adoptive parents. This is why flexibility is important so that your open adoption plan can flow with your needs and your expectations can be managed. My advice as a birth mother would be to have an open mind going into your open adoption plan discussions. It can be overwhelming to think about the unknown, but there are many open adoptions that are highly functioning and happy. Listen to stories from adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents regarding open adoption and what their visits or updates look like. This will give you a better grasp of the reality of open adoption today. 

Open Adoption Means the Adoptive Parents are Chosen

Women who are considering placing a child for adoption usually get to pick out and match with adoptive parents. When I was considering adoption and working with an agency, I began looking through profile books at six months. Profiles are usually digital or printed profiles of the people hoping to adopt a child. These profiles usually have information about their home life, family, pets, the traveling they have done, their love stories, and dreams of parenthood or the realities if they are already parenting. It’s a great way to glimpse into their lives and see if you think your child would be a good fit in their family. 

There are many controversies currently on pre-birth matching, but I will say that I found it very affirming to pick my daughter’s parents and to get to know them during my pregnancy. As our friendship grew, it allowed the transition into our post-placement life to be organic and fruitful. We have become family over the past 11 years, and I know a lot of that is a testament to getting to know them before our daughter was born as well as setting healthy boundaries and respecting one another. 

Open Adoption isn’t Always Easy

Another open adoption fact is that open adoption has its challenges just as much as it has benefits. I think these are important to talk about because if you do not address the things that cause an open adoption to be difficult, you won’t know how to navigate your open adoption plan through these obstacles. There is not a manual for successful open adoptions, but I do feel that there are some common hardships that can be talked through without having to experience them firsthand. 

One of the more common hardships is that some hopeful adoptive parents, more commonly men, are hesitant when it comes to openness. I have sat on many panels over the years where I have had the privilege to chat with hopeful adoptive parents and answer their questions. I discovered that the main reason that there is hesitancy on the openness between birth parents and the adoptee, is that their understanding of birth parents is askew. Birth parents still face stigmas that fit better into a movie script rather than the realities of who they are. Birth mothers are not going to take the adoptee back. They are most likely not women in a crisis like a drug addiction but rather normal women doing the best with their situation. They aren’t going to replace you just because your adoptee grows up knowing them. Open adoption takes trust and part of that is taking a leap of faith and seeing what tomorrow brings. 

Another challenge is that when adoptive parents aren’t transparent and do not communicate their expectations and needs, birth mothers can be left with added grief that shouldn’t have been added to their plate. There are always situations that call for a more conservative visit plan or whatever is needed in the situation. Something I always love to point out is that we all go through seasons of life and we grow and mature. Your open adoption will not always look like it does today, but you need to share what you are feeling so that everyone is on the same page and isn’t hurting because visits aren’t being upheld. I mentioned earlier that everyone needs to do their part in being intentional and putting in the effort to make open adoption work. For birth parents, communication and checking your feelings is important too. If visits are causing you more grief than you can handle right now, share that so you can take a breath and get to a more solid place of healing before picking visits back up. If you aren’t getting enough from your open adoption plan, share that too. Communication is so important just like with any relationship. 

Open Adoption is Rewarding

When open adoption is done well, it can be extremely rewarding for all parties of the adoption triad. Open adoption allows for a relationship between the adoptee with their birth family, allowing them to have more self-assurance in their identities. Growing up as an adoptee, I struggled the most with my identity. I had so many questions about my biological traits, but I couldn’t get answers because I did not have a connection with my birth family until I was an adult. 

As a birth mother, I have been able to see the tremendous difference between closed adoptions and open adoptions and how it benefits a young adoptee. My children are able to share life with me, ask me questions about their stories, see my family, be connected to them, and know that while I am not parenting them, my love never wavers for them nor does my desire to be a part of their lives. They already have been able to cope with their identity as an adoptee in a much healthier and less traumatizing way because I am in their lives. I am not saying that this completely abolishes trauma from adoption or challenges for an adoptee, but it does help them tremendously. 

Not only is open adoption rewarding for adoptees, but it is also rewarding for birth parents. I told my son the other day that my desire to be his mother never stopped, but I knew I needed to sacrifice my own desires so he could have more than I could provide at the time. My desire to be in my children’s lives has never stopped, so living life apart from them is excruciating. One of the major benefits of open adoption is that I don’t have to be apart from them all of the time. I get to be present with them for moments and to fill my mama’s heart and treasure the visits and updates during the in-between. My ability to see them, spend time hearing about their passions and dreams, getting glimpses of their milestones, and to have a relationship with them helps me heal. It makes the grief of losing motherhood more realistic for me to carry every day. I am able to cope with the pain of being apart from them because I am seeing my plan in action and that’s how a lot of birth mothers are, too. 

Lastly, it is rewarding for adoptive parents. I had a visit today with my daughter and her mama. I was texting her mom afterward and exchanging pictures we took earlier in the day and she told me that my daughter woke up this morning and shared how excited she was that she was getting to see me, her brother, and my parents today. Her mom said, “I think she has developed a wonderful connection to you all.” I wrote her back and said “It really is so special to me how sweet the bond is. I never take it for granted.” Her mom responded, “Me neither. I am so thankful.” I share this because adoptive parents see how beneficial it is for everyone to share life together when it’s done well. It fills their hearts just as much as the other members of the triad. Honestly, it’s normal for everyone to become so close because it’s just another extension of the family. 

Open Adoption Provides Answers

I touched on this open adoption fact a little bit when I was sharing how important it is for an adoptee to know their biological roots. I learned this first-hand as an adult adoptee. Open adoption provides a lot of answers that would otherwise fester and have to be searched for many years later. That could mean that the adoptee could go through some really difficult self-discovery time with little closure if they don’t have access to information about their identities and their biological roots. With open adoptions, adoptees can get the old family tree layout, the old family traditions, the stories everyone tells over and over again, the medical history, the heritage, family lineage, and so much more. Think about your childhood and ask yourself if these topics were important in your formative years. Did you enjoy knowing these things about yourself or about your family? Probably so, because it gave you a foundation of who you are and the background to your parents and the family that came before you. We all want to belong and for an adoptee, that’s crucial to their healing. 

Open adoption allows their identity as an adoptee to be a normal part of their story. I know that I would have benefited and gone through fewer behavioral issues if I had known my birth family or even a little about them growing up. Once I did finally meet them in adulthood, a lot of the things I gravitate towards, my physical traits, things I had gone through in life, and so much more made sense. It’s as if I finally had the why to everything and it was such a relief to have that closure of self. I am so thankful for open adoption because adoptees can gradually learn anything they wander about in a productive and healthy way. 

Overall, these open adoption facts validate that having an open adoption is a huge positive. While the unknown can be scary, with effort, communication, boundaries, and research, you can find your way into a very successful open adoption plan. My hope is that moving forward, each party of the triad can benefit from open adoptions and continue to improve how we perceive adoption.

Katie Reisor is an adoptee and birth mom who is passionate about adoption advocacy and breaking stigmas around birth parents. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and hanging out with her dog, Chloe.