What is an Open Adoption?
You may have made the decision to start working on an adoption plan, or maybe you have already selected a family who will be on the adoption journey with you. You have probably heard the terms open or closed adoption. In thinking about adoption, a good visual to imagine is a door. Do you want the door to be closed and locked, wide open, or maybe just cracked a bit? In a closed adoption, the adoptive family and birth parents do not have contact with one another throughout the years. In a semi-open or more open adoption, an adoptive family keeps up with a birth mother or birth father through various means such as pictures, letters, phone calls, and visits together.
The choice of what type of adoption to have is made by the birth mother or birth parents and is one that should be taken into consideration carefully before a decision is made. As with a door, if an adoption starts off closed and locked, it is often difficult to re-open if the birth mother has different feelings in the future; however, if the door is open, someone can choose to close it, even temporarily, if needed throughout the healing process. Although in today’s society it is more common to have an open or semi-open adoption, if you choose to have a closed adoption for whatever reason you feel at the time of the placement of your child, it is important that your boundaries be respected by everyone in the adoption triad. Throughout this article, you will find a few facts about open adoption and more details about what is involved in the process.
You Can Choose an Adoptive Family for Your Child
Whether you are working with an attorney, adoption agency, or looking in your local area for an adoptive family, you have the ability to choose an adoptive family for a child. Most agencies and attorneys have online profiles or physical books that tell you about various adoptive families. Some of these families might have other children, while others do not currently have children. Families might live in a large city, or even on a farm. Before selecting a family to begin making an adoption plan with a list of things that are important to you. Do you want a traditional married couple, a single individual, or a same-sex couple? Do you want your child to grow up with siblings and surrounded by many family members, or do you think you want your child to be an only child? Think of the things that you had growing up or even the things that you would have wanted during your childhood, whether it is religion, pets, vacations, a stay-at-home parent, or even whether you want to place your child with a family who is infertile. You will look through profile books or online profiles that tell you more about each family and give you important details about their daily lives.
If you are wondering what happens in an open adoption, it begins with you opening the door and meeting a prospective adoptive family. Remember to look at family profiles with an open mind. You might make a list of things that you want a family to have, and something in a family’s profile might strike you in a way that you did not expect. It might be one picture, one statement said by the adoptive parents, or something you connect with that makes you feel like that family is the right one for you.
The First Meeting with an Adoptive Family is Like a First Date
You may first talk with an adoptive family over the phone or through text messages, but eventually, the time for you to meet the family will come. Whether that is over a video chat or in person. Typically, what happens in an open adoption is that a birth mother or birth parents meet the adoptive family on their own, or sometimes if preferred, with an adoptive professional present. I like to compare these meetings with a blind date or a first date. You will be nervous and feel awkward but be assured, the adoptive family is feeling the same!
Before the meeting with the family, make a list of questions you want to ask them and things that are important to you. This way you won’t forget things you want to say. It is okay to come to the meeting with a piece of paper or note cards to help you out. You are not being tested and no one will blame you for wanting to be fully prepared. Sometimes, if meeting in person, a good idea is to go to a meal so that you have time to let the conversation flow naturally. Think of the things that are important to you to know and ask the family. How they will raise your child? How will your relationship with them be? Remember that the adoptive family might be nervous, but it is important to pay attention to how genuine they are with you and how they answer those important questions. Most likely what drew you to them in the first place will be present at this meeting, but if for some reason after meeting the family and getting to know them, something does not feel right to you, it is okay to let your adoption professional know or to let the family know directly that you do not feel that the match is the one for you. If you have these doubts, take some time to think and maybe have a second meeting if you would like. Never let someone talk you into a family that you are not completely comfortable with. It is your choice.
Develop the Relationship as Much as Possible Before the Baby is Born
Like any relationship, it is important to allow yourself time to get to know an adoptive family at a natural rate. You may be due soon and feel rushed to get to know a family, or you may have many months to settle into furthering that bond with a family. A good idea is to establish how often you are comfortable with communicating with a family. You may enjoy a check-in text each day, but you might feel that this is too much for you. Let the adoptive family you are working with know your comfort level and what you need in order to get to know them better. You may prefer phone calls over texts or vice versa, or you might want to do some video chats here and there just to check-in. You may have days that you want some space, while other days you may need reassurance that the family is there for you. It is important to let everyone working with you on your adoption plan know how you are feeling and what you need and this time is no different. One important thing to remember is that just as you have things you do each day, an adoptive family does as well. Make sure that you respect the fact that they may not be able to immediately respond to messages just as you would want the same understanding. As you approach your due date, you should feel as comfortable as possible with an adoptive family so that you can strengthen that relationship in the future.
Conversations with an Adoptive Family
You may be an open book with no question or topic that is off-limits. You may also be a person who opens up more over time or someone who has things that they do not want to discuss. You may think that what happens in an open adoption you have to reveal everything about yourself. That is simply not the case! Still, there are some things that should be shared regarding your pregnancy. Your adoption worker or adoptive family will receive updates from you and the doctor about your pregnancy. This is not to see if there is anything you may be doing wrong throughout your pregnancy, but so that the family can be fully prepared with anything they might need to know as the child grows up. Your pregnancy and your health are things that must be an open topic for a family. If you are using drugs, smoking, or drinking alcohol during your pregnancy, whether it is currently or before you knew you were pregnant should come to light. This may be embarrassing and while that is understandable, again, it is necessary in order for a family to prepare for any needs the baby might have.
In some states, you do not have to reveal the specific identity of the birth father, or you may have reasons based on the conception of the child that you do not want to discuss him. Let the adoptive family know this at the beginning of your relationship. If for some reason you know that the birth father is wanting to parent the child, this is not the time to pretend he does not exist. If you select a family for your baby and feel that they are best to raise your child, you do not want a birth father to interfere with the adoption down the line because you were not honest with everyone involved. Again, know the rules of your state regarding the birth father, and talk them over with your adoption professional. Just as there are things about the family that you want to know, an adoptive family wants to be able to tell the child all about you, so feel free to journal, make lists, or write down stories that you want the family to tell your child about you one day. If there are topics that you simply do not want to discuss, it is ok to let the family know in advance that there are things you would like to keep private. This helps to avoid uncomfortable conversations in the future. It is also good to let the family know what topics you would like for them to discuss with you. For example, some families are nervous about bringing up name ideas or details about the nursery with a birth mother, but if these are things you want to know, tell the family in advance that these are topics you want to be involved in. In regard to the conversation with the adoptive family, set guidelines and boundaries. Just as you want to be respected, show the adoptive family the same consideration.
Open Adoption and the Hospital Experience
Typically, in an open adoption, the adoptive family will be at the hospital while you are giving birth. You may want the adoptive mother and even the adoptive father in the delivery room with you, but that is not always the case. Just because you are doing an open adoption with a family does not mean that you are completely open to having them with you in all of the intimate moments. Some women are comfortable having a number of people in the delivery room, while others might want to be alone or have a special person with them. Start thinking now about who you want with you in the delivery room, whether is a parent, sibling, best friend, the birth father, or the adoptive mother or father. Most hospitals will allow you to have one or two people with you in the delivery room for a regular delivery, but only one for a c-section. However, when situations come up, such as with the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have not allowed anyone to be in the delivery room, or simply one person who must remain with the birth mother. In this case, the adoption worker or hospital will let you know the protocol before you go to the hospital for delivery. Based on space, most hospitals are able to set up a separate room for an adoptive family to bond with the baby and to allow you to have some alone time to rest or spend time with the baby.
An adoption professional will help you make a hospital plan or a road map to how you want your time at the hospital to look. This may change once you are there based on your circumstances or choices, but it is good to start thinking about what you are comfortable with. If you would, for example, like the adoptive mother to be with you during delivery but are not comfortable having the adoptive father there for privacy reasons, it is completely okay to let the family know. They will understand and want you to be as comfortable as possible. Some birth mothers enjoy taking care of the baby in the hospital with the adoptive family, so if you would like the family to spend the majority of the day in your room, or even stay in your room overnight, let them know. Most times families do not want to intrude on you and do not know exactly what you are wanting unless you tell them. The hospital trip can be an amazing experience for you all and you might learn things about one another that you did not already know, so make sure that you are communicating what will help you transition from having the baby to going home as best you can.
One of the best parts of an open adoption is that it allows for future communication with the adoptive family. With technology changing, there will be more modes of communication over time. As with other topics, establish your expectations about future communication with an adoptive family before the baby is born so that you know you are all on the same page. You might want a quick text with a picture here and there to let you know how everyone is doing or you may prefer a scheduled video call with the family. If you and the family have decided on visits with one another around birthdays or special days, plan those in advance and be flexible. Just as your life might change throughout the years, remember that the adoptive family you choose will establish a routine that they set for their family and the visit will have to be one that works with both of your schedules.
Always remember that an open adoption flourishes when both sides are understanding of the needs of the other. There might be times, even in an open adoption that you need space to heal and be alone. Everyone involved will understand, but again, communication is key! Let the family know that you still care about them but may simply not be at a place to receive pictures or updates. The same goes if you are in a space where you have not gotten an update recently and need one to get you through a hard time. This is the time to be honest with a family and let them know.
The most important thing to remember is that an open adoption may not be for everyone, but when all sides of the adoption triad are able to display their love and respect for one another, a beautiful story will unfold.
Marcy Pederson is a mom of three who lives in Texas and has been married for 24 years to her husband who was blessed by adoption. She has worked in adoption on and off for over 20 years and also has a degree in Special Education. Her passions are autism awareness and adoption and her faith and family are priorities in her life. She enjoys doing domestic and international home studies for adoptive families and working with expectant mothers throughout the adoption process. She is an avid reader and enjoys spending as much time as possible with her family traveling to new places. Marcy can be contacted at @little_flower_adoptions through their Instagram page.