Congratulations! After much deliberation, you have decided to grow your family through the journey of adoption! It’s an exciting time full of dreams to fulfill and many unknowns to discover. The adoption process has an array of dynamics to consider, and with the hundreds of questions you thought you assessed, did you think about one of the biggest? One of the most important decisions you will make in this journey for your family is whether or not to have an open adoption.
I know when we decided to begin the process of opening our home to a child, we thought we had it all figured out. Our nursery was all arranged. We had chats into the early morning hours about bringing a new child into our home and what he or she may be like and what kind of sibling our son would be. We thought we had all the answers to questions we may be asked. From age to race to disabilities to geography, we had made our decisions. But all of our questions were only about our potential child and how best to serve her or him. But, we forgot one question which loomed unanswered: did we want an open adoption? What does an open adoption even mean? And, would it benefit our new child?
We were in the midst of going through the licensing process, home inspection, training, and hundreds of questions. Questions about everything from parenting to finances to our sex life (what?) and then finally, questions about what our criteria was.
It felt strange, almost unfair, to our hypothetical future child, to form a list of what we did and didn’t want to welcome into our lives. At the same time, it was a necessary evil. We were, after all, considering changing our family dynamic by adding a child into our home with our biological son. Forever. I won’t get into what our criteria was, but I will say the question of whether or not we wanted an open adoption was surprisingly the hardest one answer.
Here we had thought we had all the answers. But this one last question regarding open adoption? This was a decision that would shape the entire life of our future child, and ours, for that matter.
There are three types of adoption:
In an open adoption, there is ongoing contact with the birth parent(s) during and after the adoption takes place. The birth family is a part of the adoptee’s family and likely a part of the adoptive family as well. Adoptive families often host biological families to holidays and events and work out visitation schedules. A kind friend of mine has even vacationed with the biological mother of her adoptive daughter.
There is limited contact between you and the birth parent(s) and the adoption agency is used as a liaison for sending letters and photos so there is no direct contact between the birth parents and adoptee and adoptee’s family. There is no visitation within a semi-open adoption.
There is no contact with the birth parents before, during, or after the birth of the child whatsoever.
There are pros and cons to each type of adoption. When it comes to open adoption, there are numerous aspects to consider. For us, our main goal has always been to serve our child and focus on what would be best for her or him. How would we know?
Things we considered regarding an open adoption:
First, the pros:
Relationships with biological family
– Having a biological family around can serve an adopted child well, but it can also be confusing. On one hand, there is a lot to be said for a biological connection. I distinctly remember sitting at a dinner table with my dad’s (stepdad, who eventually adopted me) family. We were all the same race, but I was often softly reminded how I was the only brunette or was the only one who got tan. I would look at this Scandanavian family, joking at the table, laughing so hard at each other they cried. I didn’t feel unwanted and always felt welcome and cared about, but I felt like a stranger. I felt like I didn’t match. I felt like I was left out of the jokes and never wholly part of the family. Never fully belonging. This was never intentional on their part, and they always treated me as one of their own. To this day, my cousins are the most gracious and generous people I have ever met. But there was something missing. I didn’t feel completely at home or fully understood.
– Alternatively, I remember looking at my biological family and finding comfort in the similarity of how our hands were shaped or hearing a laugh like mine from across a room. Meeting/seeing my biological dad as a young adult after 23 years was like looking in a mirror. Seeing physical similarities was a relief, reminding me I came from somewhere. This said, some of those folks were also the most detrimental to my physical and mental health—more on that later in the good ol’ cons section.
Understanding and connection with heritage
When we were deciding what races we would want to adopt from, our main concern was if we would be able to serve a child, I mean, really serve her or him, in terms of heritage. What did we, an Italian-American mutt and a second-generation German, know about other heritages? While we are open, educated, and enthusiastic to embrace every heritage, could we truly guide a child in her heritage different from ours? This is where a biological connection could be beneficial. And let’s face it, our family as a whole would only benefit from learning more about cultures outside of ours.
Answered questions about past
The adoptee will certainly have questions and can have them answered by a biological parent—which is incredibly helpful. Even now, our biological son wants to know details of his birth, infancy, and toddlerhood. He loves to hear stories of how we were, once upon a time. And I can answer those. Even as a new mom, I yearned to be able to ask my mother questions about what her labor was like to how I was as an infant. It would have been wonderful to have even a few of the answers.
There is also the question of “why.” Adoptive children are always going to want to hear why their parents didn’t raise them. Adoptive parents can explain this to their children as much as they want, but children are likely going to want to hear it from their biological parents.
Eliminates search for birth parents later in life
When I was 24, I searched for my biological dad. While I didn’t have to wait long, there are plenty of other adoptees who search and never find their biological parents, creating more of that aforementioned angst. When adoptive kids do not meet their biological parents, many of them feel a hole, a burning desire to know who they came from, and it can become a focus in the child’s life which can be detrimental. Finding a biological parent can become a quest in a way. An open adoption eliminates the mystery of where kids come from (which as we know, can be a good or bad thing). Having a biological family to answer questions can help children build a strong foundation and move on from their questions which often create angst and uncertainty.
Understanding of biological medical history
Most important to some adoptees, open adoption can also take the mystery out of any medical questions that may come up. This has been a big one for me. When I am asked during a physical if there is any breast cancer, heart attack, diabetes, mental illness, (you name it) in my family, well, I don’t have the answers. There is an entire side of my family that I heard had health issues, but I cannot say for sure. So my doctors and I don’t really have a starting point and end up using the initial visit as a baseline, never knowing any underlying issues I may be at risk for. Some adoptions include medical history of the birth parents, but many adoptions do not. If you decide to have a closed adoption, please remember to request the medical history of the biological parents, unless prohibited by HIPPA laws.
Just as there are many pros with open adoption, there are also some less desirable aspects.
Here are the possible cons of open adoption:
Man, I feel like such a worrywart just writing these things, but we have to be realistic. While it’s important to be careful not to assume the worst, as parents, it is our job to protect our children. We must be informed about the numerous reasons that children are available for adoption. It’s incredibly important to ascertain what issues the biological parents face before agreeing to an open adoption. While not every parent who has his child adopted faces addiction, a criminal record, mental illness, or is abusive, these issues do exist. It’s necessary to gather the facts before considering open adoption. I know adoptive parents who have maintained open adoptions, and the parents constantly ask for money, are rough with the children, have peers or partners who are violent or involved in drugs. Additionally, if you are adopting through the foster system, you are already aware of the potential child neglect and abuse that may have taken place. Use your best judgment and protect the heck out of your children.
Unrealistic expectations – with all parties
For an adopted child, it can lead to enormous confusion when you have contact with a biological family who has decided not to raise you. It brings up feelings of low self-worth and confidence, displacement, rejection, loneliness and resentment (just to name a few). Once a biological parent is involved, it is important to set boundaries for all parties. A clear delineation of parenting roles needs to be established for the sake of everyone involved. Similarly, the adoptee needs to have a clear understanding of who the active parents are, who makes the rules, and who is being answered to. On all ends, the legal structure of the adoption needs to remain intact, and that is everyone’s responsibility.
Phew! That was a lot to consider, and I bet readers will have additional issues they can add and “what if” questions as well. While you may go into an adoption feeling generosity of heart and wanting to serve the biological parents as well as your adoptive child, it’s okay to have some concerns and trepidation. Asking important questions to your caseworker or attorney is the best, and you cannot ask too many questions! This is your life. This is your family dynamic which you are changing forever. To know whether or not you are willing to invite more—technically—strangers into your home and heart doesn’t always come easy. But go easy on yourself in this process.
For us, the answer to open adoption still hangs in the wind. We are open to the idea, but my husband and I have agreed that we would have to carefully consider the background behind the biological parents turning to adoption in the first place. Your deal breakers may include physical, sexual, and mental or emotional abuse. You may feel comfortable with a parent with a criminal record or one who is incarcerated or one who has an addiction. Or, those may be deal-breakers for you. What I am saying is, parent to parent, I don’t know if open adoption is something you can fully decide on until the situation is laid out in front of you in real time. By now, you have likely ascertained that the decision whether or not to have an open adoption should be considered on a case-by-case basis. I know we have.
You may have thought you knew (like us) and then realized after receiving all the facts and possibilities that open adoption may entail that it’s not so simple. I hope whatever you decide, open adoption or not, your decision serves your child—and your family—to support a healthy and loving future.
Jenna Lorenz is a staff writer and storyteller for Adoption.com. She also works in Content and Communications for a well-known business author, is completing her first book, and has a lifestyle blog and photography website. Jenna’s mission in life is to improve the lives of others and deliver positive impact to communities at large through storytelling. After years of trying to be what she thought everyone else wanted, she is living her dream of being a writer. Even better, she’s a mama. Jenna lives in the pretty part of New Jersey with her extremely patient husband and 5-year-old son. When not writing, taking photos, or singing praises of her coworkers, you’ll find Jenna playing outside with her son while trying not to get caught staring at him. Social media: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn