You’re considering adoption. You’ve googled adoption agencies, visited adoption forums, talked to an adoption counselor online. Every single pace references something called an open adoption. This may be a new idea to you and you may not be sure how that would work. Luckily, open adoption is all the rage, as it should be, and it is an excellent way to provide a support network for the adoptee and the families involved. Still, you may not be sure you want your ex-mother-in-law involved in the arrangement. So the question looms in your mind. Who gets to be involved in an open adoption?
If you are choosing adoption for your child then the only people who get to decide who is involved are yourself and the adoptive family of your choice. That’s it. Ultimately it will come down to the adoptive family’s comfort level. Often open adoptions can mean that you’ll receive yearly updates, pictures, and contact information from the adoptive family so you can communicate that way. In some instances, it means that you’ll get invited to every milestone event and be introduced as the child’s other mama. It really varies on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately though, the people that get to decide are you and the adoptive family.
Now, let’s assume there is an extenuating circumstance. If you’re a minor and your family is not for the adoption or maybe the birth father’s parents also don’t want the adoption circumstances may vary a little. If you’re under 18 in many cases your parents will need to be involved to some degree but ultimately you get to decide. Giving birth makes you an adult in the eyes of the state in most instances and you get to decide where the baby goes and who gets to see them. Unless you were ruled unable to make sound decisions, you and adoptive parents get to decide who is involved in this open adoption.
These things can evolve and change over time. What is written into legal documents is usually the bare minimum that everyone expects. Sometimes years later the relationship is so different that the idea of only seeing the adoptive family once a year is laughable. Other times your life circumstances make it so you want to be far away from the family but would like an update now and again. It is still up to you and the adoptive family.
If you’re asking who can be involved the possibilities are almost limitless if all parties agree it is in the best interest of the child. My kids were adopted through CPS and their removal was for their safety. Their birth parents are nowhere to be found but we are in contact with two aunts, an uncle, and grandma periodically.
I have a friend who adopted a sweet baby girl at birth. Her birth mom, biological sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins come to visit at least once a year for a big party. The birth mom and she are good friends and her daughter has done nothing but benefit from having access to her biological family. What am I trying to tell you? If your grandmother is the sweetest angel in the world and you want her to know your daughter even though you plan to place her for adoption, you can ask the adoptive family to make that a reality. If everyone is comfortable with that then it can happen.
If you want a list of the minimal requirements of who is involved in an open adoption it would be adoption caseworker, adoptive parents, biological mom and dad, adoption lawyer, and judge. After adoption day happens contact is largely determined by the adoptive parents.
I also want to make you aware that there are some adoptive parents who promise the world but may back off once they have adopted. This is not as uncommon as I wish it was. People lie to get what they want, more often than I wish ever happened. I have known adoptive families to move and not give their forwarding addresses. If an adoptive family feels like at any point a pre-agreed upon party is not safe for the child they are well within their rights to discontinue contact. I don’t say that to scare you but to prepare you for the possibility. We ended up discontinuing contact with our kids’ biological grandmother because she repeatedly went against our wishes and lied to us several times. While I don’t believe she was a physical danger to our kids, I was not interested in being lied to or manipulated any further. As much as it seems cruel of me to not let her contact her grandchildren it is my job as their mom to make sure they are safe. She wasn’t a safe person. If my own mom decided to start showing their pictures to people I knew were a danger to them I would cut contact with her swiftly. My kids are my priority.
Also, once the adoptee is 18 all bets are off. They may try to contact whoever they wish as a legal adult. While you may not want them to know a certain family member, if they find them on ancestory.com they can contact them and neither you nor the adoptive family have any legal say in the matter. Be prepared for the possibility of everything changing once the adoptee is 18. Contact could increase dramatically or they could cut all ties or it could go the exact opposite way and the adoptive family may never hear or see the adoptee again.
Adoption is a tricky, messy business. It is full of flawed people trying to make good decisions for the child involved. Sometimes that means people make mistakes and emotional harm is done. That doesn’t make it any less worth doing. Adoption is one of my very favorite things in the world and also one of the worst tragedies in the world. The fact that another mom’s kids call me mama is a gift and a tragedy that I don’t take lightly. Five years post-adoption and every morning when my girls first say, “Good morning mama” makes my heart squeeze and my eyes well up. It could be so different. I wish for their sake that their first mamas had been safe people. I know they were loved no less by those mamas but that there were odds stacked against those families that weren’t stacked against me. I wish that we had a much more open adoption than we ended up with. I wish for my girls’ sake that whenever some strange old lady asked them where they got their beautiful hair from they could say with confidence, “My first mama” and not have to look to me for answers with confusion and annoyance.
Who gets to be involved in an open adoption is a difficult question to answer because it varies so drastically from family to family. For some, everyone gets to be involved and it becomes one wildly huge joined family event. For some, it is basically just the adoptive family and the birth mom communicating once a year via email. A lot of the why and who depends on the emotional health of everyone involved. It also depends on the reason the adoption is happening.
I urge you to start counseling now. A quality agency will provide you with the means to do so. You’re embarking on an amazing, lifelong journey for yourself, your child, and your family. Working out what you’re comfortable with and why will go a long way towards a happier future for everyone involved.
If you find yourself with more questions than answers I suggest you visit adoption.com/forums to ask questions to people who have been there and done that. Not only will you find a compassionate ear to listen to what is going on in your life, but you will also potentially network with people who have been exactly where you have been and have answers to questions you haven’t even thought to ask yet. I’m on the opposite side of the triad from you but I am very much in your court. I don’t know how you are feeling but I can guess that being overwhelmed is at the top of the list. Keep asking questions until you get answers that make sense. Keep pursuing what feels like the best path for yourself, your child, and your family. Familiarize yourself with the laws in your state regarding adoption. Some states vary in rules. In Texas, open adoptions are basically only at the adoptive family’s discretion. In other states, it is more like a custody arrangement where the court can and will enforce if contact isn’t being made. Also, if you are choosing a family in a different state than yours the rules may be different in those two states. Educate yourself on what the differences are so you can be prepared.
Remember that everyone that you and the adoptive family decide on gets to be involved in an open adoption. The key is deciding on a family that is comfortable with what you are comfortable with. Be aware that things can and will change and evolve in the relationship as you get to know each other better. Also, as unfortunate as it is, major life events can entirely shift the relationship making it non-existent. Death of a spouse, child, close family member, sickness, job loss, and other emergencies can take even the best of intentions and completely destroy them. If adoptive parents die and other family members take custody there is a chance that the relationship will cease altogether unless otherwise stated. You may enter a new relationship and wish to distance yourself. None of these things are as uncommon as we often wish they were.
The choice of who gets to be involved in an open adoption will need to be well defined early on so all parties involved have their expectations expressed and noted. Keep in mind that while you may have an idea of what you want, it is impossible to know exactly what someone else is thinking unless you ask and they are honest. Do you have more questions? Visit adoption.com to find people who have been in your shoes and can help you figure out your next steps.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.