The thought of entering into an open adoption can be exciting, scary, and overwhelming. It’s a fairly new concept, and can be hard to wrap your mind around. The best thing that you can do before jumping in is to learn as much as you can about it. Here is a list of must-knows about open adoption.

1. There are different levels of openness- and openness can change.

Open adoption ranges from semi-open, where updates and photos are shared, but no in-person visits, to once yearly visits, to weekly or monthly visits. There are no hard and fast rule to what works best for each situation. Keep in mind the level of openness that is practical or comfortable to all parties might change. Maybe the adoptive parents will move away, or birth parents will need to take time away to deal with their grief. As the adoptee grows and changes, their preferences for the level of openness might change. Changes in the level of openness are some of the most difficult waters to navigate in an open adoption. If all parties communicate clearly and openly from the very start, it will make things so much easier as time goes on.

2. Open adoption is not co-parenting.

Placing a child means that the birth parents relinquishes all legal right to parenting. Beyond choosing a family that I shared similar values with, I knew I wouldn’t get a say in how Baby R was raised. They are the parents, and I am the birth mom. They provide the day-to-day care, discipline, bonding, and teaching. My role is completely separate. I trust her parents to do what’s best, and I love them all with my whole heart. Having a strong understanding of this concept is how you avoid confusing the child and stressing the relationship between birth and adoptive parents.

3. Your feelings will get hurt.

As wonderful as open adoption is, it will not be all smooth sailing. All of the people involved in your open adoption will be very human. Birth parents will say things that hurt you. Adoptive parents will do things that you don’t appreciate. This might happen over and over. You might reach a point where you simply can’t stand each other. And that’s okay. I can’t think of a single person that I am close to that I haven’t wanted to punch at one point or another.

What can you do when this happens? Remember that you can’t control the other person, but you can control yourself. Be kind, understanding and patient. You are all there for the good of the adoptee, and if you keep that in mind and keep communicating, you can work almost anything out. Don’t be afraid to apologize, and always be a peacemaker.

4. Open adoption will enrich your life.

Baby R’s adoptive mom always wanted a little sister. And now she has two – her son’s birth mother and me. We get pedicures together, hang out and eat ice cream, and play with the two little angels that brought us together. When I miss Baby R, I text her brother’s birth mom and she comforts me. We comment on each others’ Instagram posts and we talk about our boyfriends. We understand each other’s loss like no one else can. I have another brother in baby R’s adoptive dad – he is protective, he teases me, and he always seems to know when I am down and just what to say. We are all family – the labels birth and adoptive don’t matter so much anymore. We are each other’s greatest support and dearest friend. I don’t know where I would be without them.

5. …But open adoption won’t fix everything

Even though I am best friends with Baby R’s adoptive family, and am so blessed to see her thrive and be a part of her life, I still grieve. It’s been getting easier, but my heart is still broken. Adoptees still have lost the chance to be raised with their biological families. Adoptive parents still grieve infertility. Open adoption won’t prevent the wounds. But it will be the soothing balm that will comfort and heal.

6. Open adoption is in the best interest of the child.

 I am not an adoptee, so I can’t speak for them. Even so, I firmly believe that adoptees have the right to know where they came from. That natural curiosity does not make them disloyal, unappreciative, or any less of an adoptive parent’s child. They deserve the love of both sets of parents.

Although I am not raising her, it is my job as Baby R’s birth mother to help provide stability for her by not jumping in and out of her life. I need to be a good role model, and be ready and willing to answer any and all of her questions as she grows. I must support her parents in their decisions, and always stand by my decision to place. It is her adoptive parent’s responsibility to always be honest with her about her adoption story. They need to honor me for giving her life, and speak well of me. We need to work together so that she never feels torn between her birth and adoptive parents. If we can do that for her, she will never need to feel abandoned or have questions go unanswered.

7. Safety always comes first.

When I placed Baby R with her family, we had an understanding that I would always be welcome unless I posed a threat to her safety. I wholeheartedly support that agreement. A child should never have to see someone they love under the influence or involved with violence. They deserve to be protected from abuse or confusion. Even in cases where in-person visits, sharing photos or location are unsafe for the child, non-identifying updates could be sent to the birth parents via a separate email. From a birth parent perspective, if it’s too difficult to visit or share photos right now, providing some way for the child to contact a birth parent down the road is important.

8. Communication is key.

I repeat this idea over and over again because it is the only way an open adoption can work. Without communicating, you will never get over disagreements, you’ll feel isolated, and all parties will end up confused and hurt. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable, but it’s a lot less uncomfortable than what happens if you don’t talk things out and make your expectations clear.

Open adoption doesn’t have to be scary. If you can keep these things in mind and be willing to adapt, your open adoption will be a rewarding part of your life.

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