What Is an Open Adoption?

There are a lot of questions surrounding the definition of an open adoption when placing a child for adoption. As defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, open adoption is “an adoption that involves contact between biological and adoptive parents and sometimes between biological parents and the child.”

Contact and communication involve many variables unique to each birth parent and adoptive family scenario. The uniqueness of open adoption is how individualized it can be. It can grow and flourish over time and potentially produce some intertwined and enriched external relationships for children and their families outside of their immediate family unit.

There are many fears people sometimes have of open adoption, and they often have many questions surrounding the validity and success of having contact between birth and adoptive families too. Some of these questions could be like the following:

– Which is best: a closed (or sealed) adoption, a semi-open adoption, or open adoption?
– How does a birth parent choose an adoptive family for the child they are placing for adoption?
– How do all parties communicate and create boundaries for contact when an adoptee is placed in an adoptive home?
– How much contact does the birth parent have with the adoptive family and adoptee?
– What are some strategies for overcoming adoption loss?

These are questions and topics to explore since open adoption is a vast subject area, and the answers are planted in a deeply-rooted, child-centered model of adoption.

As a birth parent, what is the right adoption path for you and your child?

What Is an Open Adoption, and How Is It Different?

Open adoption allows for communication, understanding, and growth for the adoptee, his or her birth parents, and adoptive parents. Studies have shown that open adoption can be highly beneficial to all parties involved in an adoption placement, as stated in Science Daily. Open adoption is now commonly used in most adoption agencies throughout North America, as it focuses on a child-centered model: the adoptee grows up with an adoptive family while also maintaining a connection with their birth family. This fosters an understanding of their ethnic origin, birth family medical history, genetic traits, and adoption circumstances. This is not to say that birth parents would need to be as intensely involved in the adoptee’s life as the adoptive family; it is to suggest that a measure of contact between child and birth parent is beneficial for all parties.

As all adoptions start with a loss, open adoption can be the bridge that provides a sense of belonging to two worlds: the birth family’s world and the adoptive family’s world. The timeline for an enriched relationship could differ for every scenario. As with any relationship, growth sometimes depends on connection and openness.

A semi-open adoption is a potential model among some agencies where there is a one-way form of communication through an agency. The adoptive parents send the agency milestone updates and photographs, which are then sent to the birth parents who do not have direct contact with the adoptive parents. Without contact with their birth parents, the adoptee could feel disconnected or abandoned when they don’t learn the reasons why they were placed for adoption. There are pros and cons to each model, but semi-open adoption is a possible method of communication, even though it’s not always beneficial to the adoptee.

Closed adoption refers to an adoption process where there is no interaction of any kind between birth mothers and prospective adoptive families. This means there is no identifying information provided either to the birth families or adoptive families. However, non-identifying information such as physical characteristics and medical history may be made available to those involved. This model of adoption was common at one point in history but is now a rare circumstance that is not typically recommended, due to the trauma of disconnection imposed on the child.

Why do you feel your chosen adoption path is right for you and your child? What is an open adoption able to do for you and your child?

Connection to an Adoptive Family When Placing a Child

When choosing an adoptive family for a placed child, there are many variables to consider: financial stability, religious belief system, value system, family environment, lifestyle, sense of humor, older or younger siblings for the adoptee, and, most importantly, having a connection with this adoptive family. A connection is sometimes based on intuition, as you may have many adoptive profiles to choose from. Which family sings to your heart? Sometimes it’s the little tug you feel on a heartstring that seems to say, “I can really see myself being a part of this family in an extended way.” This connection is at the heart and soul of open adoption, as there may be future events where all parties will be attending together within a child-centered model.

If the child you are placing for adoption is of a different race than the adoptive family, this is another factor to consider: do you feel this adoptive family is educated or could be educated on becoming a transracial adoptive family? Sharing your ethnic origin and cultural heritage may become more significant to the adoptee as they get older. For all humans, understanding their DNA and ethnic origin is important in shaping their identity and sense of self; this is true especially within an adoptive scenario. As the connection between birth parent and child is initially legally severed due to adoption placement, open adoption then allows for this connection to be remade in a new, individualized, and emotional way as the birth parent shares a sense of ethnic identity with the child over time.

The connection you share with this adoptive family could blossom in the future if all parties are in agreement with sharing the adoptee’s birthday or holidays while keeping the child’s well-being in focus. The day we received our daughter at the hospital, through an ‘instant placement’ adoption, we felt both joy and sorrow for her birth mom in this truly life-changing experience. As her birth mom was leaving the room, while saying goodbye I blurted out, “You will always be our family.” When I think of that moment, I remember how much courage and bravery our daughter’s birth mom had to place her in our arms. Open adoption can be an extension of the family unit in the most beautiful way, but it is born out of loss.

What do you and your child you’re placing for adoption need in an adoptive family?

Adoption Is Loss: Communicate to Overcome

All adoption begins with loss. There is a potential sense of physical and emotional loss within the birth parent, there is the loss of physical and emotional connection for the child, and there was a loss for the adoptive parents as they grieved past infertility or endured years of waiting for a child. Adoptive parents may also grieve the time lost with their child, especially if their adoption placement was with an older child. Even though our daughter was placed with us on her second day of life, I sometimes grieve the one day lost with her—the day she wasn’t yet in our arms with her forever family.

If adoption is layered in loss, what strategies can we use to overcome? The answer lies in the question, “What is open adoption, truly? Open adoption is a catalyst for loving and nurturing connections, uncovering ancestral identity as well as behavioral explanations, and sometimes providing additional external support for a child through communication that builds a foundation for their future. Within that relationship between birth parent and child, there is often a sense of identity and feelings of acceptance that could not be reconciled otherwise.

Communication and Boundary Setting

Healthy and positive communication, as well as boundary-setting, is an individual preference for each birth parent and adoptive family. There are many variables of the circumstance for both parties that set the foundation for this relationship from the onset, such as location (do birth parents and adoptive family reside in the same city?) and transportation (do birth parents have the means to travel?). Potential inhibiting circumstances could include mental illnesses or addictions, which could affect the amount of communication between parties for the sake of the adoptee.

Boundary-setting is key for a positive open adoption; birth parents and adoptive parents can agree on specific terms such as how often to meet, how often the birth parent receives updates on the child (especially at milestones), what form of communication is best (text, phone, email), etc. From the beginning, these are all important ground rules for growing positive open adoption communication. At times, enlisting the help of professionals within an adoption agency may be required to specify boundaries and communication between birth parents and adoptive families, especially if there are disagreements. Sometimes a third party is required to ensure an agreement can be reached for all parties to be happy with the amount of communication and contact, keeping in mind that it is all for the benefit of the child.

In my daughter’s placement situation, we were excited to have open communication with her birth mother. We enjoy nurturing the current relationships we have in our lives and we’re excited by the prospect of adding a new, extended relationship to further enrich our lives. Our daughter’s birth mom, however, is not yet ready to communicate with us as often as I would have expected. Acceptance and understanding are absolutely keys to a positive open adoption, and we are ready with open hearts and open minds when she is ready to reach out to us and connect. This connection may be years from now. Open adoption, therefore, is truly surrendering to the present situation that is and the future situation that will be, born of loss yet planting seeds of possibility for a bright future.

What feelings, beliefs, and hopes do you want to communicate to your child’s adoptive family?

How to Be an Adoption Advocate

Before we adopted our daughter, we were educated on adoption language, the adoption process, and general adoption education in an intensive two-day seminar through our adoption agency. There are numerous misunderstandings regarding open adoption, so it is understandable that, if someone has not had the preparatory education we had, prospective adoptive parents may not fully comprehend the full implications of open adoption at first.

Questions swirled early in our adoption process regarding (what people viewed as) “visitation rights,” attendance at family functions, sharing our address and whether the birth mom would come over without warning, and if she could “steal the baby” back. Even strangers would ask us questions early on about the open adoption process about how many contacts we would have with the birth family of our daughter. As an adoption advocate existing in a transracial family, it is always in one’s best interest to speak up about the knowledge you have acquired, knowing not everyone has taken a two-day seminar or has read articles on the subject. Especially when speaking to children, it is such a unique and wonderful teaching moment to be able to share some adoption education in an easy-to-understand manner.

Depending on the circumstance, placing a child for adoption could happen within only a few hours of choosing the best adoptive family for your biological child. Birth parents’ courage and bravery will always be honored and choosing an adoptive family that recognizes that courage makes a difference. Birth parents can be adoption advocates just as proudly as adoptive parents can, using spontaneous teaching moments to help people understand the scope of open adoption. Exemplifying open hearts and minds is at the core of advocating for adoption values.

How has the adoption process opened your heart and mind?

Have Confidence in and Hope for Your Adoption Path

As a birth parent, choosing an adoption path is ultimately yours. Open adoption has the best benefits for a child-centered model of growth and can be individualized for every situation. Be empowered to choose an adoptive family you feel connected to, perhaps because of a feeling of familiarity in family values, religious beliefs, or cultural experiences. When placing your child for adoption, pick a family that provides you with the strongest feeling of comfort and peace within yourself. Surrendering and staying open can grow a unique extended relationship in an open adoption; choose what is best for you knowing that you are providing the best gift a waiting adoptive family could ever receive—a child to love.



Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.