Open adoption is a fairly new concept, especially the extent of openness some adoptions have now. For those of us in these open adoptions, it is just our new normal. Many people outside of the situation, though, have a hard time understanding how it works. Really, it is just about as simple as a marriage! I think that it can even be considered a commitment more often honored than marriage. Unfortunately half of all marriages end. Your relationship with your child’s birth or adoptive parents will never end. It is a lifelong commitment. It is one of the biggest, most important decisions in your life. If you are an expectant parent, you are out there to find the right family for your child. If you are a hopeful adoptive parent, you are out there to find your child and their birth parents.
Five Ways Open Adoption is Like a Marriage
Why your adoption journey just starts at placement.
When you first start the adoption process, it is very much like starting the dating process. You create a profile and put things about you and your family on it. It feels a lot like creating a dating profile. You put your whole self out there, hoping that someone will like you, choose you. Then sometimes, someone does. Sometimes you get to meet them, and at first it's super awkward. You ask all of those questions to get to know each other. You have butterflies and can't wait until the next visit or call or text. That other person becomes the center of your world. During this time, you should be utterly and completely honest about yourself. If it doesn't work out, it wasn't your situation. You wouldn't want to marry someone that doesn't know the real you, would you?
As an expectant parent, the day you ask the adoptive couple to be the parent's to your child is much like an engagement. There is a lot of stress and prayers and careful consideration that goes into this. Both sides have to decide if this is the right situation for you because it will be a lifelong commitment. You both can still back out at any time. You both have the choice to not continue the adoption process. You don't know what is to come after placement (or the wedding), and you probably have many fears and doubts about the future. That is totally normal. Cold feet doesn't happen just at weddings. Just try to focus on why you are making the decision, and do what is best for the child. The best may be deciding to parent, or the best may be walking away from an adoption situation. These are hard and painful decisions for sure, and only you can make them.
All of this leads up to the super stressful, most sacred, most emotional days: the day of your child’s birth and placement day. You have dreamed of this day, planned its details, and when that day comes, not many things go as you had planned them--and that’s okay. In these first couple of days, you will be bound for the rest of your life with this sacred experience. It will be life-changing. You may have set up a communication plan (visits, emails, pictures, etc). At the time you did, you may have not known what you wanted or what you may want in the future. If you are unsure, make sure to be honest about not knowing what you may want or need in the future. It is okay to not know about the unknowns in the following years.
After their birth/placement comes the awkward and emotional phases again–it really is like the first year of being married. Everything is so new, and you find out even more things about each other that you didn't know. You have good days and bad days. It takes a lot of work and quality time together to really build your relationship. You have to trust each other and love each other. Patience, forgiveness, and understanding are essential in that first year and for the rest of your life. You have to respect each other's boundaries and what the other person is comfortable with. You need to learn to accept each other for who you really are, flaws and all. Most importantly, you have to COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE. Honest communication is a must in an open adoption. If you need to change your communication plan (more or fewer visits, pictures, emails, etc), make sure you talk about it honestly with your adoptive couple/birth parents. If you are having trouble bonding with the baby with the birth parents visiting so often, tell them. If you are feeling like you need to see your baby you placed to help you when you are having a hard time, tell the adoptive couple. If you truly love each other, you will do what you can, within reason, to help each other through these new and hard days ahead. Also keep in mind that you both want to do the best for this child, and the best for the child may not be what is best for you. Being a parent/birth parent is hard. You have to make hard choices. You have good and bad days. But we do all the hard things for our kids because we love them more than anything.
In a marriage, you stay in it not only for the love of your children, but because you genuinely love and want to be with your other half. It is the same with open adoption. People often ask me, “How often to you have to see them?” We don’t HAVE to see them. We CHOOSE to see them because we LOVE them and they really have become part of our FAMILY. It is always nice to have people over that are always so excited to see your kids and you! Who doesn't love more love in their life?
Terra Cooper is a Staff Storyteller at Adoption.com. She is a mother of three-- two boys and one girl who was adopted. She is also a professional wedding photographer, a self-proclaimed foodie, and a TV/movie addict. Visit her website.
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