How to Prepare for a Successful Open Adoption

The most important thing to remember when preparing for a successful open adoption is to just be yourself.

Alan Atchison April 12, 2018
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Getting ready for an open adoption can feel a lot like preparing for a job interview. Everything about you seems like it’s under the microscope; the outcome feels largely out of your control; and you’re probably sweating.

When my wife, Tara, and I learned that our oldest daughter’s birth mother (eight months pregnant at the time) wanted to meet us, every one of our insecurities bubbled to the surface. Did I say bubbled? More like volcanoed. We desperately wanted to impress, yet all we could think about was how badly we were going to screw it up. And then something funny happened the moment we walked into the meeting room. We realized it wasn’t about us. It was about what was best for this expectant mother and her unborn child. Yes, we longed to become this child’s parents, but we longed even more for the child’s mother to be entirely confident in her decision. By the end of the meeting, we’d fallen in love with the young woman who went on to place her very own flesh and blood in our care. Four years later, we sat in a hospital room with a different woman who’d just given birth and who’d decided to make an adoption plan for her baby girl. As she spoke to us about why she’d chosen our family profile, we felt entirely unworthy. But today, we share beautiful open adoption relationships with our two daughters’ birth mothers.

Don’t Try to Impress

This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. Birth parents rarely choose adoptive parents based on who, within their stack of profiles, makes the most money, has the biggest house, wears the fanciest clothes, or drives the most luxurious car. They choose adoptive parents, most often, because there’s something about them that strikes a chord within themselves. It could be certain shared interests, a set of common beliefs, or whether or not you have kids or pets. When starting a relationship with your potential son or daughter’s birth parents—as cliché as this sounds—you just need to be yourself. If a birth parent places with you, these commonalities will provide a foundation on which to build your open adoption relationship.

Stick to the Plan

One of the biggest contributing factors that cause some birth parents to regret placing their children is when adoptive parents renege on an agreed-upon open adoption plan. Unless the emotional or physical safety of the child is at stake, this is inexcusable. Over the years, Tara and I have had the opportunity to speak to many prospective adoptive couples just beginning the process, and we tell them all the same thing: be open, be honest, be faithful. It’s also important to remember that birth parents’ emotions will fluctuate throughout the course of a year, and certain dates, such as the child’s birthday or particular holidays, may be painful triggers. Sometimes this will require you to alter plans you’ve made together—and that’s okay. Offering your support and being willing to adapt in these times is vital and will serve to water the seeds of trust and nourish the fragile roots of your child’s birth parents’ difficult decision to make an adoption plan. Keep in mind, this relationship’s dynamics (as with any relationship) will evolve and change over time, but when each party maintains a high degree of humble vulnerability, the long-term health of your open adoption triad will be that much stronger for everyone involved, especially the child.

Consider the Benefits

An open adoption relationship is not meant to be a prison sentence, but that’s how many outside the adoption community (and plenty of people thinking about adopting) tend to view it. For our daughters, it’s an opportunity for them to learn about their origin in the most personal and intimate of ways. For us, it’s an honor and privilege to share our lives with the women who brought our daughters into the world and entrusted them to us. They are the only ones in the world who love our kids as much as we do, and they get just as excited whenever we tell them about each new developmental milestone or adorable anecdote. Simply put, doing life with our kids’ birth mothers as extended family is just way more fun. Over the years, people have asked us why we have to continuously visit and keep in touch with our daughters’ birth mothers. Isn’t it an invasion of our family privacy? An unnecessary obligation? A nuisance? After a brief chuckle, we always tell them the same thing: we don’t have to…we get to!

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Alan Atchison

 Alan Atchison is a Senior Publications Editor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. In addition to his day job, he writes fiction and is currently pursuing publication. He is a strong advocate for open adoption and is an outgoing introvert, which means he'll be the life of the party if necessary, but would rather be home with a book. He lives in Philadelphia, PA, with his wife and two daughters. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


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