Prior to my husband and I adopting two children, I only knew of adoption what I saw portrayed in the media. In my mind, adoption was a place for secrets. In every Lifetime movie and after-school special, a teenager would be shocked with the news that he was adopted after he discovered his old birth certificate or needed a transplant from a biological relative. Luckily, my view of adoption has evolved just as the world is starting to understand that adoption does not have to be the end to a birth family’s story. Is adoption ethical and what should I know?
Open adoption can take many forms, but it generally means that a birth family still retains knowledge of their child’s well-being after an adoption has finalized. This can be as small as a few updates in the form of pictures and a letter or as much as regular visitation. It is completely understandable that there may be circumstances that prevent open adoption such as abuse or general safety concerns. It may also be the wish of a birth parent to have a closed adoption for one reason or another. However, when open adoption is an option, it should be honored for the sake of all involved, especially the child. Closed adoption is not an ethical choice when open adoption is possible.
While much of what makes people who they are is determined by whom they were raised and how they were nurtured, there is much to say about a child’s nature. Anyone who has a child can certainly attest to the fact that they all have their own personality and unique qualities. Above and beyond personality traits, an adoptee will have physical traits that will mirror their biological parents. Adoptive parents may find these traits do not affect their child when she is young; however, these traits are a part of who she is.
As they grow, adoptees will often have an innate desire to connect with these traits in a tangible way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that children will have a desire to meet their biological parents if an adoption is closed, but there will be a desire to dial into that part of their identity to connect to more. This may be especially true for children who are of a different ethnicity than their adoptive parents.
Open adoption fulfills the need for a biological connection. There will not be mystery shrouding ethnicity and culture. The adoptee has an immediate avenue through which to find out more about his heritage and biological traits. The identity crisis that many teens who have been adopted experience will be lessened by the firm knowledge of their origin story.
I often feel quite overwhelmed in the pediatrician’s office when it comes to filling out forms regarding medical history. While we do have an open adoption, there are circumstances surrounding it where the contact on the paternal side is minimal. We have reached out for more information but simply have very little. With this, we have to be very careful in trying new foods, scheduling vaccinations, and introducing our children to very simple situations in everyday life. Some of these situations could be deadly as we do not have all of the needed information.
Food allergies and many medical conditions can be genetic and episodes treatable by having the knowledge of these risks. Open adoption gives adoptive parents access to a full medical history for their child and an opportunity to ask continued questions. It also gives adoptees a larger net to cast if a biological match is needed for more serious medical situations such as blood transfusions and transplants. If you have the opportunity to allow this knowledge for your child, it is the ethical thing to do to give her access to information that could mean life and death.
Though it is hard to admit, the choice of adoptive parents to opt for a closed adoption when open adoption is an option is often pride. It is incredibly difficult to imagine “sharing” your child with another set of parents. It is important to realize that children are incredibly perceptive. They have an incredible and innate ability to distinguish between varying relationships. While a child may have two mothers, her relationship with each will vary drastically. My daughter will grow up knowing that I am not her only mother and my husband not her only father. However, she will view me completely different than she does her birth mother. This, in simple part, is because I will be her parent through the day-to-day. Yet, that fact does not erase the presence nor importance of her birth parents.
Open adoption sets pride aside so the loss in adoption can be minimized. Adoption will hold loss and that is something we cannot avoid. However, taking away a child’s ability to know his birth family and heritage simply because we do not want to “share” is incredibly unethical. While we love our children the same, biological or adopted, we do not get to simply ignore that the children whom we adopted have a story that began before us. A large part of their identity will be found in their biological connections, and that is a void we simply cannot fill. Not allowing a child the opportunity to make informed medical decisions in the future and for you to make these decisions for him or her now is not a risk worth taking for the sake of pride. Open adoption should be the path chosen when the safety of a child is not compromised and the birth parents are willing to participate. The physical, mental, and emotional health of your child is most important, and severing a biological connection can be detrimental when preventable.
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