We hear a lot about open adoption vs. closed adoption. But did you know there’s a third option that falls in the middle called semi-open adoption? This middle-ground option offers some level of communication between all three parties in the adoption triad. But how does it measure up? And is semi-open adoption okay?
The answer to this question all depends on what a birth parent is looking for when choosing an adoption plan for their child.
It’s important to note that each adoption and its subsequent relationships are unique, as determined by the comfort level of both the birth parents and the adoptive parents. It’s equally important for birth parents to make sure they know and understand their rights before entering into any sort of adoption, be it open, semi-open, or closed–just as it’s critical for adopting parents to know what these three types of adoption mean.
One factor to keep in mind is when we are talking about the amount of openness surrounding adoption, what we’re really talking about is what type of relationship the adopted child may have with their birth family. It’s just as crucial to remember that this relationship can and often will change over time for a variety of reasons.
But before we answer the question, “Is semi-open adoption okay?” We need to dive a little deeper into what all three adoption options mean for birth parents, adoptive parents, and the adopted child.
Is Closed Adoption Okay and What Does It Mean?
Closed adoption means just what it says. In most cases, this type of adoption involves an infant or child being adopted by another family with the record of the biological parent kept sealed. In most cases, this also means that the birth records are sealed. Oftentimes in the case of closed adoption, the biological father is not recorded, even on the original birth certificate.
In this scenario, a birth parent does not have any contact with their child or the adoptive family. Once upon a time in America, closed adoption was the norm. In most cases, closed adoption is still the norm for international adoptions. But the perception of adoption has changed greatly in the past few decades as a better understanding of what adoption means for all members of the triad has become clearer, especially the needs of adoptees.
Still, in some cases, where a birth parent specifically chooses to preserve their privacy, closed adoption remains an available option–whether the decision was made for safety reasons for either the birth mom or child and/or because a birth parent feels that having contact will not be healthy for either parent or child. Closed adoption may be beneficial in allowing a child to live a life without fear that he or she will be found by anyone who has caused harm in the past (for example, children who have been placed with a family through foster care).
And while some birth parents find comfort knowing that they have made a hard decision on behalf of the child and their best interests and hope that knowledge will bring them comfort, others find themselves feeling a sense of loss even years later. Birthmother grief is very real. All birth mothers can expect to feel lost or grief to some extent. It’s completely understandable and normal. For these birth parents, birthdays, holidays, and the passing of time is a sad reminder that they may never know their biological child or how their life has turned out.
Is Open Adoption Okay and What Does It Mean?
Unlike closed adoption, open adoption means that both the birth parents and the adoptive parents share each other’s contact information, oftentimes from the start during pregnancy. In this scenario, it’s common for birth parents to invite the adoptive parents to be involved in doctors’ appointments and even be present for the birth of the child.
Research shows that open adoption strengthens the parent-child relationship.
The terms of option adoption and how much communication there will be between the birth parents, adoptive parents, and child is typically worked out and agreed upon before the adoption takes place. No two open adoptions are alike as the wants and needs of all parties differ from scenario to scenario.
Typically with open adoption, communication will happen directly between the birth family and adoptive family and includes in-person visits, although this is not always the case.
Open adoption can look different to everyone. According to birth mom Lacy Davis, open adoption is more than a legal agreement between people: “Open adoption means so much more than that. It is not just contracted–it is a relationship, it is trust, it is the first block in building a solid foundation for a child of adoption to thrive. It is an agreement made between two families wanting the greatest life possible for a child.” She explains that after years of talking to many other birth parents through support groups, she has learned that “It is not uncommon to find varying degrees of openness in regards to post-adoption communication or even those that chose to have no contact.” She adds, “One of the most beautiful things about an open adoption definition is that the adoptive family and birth parents can decide together what that personal definition of open looks like to each member involved.”
A key benefit of open adoption, no matter the means of communication, is the push toward more transparency and less secrecy. For an adopted child, this translates to fewer questions and more information about who they are and where they came from. For birth parents, this means having an opportunity to be part of the child’s life to the extent all parties are comfortable with.
Is Semi-Open Adoption Okay and What Does It Mean?
So we’ve talked a little bit about closed adoption and open adoption. For many families–birth and adoptive alike–semi-open adoption seems a “safe” choice when deciding on what may be in the best interest of all parties involved.
Unlike open adoption where there is the exchange of identifying information, there is more discretion involved with semi-open adoption, as well as a preferred means of communication. In some cases, this communication may come in the form of emails, letters, or photographs as well as a third-party figure like an agency or attorney.
Adoptive mom, Julia Porter, who chose semi-open adoption for her family explains her reasoning: “Semi-open adoptions leave room for various situations and communication opportunities. I’m often asked if I would be willing to have a more open adoption should that situation arise. My answer is always yes because I love my daughter and can see that this would be beneficial for her.”
Just like with other types of adoption, semi-open adoption has its pros and cons for the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents.
Is Semi-Open Adoption Okay for Birth Parents?
It is the general hope that a semi-open adoption will leave the door open for members of the birth family and the adoptive family to build a healthy relationship that will benefit both parties and, more importantly, the adopted child that binds them.
Birth parents who decide on a semi-open adoption may have the chance to interview and even select potential adoptive families. This can help a birth parent to feel more comfortable and confident in their adoption plan knowing that they were able to weigh in and help choose the “right family” for their child.
Whereas closed adoption can leave a birth parent cut-off and alone, semi-open adoption can help to reduce feelings of grief and even guilt, not just in having the knowledge and information about the child’s adoptive family, but the potential to build a relationship with the child and help to explain to them the reason for their decision.
Unlike open adoption where identifying information is shared freely, semi-open adoption provides the opportunity for birth parents and adoptive parents to maintain a controlled sense of privacy if they so choose.
Is Semi-Open Adoption Okay for the Adoptee?
There is no question that as a child grows, they will have questions about who they are, where they are from, and why their birth parents decided to place them for adoption. This is where semi-open adoption is beneficial as it enables a child to gain a better understanding of themselves and their identity, either from their adoptive parents who are able to share this information or, in some cases, directly from a birth parent who is willing to share.
Many adopted children grow up with feelings of abandonment or like they were unwanted by their birth family. Not only does semi-open adoption provide an opportunity to dispel these fears, but it leaves a door open to a potential relationship with a birth parent in the future.
Additionally, like open adoption, semi-open adoption provides children easier access to important social and lifesaving medical history information.
Semi-open adoption can be a win-win for an adopted child as they have the added benefit of experiencing the love and resources found in an extended family support system.
Adoptee Hanna Jennings explains in her article that semi-open adoption can, “allow the members of the adoption triad the opportunity to grow individually and to best benefit the adoptee and give them time and space to best develop communication, as those involved work together.” Based on her own experience with semi-open adoption she says, “I believe that semi-open adoption has the potential to allow an adoptee a healthy childhood with their adoptive family while having a keen knowledge of how they came to be a part of the family. It allows adoptees to hopefully avoid as much confusion and identity crises as possible. Semi-open adoption also brings a little more room for negotiation and reconsiderations as communication may need to grow or recede in whatever way would best benefit the well-being of the child.”
Is Semi-Open Adoption Okay for the Adoptive Family?
Believe it or not, adoptive parents also have questions of their own that can only be answered by the birth parents, especially as a child grows and starts asking more in-depth questions about their biological family. Semi-open adoption provides adoptive parents the chance to communicate directly with the birth family by an agreed-upon means–typically through the adoption agency–while still being able to maintain a degree of privacy.
Access to important social and medical history makes taking a child to the doctor or dentist or even being able to help them through issues at school that much easier. It’s frustrating to have to write “N/A” when trying to answer important questions about your child on forms and documents–especially when a child is experiencing mystery medical issues that, with the proper background information, may be easier to identify and correct.
Many adoptive families have expressed happiness for having the chance to get to know and cultivate a positive relationship with their child’s birth family via semi-open adoptions.
And, believe it or not, even when communication is limited for whatever reason, adoptive parents do care about and think about their child’s birth parents and extended family. Having the opportunity to learn more about them and feel more comfortable and confident that the adoption plan was the right choice by all parties brings a sense of peace and closure. Knowing that you were “picked” specifically by your child’s birth parent can bring a sense of comfort.
Is Semi-Open Adoption Okay for Me?
What successful semi-open adoption really boils down to is good communication. Whether you’re a birth parent or an adoptive parent, being on the same page, determining how much contact and by what means, and considering the level of privacy that you’re comfortable with is key.
No matter the type of adoption plan you choose, it should be considered with the needs of the child first and foremost.
For more information about semi-open adoption and other types of adoption, please visit adoption.com.