When I think about how to explain an open adoption definition, I find myself listing all the reasons why there isn’t one set definition to explain. Open...

When I think about how to explain an open adoption definition, I find myself listing all the reasons why there isn’t one set definition to explain. Open adoption is ambiguous. It can mean different things to different people, and can continuously change as time goes on. For an expectant birth parent, starting the journey of choosing any type of adoption can be overwhelming, and open adoption is something a lot of birth parents might be surprised to know is even an option. Sure, you can Google the definition of open adoption, but there are so many different interpretations that it can be confusing to understand the true meaning of the phrase. Adoption has a complex history that goes back to the Common Era and continues to evolve over time as we learn more about what best benefits each member of the adoption triad. Society has made great changes regarding the way we perceive adoption, and open adoptions are now much more common than in the past. As a birth mother, I have spent time educating prospective adoptive parents on why I choose an open adoption as the best option for my child. However, each adoption story is different from the next, and there is no set guideline for what an adoption plan might look like. Let me share with you a few of the reasons why an open adoption can mean a multitude of things.

Open Adoption Can Be the Birth’s Parent Decision. 

Finding yourself in the situation of considering adoption in any capacity can be a daunting experience. Unfortunately, throughout history, adoption has typically been viewed in a negative light. Placing a child for adoption was something women were ashamed to admit, or something women may have wanted to hide from public knowledge. We think about deep family secrets or even the orphan adoption trains of the 1850s. There were great deals of stigma surrounding the birth parents that could have been interpreted as a birth parent not wanting anything to do with her child. Many believed adoption was driven by the want of a child from the adoptive family. Thankfully, through the efforts of countless pioneers who have advocated for proper adoption education and language, we understand adoption is not something to be looked down upon. It is also not something an expectant birth parent should feel she lacks control in when making the selfless choice of placing her child for adoption. Making that choice carries significant weight, but the details of how that adoption plan could look have many possibilities.

When I was a pregnant teenager without the means to provide for my child, the idea of adoption was exponentially frightening.  I did not know how an open adoption definition could look. Like in an old movie, I assumed it meant that I “gave my child away” to a family, never to hear about or from that child again. I could not have been more wrong in thinking so. Once I started learning about the different options regarding adoption, I discovered that it was my choice on the amount of contact I was able to maintain with my child after placement. I was delighted to learn there were many, many hopeful adoptive families looking to have an open adoption and maintain a relationship with the birth family post-placement. Families that also wanted to ensure that the adopted child had access to everything he or she needed, including the opportunity to be surrounded by as much love as possible. Many adoptive families understand how beneficial it is not only for the child and birth parents but also to the adoptive families themselves. Having a relationship with the birth family can remove a lot of mystery and unanswered questions about the birth family that could cause undue hardships later on. Keeping lines of communication open is helpful not only for medical reasons but it allows the child to get a better understanding of why an adoption plan was made for his life. A birth parent can choose to have as much, or as little contact as she desires and will take that into consideration when looking for an adoptive family. If an adoption agency is being utilized, it will often help match birth parents and adoptive families based on these criteria. Agencies can also help ease the strain that is sometimes felt when first trying to build a relationship that might feel forced. After meeting, each party can decide if each member would like to pursue a relationship or continue the search for the right match. Some people know this right away, and others need more time to cultivate the relationship until he or she knows for certain. This is just one example of the different ways an expectant birth parent can make an open adoption definition personal.

Open Adoption Can Look Different to Everyone.

When I realized I would not be able to parent my own child after several months of agonizing if I had the means to provide the kind of life I wanted my child to live, I began to think about what an open adoption could look like for me. At that time, I wanted to be as involved as possible. I wanted my child to live close by, spend as much time as possible with her, and make sure she had many memories of time spent with me. I envisioned holidays, sporting events, and moments together, making memories with the adoptive family in that home. To me, that was an open adoption definition. While I was pregnant and wondering if I would be able to make this connection, I was living in a dorm at The Gladney Center for Adoption with as many as 12 other pregnant women at a time. Besides plenty of emotion and snacks, we also shared where we were in our own journeys with making plans for post-placement. The general consensus was similar regarding a want for open adoption, but there were several women who were firm in the desire to place her child for adoption and continue with life without any kind of post-adoption agreement for updates or communication. I could not understand this mindset at the time, but as the years passed, I have met many other birth parents through support groups and learned that it is not uncommon to find varying degrees of openness in regards to post-adoption communication or even those that made the choice to have no contact. Semi-open adoptions are one of the most common, meaning there is a certain amount of information exchanged between the birth and adoptive families, but not always personal information, such as addresses, phone numbers, or even last names. Another way an adoption agency can be helpful is in managing this contact post-adoption by being the point of contact for letters, packages, or frequently a meeting place for the members of the triad. Utilizing an agency also supplies both you and the adoptive family each with a caseworker that can help you figure what the healthiest way to nurture the relationship is as time goes on. The key to remember for any post-adoption agreement is that there is a level of respect that is mandatory, and the agreement can only flourish if both sides adhere to the guidelines set forth when initially entering into the agreement. Healthy relationships are imperative to the success of the agreement, and it’s important to remember to always put the child’s needs first. 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.

Open Adoptions Can Change and Evolve Over Time.

Now that we have established that when making a post-adoption plan, the level of how open it could be can be different for everyone, let’s talk about change. Although change can be scary for most people, the majority of great outcomes don’t happen without a change of plans or redirection here or there. I was adamant about having a very open adoption with my child and her adoptive family until I experienced some changes in my life that made me start to reconsider if this was the best situation for everyone. The emotional impact was not something I anticipated having such a deep effect on how I lived my life. In retrospect, I wish I had paid a little more attention to the counseling that was offered to me pre-placement. After some discussion with the adoptive parents, I decided to take a step back from the amount of communication and in-person visits we had initially started. There is no shame in recognizing that sometimes things in life evolve into something you never considered to be an option until you start to experience it yourself. An open adoption definition has to include change because, just like a person changes as she gains more life experience, so can your post-adoption plan. The child I placed for adoption recently became a teenager, and as she continues to grow, I am excited at the prospect of how our open adoption can grow as well. There are many people that start this journey under more semi-open limitations until the relationship matures. Not unlike falling in love, you slowly start to share more of yourself with one another utilizing communication, honesty, and most of all, trust. These relationships can have periods of constant communication or times when more space is required.

When I placed my child in the early 2000s, technology was just beginning to boom as a method of communication, and the very first point of contact between birth and prospective adoptive families was a vague email address that was set up as a way for the relationship to start without the exchange of any identifying information. Parent profiles only contained first names, there were no Facebook profiles to look up, and no text messaging to help ease into communication. It was a much more vulnerable time, and you were unable to use social media as a way to find information out about prospective families. Today, there are online profiles, videos, and a search engine at your fingertips. No matter how you initially make contact and decide on the right adoptive family, the status of your relationship will change from strangers into a type of family that only members of the adoption triad can understand. This special relationship will be your own personal open adoption definition.

All types of adoption are different, complicated, and beautiful. Choosing an open adoption can be one of the best parts to come out of an otherwise non-ideal situation. The definition of open adoption, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an adoption that involves contact between biological and adoptive parents and sometimes between biological parents and the adopted child.” Open adoption means so much more than that. It is not just contact–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. An open adoption definition is only defined by the people who entered into that agreement. People who found each other through the power of adoption to come together for the greater good of a child. A birth parent faces many hardships and challenges during every phase of adoption. Knowing that she will get to maintain contact and be able to be part of the child’s life as he or she grows up can help give the tiniest bit of peace in knowing she made the best decision possible at that time. When facing the decision of choosing an open adoption for your child, know that any negativity that you may have seen or read about in the past is exactly that, in the past. We are making huge changes every day in the adoption world to ensure that each adoptee, adoptive family, and birth family has all the support needed for successful open adoption.