As an expectant parent who is considering adoption for your child, your mind is most likely full of many thoughts as you attempt to make choices regarding a possible adoption plan. You could also be a birth parent who has already placed a child for adoption but is now curious about what an open adoption entails. Regardless of who you are, you are trying to understand an important question: What is open adoption?

It is imperative that, as an expectant parent who is considering placing your child for adoption, you completely understand the options you have for ongoing contact in an open adoption. Adoption is a sensitive and complex journey, and deciding now to advocate for yourself will help you throughout your journey of potentially placing your child for adoption. Before we dive into answering “what is open adoption?”, please know that what you are facing or have faced can feel very isolating. However, also know there are so many wonderful resources available for you. Respect yourself and your journey, and know that your story is valued and sacred.

Types of Adoption

There are a few different types of adoptions, which essentially include open, closed, and semi-open. For the sake of clarity, let’s quickly discuss each type.

A closed adoption means that there is no ongoing communication between the biological family and adoptive family after placement. While the decision for a closed adoption should be respected by all parties, it is safe to say these adoptions are becoming less common as the adoption landscape continues to experience positive changes.

A semi-open adoption involves some form of ongoing communication between the birth family and adoptive family and the adoptee. Typically, the communication within this type of adoption is through a third party, like an adoption agency.

What Is Open Adoption?

Open adoption means open communication, which can include in-person visits, photographs, social media interactions, letters, etc.; whatever is preferred to maintain a sense of open communication between all members of the adoption triad. The adoption triad refers to the biological family, the adoptive family, and the adoptee. Think of open adoption as having an “open door policy.” The method in which an expectant parent begins an open adoption varies within each adoption. In some cases, an expectant parent may begin interacting with the potential adoptive family before the child is involved. In other cases, openness may not occur until after the adoption is finalized.

As a potential expectant parent, you may be wondering how the openness works and how both parties navigate the communication. Your adoption professional will help you navigate your expectations for open adoption so that all parties involved are organized and prepared to execute a successful open adoption. We will discuss realistic expectations of open adoption later in this article.

For more explanation on the different types of adoptions, click here.

What Are the Benefits of Open Adoption?

As an adoptive parent myself, I strongly believe that adopted children who experience open adoptions are more successful in obtaining a sense of identity, maintaining emotional health, and experiencing an overall sense of well-being. It is no surprise to know that adopted children will inevitably have to grapple with difficult truths as they learn their adoption story. This fact should not be a source of angst for you as an expectant parent. Rather, it should spur you on to consider the benefits of open adoption.

My husband and I have an open adoption with my son’s birth parents and extended family. Although there has been a learning curve, we have maintained an “open door policy” between us and his birth parents, which has proved to be extremely helpful for all of us. It is our goal as his parents to provide him with as much opportunity as possible to understand his story, gain validation through knowing his birth family, and have a safe space to ask questions.

Over and over again, my husband and I see the benefits of our open adoption. We’ve observed that it not only aids the healing of our son’s birth parents, but it allows us to bridge the gaps in his emotional development. For more information on the general advantages of open adoption, especially in terms of how adoptive parents feel about open adoptions, refer to this study.

When you ask yourself, “what is open adoption?”, you have to consider the child. Although each adoption is different, my experience as an adoptive parent with an open adoption with our son’s birth family has reaffirmed to me that open adoption creates emotional space. The phrase emotional space is the best way I can describe the result of maintaining an open relationship with my son’s birth family. As he grows and begins to understand his story, he will have emotional space to heal, ask questions, and process his story. This is incredibly important for an adoptee since their adoption story will likely become part of their identity. You can read more about the benefits of open adoption on Adoption.com.

While the benefits of an open adoption far outweigh the disadvantages, in my opinion, I think it would be unwise and naive to not mention the difficulties an expectant or birth parent can have in an open adoption. The open communication may cause some expectant parents ongoing emotional strain if the communication reopens wounds each time. For example, receiving a picture in the mail or interacting in person with the adoptive family and your child may be difficult. Pre and post-placement counseling are crucial for the emotional health and healing of expectant and birth parents. So, it is extremely helpful to know what you can feasibly handle emotionally. For some, the communication may soothe the grief that will inevitably come after placing a child for adoption. It all varies with the individual. If you want to read more from an actual birth mother, read “What Is the Aftermath of Placing Your Child for Adoption?”

Expectations

As an expectant parent, you likely have a visual image in your mind about what an open adoption may look like. What you are envisioning depends largely on what you already know or do not know about open adoption. Before I became well-versed in adoption, I thought an open adoption would take away from my role as a parent. I admit that was a selfish thought, and it frightened me because I was unsure how to maintain an open adoption without sacrificing the roles I have as my son’s adoptive mother. I had several selfish thoughts and fears. Now that I have come to understand open adoption, I would never want anything but an open adoption for my son. However, for you as an expectant parent, it is important that you clarify what expectations you have for your potential adoption. Determining what type of adoption you would want with your child and the adoptive parents is a decision you will need to make early on in your adoption journey.

Regardless of what type of adoption you choose, it is important that your expectations match what you communicate to your adoption advocate, attorney, or whichever adoption professional you are using. No one can speak more clearly and intentionally about your expectations than you can. Only you know what you would like to see within your adoption journey. Before making a decision, it would be best to make an intentional effort to think long-term and determine what would be best for your child. The success of your potential open adoption will depend largely on how well you set your boundaries at the onset of your potential adoption.

You can communicate your expectations with your adoption professional so the adoptive family is clear on your expectations from the beginning. That way you are only matched with an adoptive family who is willing and interested in maintaining the kind of adoption you want. When you review potential adoptive parents’ profiles, you will be made aware of their desired level of openness. An example of what these profiles can look like, can be found on Adoption.com’s Parent Profiles page. Especially since an open adoption would involve ongoing communication between you and the adoptive parents and the adoptee, and it is important to know what you want.

Responsibilities

When and if you decide an open adoption is something you would like to put in place, there will be some details to sorted out as you make an adoption plan with the adoption entity you choose. Open adoption comes with a great deal of responsibility. Not only do you have to advocate for yourself as an expectant parent, but you also have to take on the responsibility of being intentional with your communication. For instance, if you move to a new place or any of your contact information changes, you will need to get that information to your adoptive family.

There are cases when communication between the birth and adoptive families goes through the adoption professional. If this is the case, then it would likely involve the adoptive family contacting you through the adoption agency. It does not have to be this way, but it is a common method. Personally, our open adoption communication does not go through our adoption professional. If you are successful in maintaining a relationship, you may be able to communicate with each other directly.

Another responsibility you will have an as expectant parent is to know the boundaries you have for yourself. There will inevitably be post-placement grief that will not end when your adoption is finalized. Although I am not a birth mother myself, I have walked alongside many birth mothers and have seen their grief firsthand. If the communication or involvement you are receiving from your child’s adoptive family begins to cause you turmoil or becomes a trigger for you, it is important to handle that in a way that promotes your emotional well-being. You know what is best for you, so I encourage you to do what you know is best for you.

The Last Word

When I think of the question, “What is open adoption?” so many emotions flood my mind. Open adoption is something that has changed my life, my husband’s life, and the life of our son. As mentioned earlier, I had many fears and concerns about what an open adoption would look like, and unfortunately, those fears and concerns were selfish. Once my son’s birth mother and I began communicating, it was as if a burden lifted from us. We no longer had fears or concerns. We began to view it as something that would help our son throughout his life. The impact of his story will never go away, but its sting may be lessened because he has two families lovingly providing him the space to own his story.

There is also an overwhelming sense of respect between all of us. The ability and freedom my son’s birth parents have to see their son grow has had a significant impact on their ability to heal. Like many birth parents, at the time of our son’s birth, they did not know what options they would have long-term. The emotional space and “open door policy” that has been established between us has continued to be a platform where we can all heal, love, and flourish. When I see my son with his birth family during our visits, it fills me with joy because it is a tangible reminder that some good can come from something difficult and traumatic, if you are willing to put yourself aside and focus on the overall goal: doing what is best for the child, while also doing what you can to aid the child in understanding his or her story. 

There are a multitude of reasons why birth parents place their child for adoption. Each circumstance is varied and personal. Regardless of what has brought you to this place and what has brought you to the point of considering “what is open adoption?” and “what would open adoption mean for me?”, you should know you have a voice, a story, and a path to walk. Motherhood comes to us all in so many different ways, and it is my hope that your journey, whatever it may be, will bring you peace.