How “Open” Should My Adoption Be? – The Degrees of Openness in Adoptions Today
Just imagine, being a young, unmarried woman living in the 1950’s. During this time, pre-marital sex was often stigmatized by religious groups, which imposed a double standard on women. Women typically did not work, and unmarried pregnant women often had no way to support the baby. The United States economy was expanding, creating a larger middle-class and beginning the consumer culture we have today. Because of this economic upturn, class and respectability became incredibly important. So when there was an increase in the number of women who became pregnant out of wedlock, we saw an increase in the number of babies placed for adoption.
At this time, most believed adoption provided a “second chance” to everyone involved. Unmarried women who would be judged for having children out of wedlock could hide the pregnancy and return to their community without stigma, couples who were unable to have children are able to provide stable homes, and the adopted children would grow up in a financially stable, two-parent household. However, adoptions were typically closed during this time. A closed adoption meant that adoption records were sealed, even to the parties involved. So often times, women did not know where the baby would go or with what family they would be placed. Adoptive parents were given no information about the birth mother and the baby’s origin. And adopted children did not have access to the information about their adoption or their birth mother.
You can imagine the issues that arose from this kind of arrangement. Birth mothers wondered where the baby ended up and whether they are receiving proper love and care. Adoptive parents wondered about the medical background of the child and traits that may run in the baby’s family. And adopted children had no answers to basic questions like, “how tall will I be?” or, “where was I born?” or, “do I look like my birth parents?” As adoption took off in the United States, more and more people began advocating for changes and more transparency in the process. Adopted children were looking for answers to their many questions, birth mothers were more reluctant to relinquish their baby to an agency, rather than to a family directly, and adoptive parents sought more information about the birth parents to be better informed and answer questions that would arise from the child.
Adoption reform gave way to more modern adoption processes, allowing for open and semi-open adoptions, meaning that those involved in the adoption process have access to information about themselves and each other.
In a modern progressive adoption, the birth mother voluntarily places out of love for her baby. She specifically chooses the adoptive parent(s) and places the baby directly with them. A birth mother is able to see the joy in the adoptive parent(s) by allowing them to become parents. She is able to see the impact she creates on the adoptive parent(s) and see the baby placed directly with them.
Modern progressive adoptions benefit adoptees by creating this beautiful adoption story. A child’s birth mother loved the child so much, that she sought out the perfect, loving adoptive parent(s), in order to give her baby the life she could not provide. At the same time, the adoptive parent(s) have been searching for their very own baby to love. This story of love culminates with a delivery, where all these loving parents come together, celebrating the birth of the child. This story is conveyed to the adoptee, who in the 50’s may have been grappling with abandonment, now feels like the “chosen child” who is loved by all involved.
For adoptive parents, it is about being involved in the pregnancy and the delivery. Contact and bonding is immediate and there is full access to information, medical history, mental health history, and reasons for placement. It is important for birth mothers to provide the adoptive parent(s) with family histories and information that will be conveyed to the baby. Having this information empowers the adoptive parent(s) to confidently share information with the child.
Studies have shown that those participating in an open adoption, involving interaction and collaboration between birth parents and adoptive parents, adjusted better psychosocially post-placement than those participating in a closed adoption. This effect was seen across the board—among birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children.
Degrees of Openness
When looking at open adoptions, it is important to recognize that there are many degrees of openness and no two open adoptions are the same. In an open adoption, there is some level of interaction between birth parents and adoptive parents either before the placement, during the placement, or after the placement of the baby.
At AdoptHelp, we create customized adoption plans to fit your specific needs. Because we tailor adoption plans based on the needs of our clients, we have seen a wide variety of open adoption plans. We have worked with birth mothers who only want to choose the family for their baby, but not necessarily communicate before or after the placement. We have worked with families that preferred a strong relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents and agreed to visitation post-placement. However, while we have seen adoption plans on both sides of this “open-adoption spectrum,” the vast majority of birth parents and adoptive parents settle somewhere in the middle.
One of the most common arrangements involves the birth mother selecting a family and communicating before the placement. It is also fairly common for adoptive parents to be at the hospital at the time of placement, but all parties agree that communication ceases once the placement is final. In some cases, birth parents and adoptive parents agree to post-placement communication. The most common of these is a picture/letter exchange, which typically continues for the first year after placement. If you are looking into adoption, know that open adoptions can vary in the terms. If you have questions or want to learn more, feel free to contact our office to speak to our expert case workers.
Grotevant, H.D., & McRoy, R.G. (1997). The Minnesota/Texas adoption research project: Openness in adoption for development and relationships. Applied Developmental Science, 1(4), 168-186.
Ge, X., Natsuaki, M. N., Martin, D., Leve, L., Neiderhiser, J., Shaw, D. S., … Reiss, D. (2008). Bridging the Divide: Openness in Adoption and Post-adoption Psychosocial Adjustment among Birth and Adoptive Parents. Journal of Family Psychology : JFP : Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 22(4), 529–540. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0012817