Open Adoption: Part 1

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Open adoption has seen a surge over the past decade. As more agencies offer this as a solution to unexpected pregnant women, we are seeing more and more women opt to go into an open relationship of some variety with the parents she chooses for her child. To some degree the days of the Baby Scoop Era are long behind us. The idea seems to be focused on adoption being a loving, family orientated choice that now involves all parties.

Of course, open adoption is not an easy practice to maintain. Simply put, open adoption can be difficult to practice simply because there is a lack of prerequisite education about the reality of an open relationship. There is no specific definition for it, other than the sharing of names and basic information. From family to family, the ideal openness seems to change based on the age, and willingness of all participants. In the beginning, open adoption agreements can be signed between the mother and couple to ensure that openness continues past infancy. Sometimes it's a verbal agreement discussed between the two parties. However, open adoption agreements, verbal or written, in most states are not legally binding and as such they can be broken.

This is a common concern for relinquishing mothers, who often choose adoption with the idea that they will still have access to their child in the future. Potential adopting couples go into open adoption for varying reasons- they have had some experience with open adoption, wanting openness for their child, or simply because that's what they were told they should do. It seems that openness will vary depending on the agency that the mother and couple are working with, as well as an open mind on both ends of the spectrum.

So, why do open adoptions close? It's argued that it doesn't happen all that often, but there are countless accounts on the internet from both adoptive families and birthmothers indicating that even open adoptions become closed adoption. Clearly, even the best open adoptions are at risk of closing, which begs the question: What can we learn from those cases so we can prevent open adoptions from becoming closed? Better yet, let's discuss why open adoption agreements can fall into the closed category.

Often both parties can become overwhelmed by the requirements that are involved to maintain an open adoption. As previously mentioned, there is little to no real education on how these relationships ultimately ebb and flow as the child ages or what norms are to be expected. Frequently, there is a lot of misconceptions about how the relationship should be, instead of welcoming the idea that these relationships are much like a marriage. Furthermore, because the contract is not legally binding it means that when the relationship reaches a tougher patch, there is always an option to close the adoption. This can make it decidedly easier for the parenting couple, or even the birthparent to walk away with no consequence if conflict should arise. However, this decision greatly impacts the adoptee long term.

Adoptions that were open can close because of a lack of communication or expression of expectations. Birthparents, for example can often be overwhelmed by the grief that they battle with, even if the adoption was a choice they made themselves. In the same thread, adoptive families can close the adoption because of insecurities relating to the child and the birthparent relationship, or again, due to overwhelming feelings that were not discussed or expected. Sometimes, it is encouraged that an open adoption only last for so long, because that may be what the agency norm is for adopting couples. We also have rare instances where no contact is best for the child, but these instances are few and far between.

When we look at open adoption, we should be approaching it in the fashion that closing the adoption is not an option. All parties should be willing to understand the dynamic that an open adoption requires, and should actively seek out support from families who have experience in open adoption. Having all sets of parents in the child's life can be both a blessing to the child and the adoptive family as we can finally move past looking at this as a “gift” and view the adoption experience as a blending of families.

Still, closing an adoption can happen, and that leads to a series of questions that we should all ask ourselves before entertaining the idea of permanently closing an adoption: How do we discuss this with our children in an honest way that allows them to explore their origins without limitations? How do we put ourselves aside for the betterment of our child? When a birthparent decides to walk away, how do we explain this to our child who may feel abandoned or neglected as a result? If the adoptive family decides to close the adoption, how do we maintain our visibility in away that our children can reach out for a relationship in the future?

Part 2

Credits: Danielle Barnsley-Cervo

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