Ask the Adoption Coach: Open or Closed Adoption?

Reader: Open adoption or private adoption? New to this site with regard to my daughter who is only 15. She has decided to put her baby up for adoption due to the circumstances and because she is only 15… so many questions!
Dear Reader:
First, if possible, I recommend finding an independent counselor (not one affiliated with an adoption agency) with adoption experience to help you and your daughter navigate her pregnancy and her consideration of adoption. The lone fact that she is only fifteen-years-old doesn’t mean that adoption is the best decision for her and her baby. An independent counselor can help your daughter explore all of her options. It would also be wise to seek legal counsel, since the rights of the biological father need to be taken into consideration.
I believe what you are asking is about open adoption vs. a closed adoption. There are actually three degrees of openness in adoption: open, semi-open, and closed. An open adoption often involves the birth mother having open and ongoing communication with the adoptive family. It’s important to note that in most states, an open adoption is not legally enforceable. Open adoptions might involve visits, pictures, letters, e-mails, texts, phone calls, and social media connections. Both parties (the adoptive parents and the birth parents) tend to freely share information, allowing the child to have access to both a relationship with the biological parents and access to medical information, birth family traditions, and extended birth family relationships. Open adoption is not the same or similar to co-parenting a child.
A semi-open adoption is the middle-of-the-road option. There might be some communication, one-way or two-way, between parties, but some information might be withheld, like phone numbers, last names, and addresses. Communication might be mediated by a third-party, such as an adoption agency or adoption attorney.
A closed adoption is the most private form of openness. This is when neither party has much information about one another, and communication is non-existent. Closed adoptions were very common fifty years ago.
Open adoption has become increasingly popular in domestic infant adoption and even in foster care and international adoption. This is because many experts believe that adoptees (people who were adopted) benefit from having access to their birth family: medical history, relationship, family traditions. Furthermore, some biological parents gain reassurance and joy from having an ongoing and open relationship with the child they placed for adoption. Some birth parents have remarked that having an open adoption can be an important part of their healing process.
Any level of openness isn’t without challenges. First, let’s examine open and semi-open adoption. The adoptive family or the birth parents may find a more open relationship uncomfortable, unnecessary, or even unhealthy. Either party may choose to close the adoption. Sometimes one party or the other might have unrealistic expectations of the relationship. Jealousy might arise. If the birth parents or the adoptive parents add more children to their families, divorce, marry (or re-marry), or move, more challenges might come in to play. Sometimes, adoptive parents agree to an open adoption in order to be more marketable to expectant (potentially birth) parents, and sadly, not have the conviction to continue the openness once a placement occurs.
In the case of a closed adoption, a birth mother might grow to regret not knowing where her child is, what he or she is doing, or even what the child’s name is. An adoptee might desire to know his or her birth family: either by information and/or by relationship. An adoptive family might struggle to answer their child’s questions about where the child’s curly hair came from or not have access to critical medical information.
It’s important to examine all of the openness options and know that whichever one is chosen, the openness can always increase or decrease as time marches on. If your daughter chooses adoption for her baby, it’s critical that there be complete clarity about what her expectations are, the adoptive family’s expectations are, and what the agency or attorney will or won’t do to help the openness plan be successful.
Best wishes to you and your daughter as you consider your options.
  • The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption (Lori Holden)
  • The Open Adoption Experience (Lois Ruskai Melina and Sharon Kaplan Roszia)
  • Dear Birthmother (Kathleen Silber)
  • Open Adoption Bloggers

Written by Jason Granillo

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