“Open adoption is much more than a contract or a philosophy or an ideal.
It’s an act of bravery and courage by all who enter.”
-Heather Schade (Adoptive Mother)
I’ve found an air of mystery surrounding open adoption and many questions from my adoptive families, first contemplating adoption and what will be a good fit for them.
What will our relationship with the birth family look like in the coming years? What kind of contact will we have with the birth mother? Will the birth father overstep his role? Is openness even good or healthy for our child?
For adoptive families, it’s critical to wrestle with these questions early on in the adoption process and understand the benefits and challenges to open adoption.
Defining An Open & Closed Adoption
Openness in adoption describes the relationship between the adoptive family and the birth family. Years ago, closed adoption was the only option. Pregnancy outside of marriage was viewed much differently, and a woman was expected to make a secretive adoption plan. A closed adoption ensured she wouldn’t shame herself and her family and allowed the adoptive family to avoid admitting publicly that they had fertility issues.
Closed adoptions led to a lot of problems. Children who didn’t know their stories. Birth families who had no idea if their children were loved and well cared for. Adoptive families were left with gaping holes in their child’s medical history.
Now we know that some level of openness benefits everyone involved in the adoption triad (the adopted child, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents). But there are still many popular myths that are still believed, even after the research has shown how positive openness can be. Many of these myths come from the media that exploit rare negative experiences or Lifetime movie dramas. So today, we’re busting the myths about open adoption. Here are the top 5 I hear often:
Too Similar To Co-Parenting
Some people assume that with open adoption comes co-parenting with the birth family: sharing parental responsibilities and decisions and even custody or time. When an adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents become the legal parents of the child. A new birth certificate is issued with their names listed as parents. That means that all of the decisions, custody, and rights lie solely with the adoptive parents, even if the birth family disagrees with these decisions. A better way to look at open adoption is co-loving the child rather than co-parenting.
Too Risky Since They Might Change Their Mind & Decide To Parent
Not only is a new birth certificate issued at the time of finalization, but at that time, the adoption is also irrevocable. This means that when the birth parents make an adoption plan, sign consent forms, and a judge finalizes the adoption, it is final; the child is forever a part of that family. This is one reason it’s critical to have adoption professionals (like a consultant, agency, and attorney) who know what they’re doing walk beside you to ensure all of the necessary legal steps are taken. Once an adoption is finalized, even if a birth parent changes their mind, the adoption can not be overturned.
Birth Parents Regret Their Decision
The assumption is that if a birth parent sees their child growing up, they will change their mind. Actually, open adoptions often have the exact opposite effect. A birth parent can see firsthand that their child is loved and well cared for. Instead of wondering if they made the right decision, they can witness firsthand the blessing their decision has been to a family and have confirmation that it really was the best choice for their child.
Only Benefits The Birth Family
Not only does a birth family get the assurance that they made the right decision, but the benefits of openness also extend to the child and the birth family. The child knows their birth story, has a healthy sense of identity, and is assured of their birth parent’s love firsthand. The adoptive family can be aware of medical and social issues in real-time, not just from a form that was completed during the pregnancy. And the entire adoption triad serves as a sort of beautiful extended family for everyone involved.
Just like all relationships we have in life, boundaries are good and healthy to have. I have yet to hear of a birth mother who shows up on a doorstep unexpectedly. More often, birth mothers hesitate because they don’t want to encroach on the family she has chosen to help create. As in relationships with grandparents, extended family members, and friends, healthy boundaries are necessary and include open communication, clear expectations, and seasons that are closer than others.
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Method In Open Adoption
By no means do I want to communicate there is a one-size-fits-all method to pursuing open adoption and what is best for each family. Openness is on a spectrum and is unique to every family (birth and adoptive). Finding the right fit is to be prayerfully considered and can change throughout the adoption process and the child’s lifetime.
It’s also worth noting that these decisions are harder to make with a nameless, faceless couple who are future birth parents. I’ve often found that once an adoptive family and birth family meet and the process of getting to know each other happens organically, much of the fears subside. When a true relationship is formed, bonds are created, and the best interests of a shared child are a mutual goal, openness can create a beautiful story for everyone involved.
***We provide the following adoption services here at Christian Adoption Consultants: Embryo Adoption, Domestic Adoption & International Adoption. If you are interested in learning more about the programs we offer, you can request an informational packet here, as well as set up a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our team members and join our free adoption community!
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