I’ve found there is an air of mystery surrounding open adoption and a lot of questions from my adoptive families first beginning to contemplate adoption and what will be a good fit for them.
What will our relationship with the birth family look like in the years to come? What kind of contact will we with 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.
Openness in adoption describes the relationship between the adoptive family and birth family. Years ago, closed adoption was the only option. Pregnancy outside of marriage was looked at 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 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 the 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:
1. Open adoption is 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.
2. Having an open relationship with the birth family is risky since they might change their mind and 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 the adoption is finalized by a judge, 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.
3. In open adoption, 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 are able to witness firsthand the blessing their decision has been to a family and have confirmation that it really was the best choice for their child.
4. Open adoption 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 has the assurance of their birth parents love firsthand. The adoptive family is able to 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.
5. There are no boundaries in open adoption. 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 are hesitant 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.
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 worthwhile to note 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 is a mutual goal, openness can create a beautiful story for everyone involved.