Post written by Amanda Grant of USAdopt, posted by adopt2Connect


At a recent conference an attendee was shocked to learn that photos of my son’s birth family are displayed all over my house and in his bedroom.  This is not an uncommon reaction from someone who hasn’t been exposed to the beauty of an open adoption and the reality of what openness means.  If you are considering adoption but the word “open” terrifies you, I encourage you to take a step back.   Learn about what an open adoption really means and how enriching it can be before you make a decision.

I didn’t come to the decision to participate in an open adoption easily.  Before beginning the journey to adopt my son in 2009, I cringed at the thought of sharing my child with his or her birth family.  But then I took time to learn what open adoption is and how beneficial it can be for everyone.  I read every book on the subject I could find, articles, on-line blogs, participated in chat groups where I asked hundreds of questions of adoptive parents in open adoption relationships and attended every conference session on the subject.  After more than a year of hard thinking, I landed in a place where open adoption seemed like the only way I wanted to enter an adoption relationship.

Here are five of the lessons I learned that turned my thinking around:

1) Openness is defined differently in every adoption.

There are three degrees of openness you can choose in an adoption:

Closed – There is no communication between birth and adoptive families

Semi-Open – There is an exchange of non-identifying information between birth and adoptive families and there may be ongoing communication post-placement

Open – There is an exchange of identifying information between birth and adoptive families and likely ongoing communication post-placement

Most “open” adoptions end up semi-open but there is a broad variety of communication that families can elect to share.  In some cases, birth mothers choose an open adoption primarily because they want the ability to contribute to their baby’s destiny by selecting and meeting the adoptive parents.  They may or may not want ongoing communication post-placement.  On the other hand, some birth families are very interested in receiving photos and letters initially and then developing the relationship to include mutually agreed upon conversations and visits with the adoptive family. I was really surprised, and pleasantly so, by how much room there is for mutual negotiation about the types of communication (letters, calls, emails, texts, visits) and frequency.

I entered into my son’s adoption agreeing to at least one annual visit with his birth family and committing to sending letters and photos for the first six months and then annually.  My son’s birthmother was thrilled to receive my letters and photos and wrote back several times with wonderful words for my son and me, and some photos of her own that I could save for him.  Though all of my letters to her kept the door wide open for a visit, she didn’t take me up on it until my son was 18 months old and she was ready to see us.   Since then we have continued to develop our relationship one step at a time, with additional visits and phone calls.

Open adoption is not always comfortable.  But, as adoptive parents, you will have the ability to negotiate the extent of your relationship with your child’s birth family.  Just remember that how the relationship starts is just that – a starting point.  As you all get to know each other and develop your relationship over time, the frequency and types of communication will change.

2) Openness is co-loving, not co-parenting.

Like many rookie adoptive parents, I had the early misperception that somehow “sharing” my child with their birth family would mean relinquishing some of my responsibility or ability to parent.  It’s one of the greatest myths in the world of open adoption and completely false.  An open adoption does not mean that birth and adoptive families parent together.  What it does mean is that your adopted child has a larger family and more people to care about him and love him.

Birthparents make an adoption plan because they have decided they are not able to parent their child.  They do not want to co-parent but that doesn’t stop them from loving the child they gave birth to or wanting the best for that child.  Seeing photos, receiving letters, potentially seeing the adoptive family together can be very healing for birth parents and can liberate them to affirm their decision and continue with the rest of their life.

I decided I have room in my life and my heart to do what is best for my son and so his birth family is now part of our family.  Building trust over time has been a big part of this evolving relationship for all of us.  And with each visit, each call, each letter, we get to know each other a little bit more and appreciate that while our lives are lived separately, we are all blessed in different ways to be related because of my son.

3) An open adoption expands your entire family, not just your child’s family.

When I first began the adoption journey, my family understood even less about open adoption than I did. So you can imagine their initial reactions when I said that I had decided I wanted I relationship with my child’s birth family…”What? Will they know where you live? Will they have a say in raising your child?  Is it safe?”

Today, many of my family members communicate with my son’s birth family and everyone considers them part of our family.  What a long way we have come!

Adoptive parents tend to become educators to their family, friends and community.  Unless someone is involved in an adoption, they have no reason to understand the variations and complexities involved in adoption.  It becomes part of our role as new parents to help those around us understand the realities and joys of connecting two families.  Sadly, not all extended adoptive families are as accepting or open to the birth family as others.  Each situation is different.  It’s important for you to teach your family as much as you can about the impact of an open adoption on your child and how it will effect them as family members.  They will be better equipped to consider how they feel about integrating a birth family into their lives.

4) Open adoption can minimize your child’s self-doubts.

Many adopted adults whose adoptions were closed will tell you that they have consciously or unconsciously wondered almost every day of their lives:

-          Why they were given up or rejected by their birth family

-          Why they look like they do

-          Why they have certain characteristics

This is a tremendous burden for an adopted person to carry throughout their life and can cause all kinds of identity crises and struggles at different stages of development.  Open adoptions can really reduce, if not eliminate, these questions and leave room for the expected identity challenges that any developing child experiences.

Children treasure information about themselves and the more you have the better.  Whether through letters, photos, calls, or visits, every tiny bit of information you can provide to your child about where they came from, what their birth family is like and how they came to be your child is precious.  Having communication or access to their birth family provides an open door that says you are comfortable (or at least willing to be uncomfortable for their benefit)  talking about your child’s adoption, their birth family, answering questions the best you can and giving them the room to ask when they want or need to.

My son will know who he looks like from the photos we have and seeing his birth family in person, will understand where his athletic ability, humorous temperament and dimples come from and most importantly, will hear from his birth family directly that he wasn’t rejected.  He will receive consistent messages from all of us that his birth family made an adoption plan so that he could have the best possible life and that they specifically chose me to be his parent.

 5) How open are you in communicating with your child about his adoption is equally as important as the openness of your communication with his birth family.

At the recent Ametz conference in New York, keynote speaker Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, made a simple but profound statement in his remarks.  He said, “We only keep those things secret that we are ashamed of.”  This may seem obvious but it’s easy to focus on how you will communicate with your child’s birth family, while forgetting that it is equally important to think through how you will communicate with your child about their adoption.  You need to carefully consider how you will share your child’s life story with them.  If you want them to be proud of who they are and how they came to be part of your family, then you need to lead by example and keep open lines of communication so that their adoption is a subject that can be incorporated into the natural course of their identity development.  Your child needs to know that you are not afraid to talk about their adoption and that they can ask you questions comfortably without being afraid of hurting your feelings in the process.

So, back to the photos, I smile every time I glance at a picture of my son’s birth family in our home and I am more than comfortable with our expanded family.  My son will grow up in a loving environment of open communication.  He will know and be loved by everyone who has made him who he is today and who will nurture him to be the person he will grow to be in the future.   What more could a parent want for their child?  This was my personal choice.  But it is a choice that many adoptive families are now making, recognizing the benefits that can last a lifetime for every member of your child’s family.  There is no right or wrong decision about open adoption but it is important to understand it in order to make any decision.  In the end, you will make the decision that is right for your child and your family as a whole.

Amanda Grant / President & CEO /USAdopt, LLC

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