One of the questions that most adoptive families face is whether they will have an open or closed adoption. In generations past, when a child was placed for adoption, all of the records were sealed, prohibiting an adoptive adult from ever having many questions answered about her identity. In other cases, the records were sealed until an adopted child reached adulthood. Today, there are many, many options of openness that adoptive parents could face. As an adoptive father of 3 children, my wife and I have encountered three very different situations that all had some form of openness, and in this blog, I’d like to share about open adoption and how it is very beneficial to adoptive children and their families.
Open Adoption means that birth mother (and sometimes birth father and/or extended birth family) and adoptive parents enter into an agreement, either legally or privately, where information about an adoptive child is shared back and forth. There are many degrees of openness, ranging from regular face-to-face visits in the adoptive family’s home, all the way to a letter sent perhaps once a year to an adoption agency who then forwards it along to a birth parent. The agreement that birth mother and adoptive family enters into can be legally binding, depending on the state in which the adoption is finalized. In the state of Pennsylvania where we live and work, no such laws exist, but an overwhelming majority of adoptions in our state have some degree of openness where the adoptive parents agree to give ongoing information to the birth mother. In many situations, an open adoption agreement or legal contract could simply mean sending letters and pictures on a regular basis. We know of adoption situations where the birth mother asked to have a face-to-face visit once a year for her biological child, but those kinds of situations tend to be rare. When adopting through a law office or through an adoption agency, the professionals involved often help to facilitate an open adoption agreement that consists of letters and pictures sent through the agency. In one of our adoptions, we actually set up a private blog for our birth mother and anyone of her choosing who can see how our child is doing.
While many adoptive parents have some degree of fear initially about openness in adoption, and while there are a few sensational cases where a birth family caused issues for an adoptive family, we at Victorious Hope Adoption Consulting feel that open adoption is the most ideal situation for an adopted child when requested by the birth family, for several reasons.
1. Open adoption facilitates medical and mental health information. No one knows the future in raising any child, let alone a child that does not share one’s biological heritage. The blessing of having ongoing contact with a birth family is that adoptive parents have the ongoing understanding of knowing about any medical and psychiatric history in the biological family. From a counseling perspective, if an adopted child has any future emotional issues with mood disorders, it can be very helpful to know if there is a family history of mental illness so that proper treatment can be given sooner rather than later.
2. Open adoption helps the adopted child develop their identity as they grow older. I had a good friend whose father died, only to find out that his father was really his biological grandfather, and his sister was really his biological mother. It was such a tragedy for him, to find that his family had these hidden secrets! In a sense, closed adoption also hides a child’s story from them as they grow older. But when there is openness in adoption, it facilitates some degree of communication between biological and adoptive parents and their child. It also enables that child, as he or she grows older, to know more about their identity. Major life questions, such as “Where did I come from?” can have more honest and forthright answers, which in my view significantly helps adolescent adopted kids, although not all adopted children will desire a relationship with their birth family once they reach adulthood.
3. Open adoption agreements often help to facilitate the legal adoption agreement itself. We believe that when a birth mother is seriously contemplating choosing an adoptive family for her child, knowing that an adoptive family is agreeable to an open adoption can often facilitate a birth mother’s choice to place her baby with an adoptive family. It is often is a huge relief for a birth mother making a courageous decision to place her child in an adoptive home if she knows that she will receive letters and pictures for the rest of that child’s life as they grow into adulthood. It helps her know that she made the right decision by placing a child with your family.
4. Open adoption can give an adoptive family an opportunity to bless and encourage their child’s birth mother. In our experience, birth mothers are often “orphaned” themselves. Many of their decisions are acted upon because they were abandoned emotionally, relationally, physically, and spiritually as children themselves. We see heartbreaking tragedies that birth mothers walk through, living out of their pain and hardship. God often knows that birth mothers need the right people to care for them, and Cindy and I have seen instances where the adoptive family represented the love of Jesus to a birth mother in powerful ways. And as we talk to adoptive parents of these kinds of situations, we see the handiwork of God in not only helping an orphaned child find a forever family, but also in helping a birth mother find advocates for her.
So if you are praying about adoption, and wondering what an open adoption might look like for you, would you consider that God might bring you into a situation where you could have an ongoing relationship of blessing for an orphaned child AND his or her birth mother? Our encouragement to you is to pray that God will open up the door for the right situation for your family, your spouse, and your extended family. God may have a plan in place for you to be a blessing to both a child and a birth mother. Are you open to seeing how God might orchestrate this for your life?