When my husband and I first entered the adoption process we were holding pretty tight to a few misconceptions about open adoption. Our perception was highly influenced by lack of education in the area, the media and a few Lifetime movies if I'm being honest here. Initially, the thought of having an open adoption with a birth mother evoked some fear in us. As an adoption consultant and having walked through the adoption process before, I'm embarrassed over a few of the thoughts and concerns I had about an open adoption. I know many others have struggled at times with these thoughts and concerns. And so, I want to spend the next few minutes addressing, explaining and debunking some of the most common myths of an open adoption.
Myth #1 : If the birth mother has our information she could change her mind, show up at our door step and try to parent. Out of all of the misconceptions I hear, this one comes to the surface most frequently. Initially, this was one of our biggest fears. But, as we learned more about the intricacies of adoption we discovered this couldn't be further from the truth. After the baby is born consents are signed. Then, finalization occurs after a certain length of time (varies state by state) and a judge declares the child a part of the family forever. The child takes the adoptive family's last name and a new birth certificate is provided. An adoption is final and the decision is irrevocable.
Myth #2: An open adoption could potentially confuse the child and cause identity issues. Research indicates that children understand the distinction between their adoptive parents and their birth parents and the specific roles they carry in their life. Adoptees have an understanding of who gave them life and who takes care for them on a daily basis. Decades ago closed adoptions were very common. In many cases (not all) because the adoptee didn't have access to their birth family they began trying to fill in the missing pieces and created fantasies (positive and/or negative) about them. Having an open adoption with the birth family eliminates the mystery and gives the adoptee a clear and realistic picture of who their birth family is and the reasons that lead to them choosing adoption. In the long run having access to their birth family has shown to strengthen the adoptee's sense of identity.
Myth #3: Open adoption is too similar to co-parenting. Generally birth parents and adoptive parents understand their rights and responsibilities in the relationship. In co-parenting both parties have some form of custody. In adoption custody isn't shared. Many adoptive families describe their relationship with the adoptee's birth family similar to an extended family-like relationship or an extension of their immediate family.
Myth # 4: If the child has on going communication with their birth parents they will eventually end up leaving the adoptive parents when they are old enough. For adoptees, home is with their adoptive family. As previously mentioned, adoptees have a clear and distinct understanding of what role their birth family plays in their life. They were raised and daily cared for by their adoptive family and that’s where they usually live until they’re ready to move out. Many adoptees (not all) are often curious in discovering more about their birth family and where they came from, but this does not change or lessen the love they have for their adoptive family. If you are interested in learning more about this topic I encourage you to watch an informative documentary called, "Closure."
Myth #5: Open adoption is only beneficial to the birth family. Research indicates that an open adoption is beneficial to all three parties of the adoption triad (adoptee, birth family and adoptive family). Another study that was published in 2009 by the Journal of Psychology discovered that an "open adoption significantly improved satisfaction in adoptive parents and birth families."
For the birth family, feelings of loss and grief may continue throughout their life. However, an open adoption can help them navigate through the grieving process in a healthier way as it provides the birth family with peace of mind in knowing they made the right decision.
On going communication with birth parents allows adoptees to have a deeper understanding of identity and where they came from, access to important genetic and medical information and a distinct understanding of why adoption was chosen, which can decrease feelings of abandonment and increase feelings of belonging. To learn more about an open adoption from the adoptee's perspective click here.
An open adoption allows adoptive parents to establish a healthy relationship with their child's birth family, gain a better understanding of their child's history and have access to the birth family who can answer questions that may arise throughout their child's life.
As an adoption consultant, I get asked frequently to define what an open adoption looks like. However, that can be difficult to do because there really isn't a black and white, one-size-fits-all scenario. I've seen open adoptions where the adoptive family exchange pictures and updates through email and talk on the phone every few months or so. I've also seen open adoptions where the adoptive family keep in touch through talking on the phone and/or video chats and will visit their child's birth family once or twice a year. We wouldn't expectant all mother-daughter or sister-aunt relationships to look identical across the board and the same goes for the relationships that exist between the adoption triad.
Although there are many benefits to an open adoption, just like any other relationship it won't always be easy and it will take work and time to grow. Clear boundaries, communication and honesty are extremely important, as well as extending patience, understanding and grace! But, my husband and I have found, along with many others, that the benefits of an open adoption far outweigh any concerns or fears we initially had. I've spoken with adoptive families who wish they had the opportunity to have an open adoption with their child's birth family. They would give any thing to be able to answer some of their child's lingering questions about where they came from. I pray that if you have the opportunity to have an open adoption with your child's birth family that you don’t take this privilege lightly. It's a gift.
***If you are interested in learning more about adoption and the services we provide at Christian Adoption Consultants, I would love to chat! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out Christian Adoption Consultants for more information!***