One of the most frequent questions I get asked as an adoption consultant is "Kelly, what does it really look like to have an open adoption?" There's so much more to an open adoption than a singular definition. I would venture to say that there is no cookie cutter explanation for what an open adoption entails, mainly because every relationship is different. A common definition of an open adoption is a direct line of communication between adoptive parents, adoptee and birth mother, which typically includes annual visit(s). But those descriptions seem lacking and incomplete, as they fail to truly explain the heart and purpose behind an open adoption. To help me fill in the gaps, I've gathered a few thoughts anonymously from adoptive parents and their experiences with an open adoption. I hope their words dispel some of the fears and myths you've upheld about openness and give you encouragement as you navigate your adoption journey.
"Open adoption is and isn’t many things and it’s different for every triad. For us, openness starts in our hearts and minds that makes us comfortable with and want to pursue acceptance that tension exists within adoption. Openness means we pursue contact with biological families. Most importantly, we are open to however our (adopted) child feels about his adoption and commit to stand with him as he wrestles through the good, bad, and ugly of his story. It means we view his bio family with respect, without co-parenting, and are open to him having all the information about his own life that we can help him get."
"Open adoption is about two families that love the same child, and choose to build a relationship. Open adoption is healthy for both the child and mother. For the mother because it gives her reassurance to see her child thriving, for the child because it allows them to know where they came from, providing a sense of identity. Open adoption is not co-parenting. It’s not worrying that they’ll show up at your door or tell you how to parent."
"Open adoption gives opportunity for more peace and love and understanding. It’s about loving your child. The more you can love and know each other the better it is for your child. They will want to know whatever they can and if we love them we will want to know whatever we can about their birth family and story. Open adoption is not a loss of power or control as a parent. You are still a parent just the same and have all of the parental rights."
"Open adoption has been the most amazing experience! I was always prepared to love my child, but I was surprised at how much I care about her birth mama too, and feel a connection to her that only mothers feel. Every time I text her a picture, I think how blessed we are that she wants to be a part of her daughter's life. Open adoption is not scary or intimidating like I once thought it might be. On the contrary, when I pray for my daughter's birth mom, I have a name, a face, a voice, and a personality that we care for and love."
"Open adoption is beautiful! The amount of love between families is priceless. You gain more than just a child or children you gain family members for life. Open adoption is not always easy or the most comfortable, but it’s worth it and over time can blossom just like any relationship! Relationships take work and just because it may not feel” natural” in the beginning, give it time and energy and watch it grow into something you didn’t realize it could be."
"Open adoption is an organic, dynamic process that grows as your child grows. Open adoption helps answer your child's questions. It is not threatening, nor does it diminish you as a parent."
“Open adoption is letting go of your own fears and insecurities, and keeping the door open for your child to be able to know their biological family. It’s showing love to the woman who carried your baby for 9 months, and made the difficult decision to place him or her in your arms. Open adoption is setting healthy boundaries. It’s texting, emailing, Facetiming or visiting. Open adoption is not co-parenting. It’s gaining new family members and allowing your child to truly know where they came from.”
"I hear it from so many people that they think open adoption causes more harm than good to their child. But I don't see it that way. Open adoption is allowing God to heal what is broken through relationship and love. I just want people to understand how healing it can be for adoptees to know about their birth parents/have a relationship with them."
"Open adoption can be scary, but it’s a relationship God orchestrated unique to your family. While it can be a complicated relationship, it also provides the opportunity for you to know your child’s birth mother. I’ve found value in being able to share more of my children’s stories as they grow up. How that relationship looks over time varies by situation, but often the relationships with birth moms change over time as they grieve and settle back into their own lives. Even so, it’s a bond that’s forever."
"Open adoption is not always easy, but that doesn't mean it's not worth it. Just like any other significant relationship you've had or will have takes commitment, the relationship between the adoption triad is no different. When things get difficult or confusing at times, it would be easy to give up. Some people may even tell you that it's not worth it. But I want my child to know I did everything in my power to make it work. Because my child's birth mother is worth it. And my child is worth. It's all worth it."
"Open adoption is a posture of the heart. It's about keeping your heart open and extending grace to each other as you navigate, what is for many, uncharted waters. It's remembering that this relationship, like every relationship, takes time to grow and build trust. It's remembering to not assume things within the relationship. "Why hasn't she called? Did I say something wrong? She must just not really want to talk to us." It's remembering the grief process comes in ebbs and flows. Her silence may not mean what you think it does. Open adoption takes sacrifice, unconditional love, grace and honest communication between the birth mama and adoptive parents. Open adoption is a sacred and special bond, unlike anything we've ever experienced. I'm so very grateful for the opportunity to get to know my child's birth mother/birth family and for our child to have that special relationship too. It's a gift. It's a gift that not every family can provide their child with and I pray I don't ever take it for granted."
If you've come to the end of this post and are asking yourself, "Could we really do that? Could we really have an open adoption with our child's birth mother?" Believe me, I've been where you are. I've been on the other side of the adoption process, just like you, filling out applications and working through our concerns and fears in regards to an open adoption. Shortly after beginning the adoption process my husband and I started researching open adoption. Through research and conversations with others we realized the many benefits of an open adoption for all parties of the adoption triad. We recognized that our fear had been preventing us from embracing the reality of what an open adoption is and not just what we assume it to be based upon false pretenses. If you still are unsure, I want you to know that’s okay. As you are exploring your fears and concerns, I would just encourage you to do as much research as you can on the topic.
For further reading on open adoption: