Can we talk about open adoption for a few minutes? More often than not, when I mention to someone that we have an open adoption with our son, Oliver’s, birth mom, I am met with a look of complete fear staring back at me. Whether I am talking to a hopeful adoptive couple, one of my family members, friends, or just a random stranger, as I begin to explain our relationship with our birth mom people look at me like there is an actual UFO hovering above my head. I am not that crazy, people! Most of the time it boils down to the fact that these people don’t really understand how open adoption works and what it looks like on a day-to-day basis. If this is you sweet friend, it is completely ok. I would love to help you replace your fears with the reality of what open adoption looks like—if you will meet me here with an open mind.
Let’s start by realizing the difference between an open and closed adoption—also keep in mind that every relationship will look a little different for each situation. There is no set way to have an open or closed adoption. No one family or situation is the same, and of course sometimes open adoption is not what is best for everyone due to safety concerns and other factors. A closed adoption most often means there is no contact after the baby is placed—whether that be calls, texts, emails, letters, visits, etc. It can also mean no contact between the expectant mom and potential adoptive couple before the birth of the child. All communication goes through an agency, attorney, or social worker and no identifying information is swapped between the birth mother and the adoptive couple. Having a closed adoption does not mean that the child doesn’t know he/she is adopted, or that the adoptive parents do not talk about the birth parents to the child and tell them their story. Closed adoptions are becoming more and more uncommon because adoption professionals are seeing so many positive outcomes from semi-open and open adoptions, and because technology is opening up possibilities for what an open adoption can look like.
An open adoption brings the expectant family and adoptive couple together, realizing that both roles are important to the child. After placement, with an open adoption, birth families and adoptive families keep in contact with one another. This can range anywhere from a phone call to visits and be considered an open adoption. Semi-open adoptions are most often updates through pictures, letters, or emails. It is important to understand that having an open adoption doesn't necessarily mean the birth family has your home address and can just pop in whenever they like. It's all about the amount of openness you agree to, and setting clear, healthy boundaries that everyone is comfortable with. I know that open adoption can seem very overwhelming and scary at first, but when approached with an open mind many adoptive couples find that it can be a truly amazing approach to adoption.
Open adoption can benefit all members of the triad—birth parents, adoptive couples, and the child involved. For the adoptive couple, it provides you the opportunity to get to know the expectant parent(s). During our match, I absolutely loved getting to know Oliver’s birth mom and writing down important things about her that I look forward to sharing with him through the years. Getting to know the expectant parent(s) can help relieve a lot of the potential fears adoptive couples face during the process and diminish the “unknown”. Having a relationship with the birth parents can also prove to be beneficial for the adoptive couple as the child grows and things come up, such as health concerns. For the birth parents, knowing the adoptive couple and seeing the type of home and lifestyle their child will grow up in can give them peace of mind about their decision to place their child. Most importantly, open adoption provides the adopted child with the understanding of “why”—why they were placed for adoption and all the questions that come along with that. Knowing the birth parents and having the ability to connect with them—if they choose—eliminates potential identity issues and concerns the child may face. Open adoption dismisses the mystery in the child’s mind of having to wonder who they look like, or what their birth family is like, or how many biological siblings they have. Open adoption is in no way co-parenting, which is one of the biggest myths about open adoption. The adoptive parents will always be considered irreplaceable as “mom and dad” to the adopted child. According to researcher Harold Grotevant, “openness appears to help children understand adoption; relieve fears of adoptive parents; and help birth mothers resolve their grief.” Having that sense of understanding who they are and where they came from is so beneficial. Most importantly though, the child will know that they were placed for adoption not because they were unwanted or rejected, but out of love. So now that we’ve talked a bit about what open vs. closed adoption is, I’d like to share a little bit of my personal experience.
Oliver’s birth mom, whom I will call “L”, is one of the most selfless and courageous women I have ever met. She chose life for Oliver when everyone around her was screaming abortion to be the only solution. Her story is one packed full of heartbreak that is not mine to tell, but just know she is one very feisty and strong mama! Since the beginning of our relationship, when L and I first met, we have worked very hard to build a relationship built on trust and respect. Open adoption involves a lot of boundary setting and it takes a lot of work from both sides. We both know our roles and boundaries. And what a beautiful thing open adoption becomes when you find that rhythm. We are forever bonded, because after all, we share a son together! When I capture a cute picture of Oliver or when I caught his first steps on video, the first thing that came to mind was “I can’t wait for L to see this!” She is always so happy to see Oliver succeed and always backs up my role as “mama”. I cried my eyes out when I got a text from her last year on Mother’s Day that read, “Happy first Mother’s Day! I love you and I am so happy I chose you to be Oliver’s mom!” She blows my mind with how supportive she is of me and how she acknowledges me.
Developing a relationship in an open adoption also takes a lot of honest communication. Was I scared to death of open adoption in the beginning? Heck yes! I was a nervous wreck! But over time L and I worked very hard to achieve the level of openness we have today. In order to get to that place, you have to be willing to put yourself out there a little. You have to be willing to sit in the uncomfortable, but isn't that true in so many other aspects of life? God doesn't call us to be comfortable, especially in our relationships with people—He calls us to trust him completely. If God has led you to pursue an open adoption, he will navigate you through it.
Of course working on our relationship didn’t come without bumps in the road, but having that healthy relationship with his birth mother will be so beneficial to Oliver as he grows up. The fact that he will be raised knowing that two mamas love him so fiercely, makes it even that much more important and special. Oliver will grow up knowing what an amazing sacrifice his birth mom made for him, and having not one, but two mothers in this world who love him so much and want the very best for him! I know open adoption is a hard concept for many people to wrap their minds around, mostly out of fear that their child cannot possibly love two moms, but they absolutely can! This relationship is no competition. Each of us have our own role—roles that come with their own challenges and benefits. If a mother can love more than one child, then why wouldn’t Oliver be able love more than one mother?
Knowing that we are paving the road for Oliver to realize his self-worth and better understand his identity, makes me so thankful that we chose an open adoption plan. I hope that by sharing my perspective, I have replaced some of your fears of open adoption with truth that will allow you to better understand your options as you consider what’s best for your family and adoption situation. The reality is, your child will have questions someday about their adoption—and having that openness established with your child’s birth mother will be so helpful in facilitating those conversations when that day comes. Open adoption is complex, it is scary at times, and it involves setting your personal fears aside for the best interest of your child. When you say yes to open adoption, you also say yes to the unexpected and the unknown, but it will be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever experience! Agreeing to an open adoption with our birth mother has been worth every awkward and every heartbreaking conversation we’ve had thus far. Just like you’ve done in every aspect of your adoption journey, take a leap of faith sweet friend, you'll be so happy you did!
*Post contributed by Becka Hall.