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What is Open Adoption?
When it comes to domestic infant adoption there really is very rarely any such thing as a “closed adoption” situation. The old ideas of a child being raised by an adoptive family and not have any knowledge what-so-ever about their birth family are a thing of the past.
The benefits of an open adoption have been widely shared. It benefits the child to know their birth family. It helps the birth family to know their child and see how well they are doing in their adoptive family. There are countless benefits to these bonds being formed and the knowledge being shared.
Open adoption also looks different for every adoption situation. The term “open adoption” simply means: ” any adoption relationship between the adoptive family and birth parents in which identifiable information as well as contact are shared between both parties.” (American Adoptions)
This may be just information shared, no contact or time together. Or it could mean communication through letters or photos but not in person. Or it could mean visits. Or even regular contact. It is a broad term and it’s up to both the adoptive family and birth family to navigate what open adoption means for them and how it looks to their relationship.
What Does Open Adoption Look Like?
Again, every situation is unique and all I can discuss is what our personal adoption story has looked like so far.
We went through the adoption process starting in early 2016 and our adoption was finalized in May of 2018. Our son is a little over a year old now, so we are still a bit new in the open adoption relationship with his birth mother.
During her pregnancy we received all notes from the doctor from each of her appointments. We had a face to face meeting with her early on in our match. We went together with her for an ultrasound to see the baby.
As far as an official agreement both our son’s birth mother and my husband and I agreed to a more semi-open adoption relationship. We agreed to send photos and letters to the lawyers office at certain intervals of time until our son is 18. She has the option to pick up those photos and letters at any time from their office. That is the only in writing agreement we have regarding a relationship with our son’s birth family.
However, she and I bonded pretty easily and quickly and we lived close enough where I was able to travel to her doctor pregnancy visits with her. We were so close that she even opted to have my husband and I in the delivery room when our son was born.
During the hospital stay we spent time together. She had some alone time with her baby before signing over her parental rights to us. We ate meals together. We gave her gifts and a letter to let her know how special she is and always will be in our lives.
Following the rights being signed and leaving the hospital we continued to stay in contact. She has my personal phone number and we text. She follows me on some social media channels and will sometimes comment on things there. We have had one meet up since he was born where we traveled to her town with our son as well as our three biological children and spent a few hours with her and our son’s biological siblings.
We do not have any sort of set plan into the future. I send the letters. Sometimes I hear from her. Sometimes I reach out and may or may not hear back. It’s delicate. Emotionally difficult from both sides in many ways. But also beautiful in so many ways at the same time.
The Positives of an Open Adoption
I am so thankful for the relationship and bond I share with my son’s birth mother. I truly love her. And I love her other children. I love that I know her and that I can share all the things I know about her with my son someday. I love that we have so much of his history, his story. I love that the door is open for a potential relationship with his biological siblings and other family if that’s something he ever wants to pursue.
Having such a positive relationship with the expectant mother during the matched phase of the adoption process was a blessing. Being at those doctors appointments with her was something special but also I truly believe our relationship helped her to make positive choices for her unborn child. I was there for her, a friend, a source of comfort in her life during a difficult time. That support made an impact in her life and choices and ultimately in the health of our son too.
If we continue to have visits from time to time I believe it will help the tougher questions down the road that our son will inevitably have about his roots. I especially love the idea of him having a relationship with his biological siblings. I love the idea of him knowing where he came from and being able to love his biological family and better understand their love for him too.
The Negatives of an Open Adoption
Open adoption isn’t just butterflies and roses and sunshine. It’s hard.
Knowing our son’s birth mother so well during her pregnancy was very emotionally draining for me at times. Just as there were so many positives about the bond we shared during that time I was also always nervous that I’d say something wrong that would cause her to change her mind, or even that my support and loving on her could result in her deciding she wanted to parent.
Knowing her life choices and seeing some of the choices she made while pregnant was scary. I have three biological children so I have experienced pregnancy and was worried about the health of our son. Not being able to have any sort of control over his care was hard. It was hard not to worry or to live in fear. It was such a huge walk of faith and grew my bond with the Lord in a huge way! I constantly reminded myself that it was HER BABY and her choices and my only job during her pregnancy was to be there to support HER in whatever ways she needed best.
Being in the delivery room for his birth was beautiful and amazing, but it was also the most heartbreaking moment of my life. Watching her hold her baby and the tears she cried when the nurses took him off her chest was unbearable to witness. It was very difficult for me to remind myself that she wanted more for him than she felt she could give. That this choice was one she was making out of love for him. It was hard not to feel guilt. Not to feel like I was in someway causing her this unimaginable pain.
My close bond with our son’s biological mom also made it difficult for me to bond with our son. Every time I looked at him I saw her. My heart ached for her. Broke for her. I cried tears worrying about how she was feeling. I saw her in every part of him. I struggled with feeling like he was MINE when he was so clearly HERS.
It took me time and some distance from communicating with his birth mother in order for me to fully be able to open my heart to our son and truly bond with him the way I needed to.
Final Thoughts on Open Adoption
Adoption comes from brokenness. It will never be a smooth path as it’s not the way God intended for things to be. If your adoption is open, semi-open, or even closed you will still face a wide range of emotions and many hurdles along the journey.
It is important to communicate clearly with your spouse on what level of communication you both feel comfortable with regarding the birth family. It’s important to have these talks with the birth family as well. It is wise to agree to a less binding agreement (like ours is just the letters and photos) and allow for it to grow and change as time goes on and you all navigate what path is best for you.
(Get ideas on how to celebrate your family’s adoption anniversary.)
I don’t know what the future holds with our adoption relationship. My focus now is on being my son’s mother and surrounding him with unconditional love in every form. I will always love and appreciate his birth family and will always raise him to know how much they love him too…regardless of what the relationship may look like moving forward.
I am so thankful for the exact birth mother we were matched with. I am so thankful for the gift she has given our family and for the strength she has had in choosing adoption for her son. I’m thankful my husband and I were open to the idea of knowing her and building that relationship and I’m thankful we will continue to always have our hearts open to her into the future.
Thank you to Emily from The Journey of Parenthood for sharing this with us today. You can find me over at Chronicles of a Babywise Mom talking about how I am helping my children learn it is okay to feel however they feel, but they can’t act any way they want to act.
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