Open Adoption

A Brief History of Open vs. Closed Adoption

“Open adoption” has always been a well-known and often-used term when talking about adoption, but what does open adoption really mean?

In the past, adoptions were either considered open or closed adoptions, and most fell in the latter category. Up until the 1980s, pregnant women would often leave their hometowns to give birth to their child, in which her doctor or an adoption facility would arrange for an adoptive family without her choosing. It was very much a quick fix to her unplanned pregnancy. However, these kinds of closed adoptions caused multiple problems for everyone involved:

Birth Mother – The birth mother would receive little if any emotional or financial support during this process. Furthermore, she would lose contact with her child forever, with no picture or letter updates that are found in most modern adoptions.

Adopted Child – Because most past adoptions were closed, adoption was much more secretive back then. This resulted in the child not being told he or she was adopted until much later in life, if ever. Not only would the child be missing a huge piece of himself or herself, but the child also wouldn’t have access to his or her birth family’s medical background.

Adoptive Family – Keeping the adoption secret placed a heavy burden on the adoptive family. Without disclosing this information to the child from a young age, the news becomes more shocking and more difficult to tell – so much that some families never told their child. And again, not having the birth mother’s past and current medical history was a big problem.

But fortunately in the 1980s, closed adoptions started to fade away. Adoption professionals, lawmakers, adoption researchers, adoptive families, adoptees and birth mothers all began a movement to shift adoption toward more open adoptions, which has presented a wealth of positives for everyone involved in adoption. This openness has all stemmed from one landmark decision agreed on by nearly all adoption professionals: the birth mother is in charge.

In today’s adoptions, the birth mother gets to choose nearly all aspect of the adoption process, which is often referred to as her “adoption plan.” She gets to choose:

  • The adoptive family
  • The amount of contact she wants to share with the adoptive family
  • The proceedings at the hospital
  • How much contact she has with her child in the future
  • And much more

Because the birth mother chooses so many parts of the adoption, no two adoptions are ever quite the same. This is why it is so difficult to label whether an adoption is an “open adoption” or not. Would we call an adoption where the birth mother only receives pictures and letters an “open adoption?” If so, what do we call an adoption where the birth mother has a personal relationship with her child well into the future?

Thus, there are certainly many different types of open adoption, which is why it’s sometimes better to look at open adoption on a scale: 0 being fully closed and 10 being fully open. Most adoptions fall somewhere in the middle, with minimal contact shared between both parties, and picture and letter updates sent to the birth mother throughout the adoptee’s childhood. Some agencies refer to these adoption relationships as "semi-open adoptions," with the exchange of non-identifiable information and limited contact.

And in today’s adoptions, it is easier than ever for a birth mother to find the exact adoptive family who is interested in the same type of open adoption relationship that she is also interested in sharing.

Open adoption has given women facing unplanned pregnancies a real solution in providing their children wonderful lives, while also remaining a part of it.

If you are a woman considering adoption, the following information describes open adoption with American Adoptions.

If you are interested in adopting a baby with our agency, the following article talks about the benefits of contact with the birth parents for all parties involved, especially for the adopted child.




pregnant and considering adoption

Learn about your options and why adoption may be the choice for you.

become a family

Learn how American Adoptions can help make your dreams of becoming a family come true.

adoption questions

Our Adoptions Specialists can assist you with any questions or concerns.


©2014 American Adoptions - All Rights Reserved    
Call 1-800-ADOPTION