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What is Open Adoption?

What Does Open Adoption Mean, and How Does it Work?

It’s one of the most common questions asked about adoption: “What is open adoption?”

The definition of open adoption is that there is no single definition of what an open adoption is. 

Confused? Read on or call 1-800-ADOPTION to learn more about open adoption, how it works and what it could look like for you.

What is an Open Adoption — And What isn’t?

At its most basic, the open adoption definition is simple: It’s an adoption in which the adoptive and birth families share identifying information and have contact with each other during and after the adoption process.

  • Identifying information: May include first and last names, phone numbers, personal email addresses and more

  • Contact: May include contact before and after the adoption, including phone calls, emails and visits

But within this definition, there is a lot of room for interpretation. No two open adoptions look exactly alike, and the open adoption meaning for one family could be very different from its meaning for another family.

Many people believe open adoption is a type of relationship in which the adoptive family and birth parents have frequent, in-person visits with each other. They might picture constant phone calls and imagine the adoptive parents consulting with the birth mother on every parenting decision.

While in-person visits and phone calls are examples of the type of contact you can have in an open adoption, they are not the only examples. And regardless of the type and frequency of contact, open adoption is not coparenting.

Instead, open adoptions can vary widely in the types and amount of contact shared between parties. It all depends on what the birth parents have requested and what the adoptive family has agreed to.

How Does Open Adoption Work?

Exactly how an open adoption works depends on the people involved in the relationship. In most open adoptions, prospective birth parents and adoptive families get to know each other prior to placement through phone calls, email exchanges and, sometimes, an in-person visit. After the adoption, adoptive and birth parents can continue their relationship through phone and email correspondence, picture and letter exchanges, and other forms of contact, like text messages and video calls.

Here is an example of how a private domestic open adoption might work with American Adoptions:

Step 1: Each party decides what they want from an open adoption.

In today’s adoptions, it is up to the prospective birth mother to decide how much contact she wants with the adoptive family and her child throughout this process and after placement. She may request periodic pictures and emails from the family, phone calls, occasional visits or whatever other types of contact she’s most comfortable having.

While every prospective birth mother’s preferences for communication are different, at American Adoptions, we ask all of our families to be accepting of an open relationship if and when presented with an adoption situation.

Over the past few decades, we’ve found that the majority of prospective birth mothers are looking for an adoptive family they can have a personal relationship with during and after the adoption process. Therefore, we require our prospective adoptive families to be open to the kind of communication most of these expectant mothers are looking for, including:

  • A pre-placement, mediated conference call

  • Exchange of email addresses and phone numbers for direct communication before and after placement

  • Personal meeting and interaction during the hospital stay and placement process

  • Pictures and letters sent for 18 years after placement

  • An in-person meeting within the first five years of placement

While these are the minimum standards for a private open adoption with our agency, adoptive families may also decide they are open to additional contact, such as annual visits with the birth parents, text messaging, video calls and more.

We understand that you may be wary of this open communication if you’re just starting the adoption process, but our adoption specialists are happy to explain how this communication will work and why it’s beneficial for everyone involved. Read the following to learn more about an open adoption with American Adoptions.

Also, keep in mind that not all prospective birth parents will request all of the available types of contact. Some expectant mothers are content with receiving pictures and letter updates of their child every six months or so. Other potential birth parents may still request a closed adoption, in which very limited contact or identifying information is exchanged. In this case, the adoptive family would still receive medical records, but very little else. While closed adoption situations are very rare, adoptive families should be prepared for this possibility, as well.

It is also common for prospective birth parents to be unsure about the type and amount of contact they want to have at the beginning of the adoption process. Some prospective birth mothers start out wanting very limited contact with the adoptive family, but find themselves desiring a more open adoption as the process progresses. This is another reason why we ask all adoptive families to be comfortable with the above openness requirements, so they will be able to meet the expectant mother’s need for contact, even if it changes.

Ultimately, more than 9 out of 10 prospective birth mothers end up requesting a certain amount of openness in adoption, which is why all of American Adoptions’ families are asked to agree at least to these minimum standards.

Step 2: The prospective birth mother selects an adoptive family.

In an open adoption, it is up to the prospective birth mother to choose the adoptive family she wants for her baby. Once she has decided what she is looking for in adoptive parents and in her open adoption relationship, her specialist will begin searching for adoptive families who might be a good fit for her adoption plan. She can review these families’ profiles and select the one she feels is the best fit.

For adoptive families, this step takes place after the pre-screening processes are complete and they have gone “active” with American Adoptions. Their profiles will be presented to women whose preferences align with their APQ, which will include, among other things, details about the type of open adoption relationship the family is looking for.

Step 3: Both parties get to know each other through pre-placement contact.

In most open adoptions, adoptive families and prospective birth parents begin building the foundation for their relationship even before the baby is born. The amount of pre-placement contact in an open adoption can vary depending on how much time the parties have to get to know each other before the prospective birth mother’s due date.

Most of the time, adoption specialists will schedule an initial, mediated conference call between the prospective birth mother and her chosen adoptive parents so everyone can get to know each other better. After that, the prospective birth and adoptive parents can exchange phone numbers and email addresses for continued pre-placement contact.

It's normal to be nervous about this initial “meeting”, but your adoption specialist will help you prepare ahead of time!

Step 4: The adoptive parents and prospective birth mother meet in-person at the hospital.

Every prospective birth mother who works with American Adoptions will create a hospital plan, which outlines the details of how she’d like her labor and delivery experience to go. This plan will include her preferences for interactions with the adoptive family at the hospital, such as how much time she’d like to spend with them, whether she wants them in the room with her, and more.

The adoptive parents will be informed of the prospective birth mother’s hospital plan, so they will know what to expect when the big day arrives. For many expectant mothers and adoptive families, this is the first opportunity to meet in-person. While it will be an emotional time for everyone involved, it is also a wonderful opportunity to develop an even deeper bond within your relationship.

Step 5: The birth parent(s) and adoptive family continue their relationship after placement.

After placement, the birth parent(s) and adoptive family will continue their relationship, as outlined in their post-adoption contact agreement. Your post-adoption contact agreement will likely include picture and letter updates, which the adoptive family will need to send (via mail or email, as specified in the agreement) at regular intervals. Depending on the types and amount of contact everyone agreed to, adoptive families may also choose to update birth parents through:

  • Phone calls

  • Text messages

  • Messaging apps (GroupMe, What’s App, etc.)

  • Video calls (FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc.)

  • In-person visits

  • Photo-sharing apps (Shutterfly, 23Snaps, Tinybeans, FamilyAlbum, etc.)

  • And more

Keep in mind that adoption relationships are ever-evolving and that every open adoption is different. One adoption may be fully open and then the birth mother decides to limit contact, while another adoption may be less open until both the birth parents and adoptive family decide to engage in a more open adoption. Your contact will naturally ebb and flow over time, and you will eventually settle into a pattern of communication that feels natural and works well for everyone involved.

While American Adoptions does require adoptive parents to be open to a certain standard of communication, what your adoption relationship will look like will ultimately depend on everyone’s comfort level as your relationship continues to grow and evolve.

For more information about open adoption and what it looks like with our agency, you can call 1-800-ADOPTION or get free information here.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. American Adoptions provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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Do we need to retain our own attorney?

No, American Adoptions has established relationships with some of the best adoption attorneys in the nation. Because adoption laws vary from state to state and between counties, it is important to utilize the services of an adoption attorney who specializes in the state where the adoption will finalize, which is unknown until you match with an expectant mother. You have the right to retain your own attorney, but doing so may be an additional, unnecessary expense.

Can we choose the gender of our baby?

American Adoptions does not allow gender specificity in adoption. Any family who wishes to be gender-specific in their adoption should contact us at 1-800-ADOPTION and ask about the possibility of an exception waiver before taking any other steps toward adoption with our agency. Any families who do receive an exception to be gender-specific may also incur an additional fee, which helps cover the additional advertising costs of such a request.

Please note that gender specificity will likely increase your wait time significantly.

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