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“What does adoption mean to a child?”

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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. That’s why, at American Adoptions, we require all of our prospective adoptive families to be comfortable with an open adoption and allow prospective birth mothers to decide what degree of communication will work best for them.

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.

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

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is American Adoptions the right adoption agency choice for many birth mothers?

American Adoptions is one of the largest licensed adoption agencies in the United States. Each year, we work with thousands of women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and offer assistance to these women. Our large, caring staff is able to assist you seven days a week and provide you with one-on-one counseling about your pregnancy and available options.

You should choose an adoption agency where you feel completely comfortable with their services and staff. With American Adoptions, you will work with an Adoption Specialist who is on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Adoption Specialist will be your advocate and will provide support and guidance as you create an adoption plan that is right for you.

How will the family tell my child about me and the adoption when my child is older?

Each family has their own style of introducing adoption to the child. When you are matched with an adoptive family, you can ask them this question. If you would like your Adoption Specialist to discuss it for you, just let her know. He or she can share your wishes or provide good ideas from other adoptive families.

You will also be able to share what you want your baby to know about you. You can complete a keepsake booklet to share hobbies, stories, photos of you and your family and a letter to your baby. The adoptive family can provide this to your child as he or she grows older. Be as creative as you like! Some birth mothers have even knitted a special blanket as a gift to their baby or given a similar symbol of their love.

The father of your baby can fill out the birth father's keepsake booklet or write a letter too. You may have other family members who would also like to share photos or a letter to the baby. This is your opportunity to pass on your and your family's love and to share your personality, history and reasons for choosing adoption. The adoptive family will treasure whatever information you provide and will share it with the baby at an appropriate age. In most adoptive homes, the word adoption is in the child's vocabulary early on, and adoption is celebrated in their lives.

Additional Resources

Teen Pregnancy - Information for Young Women

While not every woman who chooses adoption is a young mother, many are. Through adoption, many young women have found an ability to give their babies the best life possible, while finding the opportunity to realize their own dreams, as well. Call American Adoptions today at 1-800-ADOPTION.

Read More

Adoption Glossary

Do adoption terms and phrases leave you feeling confused? Learn the meaning to key adoption words and phrases with our comprehensive adoption glossary.

Read More