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“What does adoption mean to a child?”

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A Brief History of Open Adoption

And What it's Like to 'Give a Child Up' for Open Adoption Today

“Open adoption” has always been a well-known and often-used term when talking about adoption, but what does open adoption really mean? And if you’re considering this option for your baby, what’s it like to “give a child up” for open adoption?

First of all, it’s important to know that adoption is not “giving up” or “giving away” your baby — and when you choose open adoption, you don’t have to “give up” on having a relationship with them, either. Here’s what you should know about open adoptions today, and what this option could look like for you and your baby.

Common Questions about Choosing Open Adoption

Prospective birth mothers choose adoption every day because they want to give their child more opportunities than they could have imagined. And, by choosing an open adoption, birth mothers can continue to feel confident in their decision over time.

However, at the beginning of this process, it’s common for women to have some questions and concerns about exactly what open adoption means and what it looks like. Here are the answers to some common questions about open adoption today:

“How can I give my baby up for adoption and still keep in contact?”

By choosing open adoption! In fact, this is exactly what open adoption is. Choosing some level of openness with your child’s adoptive family will allow you to continue your relationship with your baby long after you place him or her for adoption. Simply let your adoption specialist know what kind of relationship you envision having with your baby, and she will guide you through the process to make that happen.

“What’s it like to give a child up for open adoption?”

Every open adoption is different because you can have as much or as little contact as you wish. Most women considering an open adoption communicate with the adoptive family through phone calls, video calls, emails, pictures and letters. Some prospective birth mothers even have the chance to get to know each other in person if they live close to one another. Your level of contact is entirely up to you.

“What if I want to give my child up for adoption, but I want to know who will adopt him?”

This is a common concern for prospective birth mothers considering adoption. Women often think that if they place their child for adoption, they won’t know who their baby ends up with — and they will never see or hear from them again. Fortunately, that’s no longer how adoption works. In fact, not only will you know who your baby ends up with — you will have the opportunity to pick the adoptive parents yourself and can even develop a close relationship with them, if you want to.

If you’re considering putting a child up for adoption but want to see who they end up with, know that that will always be the case with American Adoptions. When you choose open adoption, you can:

  • Choose the perfect adoptive family for your baby

  • Decide how much contact you’d like to have with the adoptive family and your child

  • Ask your adoption specialist to mediate contact between yourself and the adoptive family as needed

Even if you decide you’re not comfortable having as much contact with your child and the adoptive family after placement, you will always have the chance to choose the adoptive parents for your baby, if you want to. There are hundreds of waiting families that you can choose from, and all of them are committed to sharing ongoing contact with you.

“Do the birth and adopted families of an adopted person become friends?”

Again, every relationship is different, but it is entirely possible to develop a friendship with your baby’s adoptive family, if that’s what you want. In fact, it is common in open adoptions for birth and adoptive families to develop deep, meaningful relationships. Many describe each other as close friends or even extended family. If this is something you’re looking for in your adoption relationship, let your adoption specialist know, and look for that sense of connection as you get to know prospective adoptive parents.

While there are plenty of opportunities for a woman today to determine her own open adoption plan, that hasn’t always been the case. There are still some misunderstandings of what an open adoption is — primarily due to the long history of closed adoptions.

The History of Open Adoption

In the past, adoptions were either considered open or closed adoptions, and the vast majority fell in the latter category. Up until the 1980s, pregnant women would often leave their hometowns to give birth to their child, and a doctor or an adoption facility would arrange for an adoptive family without the pregnant mother’s input. It was very much a “quick fix” to a woman’s unplanned pregnancy, one that gave birth mothers few options and very little control. 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 often 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 children. 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 toward more open adoptions, which has presented a wealth of positives for everyone involved. 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 prospective birth mother gets to choose nearly all aspects 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 expectant 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 many different types of open adoption, which is why it’s sometimes better to look at open adoption on a scale, with one end of the spectrum being fully closed and the other being fully open. Most adoptions fall somewhere in the middle, with regularly scheduled contact, like picture and letter updates, sent to the birth family throughout the adoptee’s childhood.

In today’s adoptions, it is easier than ever for a potential birth mother to find the perfect adoptive family who is interested in the same type of open adoption relationship that she is hoping to have. At a minimum, all of American Adoptions’ families are open to the following contact:

  • A pre-placement conference call that gives you the chance to ask any questions you have

  • Exchanging email addresses and phone numbers for direct communication with you before and after placement

  • A personal meeting during your hospital stay and throughout the placement process

  • Sending pictures and letters directly to you or through our agency for the first 18 years after your adoption

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

However, it is always up to you to decide what you want your adoption relationship to look like, and you can request more or less contact with the adoptive family by talking to your adoption specialist. Whatever you’re envisioning, your adoption specialist can help you find a family with similar open adoption goals.

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.

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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.

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