When starting to research adoption, many people have one thought in their minds–to bring home a baby or child who will be theirs forever. The child will have grandparents and aunts and uncles who will love them as though they were blood relations. But many adoptive couples find themselves faced with the reality that their child comes with biological family members as well. For some, the touchy navigation of familial relationships will never be an issue. But for other, biological family members may still want to have some sort of contact with the child.
Back in the ’60s and ’70s, biological families were not a part of the adoption process. Most adoptions were closed, meaning that even the identity of the birth family was concealed. Over the years, this has caused many problems for adoptees, who are often left wondering about some of their medical history or whether they will develop certain characteristics. As adoption has become more accepted by society, many are now opting for semi-open or open adoptions. This openness can mean different things to different people. For some, it may mean a visit every month or invitations to birthday parties and major holiday events. For others, they may be more comfortable agreeing to exchange letters and pictures over the course of the child’s life.
Please know that open adoption is not for every adoptive family or every birth mom, but there are some benefits to consider. While having an open adoption may seem intimidating at first, the following are several benefits for you, the birth family, and your child.
1. Your child will have a sense of who they are. Even children who are adopted at birth will ask questions about their heritage at some point in their lives. This may come up during their growing-up years or when health issues arise. In open adoptions, your child has the opportunity to ask the questions they need answers to in order to plan for their future. One lady I know recently had to pay out a few thousand dollars more for additional medical tests because her adoption was closed, and she didn’t have the information she needed to move forward with a procedure.
2. The birth family will have closure about placing their child for adoption. While you are celebrating bringing your child home, remember that there is a woman who is grieving the loss of the child she has carried for nine months. Many birth mothers just need to see the adoptive family interacting with their child in order to be reassured they made the right decision. This does not mean that she is trying to take your child away from you. She just needs to have her worries and fears put at ease regarding this most difficult decision she has made. Respecting the birth family can go a long way in showing your child that he or she is loved and wanted by everyone involved in their life.
3. The adoptive family will be secure in knowing that they have made the process easier for everyone involved. Having an open adoption means that the adoptive parents can ask questions of the biological family in helping their child to grow. Is there a family hisotry of diabetes? Should you be concerned about your child’s learning abilities? Are there any family traits you need to be looking for? These are all questions that you can ask the biological family if you have an open adoption.
4. Your child will be able to stay connected to their biological siblings who have been separated from them through adoption. One of the hardest parts of adoption for children is the loss of their biological siblings. You can help support your child by allowing them to form a bond with them. For each family, this will look different. If you live close to the other adoptive families, you may be able to get together for special occasions. Or you may just be able to talk by phone or through email. Just find something that works for everyone. Your child will appreciate the connection to their siblings.
You may still not be convinced that open adoption is for you. But consider this: The Adoptee Search Center Registry currently has over 700,000 profiles of people searching for their biological family. People have a need to know who they are–even if the results are less than desirable. Many of those searching need their medical information, but many also just want to know why they were placed for adoption in the first place. Most people aren’t searching because they no longer love their adopted family; they just need to know their entire story.
We want to reassure you that open adoption does not mean you are not your child’s parents. One of the main concerns adoptive families have in regards to open adoption is that their children will abandon them in the teen years in search of their biological parents. In fact, this was a concern that Ray himself had regarding his teenage daughters. He feared that amidst discussions and disagreements about dating and clothing and curfews, his daughters would blurt out something like, “Well, you aren’t our real dad.” Nothing like that came close to happening; you will be the only parents your child will know. In over 25 years of practice, we have never seen this happen in our office, although we are sure that it can occur from seeing facts gathered on well-known talk shows. However, we do not believe this is a common occurrence, and the fact remains that you are now, and always will be, your child’s parents.
Sometimes, a closed adoption is the only choice. But in cases where an open adoption is possible, the adoptive family should at least consider the possibilities. Instead of thinking about all of the problems you might encounter, you might see it as an opportunity to extend your family. And chance are, you will be glad that you did.