Friday, October 8, 2010

Open Adoption Myths Debunked

There is a lot of fear and confusion surrounding open adoption. Following are some common misconceptions:

Some think it is co-parenting. It is not. The adoptive couple are the parents. The birth parents have a special relationship with the child, often similar to that of a favorite aunt or uncle. The birth parents are not referred to as 'mom' or 'dad'. Typically, the child refers to them by their first name, or a cute nickname.

Return in Future
Some think open adoption is similar to foster care without involving social services. That the child will be parented by the adoptive couple until the birth parents can get on their feet and then return the child. Nope!!! Open adoption is a legal adoption that goes through the courts and terminates all rights to parenting by the birth parents while granting full legal parental rights to the adoptive couple. There is no going back. The open part is a promise to the birth parents that is not legally binding. However, if you, as an adoptive couple, promise a young girl that you will retain a relationship with her and allow her access to spend time with your adoptive child (the child she gave to you in good faith and with much heartbreak), and you go back on your word, may God smite you where you stand. Or sit. Or sleep.

Death Return
Some think that should the adoptive parents die before the child turns 18 years of age, he or she will be returned to the birth parents. Truly, someone asked me this. The child would go to whomever the adoptive parents designate in a will or if no will, according to state laws. Nowhere in the state law equation does the birth parent factor in.

Baby Snatching
Some think that if the birth parents know where the adoptive parents live, they will come take the baby. Well, if they did that, they would go to jail. Like any kidnapper would. Birth moms do not give away their babies. Birth moms choose a family for the child they love more than themselves. The child they love so much they are willing to sacrifice their desire to parent so their child can have opportunities they cannot provide at the time. A birth mom is not looking to rip a child away from the loving home she chose for him/her.

Some think open adoption is cheaper than closed adoption. Not sure why this would be the case, but it is not. Adoption fees pay for the services provided such as attorney fees, medical and housing expenses, counseling, etc. Some agencies offer a discounted rate for non-white babies. I find this deplorable. Run far from such a place. Every child and every life is of equal value.

Time Consuming
This was my biggest concern - I don't talk to my mom or my sister every day or even every week. How am I supposed to care for a baby and spend all this time with a birth mother????  When you fall in love with your birth mom, you want to spend time with her. We had a great counselor who helped us to discuss each other's expectations. Knowing what the other wants and can handle then meeting somewhere in the middle is key. I will say that typically, there is more attention given to the birth mom in the beginning. As time goes on, you tend to settle into a relationship and frequency that works for you both.

It's Just Not Healthy
Some think that it is better for the birth parents and the adopted children to never have contact. This cannot be farther than the truth. This is an old fashioned, old school way of thinking. It is harmful to everyone in the adoption triad.  No contact is only good for an insecure, needy adoptive parent who wants to pretend their child was not adopted. In 2004, I read a national survey in an adoption magazine that showed over 90% of adopted children either have, had, sought, or desire a relationship or knowledge of their birth parent(s)/family and/or family history. Over 90%.

Studies have proven that children who have or have had relationships with their birth parent(s) have a lower incidence of feelings of abandonment. That means it is healthier for your child. What is healthier for your child, is healthier for you.

Speaking of healthier, having direct access to birth family means a more complete medical history and family in case a kidney, bone marrow, etc. are needed. Our adoption agency has a 15+ page medical history document. However, our son's birth mother was 16 when she gave birth. Her parents were not in the picture. What 16 year old knows their family's complete medical history?? Having access later to ask questions is incredible.

Proximity Changes Minds
Some think that if the birth mother sees the baby often, she will decide to take the child back. Seeing the child often has the opposite affect. Yes, the birth mom's heart will break every time she leaves the child at first. But seeing her child in a caring, loving environment helps to reinforce that she made the right decision. Seeing how much joy her selfless decision gives to a couple helps to reassure her she made the right decision.

I will tell you that when our birth mom went to court to terminate her parental rights, the judge caused a delay by ordering an attorney to represent the her as she was a ward of the state. I started to freak out. What if she changes her mind?? Each time I felt that way, I called her and we chatted casually. Each time, I was reassured of her commitment to her decision. What if I didn't have contact? I would have gone insane for those additional 2 weeks. Insane!!

So, there you have it. Some of the most common misconceptions of open adoption. I wasn't sure about it myself. The book "Children of Open Adoption" by Silber and Dorner was extremely informative and helped me to understand the benefits of open adoption for my child and therefore for us. I recommend you read it for yourself. often has gently used copies available at a great, reduced rate.


Threeundertwo said...

I have some friends who have been through this and a couple who are in the process right now. I think in so many ways it really is wonderful for the child to know and have a relationship with the birth mother. I can't imagine what it feels like to be the adoptive mother in that case though. I would bite my nails a lot I think.

Mirah Riben said...

You have clarified some major misconception. Especially that it is all a pr,mise., not legally binding, not like joint custidy and the promise can be broken at the behest of the adoptive parents who maintain all rights and control.

There are other misconceptions:

Some think the term "open adoption" is one model. But many use this term when they only intend to share photos and letters and not actual meetings with the child.

Some use language such: "When you fall in love with your birth mom, you want to spend time with her" as if your CHILD'S natural mother is YOURS! She is NOT! She is not your handmaiden. She is your child's mother. Nothing more and nothing less.

Some think they are doing a favor to mothers and children by "allowing" this openness. While it will eliminate the child wondering who he looks like and the mother worry if her child is alive and replaces those fears with other issues. Many mothers find it too painful to watch their child call another Mom and to witness parenting styles that may different from their own.

We do not know the long term effect on children of watching their mothers live capable lives, sometimes go on and have other children they parent. This remains to be seen how children as they grow into adults will deal with all of this without feeling rejected.

To sum up: some think open adoption is a panacea. It is yet another human experiment.


Mirah, welcome to my personal blog and thanks for your comments. I see you are more of an adoption professional with a specific message.

This blog entry came about after chatting with our son's birth mom for 3 hours this week. We have had an incredible open adoption experience. Our son's birth mom has several other children and had told me that she thought she might regret her decision when she was older. She's older and she said her loving decision to place her son with us still gives her peace.

Prior to deciding to adopt, we spoke with over 40 people who were some part of the adoption triad. The voices that had the most weight were of the adults who had been adopted. Overwhelmingly, they said it was important to them to have a relationship with their birth parent(s) and having adoptive parents who were supportive of this was very important to them.

The adoption agency we were involved with has been doing open adoption exclusively (meaning full disclosure, not just letters and pictures) for over 25 years. There are 25 year old adults who have come back to the agency and spoken and said they are happy for their open relationships with their birth mom/parents.

We are not self-centered do-gooders trying to warm the earth by being trendy and 'letting' birth families have ongoing relationships. The agency has professional counselors that meet with the birth moms prior to placement and afterwards, weekly birth mom support group meetings, and celebration of Birth Mother's Day, etc.

The adoptive couples are carefully screened and must attend counseling sessions, support groups, 3-day workshops, required to read certain books, etc. to ensure they understand the benefits and pitfalls of open adoption. They sign a document that, while not legally binding, is morally binding.

You are correct - our son's birth mother is not 'my' birth mother. It's a lazy use of the term on my part. My usage of the term 'my' is because she is more than 'just' a birth mother. She is a part of our family. She is a part of me. We not only had visits with her, she slept at our home every month for about 2 years. Truly, she is our hero.

It's not just about the birth mother or birth father for us. We have relationships with our children's birth grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. The birth mom is not the only one affected by adoption. Our kids have lots of great relationships with people they love and who love them. Adoption is the vehicle that brought these amazing people into our lives.

Serenity said...

Hm, I think I must have read this much differently than Mirah. I didn't think you were offering a panacea, just a lot of personal experience and comfort to someone who was considering open adoption at all. I find your experience with adoption really inspiring, and I love that you've started sharing so much about it. It could really help a lot of people - and a lot of children.