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The Positives and Negatives of Open Adoption: Some Thoughts From an Adoptive Mother


In 1990 my husband and I adopted our son. While open adoption was beginning to be practiced as early as the 1980’s, it was not standard practice at that point. It was certainly more common in California than on the East Coast where we live.

We were counseled in the usual fashion for the time: You can make arrangements to send pictures or letters from time to time to the birth family, but contact and openness were not encouraged beyond that. Adoptions were still primarily “closed.”

In 1999, when we adopted our daughter, the shift to open adoption had still not taken hold as it has now. Most significantly, the conversation that has lead to this dramatic shift in practice was not disseminated as it is now via the internet and blogs like this one. As I have been raising my children, working and living life as part of a family formed by adoption, a revolution has been occurring.

Based on my experience of my own children’s struggles and losses in closed adoptions I began to read, to seek answers, and to help other adoptive parents in my work as a therapist. Why were our children experiencing higher incidences of depression, problems with school and difficulty launching?

Adoption experts suggest that the loss of biological connection and identity leave a primal wound often causing low self-esteem, depression and acting out of various kinds.

Open adoption is now proposed as the solution to these wounds. This solution aims to eliminate this loss by keeping connection. Children can know their birth families, birth families can know their children, and it is hoped that adoptive parents benefit from having children who feel more whole.

Thus the best interests of the child are at the heart of this new way of thinking about family making through adoption. One adopts a child, and to some extent, their birth family.Lori Holden and Crystal Hass in their book, The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption suggest that birth family becomes like in-laws. They come with the person you love and sometimes you love them too. Sometimes you do not. Either way you navigate your way for the person you both love.

This is in many respects an extraordinary new social experiment. For those of you who find yourselves adopting now, you are part of something very exciting, something that has the potential to make things better for adopted children and their families, both birth and adoptive.

Let’s Not Sugarcoat Open Adoption

On the other hand, when any change becomes the new paradigm it becomes hard to bring up what may be hard or unappealing about it. In the current enthusiasm for forming this new kind of arrangement with birth families I think it is important for adopting parents to feel safe to voice how uncomfortable open adoption may feel, even as they embark on it as a solution to a very complex problem.

There seems to be a tendency that I have encountered to silence doubt with idealization. I imagine that for every story with a happy outcome in open adoption there is one that does not work as well, or well at all.

Birth parents are as varied as all people. Some are torn apart by having to place their children and care deeply what happens to them. Others, in my experience, may have less capacity to care or feel attached. And some may not want an open adoption, even as adopting parents come to the table ready and wanting to have one.

I learned this first hand when I helped my children search for and find their birth families. One family welcomed my child with open arms and the other “did not want to be involved.” We have had to deal with both truths in our family.

Adoption has always been done a disservice by being sugar coated and romanticized. It seems important that we do not do this same thing to open adoption. Adoption is tough for everyone. The more we can minimize the pain and loss for all involved the better, but it is unlikely that we can eliminate it.

I think the honest conversation and questions that the Adoptimist blog offers its readers on this topic are wonderful. I wish you all the best of luck in your journeys towards a new and open kind of family and parenthood.