So what exactly is open adoption?
A wise birthmother described it this way: “Open adoption is a lifelong process that acknowledges the birthfamily as fundamental to the child’s life story.” This is in direct contrast to closed adoption. There is a wide range of approaches, agreements and relationships. Essentially, the adoptive parents, the birthparents and the adoptee all know, or know of, each other. At minimum, the birthmother selects the parents for her baby. In the old days, a birthmother might not even have known where her baby went. In an open adoption, the birthmother may not want to meet the adoptive parents in person. She may read a dossier or profile compiled by a social worker and some personal information from the prospective adoptive parents. However, she will know who the couple is and how to contact them should they want more openness in the future. At the other end of the spectrum, the birthmom/dad may meet the prospective parents in person prior to placing the child and want ongoing in-person contact throughout the child’s life.
How long has open adoption been around?
Open adoption is the norm in North American adoptions nowadays and has been since adoption records were opened. Records were opened in 1996 in BC at different times across Canada and around the world.
After governments and agencies realized the pain suffered by adoptees and birthparents in the closed adoption system, they moved towards openness in adopti0n.
Can you give me some real-life examples of open adoption?
I sure can! Here’s an example of what happened to friends of mine. They had registered with an agency and were waiting to adopt. One day, they received a call out of the blue to “pick up their baby” at the hospital. The birthmom did not want to meet them or have any immediate contact but did request the ability to meet later in life. Eight months later, five members of the baby’s birthfamily (but not the birthmother) came to Vancouver for the weekend to visit their son. [The adoptive parents do not know who the birthfather is.]
Many adoptive parents in BC have open adoptions for their American-born children. The majority fly to the birthmom’s home state for pre-determined visits as well as sending regular emails, photos and speaking by phone. Other adoptions in BC involve travelling to a town or city in BC or another Canadian province.
What about your adoption? How open is it?
Our adoption is quite open. To start, we all live in the Lower Mainland, and we met both of Theo’s birthparents and her parents before he was born (the majority of open adoptions involve solely the birthmother). When his birthmother was 7 months pregnant, she and her parents reviewed our paperwork, called the agency and asked to meet us in person. On a gorgeous May day, we met the stunning young woman who would give birth to the healthy baby boy who would become our son. Before Theo was born, we had two two highly anxious moderated meetings at the adoption agency (where we all had to decide if this was a good match), a more relaxed coffee date with the birthmom and her mom, and a “comedy of errors” movie and dinner date with the birthparents.
After the baby was born, we had an emotional afternoon at the hospital where we “picked up” Theo. The family visited us two days later and again that first week. After that, we met weekly, and then monthly and now we meet every three months at their house for a big Caribbean feast and chat. I also send weekly updates to the birthmom. We have also met the birthmom and dad’s siblings (6 in total); and all four of Theo’s birth-grandparents.
Right now, our relationship is primarily with the birthmother and her mother, and when we visit, we see the birthdad as well. With every visit, we learn more about each other and more about how to navigate our emerging relationship. Theo’s birthfamily are exceptionally warm, caring people who, like us, want the best for everyone.
Do you have questions about open adoption? I will tackle more commonly asked questions in my next post.