If The Words “Open Adoption” Scare You, Read This

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For a lot of people considering adoption, “open adoption” is a scary word. I understand. I’ve been there. Having both adopted and then given birth to a surprise baby, I have some perspective. I also know the law here, so I’d like to clarify a few things. Here are some of the concerns I’ve said and heard.

If The Words Open Adoption Scare You, Read This - Columbia Mom

“Will I ever be able to properly bond?”

“Will my child think of me as a babysitter and disappear once they come of age to their ‘real family’?”

“What if they take the baby back?”

“What even is open adoption?”

November is National Adoption Month, a great time to raise awareness. Adoption can be a wonderful thing when it’s something two families choose, and as open adoption becomes more popular and more recommended, let’s address these concerns one at a time.

What is open adoption?

There are not a single, specific definition of an open adoption. It’s like asking someone what is the definition of “clean” or “early” – they are different in every house.

Every child is different, every birth is different, and every adoption is different. For some birth parents, open may mean updates and pictures while others may request occasional visits.

Also, it’s not a contract; if at any time you feel the need to cut off contact with the birth family, that is 100% your right. Furthermore, even in an open adoption it is common and suggested to keep certain things like your address private from the the birth parents and their extended family for privacy and safety.

Can the birth parents take the baby back?

Effectively, there is a firm line when it comes to legal parents rights in adoptions. Up until a birth parent signs a relinquishment of rights, every decision and every right is theirs. They can change their mind at any time, hold the baby, make medical decisions, and so on.

However, once that paper is signed and the child is physically placed with the adoptive parents, all rights and decisions are fully the parents, formally when the adoption is finalized in court. That is NOT a custody case. It typically takes a few minutes. A new birth certificate is issued and in every legal way that child is yours the same as if they had been born to you, inheriting the same, etc.

When proper legal steps are observed, there is absolutely no way a birth parent who has given up rights or had them terminated can “change their mind” and take back their baby; they can only argue they did not know it was an adoption. To prevent this dramatic disruption, there is a careful process followed. An independent attorney will explain this and obtain their signature in the pretense of a witness.

Will I be a babysitter raising some else’s child?

While some birth parents do ask for visits, that is completely up to the discretion of the legal parents. If at any time you as the adoptive parent feel visits are unhealthy for your child you have every right to end them. They do not have visitation rights. This is not shared custody. You are the parents.

In open adoption, you only are allowing them to retain a connection to their biological identity. To us personally, as adoptive parents, it feels like letting them visit any relatives. They are family; they just aren’t being their parents. You are the parents because you are parenting. You are the one who knows everything about them – the foods they like, the way they fall asleep.

It is less likely for your child to reject you as an adult if you are open about adoption. Most adoptees recognize their adoptive parents as their parents. Just as some biological children will not have close relationships with their parents as adults that is a possibility for adopted children as well.

Will we be able to properly bond?

Did you know nearly one third of new mothers report not bonding with their biological children until after birth? It’s not always a magic, instant thing for anyone.

By contrast, I was able to go to the prenatal doctor’s appointments and bond with the baby before the birth as well as be present in the room the moment she was born and hold her first.

Now that I have also given birth, I can assure you for me the bond was the same the means were just different. Because the birth mother chose not to do skin to skin contact after birth, our baby never grieved or cried for mom, didn’t look for her milk, as some people fear.

Actually, I suggest open adoption to strengthen your bond. The second you begin raising a baby from birth you will understand that meeting their every need 24 hours a day, being the center of their world, the one they associate with food and love and safety is where the true familial bond is built.

Your child will cling to their mama and dada. They will call for you when they fall down or get sick or scared. This intense period of bonding develops so early and is so strong it has guaranteed our survival as a species; with high mortality rates in mothers we wouldn’t be here if babies couldn’t bond to whoever cared for them from birth.

Many parents through adoption have actually forgot their child was adopted at some point, saying something like, “careful he might be allergic like his dad.”

Regardless, almost everyone’s child will scream they hate them at some point.

If The Words Open Adoption Scare You, Read This - Columbia Mom

While I cannot guarantee every person or situation will be happy with open adoption, I can explain why it’s so highly recommended by many adoptees and professionals in the area. It’s also preferred by many birth parents. Also, I can speak from personal experience.

Benefits to Open Adoption

1. There’s no wondering on the part of the child

There’s no wondering what their life would have been like for your child. Being compared to imaginary birth parents is hard or impossible. This way, there’s no “fairy tale” when they are mad at you or building up a special reunion in their mind. There’s no wondering who they look like and no wondering about their family medical history. All these can remove curiosity and loss of identity that people struggle with in closed adoptions.

2. When there’s no lying or secrets, there’s no shame

Hiding something can make it feel like it should be hid. Being open about adoption from the very beginning shows your attitude towards it as positive and not secretive. Finding out everyone knew something about YOU but YOU, or that your own family led you to believe something that wasn’t true, is often extremely damaging to children. On the other hand, knowing from the beginning, can keep them from having issues with confidence and trust some adopted adults report from closed adoptions.

3. Increased confidence as a parent

How has having an open adoption given me confidence as a parent? There is absolutely nothing like being chosen to be parents. While many new parents come home with panic and nerves, we were pumped and well rested. No stitches, no baby weight to lose, no sleepless nights of pregnancy and labor.

We got parental leave and were ready to give it our all. It was nothing but fun! We had time and help to be totaled prepared as you can be for a new baby. Of course, support and confidence is a two way street. Showing support and appreciation to birth parents can stave off any resentment and help them heal and flourish.

4. Birth parents can be a perk

If they become a hazard you have every right to cut them out completely. However, in good situations, they are often the best person to show and tell those updates your friends get tired of hearing. All those newborn prints you bought? They might want them. Your kids may get more gifts at their birthday and Christmas.

Instead of feeling unwanted, they can get MORE love. And there is nothing like having someone validate you as a parent when they see you doing exactly what they chose you for. “I’m so glad they got to go on that vacation. I never got that and never could have taken them” or “I love that you read to them everyday!” Who else gets that?

It also feels good to show them compassion and never leave someone who did so much for you in the dark just hoping and praying the baby they had is happy and healthy.

If The Words Open Adoption Scare You, Read This - Columbia Mom

My Tips for an Open Adoption

Communicate well with your birth parents

Be clear with what OPEN means to you and draw a line where you are comfortable.

For example, we are comfortable with them meeting her and getting updates and pictures, but we were adamant that we chose the name. Choosing the name shows a clear boundary in the birth parents mind and allows for an appropriate bonding between new parents and their baby.

We do not give out our address but we are friends on Facebook so they can see her life when they feel comfortable doing so. Sending things uninvited can be painful for birth parents! We allow gifts at Christmas and birthdays. We say they are from the nice people who made her, grew her as a baby in their tummy, squeezed her out, and picked us to be her parents. Pretty simple.

We have met up a couple times, usually in a public place where there is something to do, like Christmas lights. We also invited them to some events that allow audiences. Isn’t jealousy a problem? No. I have been with my daughter and her birth mother. She obviously likes her, but when she wants her mom, she comes to me.

Invest in a competent lawyer

It is absolutely necessary that a relinquishment of parental rights is handled properly. Just adoption legal fees, not a “baby matching service,” is actually not expensive at all.

All in all, open adoption isn’t shared custody; it’s just open and honest and healthy!

Are you part of an open adoption? What helpful information would you add?

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Originally from Columbia, Paula has also lived in NC, Florida, Alaska, and the UK before returning, after her husband’s deployment, to start USC School of Law. After passing the bar, working with education nonprofits, and going back for her Masters in English, she’s set aside being an active attorney for now to focus on her health, writing, and raising her baby girl, Evy. Paula knows life does not usually go as expected, like being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and sometimes it goes better, like eloping or adopting her best book review buddy, Evy! She binges on good tv, good books, good chocolate, good tea, and good conversation. She’s also a fan of winning, whether at board games or yoga. At home, she enjoys making art, music, stories, and tasty food with her family including two wild puppies, Poppy and Petra. Out and about, she enjoys being involved in theatre and music, like at Town Theatre, enjoying the outdoors and wildlife, attending Windsor United Methodist Church, shopping, volunteering, and traveling on the cheap! She does not enjoy laundry, social injustice, environmental destruction, the patriarchy, coffee, soda, kale, or pants. She’s excited and thankful to pursue her calling and bring her child up in this kid friendly town.

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