It might seem easier to choose confidential adoption because the child would not be placed with us until he was legally available for adoption, we would know very little about the birth parents and they’d know very little about us, so the risk of them reclaiming their child would be slim. Confidential adoption would make it seem like our child would only know us as parents and not be confused about who her “real” parents are.
Open adoptions, it might seem, would open us up to the potential for more loss and heartache. Some misconceptions of open adoption say that since the birth parents would know where we are, they might try to kidnap or reclaim their child, and that child might be confused about who her “real” parents are. There would be a greater responsibility on our part because we’d have to maintain a relationship with people who gave us their most precious child and WHAT IF THEY CHANGE THEIR MINDS?
At it’s essence, however, open adoption means only that there is a continuing relationship between the adoptive parents, the birth parents, and the child, hopefully built on honesty, honor and respect for the losses suffered by all. Because adoption is built on loss – for everybody.
Only by working through the pain and loss of infertility are we able to commit ourselves to an open adoption. Only by working through the pain and loss of choosing not to parent their own child are the birth parents able to commit themselves to an open adoption. Only by making and living that commitment are we able to lessen our child’s pain and loss of not being parented by his/her birth parents.
Open adoption is often compared to the relationship of in-laws. When two people marry, they marry because they love each other and make a commitment to each other, but there are others in that new family equation. Sometimes, the in-laws don’t meet until very near the wedding and don’t get the opportunity to form a relationship beforehand. Nonetheless, the bride and the groom actively choose to make a relationship with their in-laws because they love their spouse; in-laws actively choose to make relationships with their child’s spouse because they love their child. Granted, not all spouses and in-laws would readily choose each other but sometimes, like in ours, the chemistry is right and we’ve formed close personal relationships outside of our common bond.
Open adoption is, in some ways, the same thing. With an open adoption, the birth parents and the adoptive parents meet relatively shortly before the child is born and because of their mutual love for that child, choose to form and maintain a relationship for that child.
There are many misconceptions about open adoption. Hopefully, your fears will be eased as ours were as we learned more about good open adoptions. Sometimes, it is easier to define something by what it isn’t rather than by what it is. Following are some common myths about open adoption and the truths that dispel them:
Myth: Open Adoption is Legally Insecure
The legal security of an open adoption is a matter of process. The birth mother does have a short period of time after the child’s birth to change her mind and if she chooses to do so, we are legally required to return the child to her, and rightly so. Making the decision to not parent your own child is a difficult one, and sometimes she finds that it is just too hard. Who are we to say that we have more rights to this child than the woman who gave him life? For that reason, she has until the hearing (up to 30 days, but usually much less) to change her mind. However, after she has signed the consent to terminate her parental rights, she can no longer reclaim the child and the adoption is, in that sense, “legally secured.”
Myth: Open Adoption Fixes Problems
Adoption will not “fix” our infertility, and adoption will not “fix” an untimely pregnancy. These are issues that we must work through before we can be truly ready for this journey through open adoption. For us as the adoptive parents, the issue of our infertility may always be in the back of our minds, but pregnancy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s not about being pregnant, it’s about being parents.
Myth: Open Adoption is Co-parenting
No! A child adopted through open adoption is not co-parented. There is only one set of parents, only one set of people the child calls Mommy and Daddy, only one set of people who can make decisions regarding that child: the adoptive, legal parents. Us. Decisions on raising the child are not made in consultation with the birth parents; there are no visitation rights as when divorced parents have joint custody. The only people co-parenting our child will be the two of us.
Myth: Open Adoption is Like Baby Sitting
Open adoption is not taking care of a child until the birth parents are ready to parent the child themselves. Open adoption is forever. The common reaction to this myth is that the adoptive parents will raise the child for 20 years then she will go off and leave the adoptive parents. But isn’t that the point of parenting? Our primary job is to prepare our child to be an independent adult with all the resources, skills, and self-knowledge necessary to make sound decisions.
Myth: Children are Confused About Who Their Parents Are
There is only one set of legal parents, and only one set of parents the child is attached to. There is only one set of parents the child knows will be there in the middle of the night when the monster is growling under the bed. There is no misunderstanding of who that child’s parents are.
Sometimes, the birth parents are considered like close family friends or a special aunt or uncle. While it’s easy to pin those labels on that relationship, it’s important to remember that the child and the birth parents, no matter how attached the child is to her adoptive parents, will have the unique bond of birth. We will do our best not to be threatened by that bond and to honor that bond.
Think about today’s society in which a child can have multiple parental figures. There’s mom and dad, dad’s first ex-wife and his current wife, mom’s second husband… And don’t forget to count the various grandparents and step- and half-siblings! Open adoption can’t be any more confusing than what a child in that situation has to deal with.
Myth: There is No Privacy in Open Adoption
There is privacy in open adoption because the amount, location, and type of contact between the birth parents, adoptive parents and the child are all agreed to. The agreement made at the time of placement is not binding and will probably change over time. The important thing is that all the parents have committed to maintaining that relationship because that’s what is best for the child. And, as always, we have the final say in the amount of contact between us, our child and the birth family. While we will do everything we can to maintain a good relationship with the birth family, we will always do what is in the best interest of our child.
Myth: Birth Parents can/will Reclaim Their Child
When birth parents choose who raises their child, can watch their child grow, maintain a relationship with them, and can be assured that their child is in a loving and nurturing environment, the are less likely to want to reclaim their children. This is due to the fact that they have the truth; there is no fantasy about the child and no fantasy about the adoptive parents. They don’t have to worry (so much) about their baby. And, as we’ve previously discussed, a birth parent cannot legally reclaim their child after parental rights are terminated.
Myth: Open adoption leads to Power Struggles
Hopefully, power is never an issue in our open adoption. Hopefully, we and the birth parents of our child will continually put our child’s best interest ahead of our own. Hopefully, power will be in our child’s knowledge of who he is, where he came from, and ALL the people who love him. Nonetheless, throughout the adoption process, the one with the “power” is defined as the one with the legal guardianship of the child. That would be the birth mother from the time of conception until she signs the termination of rights, and us from that time forward.
As we wait to begin our open adoption, we know that we are blessed beyond compare. We have families with whom we are very close and friends so close they are part of our family. Things will change once our child comes into our home, just like they change when a child is born into a family. We will host all the requisite rituals and gatherings like everyone else; baptism, birthday parties, confirmation, recitals, baseball games, graduations…you know, the usual.
For all of these things, we hope you will join us. For all of these things, we hope our child’s birth parents will join us, too. For all of these things and because we will all love this child, we hope you will welcome our child’s birth parents with warmth, respect, and honor because they will be a part of our family also.