In Pennsylvania, the adoption process always has a level of “openness” to it. If a birth mother makes the choice to place a child in an adoptive family, she has the opportunity to choose that family, either through a personal ask or more typically, through a selection process led by an adoption organization where family profiles are presented for the birth mother to choose from. In that sense, the adoptive family is ‘known’ by the birth mother. In some cases, the birth mother may choose to have no other contact with the adoptive family from that day forward. But many modern adoptions have much more openness, which is a decision that is made according to the birth mother’s and adoptive family’s preferences. Some adoptive or “forever” families provide occasional updates and photos for birth parents. Others have actual face-to-face visits from time to time. And still others, have very open relationships where birth parents are a significant part of the adoptive families lives and events. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it – and it can be a very difficult process for adoptive families to go through, trying to consider what is best for their adoptive child and all the other individuals involved.
The foster-care system functions a little differently, in that many children are forcibly removed from their birth families for their safety and protection. While birth parents have visits with their children and may receive updates from foster families, they are done with supervision from government social workers and without direct access to the foster families. Due to the nature of this process, when foster situations turn into permanent adoptions, they often remained “closed” in this sense. Once children are in “forever” families and no longer part of the foster care system, they will likely have no contact with their birth parents unless they choose to do so later in life.
What is your situation and what is your child’s level of openness? How was that decision made?
“Our child sees both birth parents twice a year. Coming to that agreement was not an easy one. We really had to look past our own desires to determine what would be best for our child, not just what would be ‘easy’ for us. We wanted our child to know her story, that she had two birth parents who loved her enough to make an adoption plan but also didn’t desire them to have a great amount of influence in her life moving forward, accepting our role as parents. We felt by visiting with both birth parents twice a year she is able to come to an understanding as she ages of who they are and the significant influence they had on her life before her birth. As she grows in maturity we will evaluate whether she would like more or less interaction with them.”
What is the typical response when people hear about your open adoption?
“A typical response when people know our adoption is open is ‘wow, isn’t that weird for you and your child?’ or ‘do you think she will be confused by who her ‘real’ parents are?’. The answer….no and no. Prior to ever adopting I would have had the same questions but the process of adoption has changed my mindset.”
So, what are some of the challenges of having an open adoption?
“The benefits of an open adoption far outweigh the challenges for us. The challenges are similar to any adoption, closed or open. I think the biggest benefit to our open adoption is that our child will know how much her birth parents loved her from the beginning: they chose to give her a new life, a new family full of new opportunities that they would have never been able to provide for her in their circumstances. By having a relationship with them it allows for questions, that we would never be able to answer for them, be answered. We feel that her occasional interaction with her birth parents will give her a greater sense of identity to who she is and hopefully most importantly, who she is in Christ.”
What is the typical response when people hear about your situation?
“Most conversations go like this: “They are adorable…Where are they from?….Have you ever met mom or dad?…Her hair is beautiful; it must be so much work.”
What are the challenges of your situation – having no contact with the birth family?
“Not knowing health history or basically any of the genetic stuff that can be passed down can present some challenges.”
We asked one final question to parents in both closed and open situations: Can you tell us some specific ways we can be praying for you, your family, and your child(ren).
“Although adoption is a wonderful thing, it does require a loss for the child. No matter how well adjusted they are, at what stage they were adopted or how ‘bad’ their birth family situation was they have lost a birth family, a family that by blood they are connected to. My prayer would be that as adoptive parents we would be able to work through that loss as a family, keep open communication about it and allow the child to grieve and work through that loss at whatever stage(s) they need to.”
“The long term. Pray that, as our kids grow, they will seamlessly transition into adulthood as they come out of a mixed family.And for us, as parents, to stay open, be respite or whatever else God is asking us to do.”