Open and Closed Adoptions
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How transparent would you like your adoption to be?
The anticipation of adopting a child on your own is exciting and profound. Before you become a Solo Mom through adoption, you need to make many decisions. Among the first will be your preference as to whether your adoption will be open or closed.
An open adoption is an arrangement whereby both the birth mother and the adoptive mother maintain contact throughout the child’s life. In an open adoption, the child will be raised by the adoptive mother, who will have all legal rights as a parent. At the same time, the adoptee will know who their birth mother is. Visits with the birth mother would be standard and absolutely normal in this kind of arrangement.
A semi-open adoption is an arrangement whereby some contact between parties is maintained, but it may not be in person. Specific boundaries may be employed. The birth and adoptive moms could correspond with each other, or the birth mother could write to the adoptee. This might give an adoptee the opportunity to know something of her birth mother while maintaining clear boundaries between all parties.
A closed adoption is one in which there is no contact among parties. The identity of the birth mother is not revealed, and adoptive mothers may have limited knowledge of specific medical histories. There is no opportunity to remain in contact once legal proceedings have concluded and the birth mother has given up her rights to the adoptee. Laws will vary on this from state to state, so for Solo Moms considering closed adoption, it is prudent to assume that no contact is possible now or ever.
It is important for a Solo Mom to consider these options carefully before proceeding. Moreover, it is important to consider questions that are especially relevant for Solo Moms, such as the cultivation of a network. It goes without saying that being careful here is important. You may see benefits to an extended-family feeling, but take the time to consider limitations—how it looks in reality. Your child is yours. Carefully constructing rules and roles—and trusting that they will be respected—is a good thing to do.
Open adoption has gained popularity in recent decades. For too long, many adoptions were closed and cloaked in secrecy, even in circumstances in which the parties would have benefited from knowledge of the outcomes. Those who favor open adoption point to these factors. While thinking about your ideal adoption situation, consider your initial gut and visceral responses to the points outlined below:
Open adoptions empower the birth mother to select a family for her child and remain in the life of her biological child in a nonparental role. This may feel less jarring for a woman making a love-based choice to allow another woman to raise her child.
Open adoptions provide an opportunity for a Solo Mom to know about the background of the birth mother and to cultivate a relationship. While this may offer unique challenges for a Solo Mom (as it would for any parent), it also offers unique benefits. For example, a successful open adoption (and there are many) creates an elasticity in family. For a Solo Mom, it may be nice to have other vested parties involved in various aspects of loving and encouraging a child.
Open adoptions may prevent adoptive children from idealizing what feels mysterious or romantic. Fantasies of “real” mothers are not unique to adoptees—many children spin fantasies of "real" families when they feel misunderstood at home. For children who know they are adopted but don’t know their birth mothers, it may be easier to create a fairy tale. If they know their birth mother, they are more likely to see her for who she really is—flaws, foibles, and all. In other words, they might figure out she is just as big a pain in the ass as their own adorable and infuriating Solo Mom.
Open adoptions make access to medical histories more available and more relevant. For example, it is one thing to know about a family history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and another thing entirely to know about what helped to treat it. Have biologically linked people responded better to stimulants or nonstimulants? Since you are a Solo Mom, being armed with as much information as you can possibly gather may have the benefit of providing usable intelligence faster—and less opportunity to beat your solo self up later (because that is what all moms do).
It is sometimes thought that international adoptions must be closed—that cultural, linguistic, or other logistical considerations would create a de facto closed adoption. That is not necessarily the case, although certainly these kinds of considerations present unique challenges. For a Solo Mom who is interested in an open adoption and daunted by a domestic infant adoption and/or especially interested in international adoption, it is possible to arrange an open or a semi-open international adoption.
The benefits of a closed adoption are the inverse of the benefits of an open one:
A Solo Mom may wish to build her family on her terms and may feel that extraneous influence from a birth mother and/or extended family of the birth mother would be painful and confusing. There is real beauty between a Solo Mom and her child. Concerns about too much involvement or moving boundaries are legitimate—make sure to honor that concern by weighing it carefully.
Much of the research about open adoption concerns the overall mental health and well-being of the birth mother. As a Solo Mom, you have a duty to consider your own feelings as well as those of your child. There is no right or wrong—it is just a matter of finding a good fit.
You will be able to derive a general medical history, even when an adoption is closed. A Solo Mom’s opportunity to do specific follow-up may be even more limited, but there are many circumstances where such follow-up would not provide abundant extra information. And certainly, treatments can be arrived at even without this—much of medicine is trial and error.
Adoptees may idealize what—or, specifically, whom—they do not know. In the case of a closed adoption, a child may create an elaborate narrative about a “perfect” birth mother. It is important to remember that all kids do this anyway—the search for the perfect, stress-free family is universal. Kids think their friends’ families are more fun than their own, and so on. As a Solo Mom thinking about a closed adoption, brace yourself for this reality. At the end of the day, you are the Solo Mom there for your child. He or she won’t always be confused about this.
Ask around. Decide what works for you. As always, it is not a question of right or wrong; it is a question of what will work for your family.
Find and connect with other Solo Moms who’ve adopted, in our confidential community of Sisters.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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