Giving Up Your Baby For Adoption? That’s Not What Open Adoption Is About

vulnerableIf you’re pregnant but not ready to parent, you may be thinking about “giving up your baby for adoption.” Or at least that’s how your decision may be described in the media and by other people.

Open adoption isn’t about “giving up your baby.” “Giving up your baby” suggests you’re abandoning your child. But that’s not what you, or the thousands of expectant parents who make the the difficult but loving decision to create an adoption plan each year, are doing. As one mother who chose open adoption recently told me, “people give up soda or smoking…birth mothers PLACE their babies in loving open arms.”

Open adoption is an informed voluntary decision that you and only you can make. It’s about placing your baby’s needs before your own and giving your child the future you want him or her to have. It’s not easy and it shouldn’t be made without thoroughly exploring all of your options first.

However, unlike adoptions in the past, where expectant parents had no say in the decision-making process and never knew what became of their babies or had a chance to explain their decision to them, in open adoption you can take a hands-on role in many of the key decisions both before and after your baby’s placement.

You choose the hopeful adoptive parents

In open adoption, the parents aren’t chosen for you. You choose them yourselves. And there’s no shortage to pick from. You can find hopeful adoptive parents online or through an agency or attorney. If religion is important to you, you can find families who are religious. If you’re looking for a young, athletic couple or a same sex or transracial couple, you can find them, too. If you want your child to grow up with another child, there are plenty of families with children who would love to adopt your baby. Whatever your wishes are, you can find a family that matches your criteria.

You get to know the hopeful adoptive parents

Unlike closed adoptions of the past, open adoption allows you and your child’s adoptive parents to exchange your names and other personal information. You can find out about their interests, their family, their home, their thoughts about parenting and open adoption, and about what kind of relationship they want to have with you as your child grows up. Prior to the placement, you can also speak to them and get answers to any questions you have about them and their plans for the future.

You get to meet the hopeful adoptive parents

In addition to receiving identifying information about your baby’s prospective adoptive parents and speaking to them, you can meet them. Nothing will help you finalize your decision more about whether they’re the right family for you than sitting down with them and talking face-to-face. Depending on your wants and needs, you can have them come with you to doctor’s appointments, share the details of your pregnancy with them, and have them meet the rest of your family. It’s just one more way that open adoption allows you to play an active role in the decision-making process and build a solid foundation for your future relationship with your child’s adoptive parents and your child.

You get to choose the hospital plan

If you’re alone and want the hopeful adoptive parents to be with you at the hospital when you deliver, you can invite them to the birth. Some expectant parents like the idea of having the adoptive parents on-site to start the bonding process immediately after the birth of their baby. Others, however, cherish the moments they can spend alone and prefer the adopting parents to give them time and space to say goodbye.  Again, the choice is yours. Whatever you decide, the hopeful parents will follow your lead and treat you with dignity and respect.

You get to have ongoing contact with your baby

Once you place your baby for adoption, it’s not the end of your relationship with your child. It’s the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another. You can get regular updates from the adoptive parents through letters, texts, emails, pictures, phone calls, Skype or even visits. The amount and frequency of the openness is up to you and the adoptive family based on your comfort level. If you want more or less openness, you can always arrange them down the road, depending on what works best for you. In this way, you never have to worry about what became of your child or that your child will resent your decision. Through your ongoing relationship, your child will always know the reasons for the adoption and that your decision was made from love.

In choosing open adoption, you’re not “giving up your baby.” Instead, you’re making a difficult, selfless decision to give your child the life you want him or her to have, full of love and opportunities. As you go through the process, you can have as much or as little input in many of the key decisions such as choosing your child’s parents, speaking and meeting them, and maintaining an ongoing relationship. Far from abandoning their babies, open adoption allows expectant mothers to do what’s best for their children and place them with qualified families that will love and cherish them as much as they do.

What do you think of the expression “giving up your baby?” What’s your take on open adoption? How involved in the decision-making process were you when you placed your baby for adoption? Leave your comments in the section below.

9 thoughts on “Giving Up Your Baby For Adoption? That’s Not What Open Adoption Is About”

  1. What do you think of the expression “giving up your baby?”

    I think it is accurate. There are women who didn’t give up, but lost their baby to adoption. Sugar coating and positive adoption language does not paint an accurate picture of domestic infant adoption. It only serves to manipulate women into believing they are doing a good deed.

    What’s your take on open adoption?

    My take is that it is fraud for agencies to market open adoptions to mothers when they are not legally enforceable. Most open adoptions are left up to the adoptive parents whim if they will remain open or close. It is imperative for mothers to understand that once they sign the papers, they have no rights to their child, open adoption or not.

    Open adoptions that are honored by the adoptive parents can be a good thing for the child. It is good to know one’s roots, medical history, etc.

    Open adoption is a new invention by the industry to attempt to manipulate more women into giving their babies up for adoption. It’s really the luck of the draw whether or not the adoptive parents will honor the agreement. Such an important life altering decision should not be left up to chance.

    1. “Open adoptions that are honored by the adoptive parents can be a good thing for the child. It is good to know one’s roots, medical history, etc.” — I agree.

      “…open adoptions…are not legally enforceable.” — this depends on the state. In many states, it *is* legally enforceable and mothers have the rights that are outlined in the agreement. In others, it isn’t clear, but a court would often decide in favor of the agreement. In others, you are correct that it is not legally enforceable. I would agree that it’s important for mothers to know what the rules are in her situation.

      In practice, it is more common for the birthparents to disappear than it is for the adoptive parents to stop following through. Good counseling before placement for both the birthparents and the adoptive parents can help everyone think through what they want and what they will do so that a good agreement will written up–one that doesn’t *need* to be legally enforced by a court of law, because everyone is committed to following through in the best interests of the child.

  2. Eileen, you’ve written powerfully. My experience has been mostly in foster care adoption, but the positive potential (and challenges) inherent in openness are quite similar. In both circumstances, open adoption agreements aren’t really enforceable. I’m not sure if that’s really the problem, though. Enforced but unhealthy openness could do more harm than good. What would work is an openness that is based in trust, whether it was initially codified in an open adoption agreement or not.

    The real problems come when agencies don’t fully communicate the situation to pregnant women considering adoption, or when they don’t communicate similar messages to the pregnant women and the hopeful adopters. If one side is told, “You can have an open adoption,” and the other is told, “Openness is up to you,” that’s a huge problem – one, it’s unethical and dishonest. But even more importantly, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust, which could work to sabotage any healthy relationship that would have developed.

    I think we’re on the same page. Openness is a good thing, and should be striven for. But the people who need to do the work – and the people who will be involved – are the adopting parents and the first parents. The agency really doesn’t have a place in open adoptions.

    What can we do as an online adoption community to encourage agencies to be uniformly compassionate, honest, and ethical? I think conversations like this are a good start.

  3. Domestic infant adoption and foster adoption are very different. Of course, safety of the child is the number one priority.

    I don’t think an openness based simply on trust is the way to go. At the very least, adoptive parents should be required to prove in court why a continued open relationship would be dangerous to the child.

    It is important to note that an open arrangement, for many women, is the deciding factor in whether or not a woman raises their child or gives their child up for adoption. The only reason open adoptions are becoming the norm today is because the industry is facing a huge supply problem. With the advent of better birth control, legal abortion, and acceptance of single motherhood, there is a shortage of infants available for adoption. In the US, only about 15,000 infants are given up for adoption each year. The demand for infants, in direct contrast, has risen dramatically. The industry came up with open adoption as a way to sway naive mothers’ minds. Not surprisingly, most women do not want to never see their child again.

    When there is no regulation or oversight for open adoption agreements, we are setting up a system fraught with corruption. There are no real statistics on open adoption, which in and of itself is troubling. I can only go by subjective experiences. I know adoptive parents who uphold their agreements and I know first mothers who have been left out in the cold. When people want something so desperately, in some cases they are willing to say or do anything to get what they want. There needs to be some kind of regulation.

    It is important to remember that agencies are in the business of making money, even the non-profits. It is unsavory to talk about money and human beings, but that is what it boils down to. Unless there is some incentive to be compassionate, honest, and ethical we are fighting a losing battle.

    Some things I would like to see all agencies do:

    Do away with pre-birth matching and “open pregnancies”. This practice is highly coercive, the agencies know it and encourage the interaction.

    Inform mothers that adoptions can close at any time.

    Inform mothers of the lifelong psychological consequences for both herself and her child.

    Educate mothers on what kinds of support they can use to raise their child instead of giving their child away.

    Take money out of the equation. The obscene amounts of money that changes hands in this country is appalling. Any institution that involves that much money is bound to be corrupt.

    These are just a few things off the top of my head. I would like to see adoption in the country start to model the Australian way of handling adoption, which has reduced its numbers drastically in recent years. Here is a link to a blog post discussing this: http://www.adoptionbirthmothers.com/adoption-relinquishments-by-the-numbers/

    Wow, I kind of got off track, but I will close by saying I agree with you. Agencies have a moral and ethical responsibility to explain in depth that once a mother signs away her rights, the adoption can close at any time.

  4. “The real problems come when agencies don’t fully communicate the situation to pregnant women considering adoption, or when they don’t communicate similar messages to the pregnant women and the hopeful adopters. If one side is told, “You can have an open adoption,” and the other is told, “Openness is up to you,” that’s a huge problem – one, it’s unethical and dishonest. But even more importantly, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust, which could work to sabotage any healthy relationship that would have developed.”

    THIS.

    The problem is not with adoptive parents or expectant parents, but rather, the system that brings them together. Adoptive parents aren’t generally educated on why open adoption is better for their child, or, like Addison says, adoptive parents are told it’s up to them while birthparents are told “of course it will be open”.

    What SHOULD be happening is education on both sides. Expectant parents need to be told that above all, if at all possible, parenting is the best decision for their child emotionally. They should also be told that sometimes, adoptions that were supposed to be open close for one reason or another. Both sides should also have a support network available to them… one made up of birthparents and adoptive parents.

    Also, it’s obviously ludicrous how much money is given to agencies to finalize an adoption when the agency literally does nothing BUT feed both sides the lies they want to hear. It’s ridiculous.

  5. I can’t speak to anyone’s personal experience with adoption. Your feelings about your own experiences are totally valid, of course. It is when those experiences are generalized to typecast adoption agencies or adoption in general that I feel mistaken assumptions are being made.

    “Open adoption is a new invention by the industry to attempt to manipulate more women into giving their babies up for adoption.”

    This isn’t true. Open adoption evolved to address the needs of birth parents and adoptees, needs that were often ignored or devalued in traditional approaches to adoption. A quick glance at the early literature on open adoption written in the late 70s and early 80s will show this.

    “it is fraud for agencies to market open adoptions to mothers when they are not legally enforceable.”

    Actually open adoption agreements are legally enforceable in the majority of US states, and there are a number of adoption agencies who are advocating for birthparents and trying to make them enforceable at the federal level for all states.

    “There are no real statistics on open adoption.”

    This is the easiest misconception to dispel. I encourage you to try a search on “open adoption research” or “open adoption statistics”. You’ll find several large studies, and dozens of smaller ones have been done on many aspects of open adoption, from all three perspectives.

    1. Hi Ryan,

      First I apologize for the late reply to your post (by a few months ha!). I did not get a notice that there was a reply.

      My experiences are not with open adoption at all. Just to be clear, I am a birth mother in a traditional closed adoption (1998).

      You wrote, ” Open adoption evolved to address the needs of birth parents and adoptees, needs that were often ignored or devalued in traditional approaches to adoption.” I agree, most birth parents scoff at the idea of never knowing where their child (and later adult) is and how they are being taken care of. That is a huge obstacle for an industry that can no longer “scoop” babies up from their unwed mothers and abscond with them. Perhaps you are correct that the adoption industry itself did not invent the notion of openness, but the industry has absolutely used openness as a carrot to dangle in front of expecting mothers.

      You wrote, “Actually open adoption agreements are legally enforceable in the majority of US states, and there are a number of adoption agencies who are advocating for birthparents and trying to make them enforceable at the federal level for all states.” This is absolutely untrue. All states have different regulations governing open adoption agreements. You can go to this site https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/state/ and do a search for an individual state or all states and their statutes about this issue. In no state is the penalty for closing an adoption the return of the child to their natural parents. In the states that do indeed have a legally binding statute, the adoptive parents need only prove the contact is harmful to the adoptee, or the birth parents must take it upon themselves to bring the adoptive parents to court and show why the agreement should stay open. Since most birth parents are in the position of “choosing” adoption due to financial reasons, this can be an expensive proposition.

      If you happen back on this thread, would you mind offering up a short list of adoption agencies actively advocating for federal open adoption agreements to be enforceable? I ask this because in my interweb travels the usual company line I read is that open adoption agreements are based on trust and they are very personal agreements between both families.

      I was not clear in my statement that there are no statistics on open adoptions. What I meant was that there are no real statistics on how many open adoptions are closed, i.e. X% of open adoptions close within the first year, X% of open adoptions remain open through the 15 year mark, etc. I think that is an important statistic for an expecting mother to have access to when considering whether or not to relinquish their child for adoption. Purely subjective, but I have read and continue to hear this answer when expecting mothers ask how many open adoptions stay open/close…..For the X amount of years I have been at this agency, I have only had X amount of adoptions close. That is not a true and accurate number to consider, in my opinion.

      I want to add that I believe that when adoption must take place, open adoption is the right thing for the adoptee.

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