When most people think of adoption, they imagine adoptions of the past when closed adoption was the norm. Society's views on adoption have evolved over the years, and now most private or independent adoptions are open adoptions. In fact, only 5% of infant adoptions are closed, according to a 2012 survey of 100 private adoption agencies.
What this means for you is that more than likely, you will have an open adoption with your child's birth mother.
There are varying degrees of contact in an open adoption arrangement, from emails sent through an adoption professional to annual in-person visits. Open adoption comes with many benefits for everyone in the adoption triad: adoptive parents, adoptee, and birth parents.
Birth parents know that open adoption does not mean that you share custody. You are the parents, and they will respect this. They simply want to know how their child is doing and that they made the right decision. I've seen so many great open adoptions and wonderful birth mother relationships. You should be open and honest about the amount of involvement she will have with the baby.
By setting healthy boundaries, the adoption experience will be a happier one for you, your baby, and the birth parents. Keep reading to learn about open adoption agreements, the hospital experience in open adoption, topics to discuss with your child's birth parents, and more!
The Hospital Experience in an Open Adoption
The birth is often the most emotional phase of adoption. While the anticipation of the new arrival is a joyful, anxious, and exciting time for adoptive parents, it may be a painful experience for the birth mother and her family. After all, the birth mother needs time to grieve. Having a discussion and an open adoption agreement in place will help everyone to be prepared.
Prenatal Appointments and the Hospital Plan
In an open adoption, the adoptive parents are often involved in the birth mother's pregnancy and childbirth. Sometimes they go to prenatal or ultrasound appointments with the birth mother. Most adoptive parents in open adoptions will be invited to participate at the hospital when the baby is born. Birth mothers with Lifetime Adoption complete an adoption hospital plan and we share this information with the adoptive family.
Knowing the expectations for your birth mother's labor and delivery is important. She will most likely want to spend time with the baby after birth. As nervous as you are to meet your new baby, it's important to give her time to meet her baby and say goodbye to him or her. I believe that a birth mother needs to say hello before she can say goodbye. The grieving process gets more difficult if the birth mom isn't given time to see that she did well.
The birth mother is charge of how the hospital birth experience to takes place. Some birth moms want to spend time alone with the baby. And that's OK. Give her that time. You will have a lifetime with your baby.
Other women wish to have the adoptive mom to be part of the delivery. Sometimes the birth mom wants the adoptive mother to be the first to hold the baby. She might want to have the adoptive father cut the umbilical cord. All of these details should be delicately discussed before birth.
Open Adoption Topics to Discuss
Talk about how much contact and what type of communication the birth parents will have with their child. It's important to be honest with each other, because you don't want to commit to more than you are comfortable with.
It may be awkward to have these conversations, but getting guidelines and expectations written out will make the adoption healthier for everyone because everyone will know what to expect.
Here are a few questions to address as you discuss open adoption with your child's birth parents:
Will there be phone calls, texting or visits?
If so, how often and what type of visits?
Photos and social media?
How much involvement will the extended family have?
Some adoptive parents create a Facebook page for the adoption, or friend the birth mother. Then, they're able to easily share photos, videos, and family activities with the birth family. The beauty of this arrangement is that the birth parents can see updates any time they wish. Birth grandparents may wish to get pictures or have a phone conversation on special occasions. Agree on how much contact, if any, extended family will have, such as cards or gifts.
Open Adoption Agreement
A survey conducted by Dr. Marianne Berry of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa found that in 1,396 adoptions, adoptive parents were more satisfied with their open adoption when the guidelines set up in the adoption plan were followed. Having a written-out plan that everyone has discussed and agreed to will make your open adoption placement more fulfilling.
An adoption agreement is the best way to create a healthy open adoption. It's created by the adoptive family and birth parents, and establishes expectations and guidelines about the amount and type of contact they will have after the adoption placement. A good open adoption agreement will involve discussion with the birth mother, the adoptive parents, and sometimes, the adoption professional. It alleviates a lot of questions and anxiety for both birth parents and adoptive parents alike.
Writing Your Post-Adoption Agreement
Once you have discussed everything, you need to get on paper. This will become your post-adoption contact agreement with your child's birth mother. You may want to get an adoption attorney, adoption professional, or someone from your adoption agency to help you write and review your agreement.
Each person involved in the adoption should read over the open adoption agreement and sign it before the baby is born. It's important to have your adoption plan written out and not just something you talk about.
Items to include in your open adoption agreement:
- How will the birth parents and adoptive parents communicate?
- What identifiable information is each party comfortable with sharing?
- How will you maintain contact information and addresses for each party?
- How often will you communicate with the birth parents?
- Will you send mail, make phone calls, and email directly to the birth parents or through your adoption professional?
Some adoptive families find it helpful to create a schedule. For example, they might agree to email updates and photos twice a year, and have a Skype call on the child's birthday.
Information on Visits
In this section of your open adoption agreement, you spell out the details of how often visits happen and what you expect during a visit. Include where the child will visit, whether or not it will be in your home or at a public location, and if you would like the visits to be supervised.
Some parents even take vacations together with the birth family, and fly to see each other. It just depends on your relationship with your child's birth parents and what you're all comfortable with.
Breach of Agreement?
What would void the open adoption agreement? Ensure that you discuss any actions or terms that would breach the agreement.
Some adoptive parents choose to include a clause that the open adoption agreement would be invalidated if the birth parent abuses alcohol or drugs, is incarcerated, or causes physical harm during a visit.
How is an Open Adoption Agreement Enforced?
In most states, open adoption agreements aren't legally enforceable. Rather, think of it as a moral, trusting agreement. If you have agreed on contact and visits, you need to honor that. It's good for you, your child, and the birth mom. Someday, your child will know whether or not you kept up your end of the agreement.
Keeping in contact is important for medical reasons. Open adoption provides you with the knowledge of your child’s medical history in case anything should happen. Plus, it contributes to your child's well-being; they can rest secure in the knowledge of their origins and why they were placed for adoption.
By keeping the child's best interest in mind as you plan your agreement, you will do well in your open adoption as thousands of other adoptive families and birth parents have.
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