So Brian and I keep referencing "open adoption", or "openness in adoption", but we realized recently that we never really explained what that means. And there's a lot of confusion out there about the topic, since it is relatively new, so I thought I'd give a go at explaining it a bit.
In short, open adoption means fostering an ongoing relationship between a child, the adoptive family, and the birth family. It's really that simple - the specifics of what that relationship looks like will always change depending on the individual case.
It's sometimes easier to look at open adoption in terms of how it differs from a "traditional" (closed) adoption. In the past, adoption has sometimes been looked at as a shameful thing. A birth mother, especially if she was unmarried, would be told that giving up her baby and forgetting the pregnancy ever happened was the best way to move on with her life. Adoptive parents, who most often were infertile themselves, were told to act as if the child they raised was their biological child. And adopted children were often kept in the dark about their unique heritage, so that "telling them they were adopted" became an important (read: scary) event.
By choosing an open relationship, we hope to avoid much of the emotional stress that can be caused by the secrecy that used to be the norm. Our child will always know that he or she was adopted; it will simply be a fact of their life, and we'll never have to have "the conversation." There will inevitably be tough questions: "why did my birth family give me away" seems to come up often. But instead of being only able to say "we don't know", Brian and I will actually be able to have a real conversation with the birth family and will be able to give a real answer to our children. And from the reading we've done, it appears that knowing that a child has entered into a loving and stable home can often provide closure for birth parents that they wouldn't have had otherwise. By all accounts, openness can benefit all parties involved in the adoption.
I'm going to switch over to a quick Q&A style, based on some of the more common questions we've got:
Q: Who will be the "real" parents? Is this some sort of co-parenting arrangement?
A: We (Brian and Andy) will be our children's parents. We will be the ones providing for and raising the children, and we will be fully responsible for them. The birth family will not have a legal relationship with the children; any parental rights are terminated at the time of the placement. The relationship between a child and his/her birth parents could change with each different case, but some have likened it the the relationship with an aunt/uncle, or with a close family friend.
Q: Why choose openness? It seems complicated.
A: Yep, it's definitely complicated! But adoption in the US is clearly moving towards openness, and with good reason. The latest research has shown that all parties in the adoption triad (child, adoptive parents, birth parents) benefit from having a more open relationship in the grand majority of cases. A recent Seattle Times article explored just that issue with adult adoptees who were seeking access to records of their own adoptions.
Q: What if the birth mother wants her child back?
A: Hollywood and many media outlets have made a big deal of some high profile cases where a birth mother has gone to great lengths to "take back her child" from an adoptive family, but that's not a common or realistic scenario. At the child's birth, the birth mother will sign what's called a "relinquishment", and that document terminates her rights as a parent. After that, the only way for a birth mother to try to regain custody would be if she could prove that she was somehow coerced into signing the document. Luckily for us, we work with an ethical agency, and we don't anticipate any coercion going into our own process!
There's much more to talk about here, but I'm going to cut off the post for now! But any questions are welcome in the comments, and we'll try our best to answer them in the future.