Open Adoption History

history of open adoption
Open adoption is increasingly the preferred type of adoption in the United States. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. In the past, closed adoptions were preferred. These types of adoptions required that no information be exchanged between birth mother and adoptive parents. The parents rarely knew who the birth mother was. Likewise, the birth mother did not know where her child was placed and had no say in who raised the baby.

Closed adoptions reinforced a negative belief that an unexpected pregnancy was somehow shameful. Likewise, a birth mother has a natural drive to protect the child. It should be she, not the government or social workers, who chooses the parents for her baby.

By the 1970s, closed adoptions slowly started to give way to open adoptions. This is thought to be in large part to a backlash by children who were themselves adopted. Growing up and wanting to know about their biological parents, they began to push for adoptions to be more open. Birth mothers also became more vocal about wanting to be aware of and involved in the lives of these children.

In response to the desire for more open adoptions, studies on how the different types of adoptions affected children began to take place. Experts across the adoption and child psychology industries made a startling find. They found that not only was open adoption healthier for the psyche of the child, but closed adoption could be very destructive.

Children who were products of closed adoptions often internalized the stigma attached to the process. Because the identity of the birth mother was kept secret, the child might have felt that he or she had something wrong with them. This damage to their self-esteem could be far-reaching and would often last through adulthood. By the 1990s, most professionals agreed that closed adoptions should come to a stop.

There are still cases in which closed adoptions take place and are, perhaps, better for all involved. Women who were sexually assaulted may not be emotionally able to have a relationship with the resulting child. Children who were removed from abusive families may be best served by closed adoptions. In most other cases, open adoptions are preferred. As of today, well over half of all domestic adoptions are open.

parent explaining open adoption to childOpen adoption allows birth mothers to stay in touch after the adoption is finalized. An agreement gives them a regular schedule for communication as well as updates about the child’s progress. Psychological studies have shown that children who are the products of open adoptions have healthier self-esteem and fewer cases of depression than those children who never have the opportunity to meet their birth parents. This is why more and more adoptive parents choose open adoption.

Unfortunately, there are times when the birth mother and the adoptive family lose contact. This is a much more common situation than most adoptive parents realize. Should the family wish to get back in touch with the birth mother, the situation can be tricky and even difficult.

There are many reasons to try to reconnect with a birth mother after a long period of no contact. The adoptive family may have new questions about the family’s health history. There might be concerns about learning disabilities that weren’t previously addressed. In most cases, the child has questions about his or her background and wants those answers from the birth mother.

The best way to reach out to the birth mother is via email, social media, or through your adoption professional. A note, explaining that the child would like to reconnect, should be sufficient to receive a response. The initial email might be short and to the point. Wait until after the response to provide a more thorough update and/or a list of questions from the child. After a few weeks of trading emails and/or text messages, it may be possible to set up a meeting.

Not all birth mothers want to continue contact with the child. It could be too painful for them to face the child they had to place for adoption. The child might represent a part of their life they would prefer to forget. They might want to move on with the new life they have forged. It is impossible to force someone to communicate with the child. Furthermore, a birth parent who spends time with the child out of obligation or guilt rather than desire might do more harm than good to that child’s psyche. It is reasonable to ask, but not all birth mothers will respond.

There are some steps the adoptive parents can take should the situation arise in which the birth mother does not respond to repeated contact. The adoptive parents can share all of the information they have with the child. They can offer photographs, any letters that the birth mother wrote before the adoption, and any other details. Most of all, the adoptive parents should remind the child that they are that child’s family and will always be there to offer love, care, and support.