Open Adoption

Before the early 1970s, adoption was a big secret. Birth mothers handed over their babies, never knowing who would raise them, adoptive parents knew little, if anything, about their children’s medical history, and, of course, the records were closed to adoptees.

That began to change in the ’70s when birth mothers, in particular, began to express their dissatisfaction with the process and demanded more say in choosing the right family for their babies. Adoptive parents, too, were eager to have some sense of their children’s genetic background and enough information to satisfy their children’s questions. Adoptees, themselves, grouped together to fight for open records.

Today we call this “open adoption,” which simply means that biological and adoptive parents have some knowledge of each other through sharing information or actually having contact. According to a 1991 survey, in 69 percent of public and private agency adoptions, the birth parents have met the adoptive couple.

The degree of contact both before and after the baby is born varies greatly, depending on the wishes of all the parents involved. It can range from as little as the birth mother picking out the adoptive couple from a stack of photographs, to the birth and adoptive parents maintaining a long-term relationship as the child grows.

While the vast majority of domestic adoptions today carry a degree of openness, there are still a great deal of issues over how much involvement from the birth mother is positive for all those involved — the birth mother, adoptive parents and the adoptees.

Check out the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse’s bibliography on open adoption. It is important that prospective adoptive parents understand what open adoption entails and what they are comfortable with.