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Open Adoption: Open For Interpretation?

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Open adoption is an alluring option for many women who are pregnant and either cannot or do not want to raise their child. It may promise the birth mother contact with her child, among other things, but it is important to know that once you have relinquished your parental rights all of the promises made to you can go out the door.

A birth mother considering adoption for her child can choose the type of adoption she wants: closed, open or semi-open.

In a closed adoption, “there is no interaction of any kind between the birthmother and the prospective adoptive families. There is no identifying information provided to either the birth families or the adoptive families,” according to The American Pregnancy Association.

But photos may still be exchanged in closed adoptions, or you could send information back and forth through a third party, states iChooseAdoption.org.

An open adoption is a birth mother’s choice to have contact with her child and with the adoptive family. “Contact may include letters and photographs, phone calls, or visits – whatever you and the adoptive family are comfortable with,” according to iChooseAdoption.org.

In a semi-open adoption the birth mother and birth family interact through a third party, usually without revealing their identities, according to the American Pregnancy Association. “In most cases, the interaction includes letters or cards; however, in some cases, there may be non-identifying e-mails or visits hosted by the adoption professional,” it adds.

Before choosing any of these options, you should be as certain as possible and understand what each type of adoption means.

“As the birth mother, you are the legal parent and can change your mind about placing your child up for adoption at any time before you sign the legal adoption forms,” states About Adoptions.

Have you ever heard “Don’t sign anything until you have read it?” In a matter involving so many lives and such an important decision, it is imperative that you know what you sign. When you sign off your legal rights to your child, you cannot change your mind later. An open adoption might seem like you have a say in the child’s life but the reality of it is that you don’t, legally.

Some women think than an open adoption will allow for the best of both worlds, giving the child a good home while keeping him or her in their lives but after the adoption is finalized, it is up to the adoptive parents to decide how involved you can be in the child’s life.

Sure, they’ll send you a picture here and there but you cannot visit your child unless they allow it. Adoptive parents may promise you the world but think of them like a man who’s trying to date you, he’ll tell you what you want to hear and be on his best behavior -- until you’re sold.

“Before you make any decisions or make an adoption plan, it would be in your interest, and in the best interest of your child, to seek counseling. In many cases it is helpful to receive objective input from a trained professional, and to learn as much as you can about adoption. You will then be in a better position to make an informed decision about your future and the future of your child,” warns the National Council for Adoption.

Adoption is a great option for many families, you can save a life and perhaps allow for the best one possible, but in making your decision don’t forget about yourself. What will you be happiest with not only now, but in the future?


Closed adoption, semi-open adoption. American Pregnancy Association. Web. November 2, 2011.

Closed adoption. iChooseAdoption.org. Web. November 2, 2011.

Putting a Child Up for Adoption. About Adoptions. Web. November 2, 2011.

Pregnant? Thinking About Adoption? National Council For Adoption. Web. November 2, 2011.

Malu is an editorial intern with EmpowHER and is studying multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment12 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Great article. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a “adoption form”, I found a blank fillable form here:form 215. I also saw some decent tutorials on how to fill it out.

July 16, 2015 - 3:36pm
EmpowHER Guest

As a newly adoptive father within an open adoption, I want to make sure the positives are out there with the negatives. I personally feel that a lot of misunderstandings would be cleared up if media would focus more on where adoption and specifically open adoption works.

My wife and I have an ongoing relationship with our son's birthmother and birthfather. We love them more than you can imagine. They made this adoption plan as adults and against the feelings of their families and friends (openess specifically).

If everyone involved uses one benchmark alone all would be fine. Everything is done with the interest of the child. It is because of this that we all have copies of the original birth certificate. It is our viewpoint that there are not enough people in this world that can love a child. For the most part, both sets of parents come to the agreement with some level of saddness and dispair. Focusing on the miracle and the life just makes all of that go away.

It is not easy. We are 7 months into a lifetime of a relationship with both of his birth parents. There is still a lot of grief (not regret) to navigate through. Prospective adoptive parents need to have patience and thick skin when it comes to supporting the decisions made. The negative portrayal of adoptions as a whole impacts our friends viewpoints. You will have to defend your decisions always. Be comfortable with that.

I will not even try to speculate on what an expectant mom should do beyond find a resource that you can trust. We connected with our son's birthparents not through our agency nor placement professional. Two women in our area run a ministry that helps women in crisis pregnancies make the tough life decision of parenting or adopting. They provide support and counseling throughout the process and we did not meet her until she had made that choice of adoption.

We all agreed to monthly contact this first year. As the weeks have passed to months, we are connecting twice a month. Its not easy, there are a lot of emotions that go along with the openness but in the end it will be worth it. We all live in separate states and we plan on meeting again at our son's first birthday.

What we have is a relationship with his birthparents, no agreements or contracts. You can't regulate what ultimately is supporting life. Now every adoption is unique and I do not say everyone should view our ongoing contact as what should happen. Everyone just needs to be patient and honest with feelings.

Just remember, there are far more success stories than disasters. And those success stories have a lot of challenges, frustration, tears, joy, love, and experiences that can never be replaced. As I always joke, "Your mileage may vary!"

November 18, 2011 - 1:23pm
EmpowHER Guest

Keep in mind......
MONEY is needed to go to court....attorneys don't work pro bono unless there is a payout at the end. Just like agencies won't help women parent first to be sure, because they will be put out of business.
The reason many place is due to financial resources.
So, trying to comfort those considering adoption that they can go to court is 'half' truth.
What you have to spell out is the details.....that they would need an attorney, because you know that the adoptive parents will have one, and not knowing the system, going without one, well, would be going to a gunfight with a stick.
And then there's the reality, that if the first mother has the best interests of the child, they more often than not, will let the adoptive child and family be, because they do not want to disrupt the child's life or cause stress in the family - and let it go. I personally, know many first moms that are living this exact situation.
They are truly heart-broken, and their children don't even know it.

November 9, 2011 - 9:08am
EmpowHER Guest

Important information to be aware of is in April of 2011 the Commonwealth of PA passed into law Act 101 which allows for an enforceable, voluntary agreement for continuing contact and communication after the adoption finalization. This agreement will be signed and approved by the court and will be legally binding. This contact can include letters, e-mails, photos, videos, telephone calls, text messages and visits. This is available for all adoptions finalized in PA.

For more information about this option please contact Adoptions From The Heart at 1-800-355-5500.

Even thought Open Adoption is not legally binding in many states I would like to note that there are many adoptive families that commit to an open adoption with the birth parent of their child because they believe that is what's in the best interest of the child and they do not need a court order to tell them that. For Birth Parents, it’s just a matter of finding the right family who truly believes in the beauty of Open Adoption.

November 9, 2011 - 7:12am

“As the birth mother, you are the legal parent and can change your mind about placing your child up for adoption at any time before you sign the legal adoption forms,” states About Adoptions.

1. No one is a "birth mother" until AFTER relinquishment. During the pregnancy, while decsion making is still an option, she is an expectant mom or a mother-to-be.

2. The right to make any decsion about the child the mother is carrying ends when she relinquishes her parental rights or signs a relinquishment, not "adoption forms."

Otherwise a good article.

November 7, 2011 - 6:55pm
EmpowHER Guest

What does "you can save a life" mean?

I agree with the previous anonymous "our birthmother" is condescending and makes it sound like she's some service that someone used. The only person whose mother she is, is her child's.

I think this article has important information in it. It is absolutely important for expectant parents considering adoption to know that they do not have to (and should not) sign anything before giving birth. They need to be aware of the various relinquishment periods which vary from state-to-state. Some states require that mothers wait a few hours or days to sign over their rights to prevent manipulation and pressure from adoption facilitators in hospitals while a woman may be under duress. There is also usually a time period where a surrendering mother can change her mind. 24 U.S. states legally recognize "open adoptions" but what this means varies from state to state and it's only enforceable if paperwork is signed and apporpriately filed.

Mothers also need to know that once an adoption is finalized, she and her family are no longer legally the child's family. The birth certificate with her name on it will be sealed and typically locked away from her child forever, and a new birth certificate claiming the adoptive parents gave birth (yes, it really does this, and yes, it actually intends to present the APs as the birth parents--no, I am not making this up).

Adoptive parents also need to be honest with themselves. It's not fair for an expectant mother to surrender a child when she is doing so largely because she thinks the adoption will be open and would not have surrendered to a closed adoption. It's not fair to go back on promises. It's not fair to make promises one can't keep.

Amending and sealing laws and confidential intermediary services do not (nor should they even attempt to) guarantee that an original parent will not become known to the adoptee later on in life. Adoptees are the only parties in adoption who have no say in what happens and do not consent to the amending and sealing of their identities. It's not fair to negotiate and seal away their past on their behalf or promise they won't know who gave birth to them. Remember, it's the child that adoption is supposed to be about. I was adopted through closed adoption. I will never understand why anyone thinks that both families not knowing and communicating with each other is better than a child having every person who helped make who they are at their fingertips to love and hold.

November 7, 2011 - 6:42pm
(reply to Anonymous)

"You can save a life" refers to adoption being an alternative to abortion, in some instances. 

November 7, 2011 - 11:54pm
EmpowHER Guest

"our birthmother" -- that is disgusting in so many ways...

November 7, 2011 - 5:55pm

Ws Birthmom, I'm sorry that your adoption turned out the way it did, it's the very reason I decided to write this article.  Although it didn't reach you in time, I hope it reaches other women so that they can be informed before making such an irrevocable decision.  I'm glad your son's adoptive parents are open, you are very lucky.  

Good luck with your new mission, and I'm glad that you have opened yourself up to other women.

November 7, 2011 - 11:49am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Malu Banuelos)

What a difference a year makes. The 'open' adoption was only 'semi-closed' on paper, and since this, my son's APs have closed off the 'open' adoption. This happens more than many would prefer to believe. The majority close.
I suffered a miscarriage of my son's full blooded sibling two days after receiving 'the call' closing it off, and am now suffering from secondary infertility, which is apparently common in approximately 40% of women who lose their children to adoption.
What a difference a year makes......

June 17, 2013 - 11:12pm
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