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When it Comes to Adoption, is “Open” a Four-Letter Word?

As couples begin to consider adoption, few things strike fear in their hearts more than the phrase “open adoption.” It brings to mind images of birth mothers showing up on their doorstep. Nothing could be further from the truth. In adoption, there is a whole range of openness from completely confidential to fully open. These days, almost all adoptions fall in the “semi-open” category.

Even a confidential adoption can be different from those of a generation ago. Although in some cases the birth mother has an adoption agency or attorney select the adoptive family for her, in many cases she reviews couples’ profiles and selects the family whom she would like to parent her baby. However, the parties never meet or learn each others’ names. For many pre-adoptive couples, this seems ideal. However, they often change their mind once their child begins to ask unanswerable questions about his origins. Additionally, closed adoptions are rare these days because most birth mothers would like to meet their baby’s parents.

A fully open adoption is what many adoptive parents initially fear. In this case the birth mother selects the adoptive parents from their profile and will know their full name and contact information. The adoptive family may even visit with her or include her in family events. Some adoptive families cannot imagine any other type of arrangement. The baby grows up with all her questions answered, knowing that she is loved by many people. However, for most adoptive parents, this is “too close for comfort.”

Semi-open adoption may be an unfamiliar term, but describes almost all domestic adoptions that occur today. In this case, the birth mother selects the adoptive parents from their profile. All parties meet at least once and exchange non-identifying information such as first names only. If everyone agrees, the adoptive parents may even be present at the baby’s birth. Going forward, the adoptive parents usually send a letter and pictures to the birth mother once or twice a year through the adoption agency or attorney. The birth mother may also send letters and gifts through the intermediary, but it is up to the adoptive parents if and when those are shared with the child.

Although meeting a birth mother for the first time can be quite anxiety-inducing, most adoptive parents describe it as a wonderfully positive event. It allows all parties to fully internalize the situation and share a common ground. Another benefit is that once a birth mother has met the adoptive family, she is often more committed to the placement and less likely to change her mind. As the child ages, adoptive parents report that they love having information about the child’s origins and maybe even a picture of the birth mother to share. Most adoptive parents end up being extremely grateful for the time they spent with the birth mother, despite how nervous they were upfront.

About the Author: Nicole Witt is Executive Director of The Adoption Consultancy (, an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families, as well as a frequent speaker on adoption. The Adoption Consultancy provides education, information and guidance to enable couples to safely adopt a newborn within 3 to 12 months. Ms. Witt can be reached at 813-681-6232 or via email at

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