Blog// LGBT Adoptive Parents

What Does Open Adoption Mean, and How Does it Work?


If you are a birthmother or a prospective adoptive parent, you may be weighing your options of which adoption type is best for you and your family. One option to consider is open adoption, which is the most common adoption type in the United States. We know you want to make the best choice for yourself and your family, so we put together this helpful guide about open adoption that will answer some of your burning questions and help you navigate this very important decision. 

What is Open Adoption?

Open adoption is an adoption type that allows for a relationship between the birth parents and adoptive family during the pregnancy and after the adoption has taken place. At its core, an open adoption allows for the free flow of communication between birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees based on a prearranged agreement that everyone involved is comfortable with. 

What Other Adoption Types Are There?

Though it is growing in popularity, open adoption isn’t the only option available to families. Other types include semi-open adoption and closed adoption. 

Semi-open adoption occurs when communication between the birthmother and adoptive parents. It is often considered a happy medium between open adoption and closed adoption. Semi-open adoption allows for communication through letters, emails, photos, and phone calls, excluding in-person visits. One thing to note here is that any agreements made regarding a semi-open adoption are not legally binding, but it is important and an ethical practice for adoptive parents to keep up communication with the birthmother.

Closed adoption is when no information or contact occurs between the birthmother, adoptive parents, and adoptee. After the placement, there is no contact between the birthparents, child, and adoptive parents. A closed adoption protects the identity of all parties involved for very specific cases like if the birthparents are in a dangerous situation or the baby was conceived under traumatic circumstances. Before open adoption became a popular option, a majority of adoptions in the United States were closed.

How Does Open Adoption Work?

Every adoption is different and unfolds in a unique way. The birthmother will devise an adoption plan with her adoption professional so she can ensure she is making the best choice for herself and her baby. In an open adoption, a birthmother has the right to choose the family she will place her baby with.. During the pregnancy, there will be communication between both parties that allows everyone to get to know each other with the help of their chosen adoption professional. The adoptive parents will also be informed about the birthmother’s hospital plan so they know what to expect during and after labor and delivery.

Something to keep in mind is that these relationships will naturally evolve and contact may ebb and flow over time. What is most important is to communicate in a way that everyone is comfortable with and is in the best interest of the adoptee. When in doubt, the adoption professionals who assisted with the placement are available to help adoptive parents and birthmothers navigate an open adoption agreement.

Benefits of Open Adoption

An open adoption allows the relationship between the birthmother, adoptive parents, and adoptees to evolve naturally and can offer many benefits for all involved. 

For birthmothers, open adoption can provide a sense of security and peace knowing where her baby is going and how they are doing as they grow. Additionally, being able to build a relationship with the adoptive family can reduce the uncertainty and fear she may be feeling as she goes through the adoption process. Another important benefit for birthmothers is that an open adoption may help soften feelings of grief she will be experiencing. Adoption is complex and brings up many emotions, so being able to interact with the adoptive family and seeing that she made a choice that placed her child into a loving, nurturing home can give her great peace of mind.

For adoptees, open adoption can provide many benefits that can enrich their lives, including an extended family network, a link to their biological heritage and ancestry, and access to biological family health history. Having positive relationships with their birth family and access to important information can provide the adoptee with a clear sense of identity that is important for their development and overall well being. Most importantly, by already having a relationship with their birthmother, adoptees do not have to go on a search for their biological family, which could be arduous and painful.

For adoptive parents, being able to interact with the birthmother during her pregnancy can be a great source of comfort as they develop a relationship and communicate about her and the baby’s health. Additionally, Having communication with the birth parents can help adoptive parents have access to relevant medical history that will be key to ensuring they are making the best medical decisions for their child. Importantly, by interacting and communicating with an expectant mother, adoptive parents are supporting her during a difficult and stressful time in her life. Continuing this supportive communication after placement is rewarding for both the birthmother and adoptive parents.

Open vs. Closed Adoption – An Honest Comparison

Now that we’ve covered different adoption types and the benefits of an open adoption, we can dig a little deeper with a comparison of open vs. closed adoption. 

In an open adoption: 

  • There is an opportunity for all parties to develop a relationship with the ultimate goal of providing the adoptee a path to a well-rounded and happy life
  • The birth parents’ family history can be provided to the adoptive family and the adoptee, including any medical developments that may be important to know
  • The birthmother may find closure and peace in having direct knowledge about the environment her child is being raised in
  • The adoptee can have a relationship with their biological family, including extended family if it is agreed upon
  • It is important for adoptive parents and the birthmother to clearly communicate with each other about expectations and boundaries


In a closed adoption: 

  • The privacy of all parties are respected and protected
  • The adoptive family and adoptee will have limited or no access to relevant health information or family heritage
  • There is no opportunity for the birthmother or the adoptee to communicate her reasons for adoption, which could be painful or difficult for both individuals
  • The birthmother will not know what family her child was placed with and may be left wondering if her child is in a good home
  • Closed adoption may be beneficial for a birthmother to have a sense of closure if the pregnancy was conceived under traumatic circumstances and/or the adoption process was a difficult, emotional journey for er
  • Allows both the birthmother and adoptive family a clean slate to start their new lives
  • Should the adoptee want to pursue finding their birthmother when they are an adult, it will likely be challenging for them
  • It can be more difficult for adoptees to form a sense of identity

What is important to understand about open adoption vs. closed adoption is that every single situation and case is different. For some families, a closed adoption may be the most appropriate option given the circumstances and vice versa. There is no one size fits all approach to adoption, so having a good understanding of all of the options available is essential in ensuring adoptive families and birthmothers are making the best decisions in the interest of both the adoptee and themselves. 


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