Closed Adoption: Everything You Never Thought To Ask

What Is A Closed Adoption? What To Know, From The Process To Pros And Cons

April 6, 2020 Updated August 30, 2021

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Bonnie Kittle/Unsplash

If you’re looking to start a family either by yourself or with a partner, you want to make sure you take the time to think about all the different possible routes to get you there. This is a big decision, after all. For those considering adoption, there are two major types to look into: open adoption and closed adoption.

When some people look to adopt a baby or child, they want the opportunity to get to know the birth parents and maybe even the rest of their family in the process, and perhaps forge some type of relationship between their adopted child and their birth parents. This is called open adoption. But others would prefer not to find out any identifying information about the birth parents or their family. If that’s the case for you, you may be better off with a closed adoption. Even so, you might have more questions about closed adoptions to figure out if it’s the right choice for you and your family.

With that in mind, Scary Mommy has gone ahead and answered some of the more frequently asked questions about closed adoption. You’re not alone in your query. In fact, according to the latest search data available to us, closed adoption is searched for nearly 1,600 times per month. However, if you feel you need more information or help to decide between adopting a baby or an older child, consult with a social worker. They can answer specific queries and put you in touch with necessary contacts or organizations. 

Adopting a child can be a truly wonderful thing for both you and the child you end up welcoming into your family. But it’s also a very big decision, which makes choosing the type of adoption that you want all the more important since it will have a major impact on all the people involved. So what makes a closed adoption the right path for you? Well, we’re so glad that you asked…

If you’re looking for more info on other types of adoption, you can find our guides to embryo, foster careadult, international, transracialstep parent, military, single parent, Jewish, Christian, and same-sex adoption

What is a closed adoption?

Basically, closed adoption is just like it sounds. The adoptive parents decide to close off most, if not all, contact with the birth parents and keep information about each other confidential. This means you may very well never even know the last names of your child’s birth parents and vice-versa. Bottom line: The goal is essentially to sever ties with the birth parents and learn as little as possible about who they are.

In an open adoption, the birth parents are typically presented with several people who are potentially interested in adopting the child, and ultimately get to decide on the adoptive parents. Both the birth parents and adoptive parents know each other’s identities, and usually maintain some level of contact throughout the pregnancy and then once the child is born. This could include everything from cards, phone calls, or visits. In the case of a semi-open adoption, there could be limited contact through a third party like the adoption agency or an attorney.

Unlike open adoption, the identities of the birth mother or parents and adoptive parents are not shared with each other in a closed adoption. There is also no interaction of any kind between the birth and adoptive parents, or the adopted child and their birth parents. However, non-identifying features — like physical traits and medical history — are sometimes shared with the adoptive parents. 

How does closed adoption work?

Now that you know what a closed adoption is, it’s good to know what kind of steps need to be taken throughout the process.

1. Finding Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents Interested in Closed Adoption

Everyone needs to be on the same page, which means both parties must agree that closed adoption is the right decision. An agency adoption involves the birth parents looking through various adoption family profiles (without learning any identifiable information about them) and determining who would be a good fit.

2. Keeping Contact Limited Prior to the Adoption

If working with an agency, you can limit contact pretty easily. The adoption specialist working on the case can disclose any details or information the adoptive parents need to know during the process. However, if the adoption is independent, then an adoption attorney or some type of mediator would need to set up a P.O. Box, 1-800 number, or private email account so that the birth parents and adoptive parents can contact one another about any important updates related to the adoption.

3. Transferring Custody of the Child

If you’re adopting a baby, then the birth parents will set up a hospital adoption plan with the help of the adoption agency. In most cases, the adoptive parents will have their own hospital room or access to the baby either in the nursery or a private room. Then, once the birth mother can consent to the adoption post-birth, they can officially transfer physical custody of the child to the adoptive parents.

4. Keeping Contact Limited After the Adoption

Though the goal is to have zero contact with the birth parents after the adoption, it’s still a good idea for the adoptive parents to establish some way for both parties to contact each other in case of an emergency. The agency can be the go-between, or you can set up the aforementioned phone number, P.O. Box, or private email.

What are the pros and cons of a closed adoption?

Just like anything, closed adoptions have advantages and disadvantages for everyone involved, which is why it’s good to weigh out all the options when making a decision.

Pros for Birth Parents

  • The finality of it all provides a sense of closure to the birth parents, which can be helpful in the process of moving on.
  • The process is extremely private.
  • The privacy and lack of contact can also reduce the fear and stress of feeling judged.

Pros for Adoptive Parents

  • There’s less of a worry about navigating boundaries with the birth parents, whereas in an open adoption, they might try to co-parent or interfere with your parenting methods.
  • It can provide a sense of relief to have the freedom to parent your child as you solely see fit.

Pros for the Adopted Child

  • Like for the adoptive parents, a closed adoption helps establish clear boundaries for the child as well.
  • It can also help to protect the child from further association with an unstable birth family.

Cons for Birth Parents

  • Birth parents don’t receive any updates about the child, which can leave some with a sense of uncertainty if they made the right decision and if the child ended up with a happy life.
  • It rules out the possibility of ever meeting or establishing a relationship with the child, even many years down the road.

Cons for Adoptive Parents

  • It can be difficult to obtain medical information about the birth parents in a closed adoption. So, if something were to happen to the child (God forbid!), it’d be a lot more challenging to piece together his/her family history and any genetic conditions that the birth parents may have passed down.

Cons for the Adopted Child

  • It leaves them with so many unanswered questions about where they came from and why the birth parents placed the child up for adoption in the first place.
  • It prevents them from developing a connection with their roots, which may make them feel like a piece of their identity is missing.

Can you open a closed adoption?

The straightforward answer to this is no — you can’t easily turn a closed adoption into an open one. However, it is not a completely hopeless situation if an adopted child or adoptive parents want to find some identifying information about the biological parents.

In most closed adoption cases, once the adoption is complete, a new birth certificate for the child is drawn up with the adoptive parents’ name on the document. The original birth certificate with the biological parents’ names is sealed, along with the adoption documents.

Sometimes, however, some agencies and states leave this public at the request of the biological parents. Typically in these situations, only the adopted person, parents, and biological parents can access the sealed documents. Access to sealed adoption documents may differ from state to state, so your best bet is to hire an adoption attorney to read and traverse through the legalese for you.

Do people still do closed adoptions?

Though closed adoptions used to be the norm, they are now relatively rare in the United States, accounting for only around five percent of all adoptions. Closed adoptions are, however, still common in America when it comes to adopting babies or children from other countries. Typical costs for a closed adoption of a child from the States can range from $20,000 to $40,000, while an international closed adoption could cost between $25,000 and $50,000, plus other expenses like travel, accommodations when you get to the destination, etc. 

That said, if you find yourself leaning toward the closed adoption option Nicole Witt, Executive Director of The Adoption Consultancy, TODAY Contributor, and host of Adopting! The Podcast, has some advice on the matter and strongly recommends doing your due diligence beforehand.

“Particularly for domestic adoption, fully closed adoption is the adoption of a generation ago so it doesn’t really happen anymore. I recommend that anyone interested in closed adoption educate themselves on the myths vs. the realities of semi-open and open adoption, particularly the benefits to the child,” Witt told ScaryMommy during a recent interview. “Once people become more informed, they are usually much more accepting and even excited about a more open adoption. If that’s really not a fit for the family, then it would make sense for them to explore international adoption instead.”

In other words, just be sure to take your time and do some research. There are a lot of options out there, so the more knowledge you have on the subject, the better.