Considering Open Adoption? Everything To Know To Guide Your Adoption Journey

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
open adoption, person holding hands with a toddler
Guillaume de Germain/Unsplash

People consider adoption for many reasons. Perhaps they can’t have biological children of their own because of infertility issues or being a same-sex couple or single person. Others would prefer to be the parents of a child that already exists in the world and do so through fostering or adoption. If you fall into the latter category, you may be wondering what kind of options there are out there for you to grow your family. When it comes to adoption, it could either be an open adoption, semi-open adoption, or closed adoption, with open adoption being the most common form in the U.S.

But do you know everything there is to know about open adoption? We bet there’s plenty more we can share with you — including some of the most common legal guidelines you need to know before starting this process and some of the most significant advantages and disadvantages of having an open adoption. Before deciding how you’d like to expand your family, it’s a good idea to get the facts and all the details on how this adoption process actually works.

With that in mind, we’ve gone ahead and answered some of the more commonly asked questions related to open adoption to arm you with all the information you may need to start your journey. Because, here’s the thing: You’re not alone in your query. According to the latest search data available to us, open adoption is searched for nearly 4,400 times per month.

So, we put together a guide on how the open adoption process works from start to finish and what part of the pregnancy the adoption becomes final. But if you feel you need more information or want to decide between adopting a baby or an older child, consult with a social worker or a therapist who can answer more specific queries and put you in touch with the necessary contacts.

If you’re looking for more info on other types of adoption, you can find our guides to embryo, foster care, private, adult, international, transracial, step parent, military, single parent, Jewish, Christian, and same-sex adoption.

What is open adoption?

In an open adoption, the birth mothers (or families) and prospective adoptive person or parents know each other’s identities, and have some type of personal interaction with each other. This could include everything from yearly email updates, celebrating birthdays together, keeping in touch via phone or text, or potentially, even visits between the adopted child and their birth parents. Also, in open adoptions, the birth parents select the adoptive parents.

How does open adoption work?

Open adoption will vary in each situation, especially since it can be tailored to each family’s needs and wishes. Typically speaking, with open adoption, the expectant mother has the opportunity to meet with potential parents and have a hand in selecting the right match for the unborn child. During this process, the expectant mother and the adoptive parents will get to know each other, and this is when they can decide how to proceed with open adoption.

Many adoptive parents will remain involved in the pregnancy alongside the expectant mother so that they can experience everything their soon-to-be child is going through as if they were the expectant ones. Then once the baby is born, the adoptive parents will become the legal guardians, but the biological mother would still be involved in the child’s life. Again, how much involvement will vary from family to family, but an open adoption usually means the biological mother (and sometimes father, as well) remains an active figure in the child’s life, even if it’s a small one.

What is the difference between open adoption and closed adoption?

Unlike open adoption, the identities of the birth mother/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 parent.

There is also a third option: a semi-open adoption. In this type, there is some contact between the birth parent and the adoptive child and parent, though it is very limited, and typically done through a third party, like the adoption agency or an adoption attorney. In most semi-open adoptions, the interaction between the birth parents and adopted child occurs mostly through cards and letters without any identifying information.

Is open adoption common?

Though closed adoptions used to be the norm, 95 percent of adoptions in America now have some level of openness, with about 55 percent of them being fully open (everybody knows everybody!). Navigating any type of family experience can be a challenge, so being open and honest throughout the open adoption process — both for the birth and adoptive parents — is important for everyone moving forward.

How much does open adoption cost?

The costs of open adoptions vary, usually ranging from around $15,000 to $30,000 for the adoptive parents — there is no cost to the birth parents.

What are the pros and cons of open adoption?

Each open adoption is different, so there is no set rulebook to follow. Because of that, communication between birth parents and adoptive parents — usually facilitated by the adoption agency and attorneys — is so important. Everyone is coming in with their own expectations, and in order for those to be met realistically, everyone has to express what they’re looking to get out of the adoption.

Like most other major life decisions, The American Pregnancy Association points out there are advantages and disadvantages to open adoption:

Potential Disadvantages

  • The birth parents may change their mind or have feelings of obligation towards the adoptive child and their family, given how much time, financial, and emotional investment they have already put into the arrangement.
  • The adoptive family may also feel additional pressure to keep up with the requests of the birth parents, or may feel as though they are obligated to provide support for their child’s birth parents.
  • There’s a chance that with getting to know each other, someone would end up disappointed in the other. The expectant mother may select parents and then end up let down after they’ve proceeded too far into the process.
  • The expectant mother, because she’s gotten to know the adoptive parents, could use her knowledge of them as a form of manipulation.
  • In some cases, the adopted child ends up feeling rejected when they are old enough to understand that their biological parents have chosen to give them up.

Potential Advantages

  • It can give birth parents more of a sense of control over an already stressful situation, and potentially feel less guilty about putting their child up for adoption.
  • There’s also the major advantage of getting to have a relationship with their biological child, if they decide that’s what they want.
  • For adoptive parents, open adoption allows them to share information with their child about their birth families, and answer the inevitable questions about their background.
  • Some expectant mothers who give up their babies for adoption end up feeling guilty later because of it. With an open adoption, she has the opportunity to still remain in the child’s life, which could ease that guilt.
  • Parents who are chosen by an expectant mother often feel even more appreciative of the situation because they know they were selected to be parents. Talk about a happy feeling!
  • For the children, having the opportunity to know exactly where you came from is reassuring. The child will never have to spend any time wondering who their biological parents are and what their background is.

Can you close an open adoption?

The short answer to this is yes. However, there are a few factors to consider before you go ahead and do so. There are many advantages to open adoptions to the child, the biological, and adoptive parents. Closing an open adoption might impede the healing process for the biological parent and might cut off a necessary source of information about family history and idtendity to the adopted child.

It’s also important to know you have options other than closing adoption in cases where the child’s safety is a concern. By making an open adoption and semi-open one you leave the door ajar for contact through the adoption agency or attorney. This allows the biological parents the peace of mind in knowing the adopted child is doing well via getting regular updates, and allows the child and adoptive parents some sort of portal of contact with the biological parents.

What are some legal considerations in open adoption?

As to be expected, the legal considerations vary from state to state, but there are a few specific things you should keep in mind during an open adoption process. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, it’s important, first and foremost, to remember as an expectant mother that your legal rights as the parent will end as part of the adoption process. Though you can still be a part of the child’s life with an open adoption, you will have no legal rights over them.

The father of the child will also need to legally be involved in this process. Most states require the father to, at the very least, consent to the adoption. And something important for both sides of the adoption to remember: Nothing is final until after the baby is born. In theory, an expectant mother could change her mind about everything after giving birth and call off the whole adoption. She does not have to legally provide a final OK to the adoption until she’s given birth.

How many states have open adoptions?

Open adoption is always an option, but only in a few states. There are nine states in the U.S. that allow adopted people access to their records or their original birth certificate. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Oregon. Other states like Indiana or Illinois, are restricted but do have limited exceptions.

What are some resources for prospective parents seeking adoption?

Knowing where to start is the most important first step in any big decision, and that may not always be clear when it comes to adoption. With that in mind, we’ve gone ahead and provided some links to organizations that can be your jumping off point. As with anything, doing extra research into the respective programs is imperative and will help determine if it aligns with your values and expectations.

Open Adoption & Family Services

Human Rights Campaign (Open Adoption)

Want to learn more about open adoptions? Reading people’s personal stories about their adoptions is a good way to find out what it’s really like. A good place to start is Open Adoption & Family Services, which has an entire section of its website dedicated to personal stories. And, of course, you can count on Scary Mommy for all the information and personal experiences you need to help you through the process.

This article was originally published on