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Differences between Closed, Semi-Open, and Open Adoptions

Interested in learning more about adoption?  

A central part of the adoption process is deciding whether you would like to have an open, semi-open or closed adoption. This determines how much contact the birth mother has with the child and the adoptive family after the child is born. Exact definitions of the terms open, semi-open and closed adoption can vary, and are flexible to some degree. Button-Waiting-FamiliesThis article should give you an understanding of the different types of adoption and help you get started thinking about the best choice for you. Keep in mind that these are general concepts – ultimately, it’s up to the birth mother and the adoptive family to decide what type of scenario and specific variations will work best for them. The most important thing is to make sure this is defined prior to the adoption taking place. Whatever option you choose will be carried out “in faith”, and is not an enforceable contract. Communicating honestly and openly from the beginning is the key to having a successful adoption where everyone’s needs are met.

Open adoptions allow the birth mother and the adoptive family to maintain contact throughout the child’s life. In an open adoption, face-to-face visits between the birth mother and adoptive family may be scheduled once a year, or at several points throughout the year. The birth mother is able to have a personal connection with the child, and the child will know who they are. This also allows the adoptive family and birth mother to really get to know each other as the years pass, and can allow the child make sense of their identity and where they come from. It can help the child understand the birth mother’s choice to place them with an adoptive family, and to see this as a loving decision. It also means that the adoptive family will have access to the child’s genetic and medical history, which can be of vital importance in identifying certain medical issues if they arise.

It’s important to note that open adoption is not the same thing as co-parenting. The adoptive parents will hold all the legal rights as the parents of the child. In order for open adoption to be successful, the birth mother and the adoptive parents need to communicate well and be comfortable with the idea of having a relationship for a long time. This being said, many families who choose open adoption develop strong, lifelong bond, and feel that this connection has a positive impact on the self-esteem of the adopted child.

In a semi-open adoption, pictures, letters, and emails are sent to the birth mother throughout the year or on special occasions. The birth mother typically does not see or visit the child, but they can maintain a connection with them and know about major events in the child’s life. The frequency of their communication is up to the birth mother and the adoptive parents to decide; it can be anything from a few times a year to only once a year. A semi-open adoption can represent an ideal middle ground for some families, especially if the birth mother and adoptive parents live in different states. Sometimes, a semi-open adoption transitions to an open adoption as the child grows and the adoptive family and birth mother come to know and trust each other.

In a closed adoption, there is no contact between the birthmother and the adoptive family once the child is born. Some birthmothers may feel like being in contact with the child and the adoptive family would be too emotionally difficult, and make it hard for them to move forward with their lives. Even if birthmothers are interested in getting to know the family beforehand, and even involving them in the details of their pregnancy, they may wish to part ways after the child is placed with their new family. Although open and semi-open adoptions tend to be the more common choices now, this is still an option for birthmothers and adoptive families.