What is Open Adoption?

 Open Adoption: What is that?


I get asked this question a lot. One reason open adoption is so confusing is that traditionally adoption has been one of those things people only whisper about. There was a stigma to it, so no one wanted to admit to being involved in an adoption. Thankfully, today that stigma is lifting. Now, whenever I start talking about our adoption experience, it never ceases to amaze me how people almost always have some connection to adoption—either directly or maybe through a close friend or relative. While adoption is still not the most common dinnertime conversation topic, once you open the door, people are interested and, I have found, generally supportive.


Another reason open adoption is mysterious is because every adoption looks different in different families. It’s like marriage. If you walked into my house and sat down to dinner, you would see one version of marriage that is completely different than what you would see if you walked into my neighbor’s house…or my parents’. Everyone kind of does it in their own way.


Open adoption is whatever you want it to be. Period.


Adoption Takes On Many Forms


Some open adoptions involve the adoptive parents sharing the story of the child’s birth and adoption openly. Perhaps letters and pictures are exchanged. Maybe everyone is “friends” on Facebook. Other adoptions, like my own, are more open involving frequent visits and shared holidays. We like to joke that our children’s adoptions were like marriages, and our kids brought their own sets of in-laws to the family.


For most, the amount of openness develops over time. I know my husband and I started out thinking, Sure, we can send letters and pictures. Maybe we’ll even have a visit once a year. But then we met our children’s birth families, and we fell in love. We found out we had so much in common and really enjoyed spending time together. Having visits was something we looked forward to—not only for our children’s sakes, but for our own, as well. Now that we’ve moved cross-country from most of them, it is heartbreaking to us that our contacts are limited to just phone calls and letters and occasional visits. Thank goodness for FaceTime.


Adoptions Change Over Time


Just as our adoptions have changed recently because of our move, all open adoption relationships will change over time. To me, this is just like with any family relationship. Take the example of cousins who grow up playing weekly or more and sticking together thick as thieves. Say after high school one or more of the cousins moves away for college. Now, while they still love each other, they see each other less. Then life has a way of getting busy. Maybe one of them has kids early and the other gets into travel. The monthly or holiday visits turn into yearly visits and maybe a few phone calls in between. But then, something happens and the cousins suddenly find themselves back in the same location and they now see each other again regularly and the relationship blossoms again.


Open adoptions are like that also. The relationship is going to change over time depending on proximity, shared interests, and life changes. Personality has a lot to do with it, also, as well as each person’s hopes and expectations that they bring into the relationship.


The most important aspect that you can bring to an open adoption is yourself and your self-awareness. Just be honest with yourself and everyone else in the adoption about what you hope for and see where that leads. You might be surprised with the outcome.


For more information about open adoption and how it can work best for you, give me a call. I’d love to help you mold your vision of a perfect adoption into a reality.

Traci W. Pirri, LCSW

Traci W. Pirri, LCSW is a top anxiety therapist, depression counselor, and adoption therapist in Austin, Texas. She is also licensed in North Carolina. She is passionate about working with people whose lives or professions have caused them to struggle, but still desire a life worth living. She helps people find the connections they want with their relationships and daily lives.

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