Adoption has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Today many adoptions are open, meaning there’s at least some ongoing contact between birth parent(s), child, and adoptive family. In other words, placing your child for adoption doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye and never know how your child is doing—in fact, you can have a say in how much contact you have with your child’s adoptive family. On the flip side, it’s important to know that even the most open adoption is not shared parenting; it’s a legal agreement in which you permanently give up your parental rights.
types of adoption
In an open adoption, the birth family and adoptive family are in direct contact, with support from the adoption agency as needed. Deciding how much contact you want is part of the agreement that you make with the adoptive family. “Contact” means different things to different families. Some common forms of contact are sharing annual letters and photos, having regular phone calls and visits, or even going on vacations and celebrating holidays together. An open adoption agreement allows the most flexibility for changes over time, especially if a birth parent might want more contact in the future. In open adoptions, the child can grow up knowing their birth family.
In a partially-open adoption (sometimes called a mediated adoption), information and updates between the birth and adoptive families always pass through the adoption agency. If you choose this kind of adoption, you won’t be able to contact the adoptive family directly and they won’t be able to contact you. In most cases, you won’t have each other’s full names or contact information.
In a closed adoption (sometimes called a confidential adoption), zero identifying information is exchanged and no contact is allowed between the birth family and the adoptive family or the child. Information about the birth family’s medical history is usually provided to the adoptive family through the lawyer or agency that arranges the adoption. If you choose closed adoption and your child wants to contact you down the line, it could be very difficult for them to find you.
When you think about adoption, you might imagine giving birth and never seeing or hearing from your child again. Back in the day, closed adoptions were the norm and that happened a lot.
More recently, experts have realized that honest information and ongoing communication between birth families and adoptive families is better for everyone, especially for the adopted child, so today most adoptions are at least partially open. This usually means that, at the very least, the birth parents select the adoptive parents and the families exchange basic information, either directly or through the agency. Beyond that, the families can decide together how much ongoing contact they want to have. Every adoption is unique, based on what the birth parents and adoptive families agree to and feel comfortable with. This is why it’s important to find an adoptive family that shares your values about having ongoing contact and an ongoing relationship.
Keep an open mind about the future
Even if you’re worried that it would be too painful or challenging to have a relationship with your child’s adoptive family, keep in mind that your feelings might change over time. Choosing open adoption can make space for your immediate need for privacy and healing while also allowing the possibility for more contact in the future. Closed or partially-open adoption agreements are usually less flexible. That means if you realize a few years later that you want more contact with your child, it may be difficult or impossible to adjust the agreement.
What does an adoption agency do?
Adoption agencies can help find an adoptive family that fits your preferences and values. How much contact do you think you’ll want after the adoption? Is it important to you for your child’s adoptive family to be of a certain religion, race or ethnic background, or family structure? They take all of those things into account. They do lots of practical things, too, like help connect you with affordable health care services for the pregnancy and birth. Agencies also provide ongoing support as your families navigate the relationship over time.
There are independent lawyers and facilitators that sometimes help arrange adoptions, but understand that facilitators can’t finalize an adoption. Lawyers and facilitators don’t usually do much to support birth families after an adoption is finalized. A good adoption agency on the other hand—like the ones in the Resources section—will be there to help the birth and adoptive families for years after the adoption is finalized.
50 states, 50 sets of adoption laws
It’s important to work with an adoption agency or a lawyer who can help you understand the laws in the state where the adoption will be finalized. Adoptions are regulated by state laws, and they’re all a little different. The laws can affect lots of things about an adoption, like:
What rights a birth father has in the decision to give up parental rights or participate in the adoption process.
How long a birth mother has to change her mind after she signs the adoption papers.
How the contact agreements between the birth and adoptive families will be interpreted if there’s a problem. In an open adoption, you usually sign a contact agreement that details your expectations and commitments about how much and what kind of contact the birth and adoptive families will have. In some states, these contact agreements aren’t legally enforceable. Your agency can help determine whether this could affect you.
No matter what state you’re in, an adoption can never be finalized before the baby is born. You should never feel pressured or obligated to agree to an adoption plan, by your family, an adoption agency, a lawyer, or a family that wants to adopt. If you’re feeling pressured, see the Resources section for help.
Placing a child for adoption is complicated, both legally and emotionally. If you know you want to continue the pregnancy, it’s normal to need some time to figure out whether adoption or parenting is right for you. In the meantime, take care of yourself: find a health care provider and go to prenatal visits. You don’t have to tell your health care provider you’re considering adoption unless you want to.
You have the same rights as any other person to make decisions about your care, your pregnancy, and your child until the adoption is finalized. This includes where and how you want to give birth and what role, if any, other family members or the adoptive parents will have in that process. It can take some time after a birth to complete an adoption agreement, so you may also have decisions to make about breastfeeding or circumcision.
Get your answer ready
If you choose adoption, one challenging thing you may encounter is the way that people who notice your pregnancy often assume you’ll be parenting. There isn’t one right way to respond, but it can help to take some time to think about how you want to deal with comments or questions from people around you.
It’s up to you to decide what you want to share and what you want to keep private. Keeping things private can be a way to protect your emotions, but if you can find someone you trust, it can really help to be totally honest with them and know that someone has your back. It’s also important to have an adoption agency that offers information, counseling, and other support for your decisions without putting pressure on you.
Be patient with yourself
Placing a child for adoption can be hard emotionally, even under the best circumstances. You might decide on adoption while pregnant and then feel like you have to make the decision all over again after the baby is born. Significant feelings of grief and loss are common and totally normal, particularly in the first year after an adoption. That’s why it’s so important to work with an agency that will provide you with honest information and supportive counseling throughout the adoption process—starting when you’re making decisions and including all the years afterward.
Adoption counseling and legal services should always be free, whether or not you end up placing your child for adoption. If you do decide to place your child for adoption, a good agency will provide free lifelong support and counseling.
Often the adoption agency or the people who hope to adopt the child will offer help with the cost of medical care and basic living expenses like housing and food. It’s not legal to pay someone for a child, but it is legal to cover expenses related to the pregnancy and birth. You don’t have to accept any of this assistance if it makes you uncomfortable. If you’re worried about affording health care during the pregnancy and birth, you may qualify for free care from Medicaid.
No matter how much financial assistance you receive from an adoption agency or adoptive parents, you are not obligated to go through with an adoption. Until the adoption is finalized, you have the right to change your mind.
Look for an agency that will support you even if you decide adoption isn’t right for you after all. Agencies and facilitators that are ethical in their approach to adoption will never pressure you or coerce you into placing your child, no matter where you are in the adoption process.
If you’re feeling pressured, take it as a warning sign. Don’t sign any documents until you’ve had the chance to talk with an independent attorney who is only representing you, not the adoptive parents. If the agency or facilitator refuses to provide you with your own legal counsel, call All-Options for a referral to another adoption agency in your area. You are never obligated to continue to work with an agency or facilitator, even if they’ve already provided services for you.
Only you can decide what’s best for you—and you deserve to have all the support you need in thinking about your options!
For more information about adoption, including some legal considerations, you can check out the Child Welfare Information Gateway. (They have resources in Spanish too.)
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a resource that covers all the options called “Pregnancy Choices: Raising the Baby, Adoption, and Abortion.”
All-Options maintains a list of licensed agencies that are committed to arranging open adoptions and providing lifelong support to birth parents. All-Options also provides support for people through all their decisions, feelings, and experiences with pregnancy, parenting, adoption, and abortion, at 1-888-493-0092.
The Pregnancy Options Workbook has questions and exercises to think about the way you feel about pregnancy, parenting, adoption, and abortion.
Pact, an adoption alliance, has videos and articles about transracial and interracial adoption.
The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys has a directory of adoption attorneys by state.
Placing a child for adoption is an incredibly personal decision—and the only right choice is the one that feels right to you. Here are some questions to think about as you’re making the decision. It might help to write down your answers in a journal or to discuss the questions with people you care about or someone who can offer impartial support.
When you think about adoption, what comes up for you? What have you thought about adoption in the past?
How do you feel about becoming a parent? Is having a child (or another child, if you are already a parent) something you want to do someday? Could you see yourself becoming a parent now?
What have you thought about abortion? How do your feelings about abortion relate to your feelings and thoughts about adoption?
What’s your relationship with the other person involved in the pregnancy? Do you know how they feel about adoption and other options?
What are your values when it comes to parenting, adoption, and abortion? If you’re religious, are there resources (teachings or people) you think could be helpful in considering your options?
What questions do you have about adoption and how it might work in your situation? Where can you find honest and unbiased answers to your questions?
What kind of emotional and practical support do you need for making this decision? Where can you find the support you need before and after the adoption?