Friday, April 13, 2012

Open Adoption Agreements

Open adoptions are a lot of things: beautiful, scary, new, natural, and loving. But one thing they are not is enforceable. I really hope birthparents know this! Because there can be a lot of deceit in adoption. Agencies can use the idea of an open adoption to entice pregnant women into placing their babies for adoption, because it can be comforting to know that you can still see the child and be informed of their development, etc. But agencies can't promise that an open adoption will be anything like what a birthmom imagined or that it will stay open long-term. Anything regarding "openness" that is agreed upon prior to the adoption may or may not happen at all. It all comes down to the honesty of the people involved and how everybody feels afterwards. Feelings can change. But not all agencies are evil baby snatchers and not all adoptive couples suddenly disappear with the baby. Healthy open adoptions do exist... In fact, it's really the direction that adoption in general is and should be headed.

Since there is no one way to have an open adoption, a document can be drawn up stating the terms of the open adoption - including things like how often pictures/information is exchanged and the number of visits birthparents can have a year or whatever. They call this an "open adoption agreement" and adoptive parents and birthparents can sign it at the time of placement. It can get as specific as you want and can extend to other members of the birth family, etc. It can be a really great way to start off an open adoption if everyone involved would like to stick to some sort of plan and have some structure. Open adoption can be muddy territory and an agreement upfront could help everyone to wade through it all with some level of expectation and certainty. The signing of the document could even be done ceremoniously with pictures taken and a copy of it given to both families. It can be a beautiful part of the joining of two families together through adoption.

A document like that can be misleading, though. In reality, after an adoption takes place, adoptive parents can behave like any other parents out there - they can share or withhold information and pictures as they please, they can move wherever they want to, they can change the baby's name, they can do whatever they want to do! The contract itself isn't worth much, legally. Birthparents sign relinquishment papers for a reason - to relinquish any parental rights whatsoever. An open adoption agreement can't undo that.

We have an open adoption with our son's birth family. It's something new to us and new to them, so we really don't know how to go about it other than to do what feels right and treat them just like we do anybody else in our extended family. The important thing is having that line of communication open. We told them beforehand that we wanted an open adoption, but we never put any "open adoption agreement" in writing or decided on anything specific. I don't know if that was wise or not, looking back. At the time, I thought a structured agreement was too formal and unnecessary. But I see the value in it now. We're kind of just winging it, and maybe that will work out the best for us or maybe we'll figure out our mistakes along the way. The great thing about it being an open adoption is that we can always talk to our son's birthmom directly and find out how she feels about things and let her know how we're doing as well. She can always contact us and let us know whether she needs more or less of anything.

That's the beauty of it! But just like any relationship, it's not forced or enforceable.

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. Click here to view other blogs participating in this particular Adoption Roundtable on "Agreements."

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