' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Considering Open Adoption?

Considering Open Adoption?

When you're pregnant and considering adoption for your child, the decisions you make are likely the most important you will ever make. They cannot be undone and will affect your and your child for your entire lives. Take the time to learn about adoption by talking to trusted relatives and friends, reading all you can, and listening to other mothers who gave up their child and those who kept their child.

About 14,000 to 18,000 voluntary infant adoptions take place each year and virtually all of them have some degree of openness by which the mother has some contact with her child. While we refer to "mothers" here, our advice is applicable to fathers as well. Open adoptions are better than closed adoptions for many mothers but it does not make the pain ago away. Many mothers continue to grieve for their child. They count the hours until they can see him or send him a letter.

Don't expect your sadness to end when your child grows up. After your child turns 18, he can decide for himself whether he wants a relationship with you. Some now adult children are anxious to re-join their birth family. Others refuse any contact. Some children in open adoption understand why they were given up; some are angry and withdrawn no matter what you do or tell them.

Open adoptions may be fully open or semi-open. To confuse matters, adoption practitioners often refer to semi-open adoptions as open adoptions. In true open adoptions (often referred to as "fully open"), you choose the adoptive parents from a profile of couples, typically three to five, pre-screened by the adoption agency or adoption attorney. Always ask to see the profiles of couples who live at least within the distance it will be easy for you to make the trip to visit.

Once you make an initial selection, you meet with the prospective adoptive parents. You may obtain a copy of the prospective adoptive parents’ home study, which the law requires before couples can be approved to adopt. If you are not satisfied with the couple, you can ask to meet others. Guard against selecting a couple who lives a great distance away. Some agencies deliberately offer mothers profiles where the only couple who comes close to meeting the mother's stated preferences lives in a distant state making frequent contact impossible. Keep in in mind that if you are not satisfied with the couples presented, you can go to another agency.

Before the birth of your child, you and the prospective adoptive parents sign an agreement for on-going contact with your child. You may be presented with what the agency or attorney calls a "typical" agreement. You are in no way obligated to accept this agreement. You have a great deal of power to fashion the kind of adoption you think will be the best for yourself and your child.  Once the agreement is signed and you consent to the adoption, however, you have virtually no ability to change the agreement. You may disagree with how the adoptive parents are raising your child but you may have to keep silent or risking losing your right to contact with your child. At the end of this article is a list of conditions which you should consider before signing any open adoption agreement.

As you and the adoptive parents develop the agreement, you will be asked about having them in the delivery room. We've found this is a bad plan. After your baby is born, you may have doubts about going forward with the adoption and having the hopeful adoption parents holding your baby can make you feel like you shouldn't disappoint them.

Even though you have agreed on adoption, you can change your mind until you sign a consent. We encourage you to take a few days after your child's birth to reconsider your decision. You may take him home. You may be told that if don't sign right away, your child won't be placed. Don't believe it. If the prospective adoptive parents are truly committed to your child, you, and openness, they will wait a few days for you to be sure that's what's best for you and your child.

In semi-open adoptions you select the adoptive parents from profiles, but do not meet them or know their names or addresses. All contact is through the agency. The adoptive parents agree to send pictures and letters every few months for the first few years of the child's life. You may write to the adoptive parents and send letters and gifts to your baby. Agency staff reads the letters and opens the gifts; it may refuse to send them to the adoptive parents or your child if the agency staff thinks they are inappropriate. (Or, in some cases, if the adoptive parents have asked that the letters and presents stop.)

When Catelynn, one of the contestants on Sixteen and Pregnant, a reality TV show, complained to her social worker that she did not know who the parents of her daughter really were, the social worker responded by saying something to the effect of, Well if you wanted a fully open adoption, you should have said so. It was clear that the young--and now anguished--teen mother had not been aware that she had a choice. Remember that no matter how concerned that social worker who holds your hands through your pregnancy is, she is working for the agency, whose fees paid by adoptive parents keep the agency in business. They are the client, not the prospective mother.

Semi-open adoption agreements provide that after a certain amount of time, typically three to five years, you and the adoptive parents can decide on further contact. When mothers sign these agreements, they often assume that the adoptive parents will continue the arrangement, or allow even more contact, only to find themselves shut out completely. One agency source says that 80 percent of all such semi-open adoptions actually close within a few years;  Mothers may return to the agency, asking it to convince the adoptive parents to continue contact. Agencies are reluctant to become involved. The adoptive parents are their client and the agency does not wish to antagonize them. Further, there's no money in it for the agency.

Another problem with arrangements for communication only through the agency is that adoption agencies are, first and foremost, businesses. Like any business, they are subject to market whims, and they can close. Indeed many have in the past decade as the supply of infants has dwindled and demand for babies has decreased because assisted reproduction techniques have improved and foreign babies are available. In some states the files are sent to the state child welfare agency, but the state agency may not be willing to assume the role of go-between. In other states, there is no central depository to take the records, and only luck determines if anyone will pick up the case load.

We strongly urge mothers considering adoption to make it a fully open one, where you meet the adoptive parents, know where they live, work, and get their mail, as well as know their full names and other community involvements. No matter how nice they may seem before the birth and surrender, remember, they want your baby, and everything may change after they have your child.

You need to know, though, that even if the adoption is fully open, adoptive parents have full custody which allows them to decide everything about the child: his religious training, his education, which values and beliefs to instill. They can make decisions regardless of whether you disagree with the decisions. That is what adoption is--you are not the legal parent and have no standing in determining your child's upbringing.

No matter whether it is an open or semi-open adoption, the agreement may not be enforceable. A source found that only 12 percent of such adoptions stay fully open.The legislature in your state may not have authorized such agreements, or even have gone so far as to explicitly prohibit them. In these states, mothers have no recourse once the adoptive parents take the baby.

Even in states where the law allows open adoption agreements, the judge must approve the open adoption agreement often referred to as a "continuing contact" agreement. Though we've not heard of it happening, it's possible the judge could disapprove of the agreement. The adoption would still go through, however. The adoptive parents may move away or disappear, effectively ending the agreement. They may simply refuse to comply with the agreement and there may be little you can do. One thing for sure, you cannot have your baby back.

To enforce the agreement, you must start by undergoing mediation at the adoption agency which may charge you a fee for the service. If the agency has closed, you'll have to find another agency to handle the mediation. If mediation does not resolve the problem or the adoptive parents refuse to participate, you can file a court action if you have the money to hire an attorney. If the adoptive parents live in another state, you may have to go to a court in that state. Judges can refuse to enforce your agreement if they find circumstances have changed and the agreement is not in the best interests of the child.

You may find visits with your child stressful, you may become distraught with grief and guilt and your child may become emotional, throwing fits when you leave. You may have been led to believe that openness is merely for your benefit and be unaware of how important it is for your child. Adoptive parents may encourage mothers to stay away, telling them how much their visits upset their child although we've known adoptive parents who would do almost anything to have their child's mother visit. When you go into an open adoption, you need to be committed to keeping your end of the bargain. The emotional issues around adoption won't end when you retreat and stopping visits can be damaging to your child.

If there are provisions you don’t understand in the agreement the social worker or attorney hands you, insist that they be re-written in plain English. You have the right to take home a draft agreement and go over it with anyone of your choosing. Insist on changes if you're not satisfied with the agreement. If the prospective adoptive parents don’t agree with your changes, you're free to go to another agency or attorney. Many more couples are seeking babies than there are mothers giving up babies.

Read the fine print and don't rely on oral promises. We know of one case in which the mother and the prospective adoptive parents reached an agreement sitting around a table at an adoption agency. The prospective adoptive parents never signed the agreement, however. Consequently, the mother had no rights whatsoever. .

While the agreement may be modified by the parties or a judge, it’s best to think of it as a document that must work for the next 18 years. At the same time, you need to know that the best crafted agreement is no substitute for trust and honesty. 

Name of the child
Typically the parties agree on the name or the mother gets to select the middle name.

Hospital arrangements
In which city and at which hospital will you deliver your baby

Whether the adoptive parents will be in the delivery room. We recommend that prospective adoptive parents NOT be in the delivery room. If after holding your baby, you have doubts about the adoption, you’ll be far more comfortable in deciding to keep your baby if the prospective adoptive parents are not in your room or even in the hospital.

Transfer of the baby
Where the baby will go after delivery. There's no hurry to give your baby to the prospective adoptive parents. You have every right to set the unsigned consent aside and take your baby home or have him placed in foster care. Once your baby is placed physically with the adoptive parents, it’s almost impossible to get your baby back if you change your mind. Your baby  may go into foster care if the prospective adoptive parents don’t live nearby. and it takes them a few days before they can pick up your baby. 

Contact information
The parties agree to keep each other informed of mailing, residential, and email addresses and telephone numbers. Adoption agencies may require you and the adoptive parents keep the agency informed of current mailing addresses

Letters, pictures, gifts
How often you may send pictures, letters, and gifts. Whether grandparents or other relatives may send pictures, letters, and gifts.

A word of advice--don’t agree to a provision allowing adoptive parents to screen letters, pictures, and gifts for appropriateness.

How often adoptive parents must send letters and pictures. Content of letters from adoptive parents such as school, social, and development information

Telephone calls
How often you may initiate calls. Whether your child may call you. Who else may call your child such as. grandparents

Where and how often visits between you and your child will occur

If you and the adoptive parents live far apart, whether the adoptive parents will pay your transportation costs or bring the child to your home if you are unable to pay transportation costs.

How visits will be modified if one party moves out of the area. The adoption agency mediation program may assist in working out a new visitation schedule.

Who may be present during your visits with your child. You can insist on time alone with your child, that is, without the adoptive parents present. You can insist that others of your choosing, grandparents for example, may be present during visits.

Whether others may visit such as the grandparents when you are not present.

Sharing Personal Information
Agree not to share personal information about each other with other parties.

Health Matters
Adoptive parents must inform you of the death of your child or of serious illness or injury requiring hospitalization. Adoptive parents must inform you of the death or of serious illness or injury requiring hospitalization of the other adoptive parent. You must inform the adoptive parents of the death of the other first parent or of any serious illness or injury to yourself or the other first parent requiring hospitalization.

Inability of adoptive parents to care for the child
If adoptive parents are unable to care for child, they will allow you to seek custody or guardianship. If you are not appointed guardian, they will require the guardian to honor the agreement. 

Adoptive parents will sign wills which allow you seek to seek guardianship upon their deaths. If you are not appointed guardian, the wills will require the guardian to honor the agreement. 

Modification of agreement
You and the adoptive parents may informally agree to changes to the agreement but these are not legally binding.The agreement can be changed legally only by agreement between you and the adoptive parents or by a judge.

What you should never agree to
NEVER sign an agreement which provides that if you try to contest or overturn the adoption, the agreement will be void.

NEVER sign an agreement that stipulates that the adoptive parents may refuse to comply with the agreement if they determine that it is in the best interests of the child.--jane and lorraine

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