There are technically three basic adoption options for birth mothers to choose from: confidential (or “closed”) adoption, mediated (or “semi-open”) adoption and fully disclosed (or “open”) adoption. These options are categorized by the different degrees of openness achieved, as well as the amount of information exchanged between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. Many birth mothers like the freedom of being able to choose one of these adoption options because it gives them more flexibility and control over their situation. The decision is completely the birth mother’s to make, depending on which option she is the most comfortable with. No matter which option the birth mother chooses, it’s important to remember that all varieties of adoption- whether closed, semi-open or open- are permanent.
A closed adoption refers to a confidential adoption process where the identities of the birth parents and the adoptive parents may not be shared. No identifying information such as names, addresses or phone numbers is exchanged between families, but limited non-identifying information such as physical characteristics and medical history may be provided to both parties. There is no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents before or after placement and no on-going information of the child is shared. In a closed adoption, the birth mother generally doesn’t choose the adoptive parents and relies on the experience of the adoption professional to select the best adoptive parents.
A semi-open adoption refers to an adoption process where some limited identifying information may be shared between the birth parents and the adoptive parents, such as first names, possibly pictures and letters following the birth and sometimes gifts. Information is usually shared through a mediator (adoption agency personnel or attorney) rather than direct contact between the two parties. Sometimes, birth parents and adoptive parents may meet face-to-face, usually before the delivery or at the hospital. There is no direct contact after placement. Semi-open adoption makes it possible for the birth mother to play an active role in choosing the adoptive parents.
An open adoption refers to an adoption process where full disclosure of identifying information between the birth parents and the adoptive parents are shared and there are no limits placed on how much can be exchanged, as long as it is mutually agreed upon. In open adoption, the birth mother can select the adoptive parents from a group of screened families. Many times, the two parties have direct contact and develop a trusting relationship. The birth parents and adoptive parents may communicate with each other by telephone calls, letters and are often encouraged to meet in person. On-going contact may occur after placement including letters, photographs, e-mails, phone calls and sometimes even actual visits. Adoption professionals generally moderate the degree of openness between the two parties, based upon their mutual wishes and what works for them. The level of openness should be decided on a case-by-case basis and the birth parents need to understand that both parties must agree on the level of on-going communication between them post-placement, although the agreement isn’t legally binding.