“It removes the mystery, but it doesn’t remove the grief,” said Claude Riedel, a psychologist and family therapist who co-directs the Adoptive Family Counseling Center in Minnesota. “The reality is that, at certain stages, it’s normal to have questions: why did you choose not to parent me, not to keep me? And there may be complexities: have you kept your other children, but not me?”
Most US states and Canadian provinces have independent non-profit organizations that help adoptees and their birth parents initiate a search, and offers other adoption-related support. There are also independent and state funded reunion registries that facilitate reuniting family members. The International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR) is the oldest and largest. The Salvation Army also provides information in helping those who were born or gave birth in its maternity hospitals or homes (see the external links below). This is a change from previous decades, when nothing was ever released without a rarely given or sought court order.
It’s important to keep in mind that, while adoption relationships can change, it is more complicated to increase contact than to decrease it. If a birth mother starts with an open relationship and then decides later that she needs distance, she can do this at any time. However, if an adoption is closed and a birth mother wants more contact, then she has to come to an agreement with the adoptive family. Therefore, it is especially important that a birth mother choosing closed adoption is sure that it is what she wants.
Although open adoptions are thought to be a relatively new phenomenon, most adoptions in the United States until the twentieth century were open. Until the 1930s, most adoptive parents and biological parents had contact at least during the adoption process. In many cases, adoption was seen as a social support: young children were adopted out not only to help their parents (by reducing the number of children they had to support) but also to help another family by providing an apprentice.
The social stigma of unmarried mothers, particularly during the Baby Scoop Era (1945-1975) rendered them social outcasts. By the 1980s the situation improved greatly and the vast majority of unwed mothers kept their babies. In a mother driven society after WWII infertile couples were also seen as deviant due to their inability to bear children. The social experiment of taking the children from "unmarried mothers" and "giving them" to adoptive parents became the norm during the BSE. These adoptions were predominantly closed. The records were sealed, biological mothers were told to keep their child a secret, and adoptive parents told to treat the child "as if born to".
In a confidential adoption, neither the adopter nor the birthparents know each other, nor do they ever meet. Instead, all the arrangements and paperwork occur through a middleman, usually an adoption agency or an attorney. Some people call this a closed adoption, although I prefer the terms confidential and traditional because they sound nonjudgmental. A confidential adoption doesn't mean that the adopters and birthparents know nothing about each other. What it means is they have no identifying information about each other.
Prior to the 1980s, it was common practice to keep adoptions closed. Oftentimes, women facing unexpected pregnancies would temporarily move to another location, have their babies, and return home. The doctor or a child-placing agency would then find an adoptive family, unbeknownst to the birth mother. Clearly, this led to various complications in each of their lives, especially for the adopted child.
A semi-open adoption in Texas allows you to stay in contact with the adoptive family through American Adoptions without having to share identifying information like your last name or home address. American Adoptions can mediate contact of a semi-open adoption for up to 18 years. However, most adoptive parents and birth parents today share a more open adoption, which involves direct communication without the agency’s involvement.
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It's equally important adopters understand that in a closed adoption little to no information will be exchanged with the birth parents, including their choice to arrange an adoption with the couple. This can feel like a distant business deal for some adoptive couples who want to know the nuances and personality of the mother of the child they're being placed with. Other adoptive parents may feel the separation of adoptive and birth parent eliminates possible instability an openly known birth mother's lifestyle may bring into a family dynamic. Also, in an open adoption, if communication is lost between the birth mother and adoptee, the child may become confused and hurt.