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Adoption Vocabulary 101: Open, Closed, Semi-Open Adoption

November 6, 2012

There are typically three general categories of adoption openness: Closed Adoption, Semi-Private, and Open Adoption. I’m sure that even as you read that list, you may already have a mindset about what type of adoption you’d be open to should you choose to adopt someday. I made a comment the other day that many of our ideas about the openness of adoption may have been formed by watching Lifetime movies. I’m only half joking.

So here goes my opinion on the issue:

On closed adoption. As nice as this may seem to you in theory, have you really thought about what this might mean to you and your adopted child. From the stand point of an adoptive parent or soon-to-be adoptive parent you may be thinking, “I will bring my child home, close the door and he/she is ours, end of story.” I’m only at the beginning of the story in my home (our children who joined our family through adoption are 6, 6, 5 and 2) and I know better. We will never keep our children’s adoptions a secret from them, and there will be a day when questions will come from a deep place in the heart and from a longing to understand the choices that were made about their lives. (Sadly because 2 of our children were adopted internationally, I will have very little to share with them about their past, before me.)  I am grateful that I will be able to hold my daughter at age 13 as she’s going through puberty, questioning her identity and tell her about the loving choice that was made for her life. I’m grateful that I will be able to tell my son about the time I spent with his birth parents at the hospital.  There are numerous other practical reasons that I feel that closed adoption is often not in the best interest of the child.

On semi-private adoption. This allows the option of knowing a bit about your child’s birth family, even talking to them on the phone or meeting them prior to or after the child’s birth. This can allow you to have some level of contact, even if monitored by an agency, so that the birth family can receive letters and pictures from you. In a semi-private adoption, you are given the ability to some day give your child the gift of having answers to some of their questions. You may be able to relay to your child the reason that the choice for adoption was made. You may know some helpful things about the birth mother and her family such as their interests and hobbies, medical conditions, and you may even have a photo of them, or letters from them to present to your child when the time is right. Not only are you able to give your child loving answers, you are also able to bless a birth mom and her family by giving them updates and photos that may help them to feel reassured of their decision.

On open adoption. There was a day when I would have, perhaps out of ignorance, steered away from any situation that was asking for an open adoption. Though I know this is not for every one, I would encourage you to not completely close yourself off to this option. I certainly would not push anyone in this direction, but would encourage you to be open to it on a situation by situation basis. Do some reading, talk to other families who have had experiences with open adoption, and make that decision for yourself. There are times that a semi-open adoption may naturally evolve into a beautiful open adoption when it is the best thing for everyone involved. You may just surprise yourself and fall in love with your child’s birth family too! (I will note that I am well aware that an open adoption can be unhealthy and not good for a child in some situations)

I would welcome any comments that might be helpful to adoptive couples trying to make the decision about type of adoption they are willing to pursue. I will post any comments or questions that might be helpful to other couples who are pursuing adoption.

Having an adoption consultant to walk you through the domestic adoption process can help you as you consider the level of openness that is right for you and for your birth parents.

For more information please email me at 

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