Open Adoption in Canada
In a nutshell, open adoption refers to any situation where the adoptive parents and the birth mother know each other and exchange identifying information. Just how much information they exchange depends on a number of factors, but mostly it has to do with how comfortable they are with one another. A parent profile is often the first point of contact between waiting adoptive parents and birth parents--the first chance for waiting parents to introduce themselves and get their relationship off to a good start.
Overseas adoptions are generally not considered open adoptions
since the birth parents are not involved. In many cases, their identities
aren't known because their children were abandoned. Private
domestic adoptions in Canada and the US, on the other hand, are open
since they usually involve some kind of interaction between a prospective
birth mother and adoptive parents. "Private", in this context,
simply means that the adoption is arranged by a non-government agency.
Despite its name, the details of an open adoption aren't released to just anyone. Everything is strictly confidential, known only to the parties involved. In the beginning, information is exchanged on a non-identifying first-name basis. However, as the relationship progresses, full names are often offered, as well as phone numbers and addresses.
For adoptive parents, there are practical reasons
for choosing an open adoption. For starters, most birth mothers prefer
going this route since it gives them more of a say in the process. The
other advantage is that it meets the needs of a child better than other
Until recently, closed adoption was standard practice. It was a process marked by secrets and lies, where information was scarce or knowingly withheld. Instead of allies, adoptive parents and birth parents were treated like adversaries, creating much hurt and bitterness on both sides.
Typically, what happened was this: a birth mother
with an out of wedlock baby would be forced to surrender her baby to a
public agency. It would then place the baby with a set of adoptive parents
who would raise him as their own. Court records would be sealed, preventing
the child from tracing his/her roots and his birth parents from knowing
what became of him. Until one day the child would stumble upon something
and realize that the people who raised him/her weren't his "real"
parents. Cut off from his/her origins, he would spend years
trying to fill in the gaps of his life and make sense of his origins.
Needless to say, the process rarely served the interests of anyone apart
from the agencies that controlled it..
most open adoptions today, a birth mother not only gets to choose the
parents she wants for her child, she has the choice of taking an active
role in putting together an adoption plan with them. With the prospective
adoptive couple, she can decide what, if any, future communication she
wants to have with them and her child after the placement, and in what
The details can be worked out in one of two ways: verbally, with a handshake, or more formally, through a written agreement. Although the agreement is not legally binding, both sides should avoid promising anything they don't plan to honour. Doing so will only create bad feelings between them and could have a detrimental effect on their child.
In some instances, the prospective adoptive parents
and birth mother may hit it off so well that the adoptive parents will be invited
to witness the birth and, in some cases, even cut the umbilical cord. After the placement, it's not unheard of for the
two parties to share family dinners or to go away on vacation together.
As for the fears that a birth mother will come back for her child, experience shows it's usually the adoptive parents who push for more contact after the placement. In most cases, the birth mother is happy to recede into the background and put some distance between herself and the adoptive parents and the child.
Another common misconception about open adoption is
that it causes children to be confused about their origins. Experience
clearly shows that children understand the difference between the person
who gave birth to them and the people who raised them. As a result, they
grow up knowing who they are and where they came from. What's more, they
know that they're loved and valued by both sets of parents. Since nothing
about their origins is withheld from them, they have no need to fantasize
Some birth mothers may initially feel uncomfortable sharing details of their private lives with complete strangers. However, it's generally the waiting parents who have the most reservations about open adoption. In the early stages especially, they feel threatened by a prospective birth mother and more often than not want nothing to do with her. They fear that she'll change her mind or that they'll make a mistake and say the "wrong" thing to her. What's more, they worry that one day there will be a knock on their door and that when they open it, there she'll be, ready to take her child back.
After the placement, some adoptive parents wish their
child's birth mother would just go away and leave them be. Although keeping
in contact with a birth mother may seem strange and threatening, there
are practical reasons for doing it. For one thing, a birth mother's connection
to her child will always be there, even if she isn't. To hide or deny
it is to hide or deny an essential part of a child's identity.