The concept of open adoption is simultaneously understood and vastly misconstrued. Openness in adoption refers to the level of contact between the birth family and the adoptive family. In the US historically adoptions were closed; there was no contact between either party. The birth mother gave birth and the child was whisked away never to be seen or heard from again, and from the adoptive parents point of view a baby magically appeared in a bassinette and a smiling nurse or social worker handed him/her over at the appointed time. This has (thankfully) fallen out of favor in the adoption community, although the stereotype still persists. Now birth parents usually participate in the selection of the adoptive family and maintain some sort of contact during the child’s life, whether via updates such as photos and letters, through social media, phone contact, or in person visits.
The level of openness depends on the type and frequency of contact between the birth and adoptive families. The confusion comes when someone tries to call one type of adoption an “open adoption.” Openness is really more of a range or a scale than a defined type of adoption. The more contact you have the more open it is, rather than x y and z = an open adoption. So if you hear someone say “I want an open adoption” that usually means “I want some form of contact in my adoption relationship.” So the real question is, “What type of contact and frequency of contact do you want?” At A Gift of Hope Adoptions rather than asking whether a particular client wants an open, semi-open or closed adoption we ask what type of contact do you want before, during and after the placement. The reality is most adoptions are classified as semi-open (or semi-closed, depending on your personal philosophy). It is also important to note that the level of openness changes during the lives of those involved; contact is more fluid than set in stone. Being flexible and attentive to where the other party is in their own personal process is essential to an effective relationship.
Another misconception comes with advocates of either side. As I said, most adoptions fall in the semi-open range, and this is usually the best case scenario for everyone, particularly the child. Many parents forget that the point of adoption is for the best interest of the child. If the point of adoption is to find a family for a child who needs one, then it is vitally important that we provide that child as complete a history as we can. Everyone is curious to know where they come from, and as parents we are obliged to aid our children in identity formation, whether that is comfortable for us or not. Completely closed adoption cut off a child from his or her history, and while completely open adoptions may or not be in the child's best interest depending on the circumstances (ie if the birth parents are out of the picture for abuse/neglect reasons) that child still deserves to know why adoption was the best option, as is maturity appropriate of course.