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  article of the month
We will feature a new article here each month written by one of our group members. These articles are offered free for your information and are not meant to provide individual advice or psychotherapy.

October 2007


by Dorothea S. McArthur, PhD


There are basically two kinds of adoption. The first is called a closed adoption. In this case, birth parents of the adoptee and the adoptive couple have no contact with each other. The second kind of adoption is called an open adoption. In this case, the adoptive couple and the birth family maintain current addresses. They may exchange letters, have telephone and/or e-mail contact.

A Cooperative or fully open adoption allows for both families to visit each other, spend time together, sometimes during a holiday. The adoptee spends time with birth mother, any other birth siblings, birth grandparents, and sometimes birth father. They maintain an ongoing relationship, most similar to that of an aunt or an uncle. The adoptive couple takes care of the day-to-day parenting and financial responsibilities.

Many countries allow open adoption as a matter of course. The United States has attempted closed adoption hoping to conceal the fact that a birth mother was an "unwed" mother that an adoptee was an "illegitimate child" and the adoptive couple "was infertile." This secrecy denied the truth, and left the adoptee without critical medical, psychological, and historical information needed to grow up and consolidate a sense of self.

In place of an open adoption, many adoptive couples work very hard to provide a perfect home, hoping that this will result in an absence of adoption issues. Unfortunately a perfect home does not erase the fact that an adoptee has already faced the trauma of relinquishment by biological mother and father. Therefore, some adoptive couples find the courage to reach out to birth family so that the adoptee can learn critical information about relinquishment, and the birth family can be reassured that the adoptee is doing well with the adoptive family.
In a carefully conducted open adoption:

  1. The adoptee doesn't have to worry and guess a thousand times
    about what they did wrong to get relinquished,
  2. The adoptee can have an honest explanation from birth mother that is the same each time the adoptee asks, about why the adoptee was relinquished.
  3. The adoptee can see who s/he is and who s/he will become by knowing the genes, strengths, vulnerabilities, personalities, talents, physical appearance, psychological health, and addiction history, so that they can understand what they may have inherited, and be proactive.
  4. The adoptee can have the information to consolidate a sense of self in the teen years, so they aren't one of the 20-40% of adolescents in psychiatric hospitals or residential placement.
  5. The adoptee can enjoy a holiday with adoptive family without feeling like there is an important party going on somewhere with birth family that is fun, and they are not invited.
  6. The adoptee doesn't have to wonder whether their birth parents were a prince, princess, homeless, or in prison.
  7. The adoptee doesn't have to be distracted in school wondering whether the math teacher with the same eye and hair color as the adoptee might be a birth mother.
  8. The adoptee doesn't have to worry about whether the boy she is attracted to with the same physical features is a birth family member, and therefore going out with him would be incest.
  9. The adoptee doesn't have to always be scanning the horizon for a birth parent.
  10. The adoptee can feel the love from birth family that has been there since conception.
  11. The adoptee can know the details about medical problems within the family so that the adoptee can practice appropriate preventative medicine.
  12. The adoptee can file application forms without having to write "I don't know"
    a thousand times.
  13. The adoptee can heal the trauma reactions (acting out and over adaptive
    behavior) related to relinquishment.
  14. The adoptee can reduce the fear of being relinquished again, especially when they turn 18.
  15. The adoptee doesn't have to relinquish themselves from others because they feel inferior.
  16. The adoptee doesn't have to be either "very bad" or "very good" to test if they can stay with loved ones.
  17. The adoptee learns that a birth mother's "I love you" means 'I wish you could stay with me" rather than "Please go away to someone else to get what you need."
  18. The adoptee gets to acquire a truthful birth story, and doesn't have to get pregnant and give up the baby as the only way to find out what her birth mother feels.
  19. The adoptee can have a birth mother to talk who knows what's going on, when the adoptee is pregnant.
  20. The adoptee create a complete coherent narrative which is the best predictor for good parenting of an adoptee's own children.

An open adoption requires love beyond the usual love for all members of the adoption triangle (adoptee, adoptive couple, and birth family). Loss is a corner stone of this relationship. The birth family has to love and relinquish, then love in silent pain, and love again if a reunion is achieved. The adoptee has to be able to love two families that are very different. The adoptive couple has to face the loss of infertility, love an adoptee who may be very different, and often love beyond that to help with any special needs related to adoption issues and learning difficulties.

Open adoption with love beyond love, is not for everybody. Sometimes it is painful, messy and confusing. However, if achieved, it produces a special kind of depth and humility within each person.




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