Semi – Openness is a State of Mind

Alissa column topper

[Ed. note–Advice about open adoption often focuses on maintaining healthy relationships and communication between constellation members, but direct contact doesn’t happen in every adoption, for myriad reasons. The principles of openness are just as important when contact isn’t possible, however–perhaps even more so. I am grateful that Alissa will be discussing this important topic in her monthly column. -Heather]

Hi there – my name is Alissa and I’m looking forward to writing for OAB once a month on practicing openness in adoptions where contact isn’t possible for whatever reason.  I believe that openness is as much a stance as it is an arrangement, and do a lot of thinking personally about how to take this stance as an adoptive parent who has a greater desire and capacity for contact than my children’s first parents do.

Let’s start with a little background on me and why this is the thing I told Heather and the OAB crew I wanted to write about. I’m an adoptive mom to two little girls, J and S, who came to me through domestic infant adoption. I have blogged rather extensively about my adoption journey at Not A Visitor.  Our girls’ adoptions are transracial–my husband Andrew and I are white and the girls are black–and according to the signed written agreements and whatnot they are what most in adoption-land would call semi-open. This means that we have agreed to send pictures and updates on our daughters to their first mom at least once a year and all contact is mediated through the agency.  Z, the girls’ first mom, doesn’t have our address, email, or other contact info and we don’t have hers.

This wasn’t the adoption arrangement that I wanted.  Or, I should say, it wasn’t the adoption that I dreamed about while we were waiting for a match. During the wait for J, who is now almost four years old, I did a lot of thinking and preparing to have a very open adoption with a lot of contact. The research pointed to this being the best option for the child, and the future of adoption. I wanted very much to have an ethical adoption, and I came to believe that openness and contact before and after placement was key to making sure no one was being coerced and everyone in the situation was on the same page with expectations.  Oddly enough this last thing–wanting the most ethical adoption possible–is what led us into a potential match with Z, a woman who didn’t want to look at our adoption profile book or exchange personal information with us.

For a long time I felt left out of the wonderful thing that I had thought an open adoption would be.  Eventually I realized that resenting Z or attempting to force a level of contact that she wasn’t able to meet into our relationship was a bad way to spend my energy and an unfair use of my powerful position as adoptive parent.  So I started thinking about openness separately from contact.  I ended up in a place where I feel that contact is something that Z should be in control of, but openness is something I can practice whether she reciprocates or not.  Openness for me is an stance toward our adoption that resources the way I parent, how I talk about my daughters’ first family to them and to others, and informs the way I use the privileges I possess to speak out about issues that are important to me. 

So that’s what I’m going to be writing about here: my own process in staying open toward Z and reflections on the dynamics of maintaining personal openness when other members of the adoption triad don’t have the willingness, ability, or capacity for regular contact, or any contact  at all.  If you have ideas or questions for me on this I’d love to hear those as well.

About the author:
Alissa is an grad student, future episcopal priest, adoptive mama, working wife, and co-homemaker. She blogs about adoption, race, parenting, theology, urban life and whatever else crosses her mind at


3 thoughts on “Semi – Openness is a State of Mind

  1. Really looking forward to reading about this! It’s easy to feel left out of the discussion on openness when you have no contact info for first mother.

  2. I look forward to reading more of your posts, Alissa! And semi-open isn’t bad at all. While an open adoption may seem ideal, a semi-open one is much better than a completely closed adoption.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. This is how we are trying to parent as well in light of similar circumstances for our daughter’s adoption. I am truly hopeful that, should things change down the road, this way of being will allow for a relationship to bloom and grow whenever the time may come…and if they do not change it will allow our daughter to feel the most positive and connected towards her first family.

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