Twenty percent. One in five. According to a conference presentation by Susan Smith, that is the number of open adoptions that eventually close (meaning either the adoptive parents or first parents cease communication) based on the research she’s aware of.
When I first heard that number back in April, I immediately thought it was wrong. From my view so many adoptions seem to be closing that it couldn’t possibly only be twenty percent. Taking a step back I’ve decided that logically I trust research to provide us with reasonably accurate numbers. Still, some days I see the number while looking back at my notes and think it’s a horribly high number. That two of every ten open adoptions close is too high. Other days I’d look at that statistic and think, well, that means 80% of open adoptions that are successful. Eight of ten where openness remains. But even on my most optimistic days I see that even one adoption closing is too many.
Research also shows that when an adoption closes the parties are most likely to have conflicting understandings as to why it closed. Often the adoptive parents will believe it was either what the birth parents wanted or is the birth parents’ “fault” and the birth parents will believe it was what the adoptive parents wanted or is their “fault”.
So what is really happening that has all these adoptions closing?
It seems to me to be mostly about expectations:
- unclear expectations
- conflicting expectations
- impractical expectations
When deciding how much openness you’d like in a future adoption, both expectant parents and potential adoptive parents should avoid generalities like “a lot” or “frequent”–even terms like “extended family” can be tricky. Try to define what those terms mean to you and then use those definitions when talking with professionals and potential matches to be as clear as possible. If “frequent” to you means monthly, say monthly. If you see extended family no more than annually and that is the relationship you envision for your open adoption, say that. Will you lose out on matches? If you do they aren’t the right match for you. Your match is still out there.
I’m sure it feels like if you don’t say the right thing, agree to the right thing, connect with this expectant couple, then you’ll never be chosen. I know it often feels like if you don’t say the right thing, agree to the right thing, connect with these potential adoptive parents, then you’ll never find parents for your baby. But finding the RIGHT match is the most important thing.
If less contact is what you want, there are people on the other side also wanting less contact. If more contact is what you want, there are people on the other side wanting that too.
I also like to remind people that the expectations we have when we enter into an adoption are theoretical. Theoretical in that they’re based on research, the experiences of others, and our experiences in other situations, but not about this one specific situation. This one specific relationship. When expectations become too rigid we get into trouble, but there is also trouble to be found in being too flexible too soon.
Being open to increasing interactions over time as the relationship naturally develops in one thing. Saying you think that by the fourth year you’ll be having vacations together is a step too far. Might it happen? Sure! But should you state something so concrete before you’ve even gotten to know the other parties or started living your new life?
Of course that is all well and good for those about to embark on the open adoption journey, but what about those already on the roller coaster? I’ll address that in my next post.
About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers twice a month. She previously worked as a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy and is now pursuing a PhD in Social Work with a focus on adoption related research. She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption. She is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.
Image credit: nattavut @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net