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Although open adoptions are thought to be a relatively new phenomenon, most adoptions in the United States until the twentieth century were open. Until the 1930s, most adoptive parents and biological parents had contact at least during the adoption process. In many cases, adoption was seen as a social support: young children were adopted out not only to help their parents (by reducing the number of children they had to support) but also to help another family by providing an apprentice.
Open adoption is the exact opposite of a closed adoption. In this situation, there is some kind of fellowship between the birth and adoptive parents and the adopted child. Generally, there is an exchange of identifying information (e.g. first and last names, home address, phone number, etc.) and contact is retained between the two parties. There are several examples of an open adoption, including:
Closed adoption, also called a confidential or traditional adoption, refers to an adoption in which there is no relationship between the adoptive family and birth parents. In a closed adoption, the birth parents and adoptive family arrange the adoption via a facilitator, attorney or a case worker at an agency. Neither member of the adoption triad knows identifying information about the other. By opting for a closed adoption, a future birth mother is trying to have as little involvement as possible with the placement process. For some women, this is a way to distance themselves from the emotional decisions associated with placement. However, the distance is something many adopters fear will make it easier for a birth mother to change her mind about placement.
Conversely, if they want a confidential adoption, they should not feel unduly pressured into agreeing to an open adoption. Adopters who agree to an open adoption against their wishes may later find it difficult to fulfill their side of the agreement (for example, sending the birthmother letters and photos). This is terribly unfair to both the birthmother and the child. Agreeing to an open adoption when they don't want one is also unfair to the adopters themselves.
Keep in mind that adoption relationships are ever evolving. One adoption may be fully open and then the birth mother decides to limit contact, while another adoption may be semi-open and then both the birth parents and adoptive family decide to engage in a more open adoption. While American Adoptions does require adoptive parents to be open to a certain standard of communication, what your adoption communication will look like will ultimately depend on the preferences of the pregnant woman who chooses you.
When the birth mother has narrowed down her prospective adoptive parents to one or a few families, normally they arrange to meet in person. Good adoption agencies and attorneys do this in a pressure-free setting where no one is encouraged to make an immediate decision. If they are geographically distant from each other (as some adoptions are interstate, with the birth mother living in a different state from the adoptive parents), the first meeting will normally be by phone, then advance to a face-to-face meeting if the meeting by phone went as well as hoped.
Although practices vary state by state, most adoptions start with the birth mother reviewing dozens of adoption profile books  or online profiles of prospective adoptive parents. Usually, these are adoptive families who have retained that agency or attorney to assist them in the adoption process. Most US states permit full openness not just regarding identities, but also personal information about each other. Just as the adoptive parents want to learn about the birth mother's life and health history, so does the birth mother want the same information about the people she is considering as the parents for her child.
A 1996 study reported in Child Development found that all the children studied “reported positive levels of self-esteem, curiosity about their birthparents, and satisfaction with the openness situation” regardless of whether their adoptions were closed, semi-open, or open. What this seems to mean is that the child's sense of security in his adoptive family is more important than contact with the birth family.