When Open Adoptions Work

The Early Show series on adoption continues Tuesday with a look at open adoptions -- a process in which adoptive parents and birth parents each have an active role in the life of the child.

Correspondent Melinda Murphy recently met with a family that has used open adopotion. It's becoming the preference of most adoption agencies.

Juliana is a lucky little girl: She has two adoptive parents who love her very much and a birth mother who dotes on her, too. Juliana's adoption was open.

"We wanted to do what was healthiest for our child emotionally," says Juliana's mother, Lisa.

Lisa was also adopted and wanted her daughter's experience to be different.

"I was involved in a closed adoption," Lisa explains. "Closed adoption is where you don't really understand or know anything about your background, your family -- your birth family. And I was always curious about that as a child."

And while Bruce and Lisa searched for a baby, Juliana's birthmother was struggling with a decision.

"I didn't even know I was pregnant until three days before Christmas in December 2002," Carrie says. "And the way I found that out was that I had checked myself into rehab. I wasn't ready to raise a cat, let alone a child."

Carrie decided early on that the best place for her baby would be with Bruce and Lisa.

Says Bruce, "We were there throughout. And that was exciting -- the anticipation and having the conversations with her and understanding what she was going through."

And when Juliana was born, Bruce and Lisa were even at the hospital.

Lisa notes, "One of the most beautiful things about the whole thing was that after she had the baby, and the baby went to the nursery, she asked for us."

On the day Julianna was christened, the couple wanted Carrie to be there, too.

"There was such great joy," Carrie says. "There was joy in the fact I knew this child was going to know me. But more importantly, that I knew she had an absolutely wonderful family."

A family that plans to have dinner with Carrie once a year - maybe more. But no matter how involved Carrie becomes, everybody is clear about one thing.

"They are her parents," Carrie says. "I will be her biological mother, but they are her parents."

Lisa points out, "Open adoption isn't dual parenting. It's not about that. It's about allowing the child to grow up knowing her birth mother and/or her birth family, and it being normal from the beginning."

And Bruce and Lisa believe keeping a line of communication open from the beginning will only benefit Juliana in the end.

Lisa says, "As Juliana gets older, the two of them will decide how much or how little the relationship will be. But up to that point, we have built a bond and a very trusting relationship, that Carrie is not an interruption in her life. She's a part of her life, but we are her parents."

It is a relationship that, for now, seems to be working.

Carrie says, "I've never gotten that feeling of 'what if.' Every time I see her, it's more solid that you did the right thing. She's joyful. She's happy. She's well taken care of and she's loved."

According to a study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 90 percent of birth parents want to know about their children after adoption, and 82 percent of Americans say their biggest concern about adoption is the birth parent returning to reclaim his or her biological child.

But Adam Pertman, director of the institute and the father of two adopted children, tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "The things that people are scared of aren't real.

"They're the myths and stereotypes we know: If the birth mother knows the child, she'll want him back. No, she made that hard decision. It's a loving parenting decision. It almost never happens; divorce happens more, people running away from home happens more. This rarely happens. So (open adoption is) growing because the myths and the stereotypes simply aren't true," he explains.

Open adoption is not co-parenting, Pertman stresses. And notes open adoption is a broad term used to encompass all sorts of relationships.

He says, "The parameters range from people who see each other once a week, like in-laws, to people who just exchange cards and letters. But what we know is that over time -- and there is good research for 20 years on this -- in open adoptions, the more contact there is, the more contact adoptive parents want. It's very, very interesting."

Even though Pertman originally did not use this method of adoption, he later went back to open up the relationship with the birth mother.

"The more I grew to know about adoption, the more I realized my children would benefit," he says. "They would have their health information. They would be able to answer the questions they have about themselves. The most basic questions: 'Who am I? Where do I come from? Who do I look like?' We can answer those questions for our kids and we can get health information for our children.

"It's not secondary that when you have open adoptions, you treat the women who created these children with respect and the men with respect. You don't treat them like they're baby-making machines who are supposed to give you their product and then go away. Women never forget about babies they create, ever. And this treats them with a new respectful manner without co-parenting."

Open adoptions might not be for everybody, but they are definitely something to consider, he adds.

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