Feature Archive

Know Thy Parent

Adopting a child.

WebMD Feature

August 7, 2000 -- All his life, questions about the circumstances of his own closed adoption have nagged Tom Angelo: Who were his birth parents? Why did they give him up? What were they like? So when he and his second wife decided to adopt a baby, the Angelos opted for an open adoption. They were determined to let their child know everything about his or her birth family.

The Angelos are not alone. In the past several decades, the tide has turned from closed adoptions, where all information about the birth and adoptive parents is kept strictly confidential, to open adoption, where some details are shared. Advocates argue that the trend makes sense. Open adoption reduces the agony birth parents may feel about not knowing the fate of their baby, they say. It also helps the adoptive parents understand their baby's origins. And someday it may provide the child with solid answers about his or her adoption. What's more, adoptive parents have "fewer worries that the birth family will reclaim the child, because they get to know the adoptive parents individually," says Madelyn Freundlich, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The Open Door Policy

Tom Angelo agrees. His son John's birth mother can phone "any time she has the urge," he says. There were lots of calls, cards, and visits early on, but nowadays she calls every six to nine months

In contrast with this easygoing relationship, Angelo recalls that when he was little, his own adoptive mother was always afraid someone would "come out of the woodwork to reclaim [her] child." Now she is threatened by Angelo's curiosity about his birth family, reawakened by baby John's adoption.