Once a birthmother has decided to pursue adoption (or is at least contemplating it seriously), the next decision is to determine which type of adoption arrangement is most preferable. There are three types of adoptions that may be chosen: "closed," "semi-open" and "open." These terms describe the approximate level of contact and interaction that the birth mother can expect to have with the adoptive parents both during the adoption process and afterwards.
Closed adoptions occur when birthparents and adoptive parents have no contact with one another, never meeting and never gaining information about each other. The birthmother surrenders her child to an adoption agency and does not receive information about who adopts the child. All records identifying the birth parents are then sealed by the court. This information is not disclosed to the adoptive parents or to the adopted child, and there is no way for them to learn the identity of the birthmother. Only information about the birthmother's medical history is shared with the adoptive family and child. Up until recently, most adoptions were closed. However, this type of adoption has declined in popularity in recent years, largely because the majority of birthmothers now choose to have some say in determining who will ultimately raise the child.
Semi-open adoptions occur when birthmothers are given some choice about which parents will have the opportunity to raise the child. In semi-open adoptions, birthmothers are presented with multiple profiles of potential adoptive families, and they can then choose which family they believe has the most to offer the child. Though profiles contain lots of descriptive information about each potential adoptive family, identifying information (e.g., last names, addresses, etc.) is not provided. Personal contact between the birthmother and her chosen adoptive parents may or may not occur during the adoptive process, depending largely on the preferences of the various parties. Some families choose to contact each another during the period leading up to the birth of the child, and some choose to remain more anonymous. In any event, contacts between the birth and adoptive parents stop following the final placement of the child with the adoptive parents.
Open adoption occurs when the contact information of both the birthmother and potential adoptive parents is shared. No barriers are put up to prevent contact between the parties, either before the adoption is finalized, or afterwards. Open adoptions may start out as semi-open adoption where the birthparents review anonymized proviles of adoptive parents, and then meet with a selected group of potential adoptive parents. Once a final choice of adoptive parents is made, both parties also mutually decide to share contact information and to remain in contact after the adoption is finalized. In the context of an open adoption, if the birth mother has not yet given birth, the adoptive parents may be invited to participate in preparations for labor and birth. Following the adoption, some form of regular contact is then established between the birth parent and the adoptive family. The level of contact varies across families. For some, contact may occur in the form of regular e-mail or written letter updates with pictures only, with no in-person contact occuring between the child and birthmother until the child is older. For other familes, the birthmother becomes almost a member of the new family and is invited to major gatherings and celebrations.