When Adoptees Know Their Biological Mother More families are undergoing "open adoptions," meaning children remain in contact with their birth mothers after joining their new families. Findings published in the Journal of Family Psychology confirm that these adoptions are changing the definition of "family."
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When Adoptees Know Their Biological Mother

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When Adoptees Know Their Biological Mother

When Adoptees Know Their Biological Mother

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This is Day to Day, I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Most of the 135,000 children adopted in this country each year will have a very difficult time learning about their birth parents. There's a tradition here of keeping the information about adoptions closed. But that has been changing, and it's leading to some new encounters. From San Francisco, Nancy Mullane reports.

(Soundbite of children)

NANCY MULLANE: It's a sunny Saturday afternoon at an East Bay community park. Over on a patchwork of blankets just beyond the swing sets, 9-month-old Owen is getting lots of attention, not only from his birth mother, but from his adoptive parents, Andy and Suran Pomyenovsky (ph)

Ms. SURAN POMYENOVSKY (Adoptive mother): It just feels so natural, normal, that we have this relationship. I can't - I really can't imagine what it would be like not to have Amy in our lives.

MULLANE: Amy is Owen's birth mother. She's sitting on one of the blankets with her two other children, daughters 5-year-old Hailey and 7-year-old Sky.

(Soundbite of Amy)

Ms. AMY (Owen's Mother): You're good big sisters.

MULLANE: But these two sisters won't ever live with Owen. That decision was made more than a year ago, when Amy was six months pregnant. She says she doesn't want her last name used in this story because of the shame associated with giving a child up for adoption.

With tears filling her eyes, she says that was a tough time in her life. She was struggling with drug addiction and was fighting with the children's father, so she decided the best thing she could do for her unborn child was to find better parents to adopt him at birth.

Ms. AMY: I've had a few abortions, and I didn't want to do that again. And I wanted to do what was best for the baby, and I knew that that wouldn't be staying with me. So I decided to place him for adoption, and I just wanted to find right people.

Ms. POMYENOVSKY: It's like, if you have someone who marries into your family, they come maybe with children sometimes, or they have their own history. That's what Amy is, and her children are, to us now. They are family.

Ms. AMY: They showed me that they really cared about me and not just wanting to take my baby. They were there for me and for the baby.

MULLANE: Amy says she found the Pomyenovskys through the local office of the Independent Adoption Center. Twenty-six years ago, it was the first private adoption agency in the country to offer exclusively open adoptions.

Ms. ANN WRIXON (Executive Director, Independent Adoption Center): People find each other and you can - you know when it works. You can just feel it.

MULLANE: Ann Wrixon is executive director of the center. She says her agency facilitates at least 200 open adoptions nationwide each year, at a cost of about $15,000 to the adoptive parents. Wrixon says the typical birth mother in an open adoption is 24 years old and already has at least one child.

Ms. WRIXON: So they choose the adoptive parent. Very common, open adoption agreement is a visit a year, e-mails and photos in between.

MULLANE: While 90 percent of all private agency adoptions are now open, most public-sector adoptions are closed. That's because many of those adoptions are arranged for children who have been removed from the birth home for abuse or neglect, and open-type adoptions for these children can be problematic. But new research shows the trouble of arranging an open adoption may be worth the effort. In the study published today in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers say they've documented two significant findings. Leslie Leve is one of the study's scientists.

Ms. LESLIE LEVE (Researcher): First was that birth and adoptive parents who'd had more ongoing contact with one another after placement feel much more satisfied overall with the adoption process.

MULLANE: Leve says their initial research following only one year after adoption has also found the more open the adoption, the more adjusted the birth parents.

Ms. LEVE: Secondly, we found that birth mother and birth father's well-being, including their romantic relationships, their friendships, their emotional health, those qualities were more likely to improve following the adoption if they had more contact with the adoptive family.

MULLANE: Adam Pertman is executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. He says this study challenges the long-held assumption that cutting ties is better.

Mr. ADAM PERTMAN (Executive Director, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute): I hope that the people who do adoptions pay attention to research like this, and I hope it informs their practice. Just because we've always done it a certain way does not make it right.

(Soundbite of children)

MULLANE: Back in the shade of the park's towering trees, baby Owen's family is all over him, adoptive family and birth family. His birth sisters look into his face and eyes, a mirror of their own. As they all head over to the swing sets, Suran passes Owen off to Amy.

Ms. POMYENOVSKY: The way I look at it, he just has a lot of people that love him, and you can't really ask for more than that in your life.

MULLANE: For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

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