The number of international adoptions, however, recently experienced a sharp decline, to 12,753 in 2009. An increased desire for openness in adoption may be a key cause, but the steep drop may also be the result of many "sending" countries closing down adoption programs, Smith said.
This new trend toward openness in adoption brings with it challenges. Professionals interviewed for the study said parents come to them with fears and concerns, grounded in assumptions.
"There are still widespread myths and misconceptions about open adoption," Pertman wrote. "We have a lot of work to do in educating the public, professionals, the media and the families themselves so that we can continue making progress for the millions of people involved."
When Phylis Speedlin and her husband adopted their first daughter, Stacy, in San Antonio, Texas, their knowledge of what an open adoption entailed was "ill-defined," she wrote in a book she co-authored with Kathleen Silber after starting an agency that facilitates contact between birth and adoptive families, beginning with letter writing.
"Our fantasies about these people ranged from the birth mother being a fertile but uncaring woman to the birth father being an irresponsible cad. Our most frightening vision was that they both were indecisive about their decision to place Stacy. Could they become villainous kidnappers who would one day reappear to claim their own?"
The adoption remained closed until it became obvious to the Speedlins that an open adoption was necessary. On Stacy's 8th birthday, they found her before the bathroom mirror in tears: "My birth mother gave me away because she is blond and I am not." They wondered why the information they had given her had not absolved her concerns.
They searched and were eventually able to find Stacy's birth father. After an initial meeting without Stacy, and some visits with the therapist, Stacy met her father. He was, since then, a natural part of their lives. Stacy would see her father at her home several times a year — on birthdays, holidays or special occasions — and keep in contact over the phone.
Speedlin went on to help many other families embrace an open adoption. Through her work, she saw similar reactions and fears from other adoptive parents. Many worried that the birth mother didn't care about her child and that maintaining secrecy would protect all parties in the adoption process. Others feared that the birth parents would forget their child. Many assumed the adoptee would not search for his birth parents if he really loved his adoptive family.
Once these fears were faced, families were able to recognize that they were unfounded, Speedlin told the Deseret News. "There is no stigma about the fact that you can't know who this person is, or can't have any kind of a relationship, because you might hurt adoptive mother."
Open adoption has strengthened the Varner family in many ways. "We have learned together that we cannot be selfish with our gifts. There came a conscience choice after placement of our daughter as to whether or not we could 'share' her with her birth family," Varner wrote to the Deseret News. "We now have a whole new side of us: a Black family. They have welcomed us with open arms just like we have always been there. I love that we are able to have that cultural experience not only for our daughter, but for our other children."
Varner talks to her other four children — Elizabeth, Christian, Catherine and Maxwell — about their sister's adoption and they join Ella on visits with her birth family. They have come to feel a sense of camaraderie with one another. Varner laments the fact her other adoptive child, Maxwell, 1, won't have the chance to grow up with contact with his own birth family, due to different circumstances.
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