Rather than stumbling back down the convoluted path we took to educate ourselves about domestic adoption, I'm going to cut right to the chase and share what we learned. Let's start by making sure we are all speaking the same language.
A closed adoption is one in which no identifying information is exchanged between the birth family and the adoptive family. The families do not meet each other, and there is no ongoing communication.
In a semi-open adoption, some information is exchanged, such as first names. The information is not intended to be fully-identifying. The adoptive family typically sends photos to the birth family at regular intervals during the child's life. Frequently this is facilitated by the adoption agency. For example, the adoptive parents send the pictures to the agency, and the birth parents can pick them up (or not) as they choose. This creates a buffer between the parties and allows for increased privacy.
In an open adoption, fully-identifying information is exchanged. Birth families and adoptive families meet each other. The birth family often chooses the adoptive family (this is true for semi-open adoptions, too), and there is typically some type of ongoing relationship between the birth family and the adoptive family. The nature of that relationship is determined by the people involved, and it can vary quite a bit.
Most domestic adoptions are semi-open or open, but birth families can opt for a closed adoption.
In addition to vocabulary, let's take a look at some history. In the second half of the nineteenth century, charities began gathering orphaned or abandoned children in crowded cities and moving them west to find families to take them in. These families were usually looking for older children who could provide extra hands around houses and farms. The children were put up on blocks to be inspected by families. This is the origin of the phrase "put up for adoption."
Adoptive families, birth families, and adoption professionals have discontinued the use of this phrase. "Give up for adoption" has also been deprecated. Instead, birth families make adoption plans or place a child with an adoptive family. Besides having such negative origins, the old phrases do not reflect the role that birth families have in the adoption process. Birth families are not passively surrendering their babies; they are actively involved in planning the best possible future for their children.
Some families who consider adoption decide that it's not the best option for them. Most people without adoption knowledge refer to this as "keeping the baby." A baby is not an old sweater that you decide to keep for an extra season. Babies require a lot of care and attention. Deciding not to place a child is referred to as parenting. Just as we don't want to understate the birth families' role in making an adoption plan, we don't want to understate the amount of work involved in raising a child.
Usually when I tell people about our open adoption plan, they respond with, "What if the birth parents change their minds?" or some other question or statement based on a common misconception about adoption. I think that next time I post I'll talk about a lot of the misconceptions about open adoption, and hopefully as I address these misconceptions, the reason that open, domestic adoption appealed to us will become clear.