Open adoption, also referred to as semi-open adoption or cooperative adoption, is a form of adoption in which the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other's personal information and have an option of contact. In Open Adoption, the adoptive parents hold all the rights as the legal parents, yet the individuals of the biological and adoptive families may exercise the option to open the contact in varying forms: from just sending mail and/or photos, to face-to-face visits between birth and adoptive families.
The days are long past when a birth mother would go to an adoption agency to give up her child, then have that agency take full responsibility in selecting the adoptive family, with the birth mother playing no role. While it is true that decades ago, often only independent adoptions (usually adoptions initiated by an attorney) involved openness, now most adoption agencies have some, or complete, openness as well. Although practices vary state by state, most adoptions start with the birth mother reviewing dozens of photo-resume letters of prospective adoptive parents. Usually, these are adoptive families who have retained that agency or attorney to assist them in the adoption process. Most states permit full openness not just regarding identities, but also personal information about each other. Just as the adoptive parents want to learn about the birth mother's life and health history, so does the birth mother want the same information about the people she is considering as the parents for her child.
When the birth mother has narrowed down her prospective adoptive parents to one, or a few, families, normally they arrange to meet in person. Good adoption agencies and attorneys do this in a pressure-free setting where no one is encouraged to make an immediate decision.) If they are geographically distant from each other (as some adoptions are interstate, with the birth mother living in a different state from the adoptive parents), the first meeting will normally be by phone, then advance to a face-to-face meeting if the meeting by phone went as well as hoped. The goal for both birth and adoptive parents at this stage is to make sure they are looking at the adoption in the same way. Adoption is a lifetime commitment, and just like marriage, both the birth and adoptive parents want to make sure the other is someone they can count on, both short and long term.