Talking to others who have adopted children can give you a sense of what's involved.

TLC

While it's hard to find reliable numbers on how many adoptions take place in the United States each year (1992 was the last year national adoption statistics were collected from the states), all it takes to get a little insight into the practice is a quick check of your friends and family. Chances are you know someone who is adopted or who has adopted a child. In fact, about 58 percent of Americans have a personal connection to adoption, according to a public opinion survey conducted in 1997 by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

And while it might seem that adoptions are more common today than in years past, the number of adoptions taking place has probably not increased over the years, says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America. "What has changed is the nature of adoptions," says Pertman. While they were once veiled in a cloak of secrecy, today "adoptions are much more public and are a much more accepted form of family formation," says Pertman. "As a result we are more aware of it."

In fact, the biggest trend in adoptions in recent years seems to be the increasing openness with which they are being conducted. "Open adoptions," in which birth parents, adoptive parents and the child all have relationships of some sort, are becoming increasingly prevalent, says Pertman. "That is becoming the norm - openness in and about adoption," he explains, adding that the level of openness can vary from the simple sharing of basic information to actual face-to-face contact between birth parents and the child. Adoptive parents, in particular, who once worried that their child may be confused by having contact with his or her birth parents, increasingly are more comfortable with such contact. "Children are not confused when their birth mother is in the picture, nor do they love their adoptive parents any less. Kids are capable of loving more than one person," says Pertman.

At the same time that adoptive parents are becoming more comfortable with open adoptions, birth parents increasingly are shunning the closed adoption arrangements of the past and instead often take part in selecting the child's adoptive parents and stay in contact through the years. "We have found that upwards of 95 percent of all birth moms want some level of communication with the parents and the child," says Pertman. The benefits of openness: greater access to important family medical information for the child, as well as a clearer understanding on the child's part of his or her own heritage and history. For the birth parents, ongoing contact can help ease the sense of loss associated with giving up their child.