Failed adoption. There aren’t two other words that can strike as much fear and anxiety into the heart of hopeful adoptive parents. And the fact that these words are common with domestic infant adoption can be even more terrifying. Although these statistics are hard to track since there’s not a common bureau collecting data, most professionals acknowledge the rates are as high as 40-60% of adoptions in the U.S. end in failures (although note that working with certain adoption professionals can significantly reduce these numbers).
When we talk about an adoption failing, it means that the adoption process was not completed. (A disrupted adoption notes when an adoption falls through after the child has been placed with the adoptive family and before finalization. A dissolution is when the legal relationship between an adoptive parent and child is severed after the adoption had been finalized.) There can be many reasons that an adoption fails, the most common being the expectant/birth parent(s) decide to parent.
There are certain safeguards you can take to lower the risk of a failed adoption. Working with ethical agencies and attorneys and ensuring all of the legal steps to an adoption are taken are critical steps. One of the most critical safeguards is to make sure the expectant/birth parents have access to care and counseling, both pre-birth and long after. This allows an expectant/birth parent to have the time, education, and support needed to truly make the best decision for them and their baby (whether that’s to parent or make an adoption plan). Partnering with an adoption professional can help you do all you can to ensure a safer, lower risk adoption.
But even if you do everything possible to reduce the risk of an adoption failure, ultimately the human heart is fickle and there are no guarantees in adoption. A mother and father not only have an ability to change their mind; they have the right to decide if they want to parent and decide what they feel is best for their child.
So what if you’ve done all you can to protect yourself and you still face a failed adoption?
Rethink the idea of failure
Sometimes a shift in perspective changes everything. Adoption is about finding parents for babies, not the other way around. Most hopeful adoptive parents desperately want to help where there’s a need. Of course they want to be parents, but more than that, they want to provide an option to a birth family and a loving home to a child.
Adoption is an incredibly unique space for a hopeful adoptive family to offer their time, resources, and love to a birth family in need. They are a resource for expectant families if they choose to sign a termination of parental rights and lovingly place their child into another families arms. When the focus is on being a resource: a safe space where the expectant family can feel confident about the possibility of entrusting a hopeful couple with their child, the perspective shifts. There’s no ownership, but open-handedness. There’s an acknowledgment that everyone is here for the good of this expectant family and baby, that plans can sometimes change, and that ultimately the expectant/birth family has the right to decide what that is. What if we shifted our perspective so much that sometimes, instead of a failed adoption, we thought of is as a successful decision to parent?
At the heart of adoption is an open-handed decision to love big, love well, and love without reserve or selfishness. We talk about this often in terms of a birth mother making the courageous decision to make an adoption plan for her child. But I think there are times when hopeful adoptive families can be just as courageous to love a mother (and father) considering adoption, regardless of the outcome.
Rethink the grieving process
There’s no doubt that going though a failed placement is a tremendous loss. It’s a heartbreaking experience that often comes without any warning and can be devastating. In many ways, a failed adoption can feel like the death of a dream (of that particular child to be a part of your family). There’s often confusion, unanswered questions, and very rarely any closure. This kind of grief is termed “ambiguous loss” and can can be incredibly difficult to work through. A failed adoption can leave you searching for answers which can delay the grieving process.
While many friends and family can understand other losses (like infertility, death, or a terminal diagnosis), it’s rare to find others in your support system who can truly empathize with what you’re going through. Grief can take on many unique forms; so giving yourself the grace and the space to heal is important. Take the time to grieve like you would any significant loss. Don’t discount it and do what you need to care for your heart (and your spouse’s). Be patient as you think about possible next steps on your adoption journey.
Rethink what you know about happy endings
Happy endings don’t write themselves like a typical fairy tale in adoption. In the end, it was inevitable that someone would leave the hospital brokenhearted. Whether it’s a brokenhearted birth mother who made an adoption plan, or a hopeful adoptive family when she decided to parent, adoption in it’s fullness isn’t without hardship. In adoption there is no lack of the tension of loss and gain; bitter and sweet.
Maybe in the end, nothing failed. Maybe you were meant to love and care for that birth mama and that baby for that season; over those months and in that hospital room. Maybe you were meant to pray over that expectant family and plead with God for their health and welfare. Maybe you were meant wrap them both in love in that sacred space and show up when no one else did. Maybe, in the end, you were a part of the story of a beautiful family, just not the way you imagined it. Maybe, God is doing something so much bigger than you can see at this moment.
In the end, adoption is never without risks. When we put our “yes” on the table, unreservedly, it is fraught with unknowns. It’s easy, especially after walking through a failed adoption, to want to snatch that “yes” right up, or give God your list of requirements before placing it down again. But loving big, selflessly, and unconditionally is not just a way to step into adoption, it’s a way to live out the gospel.
God wants to do so much more through an adoption than “get a couple a baby.” Adoption is about restoration and redemption. Sometimes it unfolds the way we anticipate. But more often, God is writing a story that includes plot twists we didn’t see coming; faith we never thought would stretch us, love we didn’t think would almost break us, and a front row seat to God’s goodness and faithfulness. In the end He promises that all things work for our good and His glory. Keep moving forward. Keep loving big. Keep walking in faith. God promises when we do it’s always worth it.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,?to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.– Ephesians 3: 20-21