It is a fear shared by most hopeful adoptive parents: What if we are matched with a baby and the adoption falls through?

There is inherent risk involved with domestic infant adoption. Pre-birth matching as an industry norm means that hopeful adoptive parents and expectant mothers often “match” during pregnancy, and form an adoption plan for after the baby will be born. It does not matter what promises are made ahead of time – the fact remains, the decision to place remains entirely up to the expectant mother (or parents) and they are allowed to experience a change of heart at any time. While nerve wracking for hopeful parents, this is a good thing for all involved. An ethical adoption demands that a mother’s consent to adoption for her child is given freely and without coercion.

But what happens when a planned adoption falls through? Maybe a mom changes her mind while she is still pregnant, and chooses to parent rather than continue her adoption plan. Maybe you were matched with an expectant mom and were even present at the hospital as she gave birth, but afterwards she decided that adoption wasn’t what she wanted to do after all.

Adoption is beautiful, but it is also messy and complicated. What should hopeful adoptive parents do if this happens to them?

1. Grieve.

It is okay to feel sad or even brokenhearted over the loss of a planned adoption. You are grieving the loss of expectations, of plans you had, of the anticipation of this baby joining your family. It is healthy and acceptable to mourn what would have been.

The morning after our first failed match, my husband and I took a last-minute flight from Kansas City to Phoenix. He had family there and we desperately needed the distraction from what had just occurred (or, not occurred). It gave us a few days to enjoy the nice weather, spend much needed time with family, and step away from reality for a bit. We knew what awaited us when we returned—an empty nursery—but we needed that time to grieve and prepare to move forward.

2. Don’t condemn the baby’s parent(s).

If your planned adoption falls through due to a change of heart on the part of the baby’s mother (or father), don’t vilify them. Until their consent to the adoption has been executed and is no longer revocable, it is entirely within their right to choose to parent their child. Your job is to support their decision to do so.

An adoption falling through is often referred to as “failed” within the adoption community. Maybe instead of a failed adoption, we should instead consider it a successful decision to parent. As you feel sadness over your loss, remember that a mother and child have stayed together.

3. Seek help, if needed.

If you are struggling with the adoption process, grief over loss (whether adoption related or grief from previous infertility  or pregnancy loss), or just wondering where to go next, consider counseling. Either as individuals or as a couple, a qualified counselor might be helpful in this arena.

4. Don’t be afraid to move forward.

There’s a possibility one or both of you might need more time, but don’t be afraid to put yourselves out there again. If you need to make any changes to your approach, do so. Don’t let fear hold you back from what might be in store!

If you have experienced an adoption falling through, what sort of advice would you give?