Hopeful and prospective adoptive parents often have a vision in their minds about what their adoption will look like. They work tirelessly to prepare to adopt a child while never imagining that their fairy tale may have some bumps in the road. Optimism, and often naivety, is so evident in the busy chatter and churning. In the midst of the paperwork and daunting process, they daydream about when it is all over and think about holding their long-awaited child in their arms. No one wants to think about “what-ifs.” The “what-if” in adoption for hopeful adoptive parents usually refers to an adoption disruption. While an adoption disruption can be heartbreaking, there is hope on the other side and a means to process it in order to see the good. I know about adoption disruption because my husband and I experienced it six times. Six heartbreaks. Six shattered hopes. Now, six stories of healing.
You may still be thinking about how one hopeful adoptive couple could be unlucky enough to endure six adoption disruptions. Before we take a deep dive into adoption disruptions, let’s discuss what an adoption disruption is. An adoption disruption means that an adoption is not finalized due to the birth parent(s) changing their mind about placing their child for adoption. This is known by other names as well such as “a failed adoption” or an “interrupted adoption.” Regardless of its name, it is traumatic for prospective adoptive parents.
Now that you understand the terminology, let’s take a glimpse into my story so that you are better able to understand why I now have the perspective I have on adoption disruptions. When my husband and I began the adoption journey in 2015, we knew very little about what to expect. We knew what we asked, and we did not know much more than that. We were passionate about adoption, and it was never a second choice for us. Long before we struggled with infertility and lost the battle against it, and even before marriage, we both knew we wanted to adopt a child. From the beginning of our journey to 2017, we experienced six adoption disruptions which included our daughter who was with us for nearly five months before she was joined back to her birth father. Each adoption disruption was different, but they were all extremely painful and traumatic. Though we have healed a great deal, it is still difficult for us to think about the children we have lost.
To tell you all of the specific details of each adoption disruption would be to fill many pages, but the bottom line of each of them is that each child’s birth parent(s) chose to not place their child for adoption and decided to parent their child. Some of the birth parent(s) chose to parent before leaving the hospital; some chose after leaving the hospital, and some chose months later before finalization. My husband and I both understand that our story is not the norm, and the people that come to us for adoption advice are always given that preface by us before we share our journey. We try diligently to not scare people away but prepare people and help people understand all sides of the adoption triad.
Although I am hesitant to give a set number of things to know about an adoption disruption because each situation has its own complexities, I want to include a list below of things any prospective adoptive parent needs to know. Prior to beginning your adoption journey, it is important to recognize that there will always be a possibility of an adoption disruption. This fact is not meant to scare prospective adoptive parents from starting their journey; it is, however, meant to keep them in an informed and realistic state of mind. Some of the things that will be listed below will seem tough to hear. But again, having seen all sides of adoption, I can attest to the fact that you will be more successful with adoption disruptions if you keep them in mind.
1. Adoption is not about you
Hopeful adoptive parents who are embarking on a journey to adopt are typically focused on completing their family. The many things that bring individuals to adopt vary, but the goal is to bring a child into their home. It is easy to become self-focused on the journey and only dwell on how to make adoption fulfill the personal desires of the adoptive family. As much as a hopeful adoptive couple may desire a child to complete their family, adoption is not about them. Prospective adoptive parents are not heroes who come in to save the day. Yes, adoptive parents are special people, but they are the recipient of someone else’s sacrifice. If the adoption you’re in is completed, then you are making a lifetime commitment to parent a child, and you have been given a selfless gift made by birth parents who have sacrificed so much. Adoption, no matter the circumstances that surround it, is about the birth parent(s) and the child.
As expectant parents, they are making the insanely difficult decision to do what is best for their child. When you enter the picture as an adoptive parent, adoption is a possibility, a mere option, and not a final, mandated decision. From the beginning of the adoption journey to the end, expectant parents and their children remain the center of the adoption. It is about their needs, what is best for them, and what is best for their child.
It is difficult for hopeful adoptive parents to put themselves on the back burner, especially when they have likely experienced their own difficulty that led them to pursue adoption. Maintaining this attitude and frame of mind will serve hopeful adoptive parents well in the event of an adoption disruption. Knowing that your role is only in place if the birth parents place their child for adoption will help you remember that a completed adoption is not guaranteed.
As my husband and I’s adoption journey continued to progress, and with each passing “failed adoption” (which was the term we used), my husband would encourage me to stay neutral with babies by saying, “Remember you are babysitting until this is final.” At the time, I hated that phrase, but his reminder was key to keeping my mind and heart in check so we could best serve the child and the birth parent(s).
2. Birth parents who feel empowered to parent is a good thing
When an adoption disruption occurs, it is safe to assume that one or both of the birth parents feel empowered enough to parent their child. As painful as it is for adoptive parents to experience, it is a good thing when birth parents feel supported enough to parent. I think we would all likely agree that, in a perfect world, there would be no need for adoption. Adoption comes from brokenness. The levels and types of brokenness vary, but it is fair to say that children are placed for adoption for very real and often painful reasons.
Understanding that when birth parents feel empowered to parent is a good thing correlates to remembering that adoption is not about you: it is about the birth parents and the child. Every single one of our adoption disruptions involved one or both birth parents deciding they could parent their child. In some cases, the birth parents had the support of their own parents or extended family that made their decision to place their child for adoption less needed.
I can honestly say that the heartbreak of having a baby removed from our care because her or his birth parents decided to parent was overwhelming. It was the kind of heartbreak that makes it difficult to breathe or even function. It requires a great deal of healing. For my husband and I, this loss occurred during hospital stays and before the baby was even discharged. In other instances, it occurred before we boarded the plane. With the child we parented before we were blessed with our son, it occurred after nearly five months of parenting. In each of these scenarios, it was nearly impossible to feel like celebrating the fact that the birth parents felt empowered to parent. Looking back and seeing things through the lens of our Christian faith, we were able to see that our journey happened exactly the way it should have. After all, had it not, we would not have met our now 3-year-old son. I am hopeful that all of the babies we had in our care in the past are thriving in their lives with their birth parents and families.
3. Don’t play the “blame game”
Adoptive parents can use several different types of adoption professionals on their journey. They may use adoption agencies, facilitators, consultants, lawyers, etc. Some adoptions may also be private. Regardless of what adoption professional is used, it is difficult to place blame on the adoption professional. Placing blame happens often as adoptive parents struggle with the loss, and—naturally—their first instinct is to place blame. Adoption professionals, although some are better and more ethical than others, work tirelessly to meet the needs of all members of the adoption triad. Their main focus, however, should always be the birth parent(s).
It is good practice to not attempt to place blame on anyone, but rather focus on supporting and encouraging the birth parent(s) who have decided they can parent their child. Unified and healthy families are something everyone in society can celebrate and support. For hopeful adoptive parents, it is also important to allow your adoption professional to help you navigate the adoption disruption so that you can continue on the journey of parenthood.
4. Money loss is likely
Let’s face it, money is a very big deal on the adoption journey. It is such a big deal that there are adoption grants, scholarships, and loans available. Many hopeful adoptive parents spend countless hours doing adoption fundraisers to enhance their savings. Unfortunately, when an adoption disruption does occur, there is often money lost. While each financial loss case is different, it typically involves an amount that is lost once the adoption is interrupted. In some cases, adoption professionals will already know and say the cost that could be lost and the cost that could be refunded in the event of an adoption disruption.
Within adoption, financial costs are broken down into categories such as preplacement fees, birth mother costs, medical costs, etc. In my experience, there was an estimated financial cost given upfront in the event of an adoption disruption. Prospective adoptive parents need to understand that there will be some sort of financial loss when an adoption disruption occurs. This is due in large part because finances have already been spent from the match between the expectant and prospective parent(s) and through the child’s birth.
For prospective adoptive parents who are still in the beginning stages of their journey, it is encouraged to discuss this cost with your adoption professional. In terms of earning and saving adoption money, it is also encouraged to save and earn more money than necessary so that you can possibly have extra in the event of an adoption disruption.
5. You can recover
If you or someone you know has experienced an adoption disruption, it is important to remember that there is another side to the heartbreak. Although you will likely never forget the heartbreak, there is hope for restoration. If you are a person of faith, you may begin to see the situation you endured through a faith perspective, which I would encourage you to do. You will find hope and healing through your faith. Even though I am parenting a 3-year-old son and it’s been three years since our sixth adoption disruption, there is not a day that goes by that we do not think about all of the birth parents and children that we suffered such heartbreak with. It is my hope that they also remember us and that their memories remind them that they had support for themselves and their child. I am hopeful that our paths will cross again in some way, even if it is just to exchange hugs.
If you experience a completed adoption with no interruptions and little hurdles, you can consider yourself quite lucky—even abnormally lucky. On the other hand, if you experience an adoption disruption, you can consider yourself a warrior of adoption. You have seen the good, the devastating, and the challenging. As difficult as it is to see, you will be better for having experienced it.
A final word
If you are still contemplating adoption, I encourage you to evaluate what has brought you to the decision to adopt. You must know that adopting won’t evade trauma. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be a perfect fairy tale. Even if you have the most perfect adoption situation and wonderful birth parent(s), the child will still have experienced trauma from the sheer reality of having been adopted. This is not meant to scare you or to discourage you from adoption. It is meant to motivate you to be prepared and resilient.
I would walk through all of those adoption disruptions again if it meant that I would come to know, love, and raise my son. The ongoing and continually evolving open adoption we have with his birth parents also makes it all worth it. Is an adoption disruption a possibility? Of course it is. But, don’t let a “what-if” steal your “what could be.”