When Adoption Doesn’t Go As Planned

As you wake up on Saturday morning and look outside your window, you see that the sun is shining. You anxiously pack the picnic basket with a delicious lunch and snacks for a fun-filled day. After choosing the appropriate clothing for you and your children, you step cheerfully out the door ready for the day’s adventures. Within minutes after getting into the car you see the clouds form and the sky begin to darken. You think,”surely it will pass.” But slowly the rain starts to fall. As the windshield wipers automatically come on, the car is dampened and so are the spirits of everyone inside. Some things in life just don’t go as planned. No matter how much effort and planning you put into it, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

The Plan

Whether you are the expectant parent or the hopeful adoptive parent, you undoubtedly have certain expectations of how the adoption process will work for you. Months of planning and preparing for this event have consumed much of your time and your thoughts as well.

 If you are the expectant mother, you have spent hours perusing through birth mother letters, prospective couple’s profiles and multiple adoption agencies. The choice to place your baby for adoption is not easy. Most likely your decision has been filled with confusion, doubt and endless tears. Once you have made your decision and chosen the family you would like to adopt your baby, you assume it will all go smoothly.

As the anxious, adoptive parents, you too have spent precious time filling out the necessary paperwork, completing your home study and preparing for the child you hope to bring into your family. Your days have also been spent in confusion, doubt and endless tears.The decision to adopt can be a long, hard journey. Though it is a time of great joy and anticipation, it includes days of sadness and discouragement. When you finally get the call informing you that you have been chosen by an expectant mother, your heart is full of gratitude for this privilege and opportunity. 

The Stories

Russel Elkins, author of Open Adoption, Open Heart, shares that he and his wife “quickly found out that adoption is not as simple as filling out some paperwork and waiting for the right child to join you at home. Sometimes adoptions fall through. People change their minds. Hearts are often broken during the process.” He and his wife, Jammie, have adopted two children and are familiar with the struggles involved. 

Jammie and Russell began their married life as most young couples hopeful for their future. Not in a hurry to start their family they assumed it would come eventually. After four years of infertility and failed attempts at pregnancy through fertility treatments, the couple eagerly pursued adoption. They started the necessary paperwork and began working with an agency. Within a few months, they received a couple of what they thought were positive responses only to find out they were not legitimate. When they finally received a request from a prospective, expectant mother they were afraid to get too excited. Ironically, there were two possibilities that presented to them at the same time. They considered attempting to follow through with both of them but eventually, one of them quit responding. This began their first adoption journey. The young, fifteen-year-old girl lived in a different state which presented its own set of problems. It was finally decided that to facilitate the adoption she would come to live with them. This of course caused much controversy but they felt it was the right choice. After months of living together, they formed a special bond and she felt like family. When the baby was born they worried about how to separate themselves from the life they had known. After months of court dates and sleepless nights, the adoption was final and they could begin life as adoptive parents and not full-time babysitters. However, that was not the end of their trials. The birth father came into the picture and created new problems for them. The Elkins’ had planned on an open adoption with both of the baby’s biological parents but due to the circumstances, the relationship with the birth father had to discontinue. This was heartbreaking for them but they had learned that things don’t always go as planned.

During the months while “Annie” was living with the Elkins family, she attended a support group for expectant mothers. She became very close to the leader of the group, “Sharon”.

“Sharon” is a 64-year-old birth mother who relinquished her rights to her daughter when she was barely 17. When she was 16 years old she found herself pregnant with the baby of the young man she was dating. Being the youngest child and the only one living at home, it was hard to confront her parents with the news. Sharon had low self-esteem and was raised by a strict, military father. She and her boyfriend told her father the news together and he advised them not to tell her mother who was struggling with alcoholism. He feared that it would cause her to drink more. The boy did not have a relationship with his parents. He wanted Sharon to marry him and raise the baby together. She refused his proposal multiple times.

 They were living in Michigan at the time and her father felt it would be best if she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Maryland. They told her mother she was moving in with her sister to strengthen her faith in the church she was attending and to find more friends with the same beliefs. Even after she moved, since she was pregnant, the high school she enrolled in required her to attend classes at night. This was common in the ’60s and ‘70s to not allow pregnant, unwed teenage girls to attend regular classes. While living there, she was visited twice by the boyfriend. He would continue to push her with the idea of marriage in hopes of them raising the baby together. During this time, Sharon struggled with what she should do. She knew she did not want to marry the young man, but also felt strongly that her baby needed both a father and a mother. After much deliberation and prayers, she knew what she had to do. Sharon had an impression that she was not to keep Baby, as she referred to her unborn child. Instead of confusion, she was filled with peace knowing that he/she would have something better than she could provide.

As the months passed she eventually informed the baby’s father of her choice to place the baby for adoption. Although they had discussed it previously, he was not happy with her decision.

Sharon delivered a healthy baby girl. Although not allowed, the nurse told her that she would bring Baby into her hospital room so she could see her and hold her. However, when the nurse arrived at her door, Sharon chose not to hold her because she was afraid she would not be able to give her back. She had not yet relinquished her parental rights and knew how difficult it would be if she were to see her and hold her in her arms. 

Feeling confident that she had made the right decision, she relinquished her parental rights approximately nine months after she was born. She soon found out that the birth father was pursuing his own legal rights. During this time the baby was living in foster care. He went to court in hopes of getting custody of Baby. Sharon’s brother-in-law was an attorney but was too close to the case to represent her. Prior to the hearing he joined the other attorneys in the judge’s chambers and heard him say, ”I feel in my heart that this baby girl needs both a father and a mother.” At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge shockingly awarded custody to the 20-year-old biological father of Baby. As Sharon walked out of the courtroom, she turned to the birth father and said, “you get her a mother.”

Many years later, Sharon would learn that he never married and therefore, Baby was raised by a single man. His intention all along had been to get Sharon to marry him and thought, if he had custody of the baby, then she would concede. 

Following the judge’s decision, Sharon remained with her sister and completed her senior year in high school. She went on to college in Idaho a year later. While there she received an envelope from the birth father with pictures of the baby girl and a note reading, “Please come home.” Sadly, she returned the pictures to the envelope and mailed them to her sister. She had to work through that but in her words, “carried on.”She felt that one day she would marry and they would find each other. She kept that feeling until the day they were reunited.

It wasn’t until 15 years later that Sharon’s mother learned of the pregnancy. Sharon was married and pregnant with her fifth child. Her mother was in an alcohol recovery center and they were participating in family counseling when the information was shared. She said she had always had the feeling that it had happened but never said anything about it. 

When Baby turned 18, her boyfriend encouraged her to find her birth mother. She knew where her mother had lived and had her parents’ names. The internet was not available then so she had to rely on the telephone assistance information line. She called 4-1-1 and was given a phone number. The first one she tried didn’t answer so she tried another number. This time, Sharon’s father answered. When he replied that he did have a daughter named Sharon, she told him that she had attended high school with her and was wanting to reconnect. He told her that she was out of town until Monday but gave her the phone number. There were no cell phones yet, so only landlines were available and she would have to wait through the weekend to call her.

On Monday morning, Sharon got a phone call that would change her life. The girl on the other end of the line asked if this was Sharon and if she knew her father. Sharon knew immediately who it was and shocked her by asking, ”Is this Beth?” That was the beginning of their second chance and a lifetime of memories together. Beth moved to Idaho to be near her birth mother and they have a close relationship along with her family members. As they celebrated the birth of Sharon’s 12th grandchild, Beth thanked her mother for giving her nieces and nephews to love. Beth’s father has only been to see her once since moving to Idaho. 

Sharon has worked as a facilitator for birth mother’s groups. She encourages them to ask a higher power, whoever that may be to them, for guidance. She tells them to discover what it is that they need to do for their unborn baby and for themself. She says, “Ask yourself, what do I want to do?” She lets them know that there will be heartache along the way but also that they can choose what they want it to be and it can be a joyful journey. Sharon is a strong advocate for adoption even though it didn’t end the way she had planned. 

The Reality

Usually, when you take off on an adventure you have a map and an itinerary of your daily activities. Most of the time the trip goes as planned with minor detours along the way. The adoption journey has no clear path and no guarantees. The best you can hope for is that you reach your desired destination at the end which is a successful adoption and a lifetime of love and new adventures.