Grief After a Failed Adoption

Grieving is a process, and in the end you'll find that you've been forever changed by your loss.

Rachel Galbraith May 30, 2016
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I woke up feeling angry at the world today. It took me a little while to pinpoint what exactly I was feeling angry about. As I stood in my steaming shower, letting the hot water run down my back, it hit me. Exactly a year ago we were contacted by an amazing woman considering adoption. After a few days of getting to know one another, she asked us to be the parents of the daughter she was expecting. Of course we were excited. We were starting to believe it wasn’t going to happen for us, and then it did. It was everything we had hoped and prayed for. Everything seemed too perfect to be real. However, in the end, the adoption did not go through. All along the way, we knew that was a possibility, and we had prepared ourselves for that outcome. But when it was clear that the baby girl was not coming home with us, we were so sad.

Today, a year later, I realized that I am still grieving that loss. Grief is an interesting thing. Professionals talk about the “Five Stages of Grief” in relationship to death, but it also applies to other significant losses in our lives. For me and my husband, losing the opportunity to be parents to a sweet baby girl was a significant loss.

The Five Stages of Grief are listed as:

  • Denial and Isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These stages are fluid. They don’t always come in the particular order in which they are listed. Sometimes you can experience multiple stages at once, and just because you have been through one of the stages doesn’t mean you won’t go through it again. You may have finally reached the acceptance stage, like I had, and then suddenly wake up smack dab in the middle of a previous stage—like anger. And there I was today.

I had done the whole Denial/Isolation thing. For a while, I held on to a tiny piece of hope that whispered, “Things will still work out.” I prayed that circumstances would change and that we could still bring her home. I stayed away from the “public” as much as I could for a few days—at least until the tears didn’t flow so freely.

I experienced anger. I was never angry at our expectant mother, she was always wonderful, but I was angry at the baby’s father for challenging things. We chose not to fight him, though our attorneys advised that we could, and that we would most likely win. After all, he was her father. We had no right to take that from him. But we all knew he wouldn’t really be involved and that he was just being difficult. I was angry at God. Why didn’t the “perfect” situation work out? Why did we have to go through all that we went through for things to fall apart at the end? I was angry about the money we lost, I was angry about the cost of adoption in general. I was just really angry.

Anger turned into depression. I knew that because we were going the “word of mouth,” private adoption route, chances were slim that we would ever be chosen again. I was sad that we didn’t have the money to go through an agency. I was sad knowing that our hopes to adopt were most likely over. It was a rough stage that intertwined closely with the anger stage.

I bargained. Maybe we should have fought harder. Maybe we shouldn’t have moved forward with things since we knew it was risky to begin with. “Maybe”s, “what if”s, and “if only”s constantly flooded my mind.

Sometimes, I felt acceptance. It was okay. I could look back and see certain blessings that had come through our experience. We are still very close with our expectant mother, who we now refer to as our close friend. We still get to be part of the baby’s life, and we are so thankful for that. However, a year later, the acceptance stage comes and goes. At times, the fact that we haven’t been chosen by anyone else brings all those feelings of grief to the surface, and I am forced to rework through them.

Grieving over a failed adoption is real. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Though grief is uncomfortable, it is important to let the stages come. Embrace them. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the expert on grief said,

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Grieving is a process, and while I’m sure there will come a time when the feelings over our failed adoption won’t be as poignant, we have been forever changed in both good and bad ways. If we could start over, I think we would do it all again.

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.”

                                                                                                                              –Hilary Stanton Zunin

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Rachel Galbraith

Rachel Galbraith is a busy mother of five children, one of whom was adopted at birth. She has a Bachelors Degree in social work, and has worked as a medical social worker, specializing in the field of women and children. She was privileged to play a small role in the adoptions that often took place on her hospital unit. Writing has become her own personal form of therapy, and she is excited to combine it with her love of adoption. In her free time, she has a love-hate relationship with distance running. She readily admits to doing it only so she can eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.


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