A familiar saying advises that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Unfortunately, many things in life simply cannot be planned, and this reality extends to the adoption context. Certain aspects of an adoption journey are just not planned. While it is wise to plan and control what one can, some things must be dealt with the best way possible whenever they unexpectedly occur. So, be sure to expect the unexpected.

Couples and women in the adoption community have both had life throw curveballs at them. Prospective adoptive parents may be confronted with the fact that they are unable to have biological children. Some women find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy. An available option for both categories of shell-shocked people is adoption.

Definition and Causes of Unplanned Pregnancy

What exactly is an “unplanned pregnancy?” A dictionary definition of “unplanned” provided by Merriam-Webster is “not expected or intended. The website beingtheparent.com defines an unplanned pregnancy as one that is “unwanted and wrongly timed at the time of conception.” Common causes of an unplanned pregnancy are a contraceptive failure (such as a condom breaking), lack of contraceptive use, incorrect or inconsistent contraceptive use (such as failing to regularly take birth control pills), and rape. “The single biggest reason for an unplanned pregnancy,” webmd.com states, is “a couple failing to use any contraception.”

Surprising to some is just how common unplanned pregnancies are. According to information in the April 2018 issue of the journal The Lancet, the unplanned pregnancy rate worldwide is about 45% of all pregnancies. As advanced as the United States may be, the country suffers a similar incidence of unplanned pregnancies. Between 2006 and 2010, 51% of pregnant American women were experiencing unplanned pregnancies. This means one of every two pregnancies in our country is unplanned—around 3 million such pregnancies each year. Even more striking is the Guttmacher Institute’s report that it is estimated that more than half of U.S. women have experienced an unplanned pregnancy by age 45.

What to Do about an Unplanned Pregnancy

So, faced with an unplanned pregnancy, what’s an expectant mother to do? Her circumstances may preclude her parenting the child if she is young, struggling financially, or dealing with substance abuse. One option, of course, is to terminate the pregnancy. Unplanned pregnancies are “the chief causes of induced abortions” according to beingtheparent.com. Another option is for the mother to make an adoption plan for her child.

Effects of Unplanned Pregnancy on Mother and Baby

Prospective adoptive couples need to be aware that an unplanned pregnancy is an important consideration with an adoptive placement. While the lack of planning may strengthen a couple’s belief that the expectant mother will follow through on her adoption plan because she was not planning to parent, it also should give them pause as to health ramifications. Unplanned pregnancies are a public health concern (at least in part) because this type of pregnancy can have a negative effect on maternal health.

Medical professionals today recognize the importance of pre-conception health for having a healthy baby. A planned pregnancy is likely to be a healthier one than an unplanned pregnancy because the expectant mother has the opportunity to optimize her pre-pregnancy health. Before a planned pregnancy occurs, a woman may give up smoking, eat a healthy diet, reduce her alcohol consumption, and take folic acid supplements.

Unplanned Aspects for Expectant Mothers

With an unplanned pregnancy, a woman has no chance to take action to improve their health and may, in fact, engage in unhealthy behavior such as smoking, drinking, and taking illegal drugs, while unknowingly pregnant. Births resulting from unplanned pregnancies are associated with negative mother and baby health outcomes, such as late or lacking prenatal care, premature birth, and poor physical and mental health. Women who are not planning to become pregnant may not be prepared mentally or psychologically for that situation; this could lead to stress and depression that is not good for the baby.

So, for expectant mothers, the biggest unplanned part of their adoption journey may be that they are even on this journey at all. They did not plan to get pregnant much less place a child for adoption.

Unplanned Aspects for Adoptive Parents

On the other hand, prospective adoptive parents usually don’t start out expecting that they must pursue adoption to have a child. What’s unplanned for them is not being able to get pregnant. In their minds is playing the familiar children’s song, “First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes baby in the baby carriage.” Only no baby shows up. What’s an infertile couple to do?

Infertility is a common reason for people to adopt a child. The condition is defined as the inability to get pregnant or to maintain a pregnancy after adequately trying for 12 months. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, around 7.4 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 in our country experience infertility. The National Institutes of Health reports that about 9% of men and approximately 11% of women of reproductive age in this country have experienced fertility problems. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility, but 20% of all infertility cases have no identifiable causes.

Keep Planning on the Unplanned

Thus, for both expectant mothers and prospective adoptive couples, being on an adoption journey is quite unexpected. But once their journey begins, unplanned things can and do still happen. These “unplanned” events relate more to timing than they do the unexpectedness of the event. No one knows for sure when a baby will make his or her arrival into this world, and no prospective adoptive couple can plan for exactly when they will receive a match.

The Due Date

When a baby will be born is an unpredictable event. While due dates are given, this calculation is not an exact science. A due date is merely an estimated time for a baby’s arrival, with emphasis on “estimated.” Giving birth two weeks prior and two weeks after a due date is considered normal. According to CDC reports, in 2017, 10% of babies were born pre-term (before 37 weeks), 26% were born at 37-38 weeks, and 73% of babies were born prior to their due date.

The odds are against a baby being born on his or her given due date. A 2013 study in Australia found that only 5% of births occurred on the actual due date. Similarly, BBC News reported in February 2015 that the Perinatal Institute had determined babies were only born on their due date 4% of the time. Therefore, planning for a specific birth date is out the window unless a scheduled procedure (induction or C-section) is being utilized.

The Match

Even more unplanned is when a prospective adoptive couple will receive a match. With more people looking to adopt infants than there are infants available for adoption, even being matched is not guaranteed much less when that event will occur. Waiting couples simply must expect the unexpected.

Timing

Real-life stories bear out the unplanned nature of the timing of a match. A Florida couple can attest that they did not plan to receive a match when they most unexpectedly did. Receiving a match was the last thing on their minds as they traveled to Europe to celebrate a big anniversary. To their surprise, their homecoming was much more of an adventure than leaving on their overseas trip.

Barron and Theresa

Barron and Theresa had been pursuing an adoptive placement for almost two years. In addition to working with an adoption attorney, they attempted to do some outreach on their own. They joined some adoption groups, created a social media profile, and paid to participate in an online marketing platform. But all their efforts were to no avail; their arms were still aching to hold a baby of their own.

With disappointment overwhelming them, the couple backed off of their adoption efforts to avoid continuous emotional havoc. They began feeling like there were too many strikes against them at that point—they had waited too long, they were too old, they had chosen the wrong path. Sadly, they grappled with the idea that adoption was not in the cards for them and that an adoption was simply not going to happen. The two decided to simply hand things over to God saying, “If this is going to happen, it’s all on You.” Then Barron and Theresa kicked into neutral and virtually stopped searching.

Focusing on a more pleasant topic, the couple plunged forward with plans for a trip to Europe for their silver anniversary. The trip gave the two time to celebrate and have some fun together. Adoption and a baby weren’t on their minds at that point. But God, to Whom they had turned over their adoption journey, had a big surprise for them.

An Unexpected Surprise

Barron and Theresa were headed home after a glorious two week trip to Europe. On the flight back, they were thinking about getting home and starting some new work projects. Landing in Orlando, the couple made their way through customs and headed towards the baggage claim area. At this point, Theresa thought to turn on her phone which almost instantly rang.

To the couple’s surprise, it was their adoption attorney calling. Would Barron and Theresa be interested in the immediate placement of a baby girl who had just been born to a drop-in birth mother at the hospital?

The couple, who were jet-lagged, tired from travel, frustrated with Homeland Security, and hoping for a shower and a bed, were in shock. Wow! They felt as if they were awakening from a foggy dream. Yes, they would love to have this unplanned little bundle of joy!

Making their way to their car in the airport parking lot, Barron and Theresa tried to process what had just happened. A baby had basically been dropped into their laps with no advance notice whatsoever. The two were blown away. Could this really be happening?

Then reality hit. Barron remembers thinking, “I’ve spent all the diaper money in Italy!” Although thrilled, the couple was also cautious. They prayed that this situation would not fall through and bring heartbreak to them again.

Barron notes that “crazy” is a “desperately inadequate word to define that moment” for them. The call about a baby being available for placement was “so out of left field and strange to them.” The couple experienced a mixture of emotions, including wonderful, scared, happy, and confused all at the same time.

Would Barron and Theresa have preferred to have had a “planned” placement? Not at all.

Barron says, “Oh, this was perfect. I’m so glad it happened this way. It was just amazing to experience this in such a whirlwind. We had no time to worry about the process, we were just thrown into the fire, and it was awesome.”

Love at First Sight

The unplanned placement for this couple makes a great story that they can share with their daughter one day. Barron and Theresa feel God answered their prayers because the placement with them was indeed made, and they fell “instantly, madly in love with” their new daughter. This sweet baby girl’s adoption was finalized, and she is now legally a member of their family, a place she already held in their hearts. Although how she came to them was unplanned by them, they believe all of it was still by design—God’s design.

Conclusion

Many things about an adoption must be planned. For example, couples need to plan how they will pay for an adoption and who will conduct their home study. But some aspects of an adoption journey may not be planned—an unintended pregnancy, unexpected infertility, the exact arrival date for a baby, and the magic moment when a match will be made for a prospective adoptive couple. These unknowns are what make each adoption journey different and unique. Although crazy at the time, unplanned happenings can lead to happy endings for adoption stories. Just ask Barron and Theresa.