Doug and Deanne Walker have 19 children, 10 of whom are adopted. These loving parents have been up and down and all around adoption, and seem to me to be an endless bucket of adoption knowledge and wisdom. On top of that, the Walkers are welcoming, inviting, and friendly! This series of articles covers everything from being an organized home executive to failed adoptions to finding the right agency. So as you read, imagine taking a comfortable spot on Deanne’s sofa as she openly shares her insight into each topic.
Failed adoption is devastating for the potential adoptive family. Whether this is a first attempt or fifth; whether you have a house full of children or have been working for years to begin your family . . . when an adoption fails, it is heartbreaking. Grief sets in and it it becomes hard to function. Much like death, it feels like the world should stop. But it doesn’t. Life goes on for everyone else . . . and for you. So how does one jump back on the merry-go-round of life? Where can the strength to move forward be found? How does a hopeful adoptive parent, devastated by failed adoption, get the courage to start the process again–or even to move forward and eventually find joy in everyday life?
The Walker family has been hurt deeply by failed adoption. Deanne shared three of their failed adoption experiences with me:
Just two months before delivery date, an expectant mother selected Doug and Deanne as the parents for her baby. The agency allowed phone contact between the Walkers and the birth mother, so they talked from time to time. During one of those phone calls, the expectant mother asked for extra money. This was not only against agency rules, but also illegal in their state. Wanting to stay on the “up and up,” the Walkers informed the agency that this happened. The agency got involved and educated the birth mother. Just a week later, the phone rang. It was the expectant mother telling them that she had decided to keep the baby.
The Walkers spent money, time, and emotional energy on an international adoption. They were anticipating adding a sweet little boy from an orphanage who had been tested and found to be deaf. The agency and the orphanage had agreed that, given this disability, the Walkers were a good match for this little boy. As progress was being made toward him joining their family, it was found–during routine testing–that he actually had hearing. He was not deaf after all. The orphanage director pulled the adoption from the Walkers to place this sweet boy in a smaller family because “they were more deserving.” The agency did all they could to reverse this decision, but to no avail. Doug and Deanne were so devastated that they didn’t begin another adoption process for four years.
The Walkers had been approached by a woman who did translating services for a Vietnamese woman who was pregnant and planning to have an abortion. This translator gave the expectant woman the option of adoption and put her in touch with Deanne. The Walkers supported the expectant mother throughout her pregnancy and became a surrogate family to her teenage daughter–attending conferences at school, doctor appointments, inviting her to stay at their home. The expectant mother asked them to adopt her teenage daughter, but they didn’t feel it was the right thing. Plans stayed in place for the Walkers to adopt the new baby. They paid all medical expenses, and even prepaid much of it to get a discount. But when the baby was born, the birth mother’s abusive boyfriend (who had tried to force her to abort the baby three times, then beat her when she didn’t) convinced her to keep the baby–because it was a boy. The birth mother stayed with the boyfriend for a year, then left him–leaving the baby boy behind with his abusive father. This has been a particularly hard failed adoption for Doug and Deanne and they continue to feel concern for this little boy.
They had other, varied, failed adoptions. Yet they were able to somehow find strength and move forward. Deanne’s experience is that failed adoption feels much like the death of a child. Although not quite as devastating, the mourning process is the same.
As parents grieve the lost child, they find themselves either aching to hold a precious little child and becoming obsessed with moving forward to bring about an adoption–or so fearful of being hurt again that they distance themselves, moving far away from the adoption process. Whichever way they find themselves reacting, often with this loss they cannot see joy in life . . . they just keep on going until the sun begins to shine in their souls again. Over time the pain will dull and the lost adoption turns into a sad memory. A memory that never fully leaves, and a pain that remains–even though the sharpness isn’t as severe.
For some the sun doesn’t begin to shine again until they experience a successful adoption. For some, putting their whole heart and soul into a future adoption is enough to brighten their lives again. And for others, diverting focus away from the lost child and toward unrelated goals is the healing balm they need. Failed adoption is a deeply painful experience, and it would be helpful for grieving parents to know that those close to them recognize their loss and allow appropriate mourning to take place. Because to fully heal, one must first be allowed to grieve.
More from the Walker family: