Silent Sadness: Quietly Grieving When Things Don’t Work Out

We are a hopeful adoptive family, but sometimes the word “hopeful” feels cruel.

Rachel Galbraith February 26, 2017
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We are a hopeful adoptive family, but sometimes the word “hopeful” feels cruel. There are days where I feel anything but hopeful. Instead I feel like it’s more of a lost cause. Last week was one of those weeks – again. We had an adoption opportunity pop up out of the blue and it felt like a good one. Of course, things were uncertain and there were many days where we waited for updates. Some days they came, and other days were silent. One of the lessons adoption has unsuccessfully tried to teach me is patience, and as such, I was having a difficult time waiting patiently.

I kept trying to prepare myself for the very real possibility that it was not going to happen for us, but my heart kept imagining what it was going to look like when we brought that baby home. It isn’t fair for my mind and my heart to be so at odds with one another. My mind is the practical one and my heart is totally impractical. When situations like this arise, I find myself fighting a constant internal battle of the heart and mind. It’s exhausting.

After a few days of waiting and wondering, the answer came – the baby’s mother had decided to parent. I was happy for her. I was happy the baby could stay with his or her mother. I knew how heart wrenching of a decision this must have been, and I was glad she had come to a solution that felt right for her. But still, I cried for myself. I cried over the fact that once again, my “hopes” had not come to pass.

…I know all the “right” things to do, but situations like this one are different. It wasn’t a failed adoption.

Because everything was so uncertain, and because we had been through the ups and downs of this before, we hadn’t shared this possibility with anyone. And so, after it fell through, I felt my sadness in silence. I just went on with life, acting as if everything was totally normal, when on the inside I felt really heavy.

I have written articles on grieving over failed adoptions before, and I know all the “right” things to do, but situations like this one are different. It wasn’t a failed adoption. We hadn’t formed any kind of relationship with the expectant mother. We hadn’t hired an attorney or put any financial backing into it. The only investment I had made was with my heart. But, I have a big heart, and it has the tendency to leap right in. During those few days, I had already let myself love that expectant mother and that little baby. I had looked forward to the relationships we would form together as we shared an open adoption. And yes, I was sad when those things didn’t play out. But I felt selfish for feeling sad when I should be feeling happy that a family was able to stay together. I knew there were people around me who were going through very difficult things, and I was not going to talk about my seemingly insignificant sadness with anyone. Instead, I stayed quiet.

Within a few days, the sadness passed and I felt mostly like myself again. But the reality is that this latest two-year adoption journey has changed my heart in many ways. I have learned to love deeply, which has also led to hurting deeply when things don’t work out. My heart carries scars from the experiences adoption has brought, but I wouldn’t change those experiences for anything. They have helped me to become a deeper, more compassionate person. I have learned to see things from the perspective of the expectant mother and the child, not just from my own. And so, when I feel sad for myself, I am able to feel moments of peace for the other people involved in the story. The ability to put myself in another person’s shoes eases the sting a little bit. But, I’m not going to lie, it still stings. I am left feeling like a “less-than-hopeful” adoptive family. Fortunately, the hope returns eventually and we continue to pursue other avenues. But for a little while, I need to take the time to be silently sad, and to grieve for things that aren’t actually mine to grieve over. And that’s okay too.

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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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