Adoption Talk Blog

Moving on From a Failed Adoption

It's heartbreaking, but there are times when an adoption match doesn't come to fruition. Our latest blog post comes from Adoptive Families and tells the story of a mother's journey of a failed adoption.  

"A Lesson from Loss"

A heartbreaking failed match with an expectant mother helped me see that I was truly at peace with having my sons through adoption rather than giving birth.

It was an ominous forecast. On any other day we wouldn't have thought about getting in the car, let alone taking it for a ride on the highway. But this was the day I was due – along with the birth mother – to be in the delivery room to meet our third son.

Before ducking inside, we snapped a photo of the snow-covered hospital. When we got to the congested waiting area, we spotted the birth mother and her mother waving to us like old friends. We joined them and soon found ourselves chatting about the weather, school closings, and the name we'd chosen for the baby.

Soon after a nurse called away the birth mother, another nurse offered me a pair of navy blue scrubs. I changed in a bathroom, and was escorted to a room where the birth mother was resting, her IV in place. I sat beside the bed, not believing I was having this moment.

The attending anesthesiologist explained the effects and risks of the medication she was about to administer, then turned to me and asked, "And who might you be?" I cast a glance at the birth mother, who nodded her approval. I said, "She has made an adoption plan for this baby, and I am the lucky adoptive mom." The doctor turned to the birth mother and said, her voice full of emotion, "You are doing a very good thing."

Right From The Start

My husband and I met the birth mother and her mother just eight days earlier, at our adoption agency. The large meeting space seemed to shrink as we began our conversation. The two women asked us a series of questions that had clearly been on their minds. With each answer, we could see their shoulders relaxing as they became increasingly comfortable with us. They were happy that I was a teacher, and that we were already parents to two boys. Everything about the match felt right. Awkward pauses soon gave way to laughter and the sharing of family photos.

Together, our families happily agreed to a level of openness that had not been possible with our older sons' birth families. And then, the birth mother offered the most amazing gift – she asked us to be present at the baby's birth.

So there we were, eight days later, my husband and the birth mother's mom settling in for the long wait, armed with pocketbooks, coats, pillows, and overnight bags. I followed the birth mother from the IV room to the operating room, where I was greeted by bright lights, white walls, beeping machinery, and unexpectedly cool air. I sat on the stool the hospital had placed in the room and rested my hand on the birth mother's head.

The pale blue curtain draped in front of the birth mother's chin began to undulate. All I could see were the tops of doctors' heads and heaving shoulders. Within moments, we heard jubilant exhalations, then the baby's cry. I peeped over the curtain. He was beautiful, big, and healthy. I was invited to touch him – his first contact with human skin without the barrier of a latex glove – then to cut the umbilical cord.

Change of Heart

When the birth mother made her decision to parent, 48 hours later, we were as surprised as we were saddened.

The night before, my husband and I brought our three- and four-year-old sons to visit the birth mother in the hospital. She introduced them to the baby as his "new brothers." At the end of that visit, we left with the new-parent packet the hospital had given her – coupons for formula and diapers, parenting magazines – and a profound sense of trust and hope.

The next morning, between classes, I called the hospital to inquire about the baby's night. I was about to check on the birth mother when my cell phone rang. It was my social worker. She said that she had received word that the birth mother "may have had a change of heart." I had to teach for the next three hours while our agency gathered all the details they could.

After experiencing a failed adoption match, the only question you can ask is the perennial and existential "Why?" As the mother of two children by adoption, I believe that there is a reason our children find us and we them. Though it was painful, I could reconcile the fact that this baby was simply not ours. The question I could not answer is why I was in the delivery room. I had believed I was a participant, fortunate to be present for the birth of our third child. But, in two days' time, I was relegated to the role of spectator, a mere audience member, and I couldn't fathom why.

The Gift of Knowing

One day, the answer emerged. Perhaps I uncovered it through steady reflection, perhaps I found it in my children's faces. I don't know. But what I do know is that, as an adoptive mother, I have had to field my share of questions – about the process, the birth parents, the cost, bonding. And I welcome them all. But there is one question I've been asked by only a close few: "Don't you wish you could have carried and given birth to your sons?"

I always blithely answered, "No." Without minimizing pregnancy, labor, and the miracle of birth, I firmly believe that a parent's work begins when her child comes home. I've also always known that, more than "having a baby," I wanted to "be a mother." Still, I was aware that my reasonable responses had no basis in fact or comparison.

Until now. In the delivery room on that snowy January morning, I didn't find myself wishing that I were the one giving birth. When the baby emerged, I didn't sigh and think, "If only...."

Although this birth mother made the decision to parent, she left us with a gift nonetheless. I didn't give birth to my sons. And I now know that I am being truthful when I tell them or others that I am at peace with my experience of adoption vs pregnancy. It will be up to my sons to decide whether they feel the same, but having a mother who is secure in her role may go a long way in helping them reconcile whatever feelings do emerge.

My husband and I are proud of the journeys we took to form our family; adoption was truly the right path for us. That knowledge is a gift to be treasured, and one I will never forget.

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