When an adoption plan fails, regardless of which party walked away, it feels like a gut-punch to the heart. A failed adoption plan can be like a miscarriage.

For days (or weeks or months) you’ve likely been preparing for what you thought (hoped) was going to be. The long wait was going to end. You were finally going to be exhale.

But then you got the news and now, you’re feeling barely able to breathe. It’s as if the floor just dropped out beneath your feet. You’re flung into a whirling master-class of grief responses. You may cycle rapidly through all the famous stages of grief all at once. Denial. Bargaining. Anger. Sadness. Acceptance. Then you wrack your brain for clues of where things went wrong, and it starts all over again.

Everyone knows that plans are always subject to change, but nobody likes to think about this happening in adoption. (It sometimes does, though it’s not really as common than people think.)

Sometimes, the hopeful adopting parents make a decision to abandon a match, either because it doesn’t feel right or something has unexpectedly come up. (This may be a complication for which they’re unprepared, their own unexpected pregnancy, or another placement opportunity arises elsewhere.)

Sometimes, it’s the expectant parents or a newly-delivered mother who change their mind. They come to realize adoption doesn’t feel like the right choice for their child anymore.

Or occasionally, an adoption professional comes into information rendering them unable to continue servicing the match in good faith, based on client deception.

Whatever the reason, when an adoption plan fails, it can feel like a miscarriage. There’s just no way around it: this is going to hurt. But it’s not necessarily going to devastate you forever. (Take heart.)

Processing the News When an Adoption Plan Fails

Your first impulse may be to shoot the messenger, whether that’s the party abandoning the plan, or the adoption agency caseworker, or your attorney or whomever. “Why? When? How? Why not?” you want to shriek. You need answers. Surely somebody should be held accountable for putting you through this?

Be advised that it won’t really matter what they say, or how they say it. We all hear what we want to hear, but you aren’t going to hear anything that will make this better any time soon. Politely ask the caller to send you an email or text with all the information they’re trying to relay. That way you can review it, once the catastrophic pounding in your head stops.

If you get this dreaded call at work, get to a quiet spot as soon as possible, so you can break down in private. If you’re alone at home, feel free to burst in tears or scream at the top of your lungs. Either response isn’t going to change things, but it may help relieve some stress.

Hunker Down for Healing

You’ll want to let your partner know, of course. You may want to call a friend. But as for everyone else who thinks they need to know your business, hold off. You need time to process this news and make sense of it yourself. You need to gain some strength before you try to explain the unexplainable to anybody else.

Be gentle with yourselves. Eat your weight in Blue Bunny ice cream, if it makes you feel better. Close the empty nursery door for awhile if you need to. Stay off of social media for the time being. Resist the urge to lash out at whoever just broke your heart. Journal your feelings, if that helps, or pound some sofa cushions, or paint up a storm or go for a run. (Remember: this too shall pass.)

We know it’s human nature to want explanations, but there’s nothing you can ask and nothing they’ll say that can heal what hurts right now. If you need to vent, call your adoption professional. (We don’t enjoy this part of the job, of course. But it’s not our first rodeo and we do know how to listen.)

Learning from a Failed Adoption Plan

A few days or even weeks down the road, the landscape will feel more normal again. Remember when you were a little kid, and you’d lose a tooth? Once any bleeding stopped, remember how you would run your tongue against the space where the tooth used to be? It didn’t hurt anymore; it just felt different, and you kept doing it just to remind yourself of what had changed– until you didn’t anymore.

When an adoption plan fails, it kind of feels like that. You may dwell on the change and revisit your feelings about it, until it no longer feels like you need to go back to it. (And that’s okay.) Or you may try to protect your heart by shutting down emotionally. Or by refusing to expose yourself to more hurt for now. Couples often deal with the disappointment differently, so if your partner doesn’t react the same way you do, allow them to feel whatever they’re feeling in their own way.

If you have anything that belongs to your former match (like sonogram photos, or the baby’s going-home outfit you picked out together), you’ll want to return these. (Some people find it useful to have some form of ritual for closure, and this can serve that purpose.) If you can find it in your heart to enclose a kind (not snarky) note genuinely wishing the other party well, then do (for your sake as well as theirs.) If you can’t, then don’t.

Finding a Way Forward

Take some time off from adoption, if you need to, to reassess and to recharge your batteries.

Sometimes, professional counseling can be a useful tool, as well. You may think that talking about this is the last thing that would help, but it really can help you make sense of what you’ve been through. A failed adoption plan is a loss that carries with it the sting of rejection, and a good counselor can help you find growth even in the ruins of your dreams. Ambiguous losses like failed adoption plans entail unfamiliar grief, and knowing what triggers to expect may empower you to heal better.

In time, you’ll come to realize that what didn’t happen simply wasn’t what was meant to be. In a strange way, failed adoption plans sometimes have a way of revealing new options to us, and they can actually propel us on our way to what truly is meant to happen in our lives. Many parents who have successfully placed or adopted can tell you that they only now have the successful adoption relationships they do because of the match that fell apart

So cling to this truth. Trust that when an adoption plan fails, it doesn’t mean adoption is the wrong plan– just that the right match is still waiting to be found: not if, but when.

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