Ask most folks about “a change of heart in adoption” and they assume it means somebody bailed on an adoption plan. And yes, that can happen, although not always the way (nor as often as) people think.

Nationwide, statistics suggest that of anybody who ever considers giving up a baby for adoption (or as we say, “placing”), 15-20% make other plans.

That’s small consolation for the million or so prospective adoptive couples in the US each year, of course. Still, 1 out of 5 is not bad odds, considering that many costly fertility treatments are far more risky than that.

When expectant parents initiate adoption plans but then abandon them, it can feels like a miscarriage for the hopeful adopters. (It’s no less devastating for prospective birthparents when it’s the adoptive parents who walk away, though.) Sometimes a change of heart in adoption happens during the pregnancy, and sometimes, it occurs after birth.

But nobody “owes” their child to anyone else just by having planned to place and then having had a change of heart. No adoption is final until a judge issues the signed legal paperwork that makes it so.

What Causes a Change of Heart in Adoption?

Why do parents planning to place change their mind? Typically, it’s not anything the would-be adopters said or did. Rather, a circumstance in the expectant parent’s life has changed that makes placement no longer a necessary option. (Maybe a skittish father has come back and decided to help. Perhaps a job layoff has ended. Or a relative stepped forward to offer assistance. Or a health concern has been resolved.)

Occasionally, though, a prospective birthparent does change their mind because something was said or done that causes them to question the family they had chosen. For Crys, it was the prospective adopter’s meltdown upon learning the induction was being postponed. “When he got so mad, I got a sense of how he might go off on my child someday.” She decided adoption was still the right plan, but she opted to choose a different couple.

Leo and Brittany had initially planned for adoption when their relationship fell apart. Brittany had chosen family friends to adopt the baby, but the closer the due date approached, the more the family seemed to backpedal on their open adoption promises. In the end, she decided to let Leo’s mom raise the baby instead, figuring that would give her a better chance of seeing her child in the future than sending him out of state.

Expectant mothers who start adoption planning then stop are never required to repay maternity support in Texas. Adopting couples know this is just one of the risks of the process, if they join a program that allows prebirth matching. (To intentionally receive financial support with no intention of placing is fraud, however, a crime punishable by law.) No parents considering placement are required to match before birth, but doing so does enable them time to get to know the prospective adoptive parents in advance if they wish. (It’s always the prospective birthparents’ right to choose this or not.)

When Plans Change (& How)

The common perception is that most mothers are likely to change their mind about adoption in the hospital after the birth. In Abrazo’s open adoption program, expectant mothers who have second thoughts tend to exit placement plans sooner, not later, out of regards for our families. It’s not any easier, but it is better for everyone involved.

However, the adopting parents may also have a change of heart. They sometimes opt to walk away from a match, for varying reasons. Sometimes it’s due to an expectant parent’s lack of honesty. Or an unexpected medical complication, or a surprise pregnancy of their own after years of infertility disappointments. Abrazo does not work with adoptive parents who wish to match with multiple mothers simultaneously, to protect both children and birthparents. (Adoption attorneys often allow couples to do this in order to choose which baby they want or to artificially twin. Neither is done in the best interests of children, though, and shouldn’t be permitted.)

The most important thing is for either/both parties to be honest about a change in heart in adoption, and to make it known as soon as you know. It’s not unusual for people to have second thoughts, or to think about the what-ifs, when an adoption plan is pending. But if you know you’re not going to move forward, for whatever reason, you need to be upfront about it. Give the other party the courtesy of an honest explanation. (And document it in writing, as well, for your own protection.) The other party doesn’t have to like it nor agree with your choice, but they should respect your right to make other plans without argument– of course.

Sometimes, Changes Can Change Back

In some cases, a change of heart in adoption doesn’t mean the plan is wrong– just that the timing was. A mother who encounters strong opposition from relatives in the hospital after birth and decides not to place may find herself at home months later with a child she still feels unable to parent. When that happens, Abrazo is happy to help as children can still be placed for adoption later, and has loving adoptive homes for both babies and toddlers.

Lani was a single mom who had been planning for adoption ever since finding out she was pregnant again. Her parents were old-fashioned, and staged a family intervention to shame her into keeping the baby. She felt cornered and backed down, but half a year later, feeling no more attached to either of her children, she placed them both without giving her parents any advance notice. Her family threatened to disown her when they found out what she’d done, but in the years since then, they’ve become part of Lani’s open adoption plan. It doesn’t always work out that way– but it can.

(And even if it doesn’t, a failed adoption plan need not prevent anyone from placing or adopting. Sometimes it enables them to go on to find that special couple or child who really did need them more.)

Take Heart (if it happens to you)

Nobody signs up for an adoption plan that falls apart, of course. Yet everyone who ever begins an adoption plan will face that risk. Sometimes, adoption plans are meant to end in placement. But sometimes, they’re meant to bring people together for much shorter seasons and less obvious outcomes.

If it happens to you, take heart. A change of heart in adoption means your roadmap has some different folds than you might have expected, true… yet the ultimate destination just might be even better, as a result, so keep journeying on and keep the faith.

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