There may be no crueler irony than when a baby meant for adoption is stillborn.

It’s a pre-birth tragedy for everyone involved.

It’s a tragedy for that unborn child-to-be, who was already so lovingly awaited by so many.

For the birthparents who feel immense guilt on multiple levels, it feels like an undefinable loss.

For any birthsiblings or already-adopted siblings of that lost little life, it is a connection forever lost before it could ever be known.

For the hopeful adoptive parents who have too often suffered their own crushing fertility losses already, it is a shattering of hopes and dreams barely yet realized.

And for the caring adoption professionals who have looked out for both sets of would-be parents and their unborn child for weeks or months, it is a crushing reminder of how little control we really have over anything in this process.

It doesn’t happen often, fortunately. But when it does, it leaves all in a state of bereavement.

But Why Do Some Prospective Adoptees Not Make It to Placement?

When a baby meant for adoption is stillborn, it’s all too normal for people to search for some meaning, some reason, some explanation.

However misguided, we all want answers. Did the prospective birthmom not take care of herself? Were the hopeful adopters in some secret way undeserving? Was there something wrong with the unborn child? Did the medical staff miss some indication of problems? Should the adoption professionals have somehow foreseen this outcome? Is God Himself/Herself to blame?

It’s human nature to wonder, but it changes nothing and fixes even less.

In his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” Rabbi Harold Kushner reminds those who are struggling to find answers of this:

“We cannot choose everything that happens to us. We can only try to cope. That is what one does with sorrow, with tragedy, with any misfortune. We do not try to explain it. We do not try to explain it. We do not justify it by telling ourselves that we somehow deserve it. We do not even accept it. We survive it. We recognize its unfairness and defiantly choose to go on living.”

So How Do We All Go On When a Baby Meant for Adoption is Stillborn?

Nobody ever wants to have to face such sorrow, understandably. And everyone deals with infant loss and grief differently.

Still, there are some things that can be important stepping stones for everyone’s recovery. Would-be birthparents and prospective adoptive parents need to be offered the opportunity to see and/or spend time with the baby who never drew a breath. Morbid as it may seem, the grieving would-be parents need to be able to see his or her features and acknowledge the little being who’d already occupied their hearts and been the subject of their dreams, if they so desire.

When a baby meant for adoption is stillborn, ritual can be an important tool of healing for the grieving family of would-be birthparent/s and adoptive parent/s. There are some meaningful services and ceremonies that help the living honor the dead, and most hospital social workers, funeral home staff or adoption professionals can assist the baby’s would’ve-been forever family in planning these.

The lost baby should still be named, of course. (Whether the birthparent’s or adoptive parents’ last name is given for the baby on the death certificate is the birthparent’s choice to make.) Decisions of who plans the disposition or burial of the remains are typically made by the baby’s biological parents, unless they ask the intended adoptive parents to take over.

Afterwards and Going Forward

The birthparents and adoptive parents in such tragedies often find it comforting to be able to talk with each other face-to-face, however hard– as any mourning relatives would. Babies aren’t stillborn because God didn’t approve of the pending adoption plan, and parents need to be absolved of the guilt that often accompanies such unspoken fears.

The would-be birthparents and the couple who’d hoped to adopt the lost baby should both be offered compassionate counseling. The baby’s mother should be urged not to replace that pregnancy loss with another crisis pregnancy, intentionally or unintentionally. The adopting parents also need to allow themselves time to grieve before pursuing another placement opportunity. (They should also be encouraged to give the next child they do adopt an entirely new name, all their own.)

Finally, keep in mind these additional words of Kushner:

To wish to forget the hope because it wasn’t realized, to try to cleanse your mind of the beautiful dream because it didn’t come true, is to miss out on life altogether, because life is designed to be lived in an alternation of hours of sunlight and hours of darkness.

When a baby meant to be adopted is stillborn, it is surely a painful crack in life’s greater plans– but always remember that cracks are where the light gets in, and trust that life will still have beautiful moments in store, all in good time.

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