Friday, January 27, 2012

Failed Adoptions

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I would venture a guess that no one likes the word “failure,” especially in reference to themselves as people or in reference to their actions.  So why do we use that word when describing a choice to parent instead of place?  Is placement a failure to parent just as parenting is a failure to place in this case?  I argue that the same people wouldn’t use the term “failure” to describe a friend who chooses to raise her child instead of adoption placement, especially if the expectant mom never intends to place her child in the first place. 

I’m not referencing those birth moms who choose a person or couple prior to birth and then change their minds about the person or people they plan to place their child with.  I would call those failed matches.  But I hear the word failure as a derogatory statement most often when a birth mom chooses to parent at the last minute instead of continuing with her original choice of adoption placement.  I do believe placement is a parenting choice, and continuing to support your child’s parents after placement is also a parenting choice.  But it’s a different parenting choice than the more “traditional” choice of raising the child or children to whom you’ve given birth.

I think we need different terminology here.  I’m certain that it feels to the hopeful adoptive parents that they failed to impress the birth mother enough, or that someone else failed to convince her that placement was the right choice.  But placement is not an easy choice, and those who think that or try to convince an expectant mother of that are guilty of coercion.  I know that quite a few adoptive couples must feel like failures already if they’ve struggled with fertility issues before choosing adoption.  However, their feeling like failures should not be translated to an expectant mother who doesn’t choose them to parent her baby and instead decides to raise her baby herself.

I’m not certain that there is a simple word or phrase that could be used to describe this instance.  Adoption placement is borne out of loss.  The adoptive parents have lost the ability to bear their children whether through circumstances in their control or out and birth parents lose the ability to raise their children through choice, at least most often.  I realize there are special cases in which the birth parent has the choice to place made for them or coerced out of them.  I’m not addressing those situations, simply the birth parents that are not coerced into the choice. 

I do think that when the adoptive parents are chosen by an expectant mother that they tend to assume it’s a foregone conclusion.  Even if they know it’s a possibility and the expectant mother’s choice to change her mind, it’s hard to quell those hopes that automatically rise when one is chosen.  Understandably if those hopes have caused the HAPs to assume that the expectant mother is placing with them and it doesn’t happen, it’s a very negative experience when those hopes are dashed.  I also think that HAP’s tendency to refer to the expectant mother as a birth mom prior to relinquishment and placement does nothing to help quell those same hopes or at least keep them sort of manageable.

Do any of you reading this have suggestions for better terminology?  Should the HAPs just say that the expected placement didn’t happen because the expectant mother chose to parent her baby and leave it at that?


  1. This is a great post--I really appreciate how sympathetic you are to both expectant moms/birthmoms and HAPs. As a HAP myself, I'm really aware of the fact that the woman who matches with us might "reclaim" (our agency's term) after the birth of the child. I think the best all of us can hope for is to remember that the failure of a particular plan is not the failure of *anyone* as a human being.

    1. True, Cheryl. Wel said. I have heard a ot of people who say others have made the wrong decision simply because their decision wasn't in line with what they wanted.
      Great post.

  2. "I’m certain that it feels to the hopeful adoptive parents that they failed to impress the birth mother enough, or that someone else failed to convince her that placement was the right choice." I don't think we adoptive parents see it either of these ways. I think we see it as a "failed" attempt to adopt. Just like it was a “failed” attempt to get pregnant when we traveled down the infertility road. Most adoptive parents have experienced much “failure” on the journey to conceive, that we carry it along on our next journey to adopt. In the case of a disrupted or “failed” adoption, we can't say we "miscarried" since we aren't carrying the child in our womb. But we are carrying him/her in our hearts (along with all the babies before it!). You have to remember that a lot of adoption plans end after months of emotional attachment... not just with the baby but also with the expectant mom. And in most cases, there is also a financial loss after paying fees and expenses to agencies, attorneys and in a lot of cases, prospective birthparents. That emotional, time, and financial investment is why we deem a disrupted adoption a "failure." We know the expectant mom has the right to parent her child... we are all too familiar with the risks when we get involved in an adoption plan. But we don’t see HER as the failure or her decision as the failure… it’s the process we are going through and that particular attempt at it that fails. Asking adoptive parents to see only the positives in a failed attempt at adoption, or making them put a “positive” spin on a negative term is unrealistic to the adoptive parent who is experiencing anguish from the loss. We should be allowed to grieve when our hearts are broken. It’s the only way we are able to heal from it, and make room in our hearts for the next baby.

  3. I must say - well said Anonymous. Deciding to parent is not the "failure" it's the adoption plan that has then failed. Literally - it failed because it's no longer happening. I don't think adoptive parents in general ever see the decision an expectant mom makes to parent as a failure. It isn't our child until the child actually is - so it's not that way. (Though I will acknowledge, there are aparents who are the exception to this. Most aren't though.)

    I too would agree that a failed placement *feels* similar to a miscarriage/baby loss for the aparents.

    I love hearing the education that expectant parents aren't birth parents. I think it's somewhat a learned word from the adoption world. I am embarrassed to say that with our first, we didn't know better. Our daughter's birth mom was always referred to as birth mom when we were working with our agency. People always say birth mom that don't know better either. So, that's how we thought it was. I hope we never offended her. To her we always just called her by her name - naturally. It wasn't until I started following blogs and really getting in the adoption world that I learned the correct terminology. It's good to always bring it up so HAP's AND Adoptive Parents learn the difference and help spread it the right way.

  4. This really gives me something to think about. I like your perspective on this.

  5. As a HAP that has experienced loss through adoption and pregnancy, I agree that there is a need for better terminology. I think Anonymous shares many of my same feelings and could not have said it better.

    Thank you for making us all think about this on a deeper level and giving us an open forum to talk honestly about how words so deeply touch those who are walking through this adoption experience.


  6. I'm the mom that changed her mind about placing and because of it the HAP (mom) bashed me on her adoption blog painting a bad picture of me n my choice to parent my baby. She quoted on the title of her blog a sliding door moment for my baby. that she felt sorry 4him n for my choice. I can honestly say that I grew to love her n her family n felt so hurt by her words. Idk if this is normal but i've carring this pain for months now do you guys know of any other mom who didn't place that might be going thought this also?