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When an Adoption Falls Through

By Karen Ledbetter

This article provides a look at the emotions involved when your referral fails. Sadly some Vietnamese adoptive families experienced this loss and this article is representative of part of their adoption story.

Usually an adoption fails when a birth parent changes his/her mind about placing, but can also occur as a result of an adoption scam artist. This article will address an adoption falling through when a birth parent changes his/her mind. Regardless of when the adoption falls through, it is a heartbreaking experience, and the adoptive family experiences incredible grief. Some equate the pain and grief to death or miscarriage. Others say it is completely different.

Sometimes well-meaning friends and family members fail to understand and acknowledge this grief.

Beth writes, "I remember when the birth mother of the baby girl we had hoped to adopt changed her mind. We were devastated. The pain was very real. Even though we never saw this baby, she became a part of us from the moment we learned of her existence. She is in her teens now, and did go on to successfully adopt, but I still wonder about her, especially around her birthday."

Kay writes, "We heard some really stupid things, such as, ´Well, he really wasn´t your child anyway´. Probably the worst thing was people saying absolutely nothing about it, like it wasn´t a big deal. He WAS our child, and his loss was like a death to us!"

Fortunately, there are sensitive friends and relatives who acknowledge a failed adoption as a real loss and are supportive of an adoptive family´s need to grieve.

Beth: "I remember when I called one friend, crying as I shared the horrible news, she told me how sorry she was and then asked if I needed her to come over. Her kind words acknowledged my loss and pain. In the days ahead, she never said anything inappropriate. She was just available, whether I need to talk or cry, or if I just needed a hug. I´ll never forget her compassion."

Kay: "Some friends truly got it. They understood that Baby WAS our child in our eyes, even if we only had him for a short time. They understood how important he was to us and how very much we loved him. I think they loved him, too, even though they never got to meet him."

Losing a baby when an adoption falls through is a heartbreaking experience, indeed. The pain is real, and the grief is real. Everyone deals with grief in his/her own way. Sensitivity and compassion are key elements in comforting a loved one who has experienced an adoption loss.

Karen Ledbetter is the Adoption Editor for She and her husband adopted domestically through an open adoption in the 1990s, and their lives have not been the same since! Karen enjoys working with children of all ages at church and school. When time permits, Karen enjoys reading, horseback riding, swimming, taking walks, and just hanging out with family and friends. Karen shares her North Carolina home with her handsome husband of 26 years, beautiful daughter, 2-year-old mystery mutt, two guinea pigs, and bunches of fish.

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