During the months of October and November, we grieve with those who have lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss (October) and celebrate National Adoption Month (November). Together, these two months of awareness capture not only the beauty, but also the grief that are part of a failed adoption. People rarely talk about failed adoptions, but they do happen and are a very real loss to grieve for the adoptive parents.
A failed adoption can be described as a situation in which the biological parent(s) makes an adoption plan, chooses a hopeful adoptive family, but at some point in the process, whether before the child’s birth, at birth, or after birth, the biological parent(s) chooses to parent, and the adoption fails. Often, the adoptive family suffers a significant financial loss, but even more, they suffer a profound loss of the dreams and hopes that they had for this child and their dream of becoming parents via adoption, even as they accept and celebrate that the biological parent has chosen to parent their child.
A failed adoption is a very complicated grief and is one that my husband and I have experienced. Like so many hopeful adoptive families who come to the adoption process after years of suffering and loss, whether from primary or secondary infertility or through experiences of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss, we came to adoption after the loss of our first child and five years of infertility.
After that long wait to become parents to a child on this side of heaven, one year into our adoption journey, we were chosen as adoptive parents for boy-girl twins who had just been born. Having been born several weeks early, the twins were in the NICU, and we flew out to be with them and to care for them in the NICU with the nurses. We couldn’t believe that these two precious babies would be our son and daughter. The overabundant gift of two babies after our long wait, and the incredible joy of getting to love them, name them, care for them, and be a mother and father to them, was a surreal fulfillment of our wildest dreams. For ten days, we got to care for them in the NICU with the nurses: changing them, bathing them, teaching them to feed, and giving them skin-to-skin contact to help in the bonding process that is needed between a child and adoptive parents.
However, ten days in, the biological father chose to parent, and our adoption failed. While we fully respected the father’s right to parent his children, we were also utterly devastated. We went from the elation of finally being parents, holding and loving these precious babies for hours a day in the NICU while our family members prepared the nursery for us at home, to the moment when we had to say goodbye in the NICU, knowing that we would never see them again. Our hearts broke and tears flowed as we said goodbye to these precious little ones and blessed them, praying over them that God would bless and protect them all the days of their lives.
Choosing to be open to life, biologically or through adoption, also means opening ourselves to the possibility of loss and grief. Months after our failed adoption, my husband and I suffered a late first-trimester miscarriage of our second baby. Yet, as we look back over the loss of three babies in the last year, one to miscarriage and two through the failed adoption, we recognize that it was and is worth it to stay open to life, even after such profound loss and grief.
Whether we were wholeheartedly giving of ourselves in love to the twins or to our baby in utero months later, it was worth every layer of grief and hurt. If you are in a similar place, don’t hold back your joy and love for these children, whom God has given to you, out of a fear of loss. While we may never see the impact we had on the twins for those ten days of loving on them in their early days of life, we trust that God put us in those babies’ and that family’s life for a purpose. We learned viscerally that the children given to us, whether through adoption or biologically, are not ours, but are God’s children first. We may not understand why God asks us to be part of their lives or to carry them for so short a time, but as parents, we are called to give our children back to God, trusting that God loves them and cares for them more than we can fathom.
Whether you have experienced a failed adoption at any point in the adoption process or suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, know that your grief is valid, and that God sees you in your pain. Trust that God placed that child or those children in your life for a reason, calling you to love them wholeheartedly and without reserve for the time that He gave them to you. While you may have to offer back to God the grief of losing the opportunity to care for them as a parent, He does call you to spiritually parent these children through intercessory prayer.
We may never know the trajectory of the twins’ lives, but we know God entrusted them to our hearts as our spiritual children and that we are called to continue to pray for them even as He asked us to let them go and trust that He will care for them. If you are also experiencing loss, let yourself grieve and heal, but don’t be afraid to open your heart again to the gift of life, and love the children He gives you for the time that He gives you with them.
Lenore and her husband Bobby were married in 2017 and are parents to two lost to miscarriage. They live in a small town in Ohio with their Australian shepherd, Augie.