Failed Adoption Matches: Are Adopting Parents Really Told The Truth By Their Agency?

adoption-failureAre hopeful adoptive parents really told the truth about their chances of finding an successful adoption match by their agency? Are they really told about their chances of failure?

Those are two questions that I first asked myself 15+ years ago when my wife and I had a failed match, and ones that I found myself asking again just the other day.

What got me thinking about the subject now were two recent incidents. The first was an email I received from a hopeful adoptive mother whose match through our parent profile page fell apart. After creating an adoption plan and going to the hospital for early labor, the expectant mother changed her mind and decided to parent.

Although “Sandy,” the hopeful adoptive mother, was aware of the risks involved in the match, she was still devastated. And she wasn’t the only one. Over the last few months, other couples I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences and reactions.

They say that even though they knew that the expectant mother could change her mind, they were totally unprepared for the wave of sadness that engulfed them after their matches fell apart.

When I told “Sandy “about their stories and that I was researching a post on failed adoption matches, she was both relieved and angry:

You really should write that article. We feel really deceived about the reality of adoption and would have gone a different way if we’d known how common this is. I wish I’d had information about how the experience would be different between lawyers, facilitators and agencies. One of the hardest parts is that I do so much work talking to birthmoms who are just using me to work out their process instead of getting the counseling they need ([our agency] has counseling for birthmothers but it’s optional and not many people do it). I feel a facilitator would have protected me from that. We have talked to over 10 birthmothers in the last year and 2 have led to failures at the hospital. I wish I’d entered the process with less enthusiasm and not been as emotionally invested in each. I was led to think it usually goes well so I was too hopeful each time. Also I wish someone had really warned me against the dangers of telling your friends and family you are matched, telling 30 people we were coming home without a baby was devastating. I really think every family should know that failure is not only an option by likely and they should be mentally prepared. Also if I was reading the article I’d like to hear from people who became parents after multiple failures. We’re really worried that our capacity to love a child has been damaged and it’ll be hard to be joyful when we finally get the baby.

I was thinking of “Sandy” the other day when I read this candid interview by Lori Holden with Jennifer Gilmore. Lori is an adoptive mother and the author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, a non-fiction book about open adoption that I reviewed and highly recommend. Jennifer is an adoptive mother and the author of The Mothers, a fictional book about open adoption that I plan to review.

Well, you can just imagine what happens when two adoptive mothers get together. They start talking about adoption, of course. And in this case, more specifically, about adoption agencies.

At one point in the interview, a line in Jennifer’s book — “…the agency was there mostly to protect the birthmothers” — prompts Lori to ask the following question: “If you could advise the various adoption facilitators Jesse and Ramon used to connect with placing mothers on how to better serve their clients, what would you say?”

Here’s Jennifer reply:

There is a lot of coded language out there.  It isn’t IF you get your baby, but WHEN, for example. But that’s not always true. There are, in the end, more prospective adoptive parents than there are infants who need them. This is not including the foster care system that has its own set of laws and statistics. In regard to adoption, however, the only thing I can say is agencies need to offer more support by way of truthful information to prospective adoptive parents. There needs to be more preparation about what can actually happen. Of how laws differ in each state. How, because of the transparency of the open adoption process, you will more than likely have your heart broken before it is mended. Agencies have the best interest of the birth mothers in mind, as they are often seen as the commodity here. It’s really a market driven idea — and if you don’t put the birth mother first, then there is no child to get to your clients. This is the hidden part of it. It makes sense, but it is hidden.

Sounds a lot like “Sandy,” doesn’t it? Jennifer raises a lot of good points that will resonate with anyone going through the open adoption process:

  • Do hopeful adoptive parents get enough information from their agency about what can actually happen (or not happen) in the matching process?
  • How accurate — or “truthful” — is that information?
  • Should agencies be offering hopeful parents more support and preparation about how the matching process really works and their odds of finding success? 
  • Should hopeful parents be doing more to educate and protect themselves against failure?
  • Should they lower their expectations about finding a match?
  • Are agencies more concerned with keeping birthmothers happy since they are viewed as the “commodity”?
  • What does an agency owe hopeful adoptive parents? What does it owe a birthmother or an expectant mother considering adoption?
  • Is it possible for an agency to work in the best interests of both prospective adoptive parents and birthmothers?

What do you think? I’d love to get your take on this issue. Please leave your comments in the section below.