Coping with a Failed Adoption

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Tips for keeping the dream of a child alive after a crushing disappointment.

A week ago our placement failed. My wife, Angie, and I will remember forever--the birthmother's delivery date was our wedding anniversary. However, amidst this emotional anguish, we offer these suggestions to help you get past the pain.

1. Allow your friends to help you.
Most of us love to serve others in their time of need but feel that we are "putting someone out" if they desire to return the favor. But, do yourself and your family a tremendous favor-accept the help! Welcome the hugs, the tears, the prayers, the food, the work relief, the babysitting offers, and, if warranted, the monetary aid. As your friends begin to call you and the neighbors visit, think about your needs so that your support group can put their love to work. Nobody knows what to say when these types of incidents occur. Give your loved ones something useful, practical, and helpful to do instead.

2. Let your partner grieve in his or her own way.
Some men believe it is a sign of strength to go back to the grind immediately after loss. But you don't care for your wife by leaving her alone to grieve; you show withdrawal and insensitivity. So tell your colleagues at work to cover your meetings; ask your golfing buddy to mow your lawn. As for you, just be with your wife. Don't talk unless spoken to, don't caress unless she asks you to, and don't have the TV on in the background. Your presence will convey your commitment and your silence will honor her loss.

Though your husband may not break down in tears five times a day, don't underestimate his pain. Do not expect him to embrace his male friends and collapse into sobs. It may happen, but it is not likely. Let the housework go for a week-or more. Know which of your friends will listen and hold you and which ones will, unfortunately, want to solve your problem. Seek out women who have been through miscarriages or infant deaths, or other couples who have suffered failed placements. Their wisdom will be invaluable to you as you try to imagine your future.

3. Seek closure.
Examine what you have really lost and what you still need to move forward. Some couples box up the toys, put away the stroller, and repaint the baby room immediately. Others make minor alterations and prepare for the next go around. There's no right or wrong answer, but an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment reaction is not the one to follow. Throwing the car seat in the river and the stuffed animals in the fireplace may release some pent-up anger and feel wickedly satisfying for the moment, but you will probably regret it later. Discuss it as a couple or with a few cherished friends, and come up with a plan to move forward. Write a letter to the birthmother, God, or your agency. Let them sit, and if after a week the letters still seem appropriate, send them. Express yourself in ways that are your normal creative outlets: write music or poetry; make a symbolic craft or a video. Your emotions will often sneak themselves into the endeavor and bring spontaneous healing moments that otherwise may be missed.

4. Make peace with God.
Almost anyone who has considered adoption has considered God to be a part of the equation. When you face infertility or loss, the acknowledgment of a higher power is inevitable. The inability to control our environment and, consequently, our circumstances leads us to the ultimate question: is there a God? And if so, why would He allow this to happen? The key element here is that God is a player in grieving, whether He is ever identified as one or not. If, like me, you believe that God is sovereign, why hold back your feelings-he is aware of them!

It's a mistake to think that these suggestions will bring instantaneous and complete relief. Only time will do that. But your approach to grieving can determine whether you are going to be deeply depressed or extremely sad, despondent and bitter or disappointed and frustrated, fearful and doubting or able to trust again. Most importantly, will you be able to dream of a child and re-risk the rejection, the failure, the heartache?

Thanks to the support of God, our family, friends, and our adoption agency, we began our search for a child to adopt anew yesterday.

Credits: Elliott Anderson

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