What I want you to know about surviving a “failed” adoption placement

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Jill

First of all, I don’t really like to use the word “failed” when talking about our experience, but I have no idea what other term to use since “failed match” or “failed placement” are commonly-understood terms in adoption lingo. But in no way do I consider what happened to my husband and me a failure, even though things didn’t turn out as we hoped.

I want you to know that even though the social workers at our agency described this particular situation as high risk, we found it impossible to guard our hearts. They didn’t even want to involve us until after delivery, but the expectant parents really wanted to meet us first. We said yes! After all, if I were in their shoes I would sure as heck want to meet us first. We met them the very next day and immediately clicked. Dad had an amazing sense of humor that I will never forget. Mom was absolutely beautiful, and we discovered our shared love of dancing. I could hardly contain my incredulous joy when we found out their baby girl was due in a week and they wanted us to be her parents.

She arrived into this world just a couple of days later. I cried when I found out she was here. We were so scared and nervous – after all, our social worker had said she thought once they met her they would decide to parent.

Two days later, after the papers were signed and we held her for the first time, all bets were off. We completely let ourselves go and fell in love with her immediately. Tears sprung to my eyes the first time I held her, but the waterworks really started when I saw my husband hold her for the first time. It was the moment I had been hoping for and dreaming of for years. I felt my heart explode with joy as I watched my husband visibly fall in love with this tiny little being we hoped would become our daughter.

Two days later we signed all the adoption paperwork, and fumbled as we dressed her for the first time, marveling at her tiny toes and full head of dark hair. It felt so surreal as we all drove to the hotel where we’d spend our first week or two as a family of three while we waited for the ICPC paperwork to go through. I couldn’t go more than a couple of minutes without taking yet another photo of her.

We settled in quickly, and had to run a few errands since we only had the bare essentials. I finally allowed myself to peruse the baby aisles in stores and place items into my cart. We ordered her crib. Strangers approached us to say how amazing and beautiful she was. We beamed. Everything she did made me proud, even if it was just a burp. I loved her from the second I saw her, but I was actually starting to feel like mom now. With every second, hour, and day that passed I loved her more and more, even though just a second, hour, and day before I wouldn’t have thought my heart could contain any more love than it already did.

On the fifth day our agency called us. I answered the phone more excited than ever, thinking it would be the call letting us know that we could take her home, but it wasn’t. We were at her first doctor’s appointment and our pediatrician had just walked into the exam room when we found out her parents had a change of heart, that she wasn’t meant to be ours. My doctor hugged all of us and cried with us. I was adamant that we went through with the appointment. She was the most precious little being, and I wanted to make sure everything was ok with her first and foremost. 


Back at our hotel we had three hours with her. We took turns going through her things, packing everything up, and holding her. I cried until I didn’t think it was physically possible to cry more tears, but more tears kept coming. As she napped on my chest during those hours I talked to her the whole time. I told her how much I loved her and would always love her. I talked to her about all the things I hoped she had a chance to do, and my wishes that she have the most amazing life. I told her how everyone wanted her, how much she was loved from the second she was born, and how much she had changed our lives. I thanked her for showing my husband and I what it felt like to be parents and for being such a good little teacher. We both stroked her face, hair, arms and legs, trying to memorize each and every tiny detail of her. We took photos and videos. We fed her one last time. Changed her one last time. My heart crumbled into a thousand tiny pieces when they came to get her. After she was gone we both held on to each other like we were drowning. I have never seen my sweet, sweet husband break down like that before or since.

It’s only been a few weeks. I still think of her as my daughter and probably always will. Every day I look at her pictures and watch the videos we took. It’s like she is frozen in time for us. I know she is a happy, healthy baby and her parents are taking good care of her and loving on her so much, but to us if feels like she died.

I want you to know that we discovered we are stronger than we ever thought we were. I want you to know that if we had a chance to do it over again we’d make the same decisions. We would open up our hearts to her completely, name her, and share our immense joy with close family and friends all over again. I completely understand, respect, and honor her parents’ decision. We knew this could happen and was a risk inherent in domestic infant adoption, but it was all so hypothetical until it was actually happening to us. I didn’t realize it could hurt quite this much.

I want you to know that my biggest, most immediate fear was that I could never ever love another baby as much as I love her. I was scared that we would guard our hearts too closely and that our fear would keep us from moving forward and becoming parents. But we are moving forward, slowly and steadily. Other families that have experienced similar losses and gone on to adopt their little ones give me hope and faith that one day we will have a family, that we are meant to be parents to someone forever.

I want you to know that we are not angry at her parents. I find it impossible to be angry at someone for wanting to parent the child they gave birth to. But she will always have a special place in our hearts. I will always wonder what she looks like as she grows up, if she is happy and healthy, if she becomes a dancer like her mom or develops a wacky sense of humor like her dad. I wonder if she will ever find out about us. Probably not, but I still wonder. I will always wish her the ultimate happiness and joy in life. I will always love her and think of her as my daughter. I will always be so immensely grateful for the five days we spent with her, and how she changed our lives.

Goodbye sweet, precious Nell. We love you forever and ever.



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