The Reality of Infant Adoption

Beloved classics like Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Alcott’s Little Men have, since childhood, formed an imaginary idealism about adoption in my mind. It was a funny thing, and probably not a coincidence, that adoption had been attractive to me long before I met Steve and learned it’d be our only path to parenthood. There’s just something transcendent about a set of lonely parents, and an abandoned child, coming together and giving one another the love that had been missing in their lives hitherto. It makes us all feel warm and fuzzy.

When I set out to research infant adoption, warm and fuzzy was not among the feelings I experienced. 1 in 5 (that’s 20%!) of infant adoptions are “disrupted”, or so I was told by a representative from American Adoptions, one of the largest infant adoption agencies in the U.S. A disruption can happen for a variety of reasons but, most often, it’s simply because the expectant mother has decided to parent. For the couple she had chosen for her child, this can be devastating.

The consequences of a disruption are, potentially, more than just emotional. If the expectant mother needed financial assistance for her living and/or health expenses, the hopeful parents would have supplied that to her during her pregnancy. If she went into labor and decided to parent after the child was born, the couple would have likely paid to travel to the hospital, spent at least one night there, possibly stood by her during the birth, and may have even had a chance to hold and bond with the child. None of these things would be happy reflections if that same couple wound up without a baby, and their financial and emotional investments gone as well. [Quick note: some agencies today have insurance, or rollover, plans that protect adoptive families from most of the financial risks associated with a disruption. We will be choosing an agency or firm that has a policy such as this.]

At this point, you can see how easy it would be for a woman, in a bad position, to take advantage of a desperate couple to gain their financial assistance throughout her pregnancy, even though she has no intention of giving up her child. This is rare, but it does happen. When I first learned this, I pictured hordes of pregnant women looking for easy financial aid they’d never have to pay back. There are no legal consequences for a woman taking money from an adoptive couple and deciding not to give up her child.

There shouldn’t be, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Before going on, I’d like you to take a deep breath and put any preconceptions you have about adoption out of your mind. Start with a blank slate, and imagine this:

You’re a young woman. Not a teenager, necessarily, but somewhere between 19 and 35 years of age. Perhaps you’re on the younger end of that spectrum and you’re finishing your second or third semester of college. You hadn’t planned on getting pregnant but, it happened, and now you’re not sure you’ll graduate after working so hard on your goals. Maybe you’re a bit older and you did want to get pregnant, you hoped and prayed for this baby, but now you’re suddenly going through a divorce, or you’ve been laid off, and the future you’d imagined for your child isn’t picture perfect anymore. Perhaps you’ve struggled with substance abuse for most of your life. You want to get clean, you want to raise this child, but you just can’t put them through the long and hazardous fight against your addictions. Whatever situation you’re in, you’ve decided to give this child life. You’ve decided to give your child, and half of yourself, to a couple you don’t know in the hope that they’ll give her something you feel you’re lacking at this point in your life.

Now I want you to imagine that you’re one of these women in her third trimester. You’ve felt baby move, and kick, and hiccup for weeks now. You’ve tried to imagine her in the arms of the amazing couple you’ve chosen to parent, instead of in your own. You keep telling yourself to stop thinking of baby names, stop asking yourself if she’ll have your eyes, if she’ll remember you. You can’t bring yourself to walk past the baby aisle at Target. Facebook keeps showing you ads for the newest technology in baby monitors and breast pumps and each one breaks your heart. You lie awake, night after night, wondering who she’ll become and if you’re making the right decision.

Now you’re in labor. The parents you’ve chosen have flown in, often from hundreds of miles away, and you meet for the first time. Their faces are full of hope and badly masked anxiety over what may lie ahead. The next hours are a blur as you breathe, and push, and scream, and sob, and pray God that the baby survives. hat you survive. The adoptive mother holds your hand through every moment of this heavenly hell.

And then it’s over. And you see your baby’s face for the first time. And all your resolutions and your hopes and your fears melt away in an instant because she is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. She is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and there is no more “you”, there is only “her”.

In that moment, you know you can’t go through with it. Your hand goes slack and you look at the hopeful mother-to-be and your heart, which you thought couldn’t break into tinier pieces than it already has, breaks into a thousand more because she knows too.

You wait the requisite 12 to 24 hours to be sure, but everyone is aware of how this will end. The adoptive couple do their best to hide their grief at your joy and they leave you as gracefully as they know how. Maybe you stay in touch, but probably you don’t. All that’s left is to bury your guilt for them with the tremendous love you have for this child, and to try to pick up the pieces of your life, now with an infant at the center of it.

From all that I have read thus far on murky-at-best internet forums, from the stories collected by agencies from countless birth mothers they have worked with, from the testimonies of adoptive parents who suffered at least one disruption, this is often how a disruption happens. Most of the time, the birth mother experiences her desire to parent before the baby is born and the adoptive parents are spared the additional pain of being present for the birth and seeing the child, but not always.

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the immense emotional sacrifice that happens on the part of the birth mother for an infant adoption to be possible. This is not the kind of thing that happens in your typical orphan-adoption story. In those stories, a child has been abandoned, or orphaned, at some point prior to the adoptive parents coming on the scene. In this case, a child is being rescued from an often lonely and difficult living situation. In an infant adoption, a birth mother, and often birth father, have to look at a child that they love, and want, but just don’t believe they’re capable of parenting well. They have to actively choose what they hope will be a better life for this child, a life without them, every day until the Consent to Adopt is signed. I can’t imagine a more painful and courageous action on the part of a parent. It is a kind of martyrdom, to be sure.

I feel it’s important to illustrate this point so dramatically because it is at least 20% likely that we’ll experience a disruption during a match. It is important to me that the people who love us, who will witness us struggling through such a painful thing, will not resort to anger toward the birth mother as a result. Before, during, and after any match, successful or disrupted, I ask that anyone who knows us pray for the birth mothers we come into contact with. Do not ask God that they give us their child, ask that God’s will be done in their life, their child’s life, and ours. Know with certainty that what God desires will come to pass and, it’s possible, that God desires us to suffer through one or more disruptions on our journey. I think it will also be helpful, for myself and anyone who assists us financially or with prayer through this adventure, to consider any match we have to be an opportunity for us to help a woman in crisis have her baby, and nothing more. When we are blessed, some day, with a child, it will not be an act of charity on our part, but the greatest gift we could receive in our married lives, and the true sacrifice will be on the birth mother’s part, not ours. She will have so much more to lose than us.

God bless you and Mary keep you,


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