Continuing our series, Disruption in Adoption, today we are sharing a post from Stephanie, a mom who has personally experienced the devastation of a failed adoption. We are grateful for her willingness to share her story.
18 years in the classroom as a teacher was easy compared to parenting three little ones at home full-time. Through their three daughters, God has revealed Himself most clearly to Stephanie and her husband Matthew. He not only worked a miracle in giving them their biological daughter, He continued to show Himself in mighty ways throughout adoption journeys in China and Bhutan that were anything but normal.
Nowadays she enjoys encouraging and connecting with other adoptive families through speaking and her work on the leadership team of We Are Grafted In and on the Board of The Sparrow Fund.
It’s one of Oprah’s catch phrases. This much I know for sure. Following that phrase, she expounds on some epiphany, conclusion, or lesson she has learned. There are many things I know for sure. In most of those cases, it is because of personal experience or first-hand knowledge.
I know that the bottom of the Dead Sea is very difficult to walk on because of the large salt crystals littering the bottom. (personal experience)
I know that the pain of giving yourself fertility injections is nothing compared to the pain of being childless. (personal experience)
But, there are other things I cannot be sure of. I can only imagine how it must feel or be or what I would or would not do, but I don’t know for certain.
I think it would be great to have an amazing singing voice and perform for the masses. But, I don’t really know what that would be like and never will.
I can say that I would never move far away from my family, but I have never had to make that decision and pray I never will.
That’s just it. We don’t really know what it’s like to experience something without actually experiencing it ourselves. I can imagine how I hope I would react, what I hope I would think, how I hope I would respond all I want. But, until I walk through it myself, I really have no idea.
I have never been a very scandalous person. No huge public life dramas have played out in my life… until the summer of 2010.
What happened? We did not complete the adoption of the child we traveled to bring home because the child’s needs were greater than what the file disclosed and greater than we felt prepared or were even approved to handle. After that decision was made, while still in country, our agency locked a child off the shared list for us to consider. After much prayer and discussion and input from our support system, we accepted the referral and completed that adoption.
To say our adoption journey was difficult is understatement. But, by far, the most hurtful thing this momma dealt with were the misconceptions people in the adoption community had–and may still have — regarding those who do not complete an adoption and the opinions openly shared about “those parents.” Naively, I had no idea just how scandalous this was in the eyes of many in the adoption community. In reading what many other adoptive parents thought about our situation, it seemed as if the thinking was either you bring home the child you were referred no matter what, or you are a terrible, selfish person who wishes for that child to never find a family.
I can tell you that is not the case. This much I know for sure.
The sadness and shock we felt when the serious undisclosed needs became apparent was hard, but we had lots of supportive people walking us through the confusion. Discovering that we were not the best family for the child we thought was ours was hard, but we had peace about the decision, knowing it was the best for that child and us. We were simply not equipped to handle that child’s needs and knew that there would be a family out there who could meet those needs and meet them well. Facing the reality of not coming home with a child, the child who we had attached to at some level through video and pictures after almost 4 years of being in the process was hard. But, with the peace we had in our decision, we knew that if that’s what it came down to, it would be okay. We would be okay with coming home childless, if that’s where God led. Our family, our friends, our church lifted us up in prayer, listened to us as we processed through everything that was happening, and supported the difficult decision we had to make.
However, the comments about our situation (and about others who find themselves in similar situations) I read upon returning home, and still occasionally stumble upon as I scan adoption boards, pierced my heart and rattled me for days. I sat stunned at the broad paintbrush often used to paint parents who go through this as cold, heartless, uneducated, unprepared, only thinking of themselves with no thought or caring for what happens to the child.
The comments seem to center around the same logic: EITHER you are on the side of the child OR you disrupt. EITHER you parent a child who you know is not a good fit for your family OR you are declaring that child unworthy of having a family. It is not like that. It is just not that simple.
This much I know for sure: it is not an either/or type of situation.
From the outside, it is not possible to know ALL the details of why parents may choose not to complete an adoption, to know all the reasons a family felt ill-prepared to meet a particular child’s needs. Those details are extremely personal and private for both the child and family. Absolutely, the adoptive parents want the child they are unable to parent to find a home, the right home. It’s the same thing we all want for all the kids on those lists. We want homes for every one of them. But, as adoptive parents, we have to make decisions along the way in a special needs adoption as to what needs we feel called to and prepared to handle. That is why agencies have parents fill out special needs checklists. Some of those reasons for choosing certain special needs and not others are personal preferences; but, some have to do with very practical things such as insurance, availability of services, etc. Adoptive parents who decide they cannot parent the child they were referred and, therefore, make the painful decision not to complete an adoption do so with the family’s and child’s best interests at heart.
Since returning home almost five years ago, I have been in contact with other parents who have also gone through the pain of an uncompleted adoption. And, there are certain common denominators that have been true in each of those situations. This much I know for sure:
1. The parents hurt and grieve over the loss of the child. In all cases, parents have prepared a room and bed and clothing for the child. They have lined up medical treatment and doctors. They have prepared the other children in their families for this brother or sister. They have packed, planned, and prayed for this child. In most cases, the parents have named the child. In all cases, the parents fully intended on bringing home that child.
2. The parents want the child they are unable to parent to find the right family. They pray for them. Often times, they actively advocate for them. And, sometimes, they even offer monetary donations to help the child receive treatment and/or diagnostic testing while that child waits for a family.
3. The parents have grief and confusion and heartache and disappointment that they need to process. While local family and friends do what they can to support these families, often times, the family looks to the adoption community for support and becomes isolated when that community (their community) shames them and sometimes even vilifies them.
4. Parents who are offered another referral while in country (as we were due to being an I-600 family) did not travel intending to “switch” or “upgrade.” Many times, it is implied that adoptive parents who come home with a different child had some “master plan” to get a better/younger/healthier/cuter child. When in most (if not all) cases, the decision is made to not complete the adoption well before the option of another referral is even considered. It is not a situation of “would you rather have this child instead?”
5. The parents receive a lot of negative comments on forums and blogs from some in the adoption community and, as a result, feel isolated, judged, and shut out. Online forums can be a blessing for all the sharing of information and personal experiences that help to educate families about adoption. However, the relative anonymity also makes it too easy for some to say hurtful and judgmental comments aimed at parents who decided they could not complete the adoption of the child they had traveled for. Most of these comments offer support and compassion for the child in a way that is critical and judgmental of the adoptive parents.
So, to the people who have said my husband and I were not prepared as adoptive parents, you are right. We were not prepared in many ways.
We were not prepared to meet a child whose needs were far beyond what were presented and what we were equipped or approved for.
We were not prepared to learn that the medical files we reviewed had not disclosed the other serious medical needs the child had that were not related to the main special need.
We were not prepared to leave behind the child whose picture we proudly shared with family and friends.
We were not prepared to find the child who IS our daughter in such a confusing way following God’s clear leading.
We were not prepared to feel God’s presence so clearly throughout the entire process.
We were not prepared to be given such a sense of clarity and peace about the decisions we felt led to make.
We were not prepared for the outpouring of love, support, and understanding we received from our friends, family, and church family.
We were not prepared to feel so alone, isolated, and criticized by members of the adoption community in cyber-land.
And, we certainly were not prepared to be judged so harshly by an adoption community that had previously been such a source of support for us.
In the years that have passed, I have sensed that perhaps those in adoption circles are beginning to understand public shaming is not helpful. The demise of forums that offer anonymity has helped stem the flow of unbridled anger. Our experience has taught me that making assumptions of people in other circumstances is rarely helpful. I am reminded that in any given situation, it’s not as simple as either/or, because, this much I know for sure…
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
I never thought we would disrupt. Never. It wasn’t on the radar. It wasn’t in our vocabulary. At. All. Not even a little bit. We were bringing our child home no. matter. what.
Except that she wasn’t our child. We knew that without a doubt.
There has never been a doubt about any of it at all. No second guessing. Just hurt. Hurt for what had to happen, and hurt for the stigma that seems to cloud over us within the adoption community. Miraculously, we came home with our child, and the child-who-was-not-ours has found a family as well. Her family.
We couldn’t be more thrilled.
This much I know for sure.