10 Steps to Coping with a Failed Adoption

A failed adoption can be difficult for prospective parents to deal with. Follow these steps to manage your grief and move forward after you have healed.

A sad couple grieving over a failed adoption

1. Take time to grieve. You may need to experience the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Take time off work if you can. If you don’t want to answer questions when you return, have a friend or colleague let your coworkers know that. And postpone making any major decisions for a while.

2. Accept help. An adoption that falls through is emotionally shattering; you may need the comfort of others. If friends or family invite you out for dinner, say yes. It will feel good to vent about what you have been through, or to talk about something else entirely.

3. Talk to a mental-health professional who specializes in grief, loss, adoption, and/or infertility.

4. Realize that people grieve in different ways. While your spouse may want to get back to work, you might feel lost, stuck in your grief, unable even to go out for an evening with friends.

5. Don’t try to figure it out. No one can know what is going on inside someone else’s mind, so there isn’t much point in trying to analyze why an adoption fell through. It can happen for many reasons.

6. Deal with the child’s room in your own way. While some can’t bring themselves to look at a child’s room after a failed adoption, others find comfort sitting in the room to remember and grieve.

7. Get out of the house. Going to see a funny movie helps. Long walks, a concert, or revisiting a hobby can also be therapeutic.

8. Express your feelings. Consider writing how you feel in a journal, or in a letter that you might — or might not — send to the birth parents.

9. Have a sit-down with your agency or attorney. If you have residual questions about why the adoption failed, ask them. See if there is anything to be learned.

10. Go slow. You will likely be dubious about resuming the adoption process. You may be cynical about birth parents, bitter about your experience, and resentful that you have to begin again. It’s scary to face the prospect of new birth parents and, possibly, another failure. But if you truly want to adopt, give yourself time to heal, then move forward.

Glossary of Grief

  • Failed adoption: One that falls through after referral or matching, but before the birth parents have terminated their rights.
  • Disruption: Means the adoption fell through between placement and finalization.
  • Dissolution: When an adoption has been finalized, but the child is returned to foster care or is adopted by another family.
  • Wrongful adoption: When an adoption agency, attorney, or facilitator suppresses information that would have caused the adoptive parents to decline the adoption.

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