By Melissa Williams // Executive Director
A failed placement can be a devastating loss. If this is a loss you’re experiencing right now, know that my heart is with you. I had a failed placement 14 years ago, and I still remember very vividly the overwhelming feelings of grief and loss we experienced until our second daughter was placed with us.
A failed placement can also be a complicated loss. Maybe you feel that you’re not “entitled” to grieve for a child that was never yours, but it’s not that simple. Your mind and heart were attached, and you have every right to mourn.
Your pain is real. Your heartache is real. Your loss is real.
If I could only give you one piece of advice for coping with a failed placement, it would be this:
Allow yourself to grieve.
The best way to process difficult emotions is by working through them, rather than around them. Adoptive Mom Sarah Baker, who experienced a failed placement, shared this advice: “Give yourself time to be angry, be sad, be ugly, be happy, be proud, be supportive . . . be whatever you need to be.” After her failed placement, she recounts, “I spend many days sobbing. Nights I clenched a onesie I tie-dyed for the baby-to-be and cried myself to sleep. My husband looked like a lost zombie, filled with grief and the need to comfort me. It’s okay to feel.” Some people find that it’s beneficial to designate a time each day to focus on the loss and work through its accompanying emotions, then spend the rest of the day focusing on other things. Additionally, in processing grief, many people find it helpful to tap into the experience and insight of a professional counselor.
Beyond that, here are a few other ideas that you might find beneficial:
Do something life-affirming.
Drop everything and take a vacation. Spend time participating in a hobby that you may have set aside while focusing on adoption. Take long walks with your camera and photograph everything that is beautiful to you. Visit your great-grandma. Go on a romantic date with your significant other. Do something–anything–that brings you a sense of courage and hope and joy. When working through grief, it’s easy to forget about the good things in your life. But it’s essential to remember that life can still be beautiful.
You and your spouse may mourn the loss of the placement differently. One of you may want to hurry and move forward in finding another adoption opportunity; the other may want to take some time off before getting back into the game. One of you may be very open in expressing disappointment and hurt; the other may prefer to process things quietly. Make sure that whatever your grieving styles, you grieve and grow together. “Don’t allow the sorrow you are feeling to damage your relationship with your partner, but rather grow as you grieve the loss together,” recommends Baker. “You can celebrate the future in knowing that your family will soon be expanding, while appreciating another opportunity to relish the beauty of what you already have.”
Though now it seems like your hopes and dreams are lying in shatters around you, take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is happening exactly as it should. “If your match falls through, take faith in knowing that you are never last in line for your baby,” recommends adoptive mom Melissa Giarrosso. “Your baby will find you in the right time, and if you find yourself crippled with anxiety, remind yourself that the struggle is teaching you patience. There will come a day when you are holding your child and–I promise–you will think to yourself, ‘I would have waited forever for this baby.’ Take comfort in knowing that while it’s hard to wait patiently, your baby will find you.
Share your experience.
In sharing your experience with others, you’re helping make the world the better place. How? By helping others going through similar experiences know they’re not alone. And by providing the opportunity for people outside the adoption community to understand the complexities of adoption. By sharing, you are helping to comfort and create empathy and understanding.
Keep moving forward.
Grief can be heavy. Sometimes doing simple things can be difficult. But just keep putting one foot in front of the other. “Wake up, make your bed, shower,” advises adoptive mom Kenna Shumway, who experienced a placement reversal after two weeks of parenting. “Even if you get right back into your bed after your shower. This was advice given to me by my father, and it remains the best advice I’ve ever received.”
As you continue to move forward, I promise, things will get better.