The most common fear that hopeful adoptive parents have is that the birth mother changes her mind and that the adoption will come to an end. At my adoption center, we do all that we can do to make sure that we are alert to potential “red flags” in each of the adoption situations. We make sure that the adoptive families are aware of the details of each potential match before they proceed with the adoption.
But no matter how hard we try, there is always a chance that an adoption reclaim can happen. When I adopted, my son’s birth mother changed her mind twice. In the end, it all worked out and is one of the reasons I’m helping birth parents and adoptive parents today! Here, I share what to do if this happens to you, a true story, and signs that a birth mother will change her mind.
Tips to Follow If the Birth Mother Changes Her Mind
Remember, regardless of what happens, your plan to adopt will go on. In some cases, the time that you spent matched can be added back to your contract.
Grieve your loss.
When an adoption fails to follow through, it can be very painful. Some families that have experienced adoption reclaims need to seek counseling and can find it very helpful in their healing. There is always a counselor that is available to you if you want to talk about your loss or to learn ways to help you through the grieving process.
Adoption is something that really does work! Make sure that you try to stay positive and remember that all birth mothers and birth parents are different. Do not carry the fear of your first loss over to the new birth mother.
Have a support group.
Sometimes, people don’t know what to say when the birth mother changes her mind and an adoption falls through. Let your friends and loved ones know you are willing to accept their support. In addition, let them know how they can support you during this adoption loss.
The birth mother may continue to reach out to you or to try and call you. Even though it can be difficult, try to keep positive with her. Staying open with the birth mother is crucial because she might even realize that she cannot parent. If she can stay close to you and feel comfortable with you, she might call you to help her if she changes her mind again. This happened when I adopted my son!
Don’t give up.
Even though it is hard now, it will all be worth the pain when you finally bring your new child home. It is encouraging to know that most families who have had an adoption loss will look back and see that the situation as “meant to be” because the child that joins their family was the right child for their family and all at the right time.
If you have been waiting a long time to bring your new child home from the hospital and you get a call that says, “I’m sorry, the birth mother changed her mind,” then you will know and understand the nightmare that many adoptive parents face.
A True Story of Adoption Reclaim
One couple, Bob and his wife Shelly, got the happy ending they were hoping for. After trying to have a baby for a year and not being able to get pregnant, Bob and Shelly decided to try in-vitro fertilization, which also was unsuccessful. The couple decided that they would adopt, and they waited for two years after turning in their application to bring home their two-day-old baby on Christmas Eve.
The baby’s birth parents were very young and very heartbroken when they handed over their beautiful little boy. It was very emotional, and even though it was the new parent’s happiest moment ever, it was indeed the birth parents saddest. Once the birth parents left, they drove the baby to Bob’s sister’s house, where the whole family celebrated Christmas Eve in a new and exciting way, full of laughter and love. The next day, Shelly’s family came over and enjoyed a joyful holiday of meeting the new baby. Nothing could have been better.
One day, Sally was thinking about their new baby and deciding what was going to be for lunch when the phone rang. This call changed Bob and Sally’s whole world. “I’m so sorry. The birth mother has changed her mind. They want their son back,” said their Adoption Coordinator.
In the state that Sally and Bob lived, the birth family had up to 21 days to change their minds about the adoption. Their little boy was picked up that same day, and just like that, Sally and Bob’s dream had turned into a horrible nightmare. They were heartbroken. They called their families to break the horrible news.
Neither Bob nor Sally had prepared for the 21-day rule, and they never imagined that they would be so attached to the baby within just a few weeks. They had only had him for a couple of days, and after having to give him back to his birth parents, they almost completely changed their minds about adopting. However, they kept their adoption profile active for birth parents to be able to contact them. They heard nothing.
Each year, Sally and Bob were required to do a routine home study update. They would say, “let’s just do this one more year,” but it has been almost four years since they had first sent in their application. This would be the final year that they would try. They prepared themselves mentally to be childless and to learn to focus on other things such as work, home renovations, and vacations.
On October 3rd, something changed. The phone rang, and the voice on the other end asked, “Are you sitting down? We have a birth mother who would like to match with you. Are you still interested?” Sally was so excited that all she could do was laugh. A pregnant teen had chosen Bob and Sally to be her baby’s adoptive parents. They had four weeks to get ready for their new son’s arrival. Bob and Sally met many times with the birth mom and her parents. Sally tried to make the birth mom and her parents feel comfortable and to understand what kind of people they were. Bob tried his best to assure them that they would be great parents and that they would take perfect care of their new son.
The birth mom and her parents knew what had happened to Bob and Sally before, and they promised that this time would be different and that the deal was done. Bob and Sally chose not to tell their family because they wanted to spare them the pain in case something would go wrong. They felt that the more people that they told, the more they would have to go back and explain what happened, in case the adoption was canceled. Both Sally and Bob were extremely nervous, yet hopeful.
A few days later, the baby was born, and the birth mother and her parents were at the hospital. They were very emotional, and everyone cried as the baby exchanged hands from the birth mother to his new mother, Sally. Both Sally and Bob were trying not to fall in love with the boy right away, but this was impossible, even though they were trying so hard to guard their hearts, just in case.
Since Sally and Bob had decided not to tell anyone about their new baby, Shane, Sally called in sick from work, and Bob kept the secret from his co-workers. Each time the phone would ring, one of them would run to another room with the baby so the caller wouldn’t hear any cries.
But they knew that they’d have to tell everyone about baby Shane at some point. On Sally’s birthday, her mother came into the house and saw Shane and immediately burst into tears of joy. Next, her dad did the same thing, followed by Bob’s sister, mom, and dad. Everyone was full of joy but also full of nerves since there were still 11 more days to go before the adoption was final.
On December 21st, baby Shane became Bob and Sally’s first son. The adoption was official, and early that morning, many friends and family members showed up to give the new family gifts and clothing. Baby Shane was finally theirs.
Shane is around a year old, and Sally and Bob still have visits with Shane’s birth mother and birth father. The families agreed that there would be four visits each year and they discussed that as Shane gets older, they can explain that his birth mother was the one that carried him in her belly and that Sally and Bob were lucky enough to be able to take care of him.
When Birth Mothers Change Their Mind About Adoption
One of the biggest fears that adoptive parents face is that the birth mother will make an adoption plan and then change her mind before the adoption becomes official.
Most birth mothers will not change their mind after their baby is placed with an adoptive family. I have seen research indicating that out of 800 adoptions, only 11 have changed their mind after the baby is placed with a family. When this happens, it will be very painful for the soon-to-be parents. The pain of losing the baby after he or she is born is horrible. However, it’s harder to deal with situations where the new parents become attached before the baby is removed from their home.
Make sure when you choose adoption that you do your research. It is important to ask the adoption professional what percentage of birth mothers actually go through with the adoption. If the numbers are high, this is a good sign, but if there are a lot of mothers that change their mind and the adoptions do not go through, chances are you should find a new adoption professional. Something might be wrong with their policies or procedures. If it seems like a lot of birth mothers at the agency are changing their minds, move to another one.
Building Your Family
When you choose to adopt, the birth mother needs to feel that she is making the decision of the adoption and that other people are not forcing her to place. When birth mothers are pressured into adoption by their parents, the birth father, or someone else, it can cause them to have more grief than the birth mother who made the choice on her own.
A birth mother in her second or third trimester will less likely change their mind about putting their child up for adoption. A birth mother in her first trimester will likely be facing more pressure and stress. The baby might not even seem real to her at this point. When the baby begins to kick and move around, the birth mother comes to face the situation and will know if she wants to give her baby up for adoption or not.
Most women will give clues as to what they are thinking. Her counselor or Adoption Coordinator needs to know if she might be considering keeping her child or putting the child up for adoption. Even though no one can truly predict if a birth mother will change her mind, some significant signs include:
- The birth mother is under the age of 17.
- No future goals or career ideas.
- She is living in a large city.
- Coming from a single-parent home.
- Being non-religious.
- Living with the birth father.
- Having parents that do not want her to put her baby up for adoption.
- She is living with her parents.
- She did not complete high school.
- Parents did not complete any schooling beyond high school.
- Birth mother is on welfare.
- Birth mother has friends who have babies and want the same for her.
- Had a difficult delivery.
- Birth mother is pressured to put her baby up for adoption.
- Doesn’t know anyone that has placed a baby for adoption.
Signs She’ll Change Her Mind About Adoption
Never assume that the birth mother is going to change her mind. But, if she fits some items on the list above, there is a higher risk that she might still change her mind. Nothing is absolute until the adoption is official.
You might feel that some of these factors should encourage the birth mother to put her baby up for adoption instead of turning away from it, but in most cases, these things mean that the birth mother has not reached maturity. At a young age, the birth mother is more likely influenced by her parents and peers. If her friends have babies, she might decide to parent as well.
A woman who is older might decide that adoption is the best thing for her child, and she will less likely be influenced to change her mind about adoption. Education is another big factor. The less educated the birth mother is, the more likely she will choose to parent the child instead of putting the baby up for adoption. This might happen because if the mother doesn’t have a career goal, then she might see being a parent as her career.
No one knows for sure why women change their minds about adoption after having a hard delivery. Sometimes the birth mother is worried about her baby, so she will develop a deep attachment. Or, she may feel that this child might be the only one she can have. If the birth mother is pregnant and on public assistance, she will not see a problem with getting welfare and raising her child on it. On the other hand, a woman who is against accepting public aid might choose adoption instead.
If It Happens to You
If you are planning on an adoption and the birth mother changes her mind, what should you do?
Especially if she’s in a crisis, the pregnancy might not seem real to a birth mother in her first or second trimester. Most of the time, you need to wait until the birth mother is past the second trimester to really rely on adopting the baby. Do not count on adopting the baby of a woman who is only a couple of weeks or months pregnant. Patience helps. Build a relationship with the birth mother and her family.
When the birth mother has truly committed to the adoption and then changes her mind, it usually happens right after birth. Sometimes giving birth makes her realize that she wants to be a mom. Sometimes, the birth itself will have a substantial impact. The birth mother sees her baby, experiences love at first sight and decides that she wants to parent. The birth mother’s decision can also be affected by other people, like her relatives or the baby’s birth father. Most women do not decide months after the baby is born that they want the baby back.
If the adoption does fall through because the birth mother decides she doesn’t want to do adoption, it is painful. It hurts, even if you never got to see the baby. You felt in your heart that it was already your baby, and it might also discourage you from the idea of ever wanting to deal with adoption again. It might seem like it is too painful or too hard. You will need time to grieve. But after a few months, you will decide to try again. In the end, you will end up with your very own beautiful baby boy or girl.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 29, 2019, and has since been updated.