One mom shares her advice on grieving the children you are not chosen to adopt.
When Greg and Jennifer Wolff decided to grow from a family of three, they opted to pursue adoption through the U.S. Foster Care system.
“It was kind of a dream adoption scenario,” Jennifer said. “From the day that we did our foster parent training to the day that his adoption was finalized was just over a year. Everything went very smoothly, and it was an easy transition. That was our first experience, so we thought all adoption was that easy.”
Thirteen years after adopting Keon, now 15, they are three years into their second adoption. The couple has experienced eight failed adoptions at the Interstate Compact on Placement of Children (ICPC) and selection committee levels, which fall toward the end of the adoption process depending on the state.
“The biggest heartbreak was back in October, we were chosen for a little girl and got to go meet her,” Jennifer said. “We spent a week with her and fell in love with her. A couple of weeks into the ICPC process, everything broke down, and the caseworker said the other state decided to pull the ICPC because of things that we were very upfront about and had not changed.”
ICPC had fallen through because of the severe weather in Montana, the family’s home state. Other reasons for previous matches that fell through included family members stepping up to take the children in and the Wolff’s learning the child had a condition or past experience they did not feel prepared to handle.
“All along, any child that we have considered or been considered for, we have always prayed that God would put them in the family that was the best match for that child and if that wasn't us, that would be okay. As much as we wanted to adopt these kids, we wanted them to go to the best family for them, and if that wasn’t us, then that wasn’t us. When it was the right one, God would open the doors and it would fall into place.”
Despite this mindset, there was a grieving process for each potential match. The loss of a potential family member, especially in the case where they got to meet the little girl, is, Jennifer said, like a death in some ways.
The process of healing from these let-downs varies greatly for everyone and every situation and there are a few common things hopeful parents can do to help themselves through this time.
Remember Self Care
While everyone experiences the grieving process differently, keeping in mind the value of self care is imperative. Parents need to be healthy enough to focus on their child when they finally come home. After their last adoption failed ICPC, the Wolff’s decided to take a month off of submitting on children and take a break from their adoption journey. They gave themselves permission to not be okay during that time.
“When you have a death, you do what you have to do and you let other people help you. You survive and go day to day until things get a little better and you can start moving back to normal. We had to do that a little bit in this situation too. We had to cut back on a few things and take time to be here and not out trying to help everybody else, but just be us until things calmed down emotionally again.”
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
“Remember that there are a lot of factors that go into this decision, sometimes political factors that don’t have anything to do with the family,” Jennifer said. “It’s easy to start guessing yourself as a family, especially after multiple times that your hearts get set on a child or some children and then it falls through. You start thinking, ‘there’s something wrong with us’ and ‘we’re not good enough.’”
While this is a very personal experience, remembering that the “no’s” may not even be a direct reflection of the committee’s opinion of you can lessen the sting. Additionally, focusing on the process and end goal of each meeting can help.
“These kids are worth it and have been through so much. Even if I’m not the person that’s selected at a committee, having our family, along with other families, gives them more of a pool to choose from when finding a family. I think it’s worth it because so many of these kids just need somebody who loves them. If putting my name in a million times and getting told ‘no’ a million is what it takes to keep the system going and keep caseworkers looking for people to adopt these kids, then that’s what it takes.”
"If putting my name in a million times and getting told ‘no’ a million is what it takes to keep the system going and keep caseworkers looking for people to adopt these kids, then that’s what it takes.”
Support Each Other
Grief can place a strain on a marriage. Shortly after adopting Keon, the Wolff’s had his biological sister in their care. Jennifer was hoping they could adopt her, but Greg did not feel it would work out. When that adoption fell through, they were not in the same place.
“It was kind of a relief for him because he didn’t think it was going to go through anyway,” Jennifer said. “I suffered, and I felt like I suffered alone. That was hard on us.”
Years later, she says they did not have that same divisive experience with more recent losses.
“Walking through it together and neither one of us being afraid to say 'I’m having a bad day and I just can’t deal with it right now…' makes it easier. We can lean on each other.”
They recently joined an adoption and foster parent support group, which is in the formational stages. While they have not formed strong connections there yet, Jennifer said they wish they’d sought out this type of support earlier in the journey.
“I think it would’ve been helpful to have some bonds with people to walk through it with--people who’d been there too.”
Focus on Your Kids
The Wolff’s took Keon and Hannah, their 18-year-old biological daughter, with them to meet the little girl that did not work out.
“They struggled, and honestly I would say that they’re still struggling,” Jennifer said. “Sometimes I don’t realize it because they’re teenagers.”
Hannah sobbed when the adoption fell through. Jennifer said that Keon suffered with them more closely because he still lived at home and saw his parents going through the healing process.
Keon has been displaying more signs of abandonment than he had before meeting the little girl. His parents have been having to affirm his place in the family more frequently and assess outbursts as part of his grief.
“There’s just some of those things that you have to be really conscious of. Especially with him being 15, when he lashes out with a bad attitude. Sometimes we feel our own emotions and we realize ‘oh, I need this time to grieve,’ but if they’re not showing their emotions that way, it’s hard to understand that they’re grieving too.”
Take Control of What You Can
So many things in the adoption process are out of the hands of hopeful parents, but keeping in mind the things that you can influence can help the time go by, and possibly impact the results of this journey. The Wolff’s had originally set out to adopt one little girl under the age of four.
“Our daughter turned 18 in January and moved out. We were very discouraged at that point, and we were like, ‘You know what? Maybe we’re being too narrow.’ We expanded our age range to nine and under, to boys and girls, and a sibling group of three.”
During their search, the family created profiles on as many listing sites as they could, including A Family For Every Child (AFFEC), AdoptUSKids, and several state databases. Jennifer also developed a system of looking at kids by state alphabetically. The first day of the month meant she could look at “A” state listings, and the second meant she had a day off because no states start with “B.” This allowed for balance.
“Make sure that you are not making adoption be your whole life. Don’t spend all of your time submitting and getting your house ready for adoption and looking at kids on the websites. Find balance. Enjoy your life and your family.”
"We were very discouraged at that point, and we were like, ‘You know what? Maybe we’re being too narrow.’ We expanded our age range to nine and under, to boys and girls, and a sibling group of three.”
Hold onto the Hope
“The biggest thing is always the hope of a child,” Jennifer said.
Soon after their largest heartbreak, AFFEC contacted the Wolffs about being the featured family in their newsletter.
“We had absolutely no hope that anything would come of it.”
Three weeks later, they got a call that they were being considered for a sibling group of three. After another two weeks, they were matched. They are currently in the process of reviewing the children’s files and moving toward presentation staffing. While nothing is official, all looks well with this match.
The family is optimistic, and Jennifer said none of their journey, even the pain, has been a waste.
“Head into each committee meeting saying ‘I really want to adopt, but if this is not the child that is best for my family, then I’m willing to let go. When you get those ‘no’s,’ it’s still going to be hard, but if you can keep the hope that there is a child that is right for this family, we just have to keep searching, it makes it easier to keep going.”