Adoptions are complex, but our first two followed the expected processes with few hiccups. The third failed. I was already planning to write this post before my personal experience, because I think this topic needs to be addressed. Now, though, I’m writing as much from my emotion as I am for your instruction.
With pregnancies, we know they end in a variety of ways. We hope for an uncomplicated birth of a live child after a full pregnancy, but we know that doesn’t always happen. So it is with adoptions.
Before I dive into the list, I want to note that this post focuses on prospective adoptive families. They are not the only members of the adoption triad, though. We in the church need to learn to love and support birth families and adoptees as well. While this post primarily centers on how to love only one member of that triad, the intent is to equip readers with a focused post rather than to dismiss any other roles without adoption.
To minister to a family with a failed adoption…
- Give them permission to grieve.
I don’t know why we minimize pain, but that’s the default for many of us. Adoption loss is a loss. I know that might seem obvious, but it isn’t always treated as such. Perhaps because, unlike a miscarriage, the child is alive and (usually) well, just not being raised with the family who planned to love him or her. But while the child isn’t lost to this world, he or she is lost to the family. Their grief is real. The dreams they had for the child need to be laid to rest. Give them permission to mourn those losses.
- Enter into their brokenness.
When loved ones were hurting, Jesus showed up. He knew he would be raising Lazarus from the tomb, but he wept with his friends anyway. He entered into their grief and was broken with them in it. Just as minimizing pain can be the default for some folks, others of us disappear. We back off or get silent or pretend the pain never happened, and we don’t realize those acts can sting too.
- Set aside judgments.
When a friend’s adoption fell through in a country known for corruption, someone told her, “Well, that’s what you get choosing to adopt from there.” Likewise, a friend whose adoption of a teenage boy didn’t turn out like they planned was met with “well, we thought something like this would happen” from members of their church. Ouch. These stories play out again and again, all with different versions of “I told you so” or “you should have known better.” Yes, adoptions can fail. But so can pregnancies, yet we don’t usually tell women grieving over stillbirths, “well, that’s the risk you take.” Loving kids is always both risky and worth it. Even when a prospective adoptive parent was naïve or made poor decisions, now’s not the time to slam them over those.
- Encourage them to place their hope (and anger and sorrow and everything else they have) in God.
Trusting God means being authentic with him. That means hoping in him, but it also means coming to him with our fears and fury and broken hearts. For me, the past few months which have included not only our failed adoption but also the deaths of a close friend by suicide and another friend’s son by a rare immune disorder. To say I’m reeling would be an understatement. I told a friend today, “If I didn’t trust God, I’d think he was mean or cruel. But because I trust him, I have to believe some good purpose is in all this pain.” God and I have had some hard talks lately. If you read the Psalms, David had it out with God sometimes too. If you try to shut down the authentic feelings of grieving friends, then you’re saying you’re not a safe place for them to bring the hard stuff. If you’re a ministry leader, they might also receive the message that your church or even your God is not a safe place for their hurts either.
- Don’t use their tale as an adoption horror story to someone else.
When we started our first adoption, people felt the need to share the worst adoption stories they had ever heard. These stories included adoption failures among other hard topics. Every other adoptive family I know has had a similar experience. I don’t know if the tale tellers intend to inform us of possibilities, scare us from adopting altogether, or prepare us in case an adoption hardship hit home, but please keep our pain in confidence instead of making our circumstance into an urban legend.
Finally, if this is a new road for you to walk and you need help, please remember that Key Ministry offers free ministry consultation service. We’re happy to help if we can.
Check out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.